I am ______________

I have some of the most thought-provoking Facebook friends. A gal who goes to my parish posted a status from which I edited and recopied to suit my needs.

It  deals poignantly with last week’s Gospel lesson. It got me to thinking, who am I? Who are any of us? What labels do we place upon ourselves ; and what labels do others give us?

“To name oneself is one of the most powerful acts any human person can do. A name provides identification as well as being a conceptual framework, a point of reference, a mental construct used in thinking, understanding, and relating to persons, ideas, movements. ”
Isasi-Diaz
I am Sarah Beth
I am Eastern-European Jewish
I am Irish
I am Anglo-Catholic
I am a straight ally for the GLBTQ community
I am female
I am a writer
I am a dog-parent
I am a daughter
I am a sister
I am a feminist
I am an aunt
I am human

As people, we are way more complex than those labels that we give ourselves and others. But nonetheless, labels help us describe parts of our identity. 

We are all HUMAN.

Humans are complex.

For instance, most people think that one person simply cannot claim both Jewishness and any form of Christianity. In my case this is not true. I come from both Abrahamic traditions and I am proud of all of my heritage. While I am a practicing Christian, I never deny the Jewishness with which I am blessed. My Jewish heritage does not negate my Christian faith at all. Quite the contrary, I’ve discovered that my Jewish heritage augments my faith in Christ; I fee as though I am connected to the world in which He grew up.  For instance, His mother was Jewish and so is mine.

Humans tend to want to box each individual into a few neat little categories. But, thanks be to God, we are way more complex than any sorting system . Unlike the _Harry Potter_ universe, ours is a world where people’s identities are not only one of four ” houses”.

God love all God’s Creation. That includes every single human. 

As my Bishop says “Be who you are, nothing more and nothing less. God made you, God loves you.” 

Amen.

 

 

 

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Naming

 

Today Best Dude and I  went to Mass at a neighboring parish { one where I also attend Bible study, so I know many people from there, too} Today’s Mass was done with the Liturgy from The Iona Prayer Book { of Scotland}, so the prayers and music were a bit different. Being of Celtic { Irish} descent, this was especially powerful to me.  The Gospel story really got in my heart today. Let me explain:

Today’s Gospel has Jesus giving Simon a new name. Rather than Simon, this particular disciple was given the name ” Peter” , meaning ” rock”. I naming him, Jesus re-defined who this disciple is; and set the stage for the future . Peter is the disciple tasked with setting the foundation of the Jesus Movement. He is no longer a common fisherman; Jesus named his vocation when he said

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

This is Simon Peter’s ” call story” . Jesus Himself says to the fisherman “…on this rock I will build my Church.” No discernment committee was necessary for this vocation to happen. But I cannot help but wonder what Simon Peter must have thought had he time to ponder what Jesus said to him.

Did he feel unworthy?

Does this new identity mean that he, Peter, now has to behave differently? What does someone do when tasked with what Jesus asked of him?

Am I smart enough?

Does he even really want to be the rock upon which this new movement is to be built? After all, Jesus is doing a fine job Himself, why would He need Peter to continue Jesus’ important work. However call Peter He did.

These are questions I ask myself ; regardless of whether Peter asked them of himself or not.

Like Peter, I am called to build the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now. But I am not sure about what this “new name’ means for me or my family; not to mention my parish family.  I don’t even want this new name and identity; but God wants me to pursue it.

I’m scared”  I tell God daily.

” I AM with you,” God says

 

Amen.

3, 2, 1 MOVE

We are moving… IN THREE DAYS!

Yup.

Our closing date on Cute Cottage got bumped up two days, so we close and move into town on Tuesday. So these past couple of days have seen Best Dude and me franticly putting things in boxes. Best Dude hauls them out to the POD we have parked in the front yard, as I am still recovering from surgery .

Moving is not for the weak or faint-hearted.

I like my life in order, and my house has been anything but orderly for a few weeks.

I feel like I am losing my sanity.

I need order, and my space looks like a storm passed through it lately.

My coloring pens and adult coloring books are packed, as are many of my ” go-to-books  that I re-read for comfort.

We sold some unneeded furniture, so the house looks empty and the dog is mad at us {We sold the couch he slept on}

Moving is stressful.

Moving is hard.

Yet I know it will be worth it to finally settle in our  Cute Cottage.

What are we called to do as Christians?

What are we called to do as Christians?

The Gospel of Mark says it simply and succinctly.

” 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” 32“Right, Teacher,” the scribe replied. “You have stated correctly that God is One and there is no other but Him… { Mark 12:30-31}

In this time in our national and world history, it is easy to want to retaliate those who do us harm with more violence. I will be the first to admit publicly that I wanted to physically harm all the Nazi protesters in Charlottesville.

As an American Christian with Jewish heritage { from my mother’s side of the gene pool} the very word ” Nazi” incites rage within me. Honestly, the whole ugly mess in Charlottesville was just too much for my heart to bear— I became increasingly angry and hateful towards them and expressed my views vehemently on Facebook and other social media outlets.

Without even knowing me, those Nazis hurt me with their signs, symbols and hateful rhetoric.

The actions of those Nazis cut into the fiber of my being. All I could think about were the 6 million Jewish women, men and children who were tortured and murdered at the whim of an Austrian mad man. My generation had been, up until recently, removed by time from the horrors of Europe under Hitler. Seeing those flags and salutes last week in Charlottesville felt like a literal nightmare.

I was reminded today that the answer to the violence and hatred happening now is NOT to retaliate.

The Gospel of Mark is clear . We are to” …love our neighbors as ourselves. ” Jesus did not come to Earth as a human, grow up to teach and preach, die a horrid death and risen just for a select few.  To Jesus, all people are His Neighbors.  Naturally, His neighbors are our neighbors and we are to honor the Christ in them.

So how can we fight hatred with LOVE?

I plan to volunteer for the School-Based Program of Big Brothers Big Sisters as soon as Best Dude and I get settled in our new house.  I cannot control the actions of the people who chose to become Nazis. But, in my own community I can mentor and guide a young girl so she will grow up with a good example in me.

We may need to think outside of the ” box” , but solutions to combatting hatred with LOVE are there.  If I learned anything from the events of these past two weeks, it is that there is so much more to do. It is up to me both as a Christian and a person of European Jewish descent, to spread a message to the next generation that Nazism { and all that it holds dear} is NOT a good way to live.

In the Name of The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

” I believe I am so called…”

I attended an Ordination to the Sacred Order of the Priesthood on Saturday.  The new priest is a friend and mentor of mine, and I am delighted that I had the opportunity to be a part of the special day in both the life of the Church and for “M”.

” My name is Sarah Beth , I love Jesus, and I am proud to be an Episcopalian.”

As another friend of mine commented on Facebook after the event” Episcopalians love ceremony and this one was awesome.”

Anyhow, the guest preacher is the Dean of the School of Theology at The University of the South, where many of my clergy friends went to seminary. His homily, delivered as if he and the new priest were sitting down enjoying a couple of beers, was about what it means to be, in his words ” an okay shepherd”  { Jesus is the Good Shepherd and none of us are Jesus}

The preacher said that becoming a priest or a deacon does change someone. While she or he will still be the person God created; the ordination puts additional blessings and responsibilities upon them. One of the things that he stressed was that clergy people have a ministry of presence to those under his or her care.  In the liturgy for an ordination, the Bishop asks the candidate several questions. This part of the liturgy, called The Examination

At the beginning, the Bishop asked the candidate:

My brother or sister, do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to this priesthood?

The candidate replies

“I believe I am so called”

To me, these words mean that the person has answered a  call to a very specific lifestyle, one that shall alter the rest of her or his life’s path.

After the Bishop asked the candidate a series of questions and she or he responds with the words ” I will”, the Bishop says these words to her or him”

May the LORD who has given you the will to do these things give you the grace and power to perform them.” 

A person’s call to ordained life is not ***just *** a career choice, it is an entire lifestyle. I am grateful that the Church has a process in which individuals can discern { individually and within the communities of one’s parish and Diocese}

  1. IF they are so called
  2. What a life as an ordained person in the Church means to them.

I know enough clergy to know that the vocation that which they have answered is not easy. It is hard to balance ” work” and personal time for most people, but when your ” work” is a vocation to serve God and God’s people , that balance is harder to find and maintain.

” M” , and others, thank you for saying YES to God’s call of priestly presence among God’s People.

 

 

 

 

Proper 15 Matthew 15: 21-28

This has always been a hard  Gospel text for me to read. Yet it reminds me that Our Lord Jesus was human as well as being Divine. As does all of humanity , perhaps God the Father used this Canaanite woman for Jesus’ ” teachable moment. ”

Let’s take a look at the text appointed for today:

“Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly”

The title of this text could be _ Nevertheless She Persisted_ Even though Jesus and His disciples appear to ignore this woman’s plea for healing; that did not stop her from asking again. She knew that as a woman, and a Canaanite she wasn’t supposed to talk to Jewish men. Yet somehow she knew that this Jewish man was no ordinary human.  She says

Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.

In spite of her status as a woman  from a different social, cultural, and religious group than this Jewish rabbi ; she felt the need to beg him to heal her sick child.

After Jesus tells her that He was only sent to save “the lost sheep of Israel” , and by doing so seems to be rather racist, the woman begs him again.

“Lord help me”

Again, she begs Him for His help.

“…help me. “

When Jesus replies that it isn’t right to take His children’s  ‘ food’ and through it to ‘dogs”{ in that time and place it was an insult to refer to a human as a dog} the woman makes one last plea for help. She says “…even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

Here  Jesus’ attitude seems to do a double take.

He says: “Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.”

If Jesus’ attitude concerning  ‘the other’ needed an adjustment, think about this story in light of what is happening now in our nation and world. Perhaps this is not only a teachable moment for Jesus and His disciples, but a teachable moment for you and me? We know we are comfortable among people who are the most like us; so how do we act when someone who does not fit our demographic reaches out?

Fearing others who look, act, love, or believe differently than we do leads to hatred. Hatred often leads to violence. As long as one group of humans fears other groups of humans, there will be no true peace in the world. Perhaps this was the moment when Jesus  realized His true mission? If so, perhaps it is our Christian duty to continue Christ’s mission of bringing peace, love and acceptance for ALL humanity?

Jesus had a change of heart, and we can thank the persistent Canaanite woman for opening His heart to His other sheep.

In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit . Amen

 

 

Ephesians 4:1- and 11-16

In light of what has been happening in our nation and also in our world, The first few sentences of Paul’s Letter to the Church at Ephesus is pertinent in my walk with Christ this week and in the weeks in the immediate future.

4″ I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Scholars think that St Paul wrote this letter to the community of believers at Ephesus while he was in prison. Scholars also think that Paul was imprisoned in Rom for approximately two years . I imagine that Paul had a lot of time on his hands while he sat in that cell. Unlike me, Paul used his down time wisely.

This part of Paul’s letter seems to encourage the readers to maintain unity within their own community , as well as remind his audience that the Way Of Christ involved such traits as humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace. That advice, written to a Christian community so long ago in a different place; has merit now. There is no doubt in my mind that we live in a scary time in history; and many people are taking to social media, letters to the local newspaper, and cartoons to express their anger.  But Paul reminds me here that Christians are not to return hate for hate.  His words: there is one Body, and one Spirit… one LORD one faith, one baptism and one God…Who is above all and through all and in all” 

I am as frightened as the next person about the direction where our nation and world is going. Yet St Paul reminds me that it isn’t Christ like to return hate with more hate. Furthermore, hateful behavior towards the haters will only fuel their zeal for their cause. I am not saying that we Christians need to ignore what is happening right now. Rather I suggest that we seek out ways to BE Christ’s Hands and Feet in there here and now.

Fulfilling a desire to ” punch the Nazis in the face” will not change their message.  Daily I challenge myself to refrain from posting nasty counter-Nazi memes on Facebook  and think of ways that I can be an instrument of God’s Peace in my parish Diocese, city, state , nation and world.

Believe me I know how hard this idea is to put into practice, and I do NOT know what the long-term solution to dealing with militant hatred will be. I know that the collective anger that I both exhibited and now see in others has got to be replaced by loving service and joining together to work to eradicate racism. This will not be easy work, but if enough of us dedicate ourselves to ending racism we will prevail. In my anger, I had lost the HOPE that we all have in Christ. By toning down my rhetoric and speaking with others about how we can work towards ending racism; I have found peace in this mess of a society that we live in right now.

Also, I know that since I quit spreading hate to the haters via social media; I’ve been more at peace with myself . While I am not keeping totally silent on the issues; I choose to discuss and hopefully implement solutions to he problem of race and bigotry in our society.

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen.

The Making Of A Priest

 

On Saturday, August 19 I will travel with some parishioners for the ordination of a dear friend to the Priesthood in the one catholic, universal  Church. I’ll call her ” M”.

“M” ‘s friendship and support through the years has and continues to be instrumental for my own discernment. I am so proud of her and excited for the Church and especially her parish. She’ll be a great Priest.

I am such a church nerd and the Ordination of a Priest is one of my a” time favorite Book of Common Prayer services. Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in this rite.

By far, the part of the liturgy that causes happy tears every time is during the Consecration. the life of clergy is not easy, and the vows that “M” will take on Saturday carries high expectations. Clergy are fallible people; and I love them for their individual brokenness as a sister or fellow human. At the same time, Episcopal and Roman Catholic clergy take specific vows.

Check it out :

As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed
the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in
accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the
people among whom you work, caring alike for young and
old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to
declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce
God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy
Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s
Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations
entrusted to you.

In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the
riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this
life and in the life to come.

My sister, do you believe that you are truly called by God
and his Church to this priesthood?
Answer
I believe I am so called.

{ This chokes me up every time; as discernment is a long, arduous and intensely personal process that requires someone to open up his or her life to the Bishop, the vestry of the sponsoring congregation, and the Commission on Ministry of the Diocese}

Bishop
Do you now in the presence of the Church commit
yourself to this trust and responsibility?
Answer
I do.

Wow. . Those are some intense vows.

The life of clergy isn’t easy; and those who make and uphold these vows do so knowing full well that they are human. We humans are prone to err; and clergy are no exception. I love the clergy in my life; and I honor their humanity by accepting that they will make mistakes. Clergy have answered a tough vocation; and deserve compassion when they do err.

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

 

Feast Of St Julian of Norwich AD 2017

Romans Chapters 11 and 12 { or why St Paul is ok sometimes}

 

Let me preface this article by stating that I belong to the Best Wednesday Morning Bible Study ever!  No, I am NOT kidding, I love these people. It is wonderful to walk into a parish hall and be greeted with genuine love— especially since this Bible Study occurs at my ” Wednesday Church”.

Our group is slogging through St Paul’s letter to the Romans. I say ” slogging” because I’ve admitted many times to having qualms about some of St Paul’s ideas { Women shouldn’t speak in church—- REALLY??} Anyway, in light of what happened this weekend, I found great comfort in St Paul’s Letter to the early Christians in Rome.

Paul’s metaphor of the Body of Christ as an olive tree is beautiful. Furthermore, he says that those of us ” gentiles”  who are grafted onto Christ’s Body are blessed. he also admonishes those who already tied the law. { back then, the Jewish people, but this can apply to Christians who grew up in church from infancy.

I am a child of a Jewish Mother and an Irish Catholic father. Although what little religious instruction I had while growing up was from Christianity; I really wasn’t ” grafted” until my baptism at age 20.  Because I was ” grafted” I feel grateful to be a Christian; and strive to do my best to live the kind of life that St Paul describes in chapter 12 of Romans. Christ makes no difference in His followers who were both baptized as infants and those of us who came to know Christ on our own.

Romans 12 describes a ” tall order ‘ for we people of faith. St Pauk writes a litany of Christian virtues and expectations that can make even we more seasoned Christ-followers blanche.

Check it out:

“9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”

Ouch. As I said, that is one tall order for us to follow.

St Paul is giving us a guidebook for basic Christian behavior. To be honest, I have failed miserably at all of these instructions. But, as a grafted sister in Christ’s family, I know that each day I get a chance to begin anew. Especially now in this current political scene; I find it challenging { to say the least} to even follow one of these commands.  Yet especially after this weekend, we are called by Jesus { via St Paul} to not overcome evil for evil, but to overcome evil for good.

How do we do this, I ask myself every day. How do we sow love rather than hatred? Each of us is gifted by God with certain talents and abilities. I believe that St Paul is saying earlier in this passage that we must call ourselves to action; or as a friend of mine said ” become boots-on-the-ground Christians”

Look at how he introduces this chapter:

1 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned”

To me, being a living sacrifice means using my gifts, skills and interests to further God’s kingdom in the here and now. I read this passage as a personal , parent-like scolding from God. God is saying to me: “Sarah Beth, get out of your head and off your tush and go into the world and DO SOMETHING.” 

I shall. God needs me, and God also needs you.

Be the Church in the world.

In the Name of  the Father, Son and Holy Ghost,  Amen.

 

No Child from my womb yet still a ” Mother”

“Being a woman is more than a mother. It’s being the person God calls us to be bringing love into the world. I have moments of mothering, and I thank Mother God that I can fill that space from time to time” ~Rev Michelle Torigan, Pastor in the United Church of Christ.  { she is one of my favorite bloggers as of late}

Motherhood is celebrated in society, and it should be. All humans have a mother. But the problem in modern Christian American society is when only women who have given birth to human babies are celebrated. Those of us who either choose not to give birth, have struggled with infertility and/or pregnancy loss or have been orphaned early in life feel left out.

As a partnered yet childless woman I feel like many in my southern, politically conservative community look down upon me because I am childless and childfree. I am no longer letting these women project their insecurities about their own femininity and self-worth onto me. 

I am not someone to be pitied.

Like Reverend Torigan, there was a point in my life when all I wanted was to settle down and have a baby  {or two or three} As my health precluded my ever becoming a biological mother, I hoped to settle down with someone and adopt a child. After all, as a woman, isn’t that what I am supposed to do: become a mother ?

Contrary to what Hallmark leads people to believe each May, the answer is no.

On this Feast Day of The Assumption of the Blessed Mother, I would like to give thank to woman who mother. This includes women who are teachers, clergy, mentors to someone else’s child, women who work as daycare providers, nannies or private babysitters. Not to mention the women who serve as doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners who treat children’s’ health issues. Included in this ” Unbiological Mommies Club” are Godmothers and we child-free aunts { both roles I fill}

I am at the point in my life where I am satisfied with what I have: a wonderful man, a dog, TWO awesome parish families, fulfilling volunteer work, many true friends  and a loving extended family. Sure, I would have loved to have borne a child, but I find ways to nurture others.

At the age of ” over 40″ and with God’s help in the form of many women who ” mother ” me in faith, I am growing into the women I was originally created to be. It is my hope and prayer that I will continue the long tradition of women ” mothering other younger disciples of our Lord.

 

In the Name of the Creator, Redeemer , and Sustainer.