Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas at St. Jude’s Homes

No season evokes remembrances like Christmas. For many of us, it is the memories of childhood and surprises under the tree or the day at our grandparent’s home. The Christmas recollections which bring us the most happiness are those from 1964 to 1969 when we had three Oregon nursing homes under the patronage of St. Jude. Altogether we served more than two hundred residents in three units. The units were about ten miles apart. The St. Jude's Home in Sandy Oregon was where the brothers lived, in the second floor monastery.

From the very beginning in 1958 our policy was, along with treats and whatever came in the boxes of incidental gifts from parish guilds who signed up earlier in the year. We opened each wrapped gift marked "for a man, for a woman," marked and rewrapped it to be sure we didn't give a baldheaded man a comb or a diabetic a box of chocolates.

We would start buying specific items for residents in early November. They ranged from dusters and music boxes to electric razors and bedroom slippers or a stuffed animal. Once there was an elderly man named Joe who had a broken leg. Joe believed he would never walk again. Poking out of his Christmas bag that Christmas Eve was a shiny black and silver cane that spoke louder to him than all the encouraging remarks from the nursing staff. By the week before Christmas there was a large grocery bag for each of our 215 residents with his or her name on it. On Christmas Eve the brothers would load up a van and take the bags to their rightful nursing home.

On Christmas Eve, after finishing our regular day of work, we piled into cars, loaded the portable field organ in to one of our vans and drove off to our most distant nursing home. We started at five o'clock. Residents waited in the living room. Trolleys laden with hot chocolate, cookies and other treats stood by. Fr David or Brother Christian played the small pump organ and we all sang the familiar Christmas carols. Someone read the nativity story and we offered the Christmas prayers.

Imagine the Christmas trees in our nursing homes, depending on the size, with 95, or 53 or 62 bags of gifts underneath with each resident's name to identify the particulars. You had to distribute the bags of gifts as quickly as possible. Many had no families and they doubted if there would be something for them. You could see the worried concern until a brother placed the right bag on the right lap. The party ended with the singing of "Silent Night." We then helped folks back to their rooms, put them to bed or made them comfortable in an easy chair and assisted unwrapping the packages before departing for the next place to repeat the program.

Those parties became so popular that residents who had the option of being with relatives often asked families to pick them up Christmas morning. Off-duty nurse's aides sometimes volunteered to help out. The last stop was St. Jude's Home in Sandy, where we had the Christmas program in the chapel.

Every year a local pharmacy donated small boxes of Russell Stover chocolates. Those were the first found, opened and eaten. You felt good to the bone seeing the looks of genuine surprise and delight on the faces of the frail elderly. Tucking them into bed surrounded by treats and new things perhaps brought a flashback to a far distant, early time in their lives when something similar happened.

The Brothers had a break and then gathered around our own tree in the large common room upstairs. If there were any priests resident in the home, we invited them to join us. One in particular was a stroke patient who weighed over 200 pounds. There was no elevator in the building at that time so the only way he could get him upstairs was if four stout monks lifted him, wheelchair and all, up the stairway! It was a time of fellowship and merriment as we opened gifts, enjoyed some Christmas cheer and had some food. Near midnight we gathered in our chapel along with members of our mission congregation from the community for a reverent midnight Mass.

On Christmas day, though still tired from the night before, we relieved as many staff members as our numbers allowed to be with their families. Christmas was always the quietest day in the year in our nursing homes. Those residents who could, visited relatives or friends. The rest enjoyed a special breakfast and dinner with as many seconds as desired.

It may not have come close to Bob Hope entertaining the troops at Christmas, but we will always remember the peace and good will which prevailed being with the residents on Christmas Eve. We were their family and they were our community. It brought home Jesus' insight "it is better to give than receive," and his words, "In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me." It was as close as we will ever come to kneeling in the stable on that first Christmas.

  The Rev. Canons Andrew Rank and Barnabas Hunt

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Sunday Sermon: The season of Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
New Englander poet Emily Dickinson knew the power and necessity of hope, in a land where winter seems to go on for ever.

Today we face a mess of contradictions. It's the first Sunday of Advent, the start of a new church year, and yet our calendars are old and tattered, the days continue to get shorter and cooler, the world is full of signs of endings - a lame duck administration, falling leaves, the publication of end of year lists. Are we at the beginning or the end? Our scripture readings don't do much to resolve the confusion.

If you aren't familiar with the church's peculiar logic, here's a summary of how our Sunday readings are structured. We have a three year cycle, each year focusing on one of the first three Gospels (I've never understood why it isn't a four-year cycle with the four Gospels, but like I said, peculiar logic). On this first Sunday of Advent, as we begin year A, we start hearing each week from Matthew's Gospel. The Old Testament reading is selected to match or contrast with the Gospel. The Psalm is a congregational response to or meditation on the Old Testament reading.The second reading is usually from one of the letters by Paul and others, and often runs sequentially from week to week through the highlights of one letter, although in Advent the second lesson jumps around to pick up various Adventish themes, today's theme being "Watch out! Wake up! Jesus is coming!"

Now you might think that we would start at the beginning of Matthew's Gospel and go forward, but no. Today we jump right in near the end, to the teaching Jesus offers his disciples after they arrive in Jerusalem and just before he is betrayed and arrested. It's not until the fourth Sunday of Advent that we find ourselves at the beginning of the story, with Matthew's unique portrayal of Joseph, that most patient and forgiving of fiancés.

Today is all about being ready for the unexpected. In our culture, Christmas is anything but unexpected. We've been seeing signs of its approach for a month or so already. And it's not just Christmas. We try to insulate ourselves from the unexpected and unplanned in every part of our lives, from the sensible such as signing leases, to the fanciful such as reading our horoscopes. We buy insurance policies. We check the weather forecast. We plan budgets - something we've been very occupied with at church lately. We design career paths and family structures and vacation schedules. We make Christmas present lists and wills.

But, as the saying goes, life is what happens when you are making other plans. A young girl in ancient Palestine was visited by an angel and the world turned upside down. Three years ago I was preparing to start a Doctor of Ministry degree at Virginia Seminary, and God called me to San Diego. Three Sundays ago I gave Communion to a member of our choir who was his usual cheerful self, and the next day we learned that God had called him home. That same week our entire nation was stunned by an electoral upset that nobody saw coming. And, try as we may, we cannot know or predict when the kingdom of God will be fully inaugurated.

We live in a time between times, a time when Jesus has visited the earth but has still to return to claim it for his own, a time when we have seen the ultimate gift and we have witnessed humanity's rejection of it. Advent is about living in the time between the times, living in expectation, in tension, experiencing painful reality while placing our trust in the new creation that God has promised will some day come to be.

Sometimes it feels like we take two steps forward and then one and a half steps back. We celebrate marriage equality, and up spring so-called religious liberty laws designed to discriminate. We get within spitting distance of electing a woman as president, and instead face a real possibility of seeing reproductive choice restricted across the land. We take strides towards racial equality and then see young black men shot and native Americans driven off their own sacred lands. It's easy to feel helpless, to feel that there's nothing we can do to move the needle back towards equity and justice.

What we can do is live in hope that it will happen, that God is in charge, that whatever happens to us individually, or as a congregation, or as a generation, the Kingdom is coming ever closer, the plan of salvation is, ever so slowly, inching towards its fulfillment. Advent is, above all, a season of hope, and that is the message that is woven through these readings. We hope with Isaiah and the Psalmist that the world will know peace. We hope with St Paul that our leaders will set an example of honorable living, and that we will put behind us the xenophobia, greed and discrimination of our history. We hope with Jesus that, whatever happens to upset our carefully laid plans, we will continue to prepare the world to be a better place, worthy of the presence of God, a safe and welcoming home for the vulnerable, the refugee, the oppressed, in a world better than the one that begrudged the Christ child a bed, the one that stands by while a government bombs its children in Aleppo or fires smoke grenades at young water protectors in North Dakota.

We can be better than this, with God's help.

Last week our ingathering of pledges was moving and impressive. It was wonderful to watch everyone, old and young, streaming up to the altar to make our commitments. But we haven't yet reached the level of giving that we are hoping for. We have great plans for next year at St Paul's. We want to expand our youth ministry and launch an alternative worship service to bring the good news to people who aren't attracted to our traditional services. But we may have to put those plans on hold, and Chapter will need to be prepared to make tough budgeting decisions, in case our hopes don't materialize. But my hope remains strong. Now more than ever, we need strong leadership from our faith communities. We need to be able to feed the hungry, house the homeless, speak for those without voice, teach our children what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

Meanwhile, look for the signs of hope, that thing that perches in the soul and never stops at all. Hope in a family rehoused after being homeless. Hope in the birth of a beautiful child. Hope in a moment of tenderness between friends. Hope in a prayer for healing. Hope in a prisoner freed. Hope in the graceful letting go at the end of a long life. Even though the days continue to shorten and the world continues to thrash about in violence and injustice, we hold to hope, because we know how the story ends, we believe the promises, and we are getting ready for the one who is coming into the world. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

November 27, 2016
First Sunday of Advent
The Very Rev. Penelope Bridges

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

ALternative Gift Exp Returns Dec 11!

St. Paul’s Alternative Gifts Expo returns! 
Sunday, Dec. 11, 8:30AM-1:30PM 
The Great Hall, St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral 
 2728 Sixth Ave, San Diego, CA

Coming together with common values, our St. Paul’s community demonstrates an alternative to our commercial, consumptive culture-a colorful and festive marketplace with choices of gifts that revolve around issues you care about.

Alternative gifts prioritize meaning over materials — they may include a charitable donation in honor of a family member to provide health care in Haiti, or handcrafted note cards that support a nursing college in Kenya. Donations in a friend’s honor may also provide translators to assist war-ravaged refugees seeking help with everyday government transactions.

Shoppers can also visit tables hosted by non-profit organizations that strengthen the Fair Trade practices by buying handcrafted items produced by artisans in economically disadvantaged areas of the world. When you buy Fair Trade products you are encouraging safe and ethical business practices.

Alternative gifts cost you less money, are less costly for the environment, and are less commercialized—but really, they’re all about infusing the holiday season with more: more meaning, more joy, and more fun.

Enjoy yourself, and bring a friend and the kids! Children will find there is a selection of small priced items that make special gifts for friends or family.

Besides a wintery ambience we will be serving free-of-charge yummy Tomorrow Project soup and bread from 11:30AM-1PM, and we will accept Cash, Check and Credit cards for donations and products. Festive recorder music by The Granada Consort will be performed throughout the event.

Vendors Include:

  • Equal Exchange/Fair Trade- Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, olive oil, nuts, and more
  • Around the World Gifts- Fair Trade products that include decorative gifts, bags, accessories
  • Episcopal Refugee Network- Donations to assist San Diego refugees from war-torn regions
  • Mission in Maseno (Kenya)- handcrafted note cards benefitting the AIDS/HIV hospital and small nursing college
  • Haiti Health- Donate to help purchase blood pressure medications for Dr. Bart Smoot’s Blood Pressure Clinic
  • Plant with Purpose- Donations to renew the earth with gifts of trees, chicks, family gardens, bunnies, tee shirts
  • Golden Rule Boutique- Handmade clothing Fair Trade products for the betterment of children, women and families
  • Nonviolent Peaceforce- Buy a Peace Bond or potholder to support this group’s training of civilians to provide unarmed civilian peacekeeping in violent areas of the world
  • Ten Thousand Villages- a myriad of unusual small gifts from the Fair Trade communities across the globe
  • Tomorrow Project- Fabulous soups (enjoy a cup for lunch!), spice rubs, and rice mixes train and empower low-income women for work readiness Fair Trade Décor-Decorative home items and personal accessories that provide legitimate and sustainable means for people around the world to pull themselves out of poverty
  • Vida Joven de Mexico- Donations to provide Mexican children 3-18 years who have been abandoned or have a parent in jail with love, protection, and education
  • Malia Designs- Fair trade producer groups who offer marginalized people in Cambodia exposure to Western Markets to keep a sustainable income through sales of silk items, unusual bags, and wallets
  • Lumily- Works directly with partner artisans in Guatemala, Mexico and Thailand to pay a fair wage, give hope, and provide a percentage of profit back to the artisan community through sales of jewelry, large and small bags, key chains, and clothing
  • Melinda’s Homemade Jams in support of the Cathedral Memorial Organ

St. Paul’s Simpler Living, and Children, Youth and Families also are part of the Alternative Gifts Expo. Both will provide small-priced items for children to give or receive.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Sunday Sermon: Christ, a different kind of King

Today is Christ the King Sunday. While Christ the King is an established part of our tradition, it is not really that old. It was begun in the early part of the 20th century and there is some debate about why it began. But in any event, it is a day we use now at the end of the liturgical year to celebrate our allegiance to Christ, looking back to his birth 2000 years ago even as we look forward to his coming again, very similar to how we will begin the new church year next week with the beginning of Advent.

Let me just be real honest with you. I don’t like this day. I don’t like the title “Christ the King.” I don’t like the triumphalism of a victorious king who conquers. It is a part of the church’s history, but it isn’t one that I think is reflective of the Christ who actually appeared to us 2000 years ago. And don’t get me started on the second coming.

It is Christ, after all, who told Pilate point blank that if he had been of this world he would have had armies and angels and whatnot to back him up and take Pilate out to defend himself (At least in Matthew and John).

But his point, of course, was that his kingdom was not of this world, and that’s why armies were not something he was interested in. We got instead this man who offers himself to die on a cross without committing a crime, killed at the hands of the political leaders of this world. I can't think of too many political leaders who run on that platform.

My New Testament professor used to talk about this a lot in seminary-- because this was really very confusing to the disciples. They expected their Messiah to be someone who would use the political system of the world to transform it; who would take Caesar by the throats and kick him to the curb to put in place the things that they wanted. But instead they got this Jesus who died at Caesar’s hands. That was a profound reshaping of what it meant to be the King of the Jews-- so much so that the title is thrown at him by the Romans as a sarcastic insult- this alleged king can't even save himself when he hasn't done anything wrong. Some king.

But it seems that still today, we want somehow for God to win through the political system, or through military power, or through money and wealth, or any of the other influences that Caesar represents. We have in Christ a king who wins a different way.

We have in Christ one who hung out not with the elite, but with those on the margins and so even at the end in today’s reading is crucified with criminals.

We have in this Jesus somebody who, when he encountered people who were not inclusive, did not call them names but educated them. Remember the story of “who is my neighbor” and the good samaritan? It was an outsider who was the most neighborly.

But this Jesus also had an edge. Luke’s version is not in our Sunday lectionary, but Jesus calls out Pharisees and Lawyers (sorry lawyers!) for craving recognition in the community without having compassion for those in need.

And so, here not in Palestine but in the US, not facing Caesar but in the aftermath of a contentious election; I think perhaps it is prudent to wonder: what does it mean to follow a crucified Jesus today?

I have been re-reading parts of a book by the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment. That was an experiment in 1971 that would never be allowed today because it wasn’t ethical, but pulled volunteers-- so-called “normal” male college kids-- into a two-week simulation, with some playing guards and some playing inmates. What the experiment discovered is that systemic and situational influences have profound impact on how people behave. The experiment had to be cut short because the guards became abusive and the prisoners became depressed; they all fell victim to the system of what it is like to be in a real prison. For some in the experiment, there were life-long psychological implications. The sub-title of the book is Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, and it covers situations ranging from the Stanford Prison Experiment to the Holocaust, from McCarthyism to the Apartheid.

There were two things that struck me. First, the people caught up in those systems did not have any idea how horrible their actions were when they were happening- the situational factors around them normalized what was going on. Second, almost all of us think “that kind of thing happens to those people but I would never fall subject to it.” But the truth is, study after study finds that most people get wrapped up by situational forces and cannot resist.

I am not a psychologist. But I fully believe that we are wrapped up in those kinds of systems right now. In fact, we always have been, us humans. It’s not a democrat or republican or independent thing. The dynamics of division are a malevolent system that have us - all of us - wrapped around its finger, just like all those other systems I just named.

My favorite moment in this election season was a Saturday Night Live skit that made fun of the systems that we have erected. It portrayed a game of jeopardy with two lower income African Americans and one lower-income white man and highlighted how strange it was that this election pitted them against each other when they have so much in common. All three characters were grossly overdone stereotypes of different lower income demographic groups, but the skit cut through the systems of division we live in to highlight that it is the poor who are losing in the current systems on both the left and the right.

(I'm not suggesting we should be color blind or that racism isn't a real and present danger or that there isn't a real systemic problem of racism to address. But the question is whether we will allow the systems to perpetuate deeper division between the most vulnerable among us- and who benefits from that.)

As Christians, we claim a system that is not of this world. We claim a ruler who wins not because they get the most votes or because they hold title to an office or because they have money or because they have political power.

We claim to live our lives by the baptismal covenant, we claim that we died to any other allegiance at baptism as secondary; and we claim that our way is the way of the one who respects the dignity of every human being, who values all life, not just our own; and who endowed all creation with value just because it exists. We can be both for the ending of systemic racism and on the side of the working white family in the hills of Appalachia.

There are economic powers at play in the system at world that want us to believe that hoarding wealth, greedily clinging to what has been given to us-- is the only way. But on today, this day of Christ the King, we claim another way. We celebrate with the ingathering of pledges that the way of life is to give, to sacrifice, and to offer of our lives and labor because compassion, love, and justice are the system we claim instead of greed, scarcity, and violence.

And while political leaders, democrat and republican-- and even whole countries-- will come and go-- as Christians we place our trust in the one who never fails, who comes and stands with us, this broken, messy, even crazy human family-- even if though it killed him to do it.

And it is only because of we stand with that very God who lives in that kind of kingdom that we can continue to choose a different system; we can live by a different way, a way that values love while also holding each other accountable; a way that looks to build bridges without giving up on our common dignity; a way that sees protest as a part of the prophetic tradition of standing up for those who are voiceless; and who listens to to the other as a part of this beloved human community.

The act of following Christ the King pulls us out of the partisan ideology that the world says we must have and sets us firmly into our identity in baptism. But it is not passive. In fact, it is riskier than anything else we may do in this world. Our king, Christ the King, got killed for it. To be Christian is not to escape politics but to deeply engage politics. We are called to transform the systems of this world, not ignore or avoid them.

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann says it this way:
"Faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.”
The Dean said last week: we treat others not because they deserve to be treated well, but because of who we are. As followers of Christ, a different kind of king, we offer witness to the world of a different system, a way forward, one that's neither red nor blue but bathed in the light of God; a chink in the armor of a world that wants so much to be broken open in love that it cries out in agony under its own weight.

And that is why the Church exists: to call out in praise and thanks: Holy, Holy, Holy; you alone, God, are the most high. Not anybody or anything else. Service, protest, contemplation, action, or praise- let everything we do be to break open this world and be a part of the coming of your kingdom, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, just let us be a part of your kingdom; your paradise, in this hour, we pray.

Maybe Christ the King Sunday isn’t so bad after all.


 The Rev. Jeff Martinhauk 
Christ the King C, 
November 20, 2016 
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego 
Lk 23:33-43

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Sunday Sermon: A Better Vision

Isaiah casts a vision of a better time to come, Paul exhorts us not to be weary in doing what is right, Jesus offers apocalyptic prophecies of end times and persecutions ... I promise you that I didn't choose these readings this morning: they are the gift of our lectionary. But they do have much to say to us today, and not just in the obvious ways.

On this Sunday in 2008 I lost a family from my parish because I didn't preach that the election of Barack Obama heralded the full inbreaking of the kingdom of God. My congregation included people with widely varying political views; even within the choir there were people who, the previous Tuesday, had staffed the phones for McCain and some who had staffed the phones for Obama. For those who supported Mr Obama, it was a moment of great and idealistic hope for systemic change, but such change is slow and halting, not a straight line, more like a labyrinth, as we are now learning.

We Americans are a diverse people and, even within the cathedral community, we are a diverse congregation. There are undoubtedly people here today who on Tuesday voted enthusiastically for the winners, some who voted enthusiastically for the losers, and some who voted for a candidate they knew couldn't possibly win. There are also people here who celebrated happy milestones in their lives this week - a baptism or marriage. There are people here today who lost a dear friend or family member to death in recent days. So, like any other Sunday, we are a mixed bag of emotions, joyful, heartbroken, confident, fearful, confused, serene ...

But we are all here, together, for a common purpose. We gather today as on every Sunday to receive the bread of life and to remember who we are and whose we are. Celebrating or grieving, we do it in community, and our worship reminds us that we are one body in Christ, joined together by one baptism, sharing one mission. That reality transcends all other loyalties, all other circumstances.

On a day when we might be distracted by the drama of the past week, the Collect reminds us that what's important is the hope of eternal life in Christ. That hope remains, regardless of any human event. God is much bigger than a president or a Congress.

In the Gospel Jesus reminds us that no one can change God's ultimate plan for humankind. The only Savior is Jesus, and God's love outdoes anything an individual can do for better or worse. We all need that reminder today: don't place your hopes in any human being, because human beings don't have the last word. Only God creates out of nothing, only God endures.

This Gospel passage almost feels like a contemporary commentary. Human institutions will let us down. False prophets, including pollsters, are not to be trusted. Families and friends betray us. People lie. Bad things happen, but we can endure, because we put our faith in a Savior who transcends all human limitations.

The surprising thing about Isaiah's hopeful vision is how ordinary it is: people die of old age, babies grow to maturity, families have homes to live in and stable sources of income; the earth produces abundant food. To our ears, these aren't pie-the-sky fantasies, but reasonable standards for any enlightened society. In this country they should all be goals long ago achieved and taken for granted. But the fact is, there are millions of people in this country for whom this is still a hoped-for, some-day dream. Our elders are not guaranteed skilled and compassionate care in their last days. Health care costs bankrupt families. The US infant mortality is worse than 27 other developed nations, and in some states the rate is below countries that have been wracked by war for decades. Our same-sex couples now live in fear that their marriages will be invalidated and their children taken away from them, that they will be denied employment with impunity because of their family configuration or because of whom they love. Our Latino families fear the knock on the door that will separate them. Climate change and our insatiable appetite for energy are torturing the planet, causing extreme weather, pollution, and famine.

For many of us, Isaiah's vision feels further away today than it did a week ago.This is the hard part of democracy. Things don't always turn out the way we want. But we don't stop doing good, because we are people of a vision. And now we must roll up our sleeves once again and get back to work developing the kind of society where the vision can become a reality.

Isaiah and the other prophets constantly remind us that God has limitless capacity for new creation. We know that our God can redeem the most hopeless situation, can bring new things out of old, can bring life out of death. The Gospels proclaim this in the clearest terms in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; and the history of the Church proclaims it in two thousand years of persecution and yet growth, corruption and yet reform, decay and yet renewal. God's creativity knows no bounds, and death is never the end of the story.

A relative in the UK asked me on Wednesday why the election of Mr Trump is such a big deal. After all, he said, the American people haven't changed. I agree; we will be as optimistic and great-hearted a people as Americans have always been; but what we have all observed is that the shadow side of this nation, the racism, sexism and xenophobia that has always been a hidden part of our national makeup, has become much more visible. Thanks in part to the conduct of the campaign, It has become more acceptable to act out those attitudes, whereas a decade ago we were at least not seeing the openly hostile and violent behavior that we are witnessing now.

In one sense this is a positive step: you cannot cure an infection without exposing it, and you cannot heal a national sin without bringing it into the open where people are forced to own their complicity. So, while it is frightening and heartbreaking to see swastikas painted on public buildings, to hear hate speech at rallies, to suffer open discrimination and disrespect, it presents an opportunity for the church to act on Jesus's words, and to witness to truth, justice, and love. We see the bad behavior and we can name it as sin and we can work to address it. As our Bishop said to us at this week's diocesan convention, we must now be the conscience of the nation.

Someone once asked me why we pray for people in prison, when they deserve to be there. My answer was that we do what we do, not because of who others are, but because of who we are.

Over the last few months there's been a lot of blame, a lot of harsh language, a lack of civility and kindness in public rhetoric. Most of us probably have something to repent. Now is a good time to remember and reclaim who we are.

The Catechism tells us that the mission of the Church is to restore all people to God and each other in Christ. The church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love. We pursue our mission here when we love Christ, serve others, and welcome all; when we feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, stand up for the powerless.

Maybe such general words aren't concrete enough as we look at what lies ahead in this country, as we anticipate more open discrimination and an even greater disparity between rich and poor. Maybe we need to name specific actions we might take to testify to our faith as Jesus instructs.

I recently saw a comic strip which offered a suggestion for how to help when you see someone vulnerable being harassed or verbally abused (this specifically referred to a Muslim woman on public transportation, but it transfers to other situations): approach the victim and sit or stand with them. Engage them in friendly conversation about anything at all. Totally ignore the abuser and encourage the victim to do likewise. Offer to go with them to their destination or to a safe place. The combination of standing in solidarity with the victim and paying no attention to the bully can be an effective way to shut down unacceptable behavior.

Another action we can all take: seek out opportunities to be educated about your own level of privilege, so that you don't inadvertently add to the pain others are already suffering.

A third action: refuse to engage in conversations blaming, shaming, or attacking people for having different political viewpoints from your own. Such conversations only deepen the divides among us, and we are called, not to division but to reconciliation.

We are blessed to be participants in God's work of renewal and recreation. We have the privilege of sharing and implementing God's dream for the world. We now have an opportunity to witness to the divine mercy and love that empowers us to endure; and to hold fast as one body to the blessed hope of everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Very Rev Penelope Bridges
November 13,2016

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Spiritual Dimensions of Suicide Prevention

As emphasized in the leading editorial and attendant articles on suicide,(1)  and by the former NIMH Director, Thomas Insel, M.D., in contrast to the medical advancements in reducing infectious diseases, significant progress in reducing suicide rates has been elusive.

Other relevant studies underscore potential strategies for reducing suicide risk: Offspring of depressed parents at increased risk for major depression, who rated spirituality or religion as important to them, had increased resilience and a 90% decreased risk for particularly recurrence of major depression (associated with a thicker cortex and measures of increased white matter connectivity in the brain) over a 30-year period.(2)  Also, among women 30-55 years who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study, attendance at religious services once per week or more was associated with an incident suicide risk that was 84% lower compared with women never attending religious services.(3)  In patients at high risk for suicide in the immediate aftermath of hospitalization, suicide risk can be reduced significantly by merely sending a postcard, as emphasized by the former Director of the American Suicide Foundation, Paula Clayton, M.D.

Psychiatrists originated from priests or shamans (surgeons from barbers), as Jerome Frank described in Persuasion and Healing (previous required reading for psychiatric residents). Harold Koenig, M.D and others have written on the importance of obtaining a spiritual history as part of the overall psychiatric evaluation.(4 ) The former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, calling for closer links between psychiatrists and clergy in the interests of both, and more importantly, in the interest of many patients, cites Andrew Sims’ remarks:
“For too long psychiatry has avoided the spiritual realm, perhaps out of ignorance, for fear of trampling on patients’ sensibilities. This is understandable, but psychiatrists have neglected it at their patients’ peril. We need to evaluate the religious and spiritual experience of our patients in aetiology, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment.”(5)  
In the Intensive Care Unit, my independent interviews with two adolescent males who had made life-threatening suicide attempts revealed that, although they did not have the risk factors of previous personal or family history of depression or suicide attempts, had no identifiable life stressors of illness, accidents, deaths or relationship break-ups, and had supportive family and friends, they each shared that they had no sense of the “meaning or purpose of life.”

Thus it behooves psychiatrists to develop a bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach to diagnosis and treatment as suggested initially by the internist, George Engel, M.D.

Barbara L. Parry, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry
University of California, San Diego

Acknowledgements: The Reverend Canon Richard Lief for his inspiration,
and L. Fernando Martinez, B.A. for his assistance with the references.

1. Lytle MC, Silenzio VM, Caine ED. Are There Still Too Few Suicides to Generate Public Outrage? JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73:1003-1004.
2. Miller L, Bansal R, Wickramaratne P, Hao X, Tenke CE, Weissman MM, Peterson BS. Neuroanatomical correlates of religiosity and spirituality: a study in adults at high and low familial risk for depression. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71:128-135.
3. VanderWeele TJ, Li S, Tsai AC, Kawachi I. Association Between Religious Service Attendance and Lower Suicide Rates Among US Women. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73:845-851.
4. Koenig HG. Association of Religious Involvement and Suicide. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73:775-776.
5. Carey G. Towards wholeness: transcending the barriers between religion and psychiatry. Br J Psychiatry. 1997;170:396-397.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Sunday Sermon: Just for Today

All Saints’ Day/Year C

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31 

  Just for today I will not worry
Just for today I will not be angry
Just for today I will do my work honestly
Just for today I will give thanks for my many blessings
Just for today I will be kind to my neighbor and every living thing

Good morning you saints of St. Paul’s Cathedral! It’s so wonderful to be here with you on this very special day, because we are not only celebrating one of the great and joyful church feasts, All Saints’ Day—giving thanks for all the saints, past, present, and future—but also celebrating that two new saints are about to be welcomed not just into this most blessed community but indeed the whole communion of saints.

Arlo Theodore and Mary Anne Stender-Custer most of us here have waited a very long time to set our eyes upon your sweet faces and meet you in person (and John and Tom, it’s good to see you too).

So Arlo and Mary, with your baptism which will take place shortly, we at St. Paul’s formally welcome you and bid you to take your places among the communion of saints.

When you think about it, the timing for this service couldn’t be better because God only knows, we can use all the saints we can get right now. Next Tuesday, life in this country, this state, this county, this city is going to change dramatically. And obviously depending on who’s elected, or what propositions pass, some of us will be happy, and some of us won’t.

But what I’ve experienced this election season, and this certainly isn’t original with me, is we are clearly seeing heightened levels of anger, anxiety, and distrust. Greater polarization, and a growing inability to simply listen to one another. Ironically, in many respects, the election is the least of it. It’s going to happen: people will get elected, propositions will pass, or not.

The real questions I think, regardless of the outcomes, are what happens next and what are we going to do about it?

How are we, as the body of Christ, followers of Jesus, going to be instruments of healing, hope, and reconciliation, regardless of how we may feel about the outcomes?

And how in the world are we going to be able to do this, when the situation seems so intransient?

Well to begin with, perhaps we need to rethink or expand what it means to be a saint.

There as many definitions of what a saint is, as there are saints themselves, but The Oxford Companion to the Bible, a good traditional source, puts it well, “In the Bible, therefore, the word, ‘saints’ refers to ‘holy people’—holy, however, not primarily in the moral sense, but in the sense of being specifically marked out as God’s people.”

Which is lovely. But once again, what does it really mean to be marked as God’s people in real life terms?

Today’s Gospel helps shed some light on just that. A similar, and probably more often read account of these teachings of Jesus is found in Matthew’s Gospel, and is known as the Beatitudes or Sermon on the Mount. The account we just heard from Luke’s Gospel, while very similar, however is known as the Sermon on the Plain and that points to a significant difference.

In both accounts Jesus go up the mountain to pray and but in Luke’s, he comes down from the mountain and teaches in and among the people. And this placement of Jesus is significant as the Rev. Dr. David Lose notes in a commentary on this passage:
What strikes me as interesting in both the narrative and description of the listening crowds is the profound act of sheer accommodation we see taking place here. The crowds come to listen; they also come to have their illnesses cured, and demons cast out, and needs met from his abundant power. These people are vulnerable in the extreme, and Jesus knows that. So rather than invite them on a spiritual pilgrimage up the mountain, or beckon his disciples up the mountain to about about the people, Jesus comes down in their midst to talk to them and to meet them in their vulnerability and need.
And it is there on the plain with the people, in their midst, Jesus gives them words of comfort and understanding. First blessings. And I think it is worth noting here that some believe a better translation of “Blessed are you,” is “Honored are you.” Think for a moment how powerful it would be to hear God honors you. You, with all your vulnerabilities and needs.

And yet at the same time Jesus also tells of woes. They’re if not necessarily warnings, certainly they are proscriptive in nature—don’t rest on your laurels, your comforts, or even your faith, if your faith does not lead you to a gracious and compassionate heart and way of being. And with these in mind, Jesus tells the people, and by extension us, how we are to be in the world, which includes we love our enemies, bless those who curse us. Do good to those who hate us. Give to everyone who begs from us. Do to others as we would have them do to us. Now, most of us certainly give lip service to these things but if we are very honest, there are times we don’t want to do them. We want to feel in control. We want to feel smart. We want to feel right and righteous.

We want to strike back and belittle, especially if our core values and beliefs are under siege and we are being belittled.

Now, I am not saying we should not speak up in the face of injustice, cruelty, or inequality. Far from it. We absolutely need to. But at the same time, we should seek to be aware of when we are speaking when we don’t feel in control, we don’t feel smart, we don’t feel right or righteous. When we feel vulnerable and it scares us.

We do need to speak out for righteousness sake, but not in such a way as harms another.

It is humbling to think how we are so capable of doing both. But we can show a different way, a better way.

For here is one of the great paradoxes of our faith, of following Jesus. It is just our vulnerability that allows us to be saints. To be a saint, Dr. Lose writes, means “not to be perfect, or to be different, or to be particularly pious, or to be zealous, but to be vulnerable and out of that vulnerability to turn to God in need.”

To turn to God in need.

Indeed to take our vulnerabilities and realize being vulnerable is part of the human condition, something we all share. It’s when we forget this, we are not able to truly speak and live out the truth in love.

Arlo and Mary, those of us here are about to make vows that we will uphold you in your life in Christ.

And then with God’s help, all of us, including you, will time and time again turn to God in our need in order to bring about a world that is just, compassionate, brave and based in love. Even when it is hard. Especially when it is hard.

It is the life-giving and sacred work we have been given to do. It can also feel overwhelming. But perhaps here is a way we can start, a simple step.

The words I opened this sermon with, some of you are familiar with, are called the Five Pillars of Reiki, which is a form of energy healing that originated in Japan. If we can set an intention each day to live out these five things, God will use our intentions to help us, with all our vulnerabilities to be the saints we are created to be.

So on this All Saints Sunday, let us pray asking for God’s help, not just for Arlo and Mary’s sake, but indeed for the whole of God’s creation:

Just for today I will not be angry
 Just for today I will do my work honestly
 Just for today I will give thanks for my many blessings 
Just for today I will be kind to my neighbor and every living thing

The Rev Canon Allisyn Thomas
St. Paul’s Cathedral
6 November 2016

Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible, “Saint(s)” (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 668 David Lose, “All Saints’ Sunday C: Saintly Vulnerability, . . . in the Meantime (accessed 1 November 2016 at http://www.davidlose.net/2016/11/all-saints-c-saintly-vulnerability).

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Sunday Sermon: Seen, Loved, Transformed

When I was seven years old, my parents took me to London to see the sights. It was a big deal: as the baby of the family I rarely got my parents to myself. Among the usual tourist attractions that we visited was the obligatory witnessing of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I don't have many memories of that vacation, but I do remember being in the crowd and not being able to see ANYTHING because I only came up to most people's waists. I remember the frustration of being surrounded by a wall of raincoats (of course it was raining), followed by the thrill of being lifted up onto my father's shoulders and getting a clear view of what today I can only call the liturgy of the guard. It wasn't fun, being small in a crowd.

Zacchaeus was a small man. He was small and he was unpopular: not a good combination when you're out in public. No wonder he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree so he could watch, unobserved, as Jesus came by. Nobody ever really saw Zacchaeus: they saw the chief tax collector, the lackey of the hated occupiers, a man who handled coinage with the image of the emperor, a man who profited from the misery of his neighbors. So he didn't want the crowd to see him, because all they would see was the enemy. He didn't expect to be seen, let alone greeted warmly.

But Jesus saw him. Jesus looked where other people didn't look, and he saw the man other people didn't see: the small man with the expensive clothes, hiding in a tree because of the shame he carried, the shame of who people perceived him to be, shame that imprisoned him in a lonely and fearful existence.

Brené Brown is a scholar of shame. She speaks extensively about the corrosive effect that shame has on the human soul, and she makes this distinction between shame and guilt:
Guilt is what we feel when we know we've done something bad.
Shame is what we feel when we believe we ARE something bad.
Shame is the fear that we are not good enough. Zacchaeus knew he wasn't good enough to be with his neighbors; he knew he wasn't good enough to approach Jesus; he knew, as the Psalm puts it, that he was small and despised.

Shame is an epidemic in our world. Abused children know shame. Closeted LGBT people know shame. People suffering from mental illness know shame. Girls and women with unfashionable body types know shame. Shame cripples and corrodes. It makes us out to be less than we truly are, stunts our spiritual growth, prevents creativity and courage, cuts us off from community, enslaves and isolates us. But we know that our God is a God of liberation, not of captivity. And God does not mean for us to live in shame.

So, Jesus sees Zacchaeus. He sees a son of Abraham, no different than all the sons and daughters of Abraham who surround him on the road. He sees, not the hated tax collector, but the beloved child of God, made in God's image, shunned by his neighbors, trapped in an unhealthy lifestyle; lost, and unable to find his own way home. Jesus sees him and he calls him by name. What power there is in being called by name! It tells Zacchaeus that Jesus really sees him; that in spite of the shame, in spite of who he is and what he has done, Jesus wants to be in relationship with him. "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, join your neighbors, allow me into your home so that we may sit together at table." I wonder how long it's been since anyone voluntarily crossed the threshold of the chief tax collector's house?

In the face of this empathy and kindness, the shame starts to melt away, and courage takes its place. Zacchaeus forgets his fear and scrambles down the tree, eager to be worthy of the invitation. He is only too happy to offer hospitality, and he goes further, offering to give away half of his possessions and make whole - more than whole - those he has cheated. Freed from shame, Zacchaeus is moved by gratitude to generosity and amendment of life.

To be seen, called by name, and invited into relationship: this is what we all long for. And Jesus offers these gifts freely, indiscriminately, to the right people and to the wrong people alike. The key that unlocks our prisons of shame is relationship, and Jesus has a keen eye for those prison cells. He goes out of his way to find the little people, the invisible ones, the ones who live on the margins and in the shadows, the ones who know they aren't worthy of inclusion until someone tells them they are worthy. Each of us might sometimes be Zacchaeus in the tree, and each of us might sometimes stand in for Jesus, looking up and out from the warmth of community to beckon to those on the edges.

In this season of discernment around our individual giving, it's worth noting that when Jesus frees Zacchaeus from shame he also frees him from anxiety, specifically around money. The gratitude Zacchaeus feels for being called by Jesus expresses itself in generosity. Luke makes a point of telling us that Zacchaeus is rich. It's not hard to see that, if he gives away half his possessions and makes fourfold restitution for the fraud he has committed, he's probably not going to be rich any more. The relief of having that burden of shame lifted, of finding that he does have a place in the community, that he does have value as a human being; all that relief changes his priorities, allows him to loosen his grip on material wealth in order to be in right relationship with his neighbors.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. It's not so great being the wealthiest guy in the room if you are spiritually lost. Zacchaeus was lost, but he found the courage to look for Jesus, and when he did that, he discovered that Jesus was looking for him, that he was needed and welcomed, that he had something of value to offer. And gratitude for this love and acceptance led this little man to turn his life around, and to be generous.

The Pharisees who hung around Jesus got very uncomfortable when he reached out to the wrong people. They believed that contact with people who weren't ritually clean, people like tax collectors, spread the uncleanness. But Jesus took the opposite approach. For Jesus, it wasn't impurity that was contagious, but purity. His contact with what we might call the deplorables of his time caused them to experience health, caused them to be transformed and to live in joy and gratitude.

Our world is full of little people, people who go unnoticed and unappreciated, acknowledged only as types rather than individuals: a homeless man, a refugee, a store clerk, a gardener. What might happen if we made a point of seeing them, of learning their names, of acknowledging their worth as individuals? What cleansing breezes might blow through our culture if every person felt seen and valued? How might we spread the contagion of freedom and generosity?

Jesus calls to each of us by name. He calls us out of our hiding places, out of our shame, out of our fear and anxiety. He calls us into the light, into community and relationship, and he invites us lovingly to share our resources and live into the fullness of life in him.

October 30, 2016
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Sunday Sermon:Righteous and Justified

Two men went up to the Temple to pray. If we were to tell this story in our own context, who would these men be? One was a pillar of the community: a supreme court justice, or a bishop perhaps, a highly educated man who lived his life exactly as his faith directed; a good man.

The other was a crook and a scoundrel, who made his living through illegitimate means, maybe as a drug dealer or a corrupt cop, who swindled and conspired without compunction; by any reasonable standard a bad man.

They stood in the worship space and each reached out to God in his own way. The good man prayed in the standard form of his tradition, giving thanks for what he was and was not, and adding in a few pats on the back for his own exemplary behavior: prayer, fasting, even tithing. And why not? How many of us could claim as much?

The bad man didn't even try to follow a formula: he simply hung his head, confessed his sin and begged for mercy.

It's kind of a shame that Luke gives away the punchline to the parable right at the beginning: from the start we know who will be the villain of the piece. The Pharisee's words of prayer betray him: he's not there for a conversation with God; he's there to advertise his virtue. He's not listening for or expecting a response. He has taken care of his own salvation: follow the rules and in turn receive a gold star from the Lord. He lives in a transactional world where grace is earned, where mercy is limited, where there are insiders and outsiders, good guys and bad guys, and the people who decide who's in which group call the shots.

Is this the world of Jesus?

Or is the world of Jesus a world where there are no outsiders, where you can depend on a welcome no matter who you are or what you've done, where hands reach across barriers and class divides to join in gratitude for undeserved grace, where everyone shares freely of the abundance they receive from God, so that all may be cared for and offered dignity? A world, in short, where we overcome our differences in order to love Christ, serve others, and welcome all?

I know which world I want to live in. But right now, our world is looking a lot more like the Pharisee's version. We have unprecedented levels of division in our country. One statistic says that most Americans are opposed to the idea of their child marrying someone who votes for the other political party. We judge the people we meet on the basis of which TV news channel they watch or what bumper sticker is on their car. We don't even trust each other to respect the democratic process. And yet what we have in common is so much more than divides us.

Growing up in Northern Ireland I witnessed the deadly consequences of allowing small differences to destroy a community, as Protestants and Catholics, indistinguishable to look at or listen to, people who shared the same Christian religion, demonized and attacked each other. It was tragic.

The perils of comparing our virtue to others' sins are everywhere. I remember an interfaith clergy meeting, years ago, where we were sharing our criteria for deciding who we would allow to marry in our worship spaces (this was before same-sex marriage was on any mainline pastor's radar). One Baptist preacher put his hand up and said categorically, " I will not marry known sinners." Before we had a chance to unpack what he meant by that, a Roman Catholic priest raised his hand and said, "Um, excuse me, but aren't we all 'known sinners'?" Who's in, who's out. We need to be very careful about excluding others from our own vision of the Kingdom of God, because our vision tends to be extremely limited, unlike God's.

It's easy to slip into that Pharisaic mode of self-congratulation, especially for those of us who spend a lot of time in church. I'm reminded of the Sunday School teacher who finished up a class on this parable by saying, "Well, children, aren't we glad we aren't like that nasty Pharisee?" Wow, even the word "nasty" has been politicized this week, with the hot new hashtag of #nastywoman trending on social media. There's just no escape from the judgmentalism and divisiveness of our public discourse, is there?

In a couple of weeks the election will be behind us. I know I won't be alone in breathing a giant sigh of relief. As you know, we will offer prayers here throughout election day, until an hour after the polls close. We will also offer healing prayers at the noon service on November 9, and there will be much to heal from. Please invite your friends - and especially those who don't share your political views - to join us.

After we all take down the placards on our lawns and get back to posting cat videos on Facebook, how long will it take for us to forget that our neighbor supported the other candidate? How long will it take for those who voted for the winner to stop saying, "I thank you God that I'm not like those people" and for those who voted for the loser to let go of their anger and suspicion?

As the Cathedral for the City, this faith community has a responsibility to set an example of healing and generosity of spirit. We can invite those with whom we differ to pray with us, we can be willing to listen to the hurt, we can encourage one another to play down the triumphalism. Because it is never OK for Christians to say "Thank God I am not like those people." Those people are our neighbors. Those people are beloved children of God, just like us. We are just as broken as those we despise as tax collectors and sinners. We are just as much in need of grace and just as undeserving.

So, when you pray, beware lest your prayer turns into a speech and you start imagining that you have achieved righteousness all by yourself. Remember that it is God who acts, God who judges, God who takes the initiative in reaching out to us with unlimited love and mercy, exalting the humble and humbling the self-exalted, because all are equally unworthy and all are equally precious in God's sight.

Two final thoughts: a decade ago, when the Episcopal Church was locked in conflict over the consecration of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop, two bishops offered reflections that deeply impressed me. Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia told his Standing Committee, "The most dangerous mindset is when we are certain that we are right. I have to keep reminding myself that we might all be wrong about this." And the other was Bishop Robinson himself who said of Nigerian Archbishop Akinola, the most outspoken of those who condemned him, "I keep thinking about how surprised Peter Akinola will be when he finds me sitting next to him in heaven."

To our merciful God be the glory for ever and ever.

October 23, 2016
Penelope Bridges

Monday, October 24, 2016

Clothing donations requested

Claudia Dixon writes
As winter approaches, our homeless neighbors who live in the park are in need of warm clothing. In addition to socks and underwear we also need: Men's and Women’s pants ( jeans, cargos), in S-M-L, Jackets, long sleeve shirts, Sweat shirts, sweaters in S-M-L.

Please bring your clothing donations to Showers of Blessings. Or, during the week bring your clothing donations to the Cathedral office during business hours. After Sunday Service bring them to the Interfaith Shelter table in the Queen's court yard.

Thank you for your help!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What is Día de los Muertos? 2016 update!

by Padre Bjorn Marcussen

Día de Muertos (directly translated: The Day of the Dead) has its origin in Mexico before the country was invaded by the Spanish empire.

A quick review of Mexican pictorial art and literature, including folk stories and folk songs, shows death as an omnipresent "personage." Death shows up in stories such as that of La Llorona -- the mother who walks the streets and lanes crying over the death of her baby -- or as a critic of society, and especially politicians, found every year in the papers on November 2 in the form of anonymous satirical poems called "calaveras" ("skulls").

Mexico's indigenous people viewed the world differently than their Western counterparts. The Cosmos was a complicated unity in which death was there to be lived with. The indigenous people did not have the European sense of death as deprivation and a time of judgment with rewards or punishment. In fact: This is not so very different from the worldview we meet in St. Luke's rendering of Jesus' story of Lazarus and the rich man.
Día de Muertos is really a misnomer. It should be Días de Muertos (the Days of the Dead) for it stretches over three days: October 31 through November 2. For the indigenous people of Mexico as well as for contemporary Mexicans these days are not spooked by "things that go bump in the night". Rather it is a time for celebration with the deceased loved ones who are thought to come back for a few days to unite with the living. Food that was especially loved by the departed is prepared, a ritual plate is set out for them and the living enjoy the rest of the food in a joyful mood.

One prominent feature of Día de Muertos is the Altar de Muertos (the Altar of the Dead). Its place is really in the home because it is a centerpiece of family celebrations. In U.S. churches that have become centers of spiritual and community life, Latinas and Latinos have begun building Altars of the Dead either in the church buildings or in the social halls where a community celebration is held.

The Altar of the Dead is highly symbolic. In a sense it is an allegory of cosmic harmony that reinforces the idea that the dead come to feast to console the living -- not to scare them.

The Altar of the Dead can be very primitive or highly elaborate. In poor homes it often only has two steps that signify heaven and earth. The traditional and more elaborate Altar de Muertos, which in St. Paul's Cathedral is placed to the left of the High Altar (from the congregation's perspective), is comprised of seven steps. The steps signify the following: 

  1. The first step holds one or more representations of beloved saints.
  2. Step two expresses the deceased's desire to enter into heaven. In Roman Catholic Mexico this step often has pictures of the peculiar Roman belief of purgatory, where the souls supposedly are punished to be cleansed of sin. It is peculiar, because the souls are disembodied and as such cannot feel bodily pain.
  3. On this step a bowl of salt is placed to represent the purity of the deceased children. Among indigenous Mexicans there was a belief that deceased children went to a blessed place called Chichihuacuauhco where a tree of life grew. Out of its branches came milk that nurtured the children for all eternity.
  4. Step four contains Bread of the Dead, Pan de Muertos, a special bread baked for that day with lots of rich butter and shaped round with strips of dough on top to signify both the cross and the bones of the Savior.
  5. This step holds the fruits and food especially dear to the deceased.
  6. On step six photos and other mementos of the deceased are laid.
  7. On the final step is found a cross, customarily made from seeds and fruits.
This is the traditional plan for the Altar of the Dead, but people nowadays will mix and match all the elements according to their creativity. The Altar with hold a number of Ofrendas or miniature offerings (or some not so miniature). Examples of those on community altars are several mementos and photos of the departed. On some altars there are also bottles of Tequila, Mezcal or pulque, something that a goodly number of deceased undoubtedly enjoyed while in the flesh. And sugar skulls are placed as a sign that in the midst of life death is always present. An incense cup is placed on the altar as a sign of the sweetness of our prayers that ascend to God. There are also copious amounts of yellow and yellow/red flowers on the steps that signify the sweet smells of of the heavenly kingdom. There are also often papel picado (intricately cut multicolored tissue paper) as well as candles of purple or white hue to suggest lights that lead to deceased into heaven -- again a symbolism that shouldn't be unfamiliar to Christians for whom Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

The Altar of the Dead comes as a gift to the Cathedral from the Latino community of St. Paul's Cathedral to remind us that death is not a perpetual absence but a metaphor for life that is constantly renewed.

The Day of the Dead will be celebrated by our Spanish-speaking congregation on Sunday, October 30 2016 at 1 pm. The community -- whatever language they speak and whatever culture they are from -- is invited to bring mementos or pictures of their departed loved ones and friends to place on the steps of the Altar of the Dead on that Sunday. We hope you will join us for Mass in Spanish!

Originally posted Oct 2013, this is revised annually

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Sunday Sermon: Vida Joven Day

Six words: Love Christ, Serve Others, Welcome All.

These six words, the mission statement of our cathedral, also encompass our purpose here today. For we are celebrating Vida Joven de Mexico, our foster home in Tijuana, MX. We support Vida Joven to love, protect and educate some 30 - 35 children. These children have been abandoned, either because their parents are in prison, or incapacitated by drugs. Last year I talked about one of our kids, Rosario, who arrived at the casa having wandered the streets of Tijuana at a very young age, all alone at 2 o’clock in the morning . Now Rosario is doing well, has new glasses, has caught up to her peers socially and loves school. Just one of our success stories, which include housing and educating these kids, and even sending three of our older girls to University.

It is thanks to Stephen Velez-Confer and many others, some of whom are here today, that Vida Joven exists at all. The devoted and dedicated people who had started the house by sheltering a number of kids who were incarcerated with their parents in prison, had run out of steam and fundraising ideas, and wanted to retire. The house was in danger of closing, until, as our former dean Scott said, “I sent a van load of bleeding heart clergy and sharp pencilled business people down to assess the situation. They came back saying, ‘after much prayer we have determined that we must take this on.’ ” So we did, and now we celebrate.

Today’s celebrations include a forum in which Beth Beall, our program director, will show us life at the home, through pictures and discussion, followed by a q&a session led by Silvia, our house director and chair of the Mexican board of directors. Sylvia’s niece, Marcia, will join us in the pulpit in a few minutes to tell us about the work of the past year, and where we hope to go from here. And Amy Dagman has worked all year with the children to produce a wonderful art show, located in the sixth ave courtyard, near the Guild room. The art is for sale. Finally, there will be great food, both at the forum and after the 10:30 service. So today we have a fiesta in honor of Vida Joven and its mission.

The mission of the home is to love, protect, and educate every child who comes to Vida Joven. Some have called Vida Joven, formerly known as Dorcas House, our flagship outreach project. For ten years now, we, and many others throughout the diocese and beyond, have worked to ensure its viability. It takes much work, persistence and a lot of prayer to keep our home open.

And our Gospel today focuses upon the importance of two things: prayer and persistence. “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” The parable is a call for us to be persistent in prayer and action. After all, the annoying widow pushed and pushed until the judge finally threw up his hands and granted her what she wanted. The widow’s persistence alone seemingly leads the judge to act justly. But Jesus indicates that God is the unseen actor. “Will not God grant justice for his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” (Luke 18:7).

The point is that only God can bring about justice in an unjust world. That is why we must pray and not give up in our work. As we contemplate our own prayer habits, let’s look at some prayers written by the children of Vida Joven.

Lord, I ask that you cleanse our hearts.
Lord, I ask that you give us one more day of life and strength.
The Lord loves you, and I love you.
Dear God, watch over Silvia.
The Lord calms our pain.
Lord have mercy on those who need you.
Lord I call on you for the Mothers of the House. I love them.
Lord bless our families.
To my family, I love you very much.
Heal with much love.
Jesus argues, if an unjust judge can be moved by persistent petitions to help a stranger for whom he has no regard, how much more "will God help his own chosen ones who cry to him day and night!”

Therefore, always pray and don't lose heart.

So this parable is intended to be an encouragement for us to pray continually and persist in our work.

Now, I would like to introduce Marcia Laborin, Sylvia’s niece, who will tell you more about the wonderful work of Vida Joven, but before I do, I ask you to remember: In Tijuana
6,000 children live on the street
80,000 do not attend school
400 used to live with their parents in prison
Vida Joven is changing those horrific numbers, one child at a time.

Jeremiah 31:27-34, Psalm 119:97-104, Luke 18:1-8
The Rev. Canon Joan Butler Ford

Thursday, October 13, 2016

October Chapter Musings

I find myself traveling back to Boston (again). This time for a more upbeat reason – to attend my daughter’s first Parents and Family Weekend at Wellesley College. For much of the summer, I made this same trip multiple times for a different and somewhat more somber reason – to be present to my elderly mother-in-law in her declining moments. The traveling is taking its toll not only on me, but also on the cathedral community, as I have been neglectful of my duty to report the goings-on at Chapter meetings each month. I only had to miss the July meeting but have found it difficult to embrace the task of communicating the many and wonderful and challenging things being discussed each month. Each monthly meeting is a stunning reminder of how engaged, passionate, and professional the group of volunteer members of Chapter is! Mea culpa out of the way, I can move on the task at hand.

The usual battery of reports was presented. Here is a quick update:

Staff reports 

  • Kathleen Burgess–AdministrativeOperations–Kathleen applied for and we have received a grant from the Department of Homeland Security for financial assistance in securing our campus. Additionally, our insurance company has paid us a claim for reimbursement of the appreciation paid on the underfunding of the pension contributions that we had to make in arrears. RobinTaylor–Children,Youth and Family(CYF)–Robin commented on the success of Homecoming/Youth Sunday on Sept. 18. 
  •  The Rev Laurel Mathewson–Christian Formation–N/A
  • The Rev. Jeff Martinhauk –Congregational Development and Stewardship–Jeff has been extremely busy with the preparations for Homecoming, ramping up for Stewardship and preparing for the transition of the Mathewsons. Daniel Love is the new Time and Talent Coordinator. Watch for a soon-to-come advertising push for the Armed Services Evensong on Nov. 13. The preacher will be the Bishop-elect of the Armed Services of the Episcopal Church, Carl Wright.
  • The Rev. Canon Brooks Mason–Liturgy and Music–The liturgy and worship ministries are gathering new members, which will be extremely helpful for meeting the demands of the cathedral’s busy and fulfilling worship life. 
  • The Rev. Colin Mathewson – Outreach, Mission and Latino Ministry - Reports transitioning most duties to new oversight. Latino Ministry continues to grow strong. Looking forward to National Latino AIDS Awareness Celebration on Oct 15. , 5 pm, at the Cathedral.

Regular and Occasional Reports 

  • Endowment–N/A
  • Finance Committee–Betsey Monsell– Cash position is very good for this time of year.
  •  LLC – Ken Tranbarger – Laurel Bay condo has an offer – should close by late November/early December. Greystar is finalizing plans and has made a second installment to escrow. Once Chapter approves the plans the escrow is non-refundable.

Wardens’ Reports

  • People’sWarden–Elizabeth Carey–Nominating Committee is at work–receiving Appendix I initial applications through Oct. 23. Please contact chapter@stpaulcathedral.org with questions.
  • Dean’s Warden – Mark Patzman – Discussed MMR results. All agreed is was a worthwhile exercise.
  • Dean’s Report – Penny Bridges – A full accounting of much of the action mentioned above. Additionally, Peggy Druce has died – a date for her requiem service has not yet been set.

Old business

  • Mutual Ministry Agreement–Dean Penny, Mark Patzman (Dean’sWarden) and I (People’sWarden) finalized the details of the MMA, which is renewed annually. Chapter reviewed the items and voted to accept the terms of the Chapter obligation.
  • Safe Church Policy Update–I think I spaced out at this point because I have no notes!

New business

  • Chapter endorsement on Ordination to the Priesthood–Chapter supported Jacqueline Bray Pippin, Chris Harris and Richard Lee in their desire to be ordained to the Priesthood. Chris’s ordination will be Dec. 10 (St. Bart’s in Poway) and Richard’s Dec. 17 (Good Sam in UC). Jacqueline’s has yet to be determined.
  • Resolution to accept DHS grant–approved
  • Resolution to accept denominational health plan–much discussion about this changing benefit for both lay and ordained staff. Chapter approved resolution.
  •  Resolution to dissolve the Cathedral Center for the Visual and Performing Arts–Erin Sacco Pineda was able to arrange a waiving of past due fees to the state (for the past 20 years!) resulting in an approx. $14K savings. The CCVPA will continue to operate as a vibrant ministry of the cathedral. 

Date of next meeting – November 1, 2016
Appreciations, Regrets and Closing Prayer
Friday, October 14, 2016 

Elizabeth Carey, People's Warden

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Sunday Sermon: Courageous Journeys

The gospel lesson this morning presents a community in an in-between space. As lepers, these ten travelers were ritually impure. We don’t really know what leprosy meant-- it was likely a combination of what we consider to be many skin afflictions today-- but until the afflictions were healed the persons afflicted were prohibited from certain ritual or community activities according to ancient purity laws. They were in-between.

It is important to note that this lesson is a great example for us of how Jesus was a practicing Jew, and as such observed the purity laws. Jesus sent the lepers to the priests to become ritually cleansed, which was just the thing to do in Jewish custom at the time.

But what we don’t know much about is the lepers’ state of mind as they started their journey towards the priests for ritual cleansing. We don’t know how long they had been impure, or to what extent their daily life had been affected by their ritual impurity. Whatever the impact had been, it is clear that going to the priest as Jesus asked was the step that would remove the restriction and allow full participation in community life again.

I can only imagine what that must have felt like. “I have this skin malady, but Jesus has just said that the priests will restore me to full participation?” Whoopeee! And as they went I imagine their excitement about their restoration of ritual purity grew as they walked. Then-- they found that their physical bodies were healed. That, it seems to me, would be truly amazing. I think I might have double-timed it down to the priest to make sure my leprosy didn’t come back before I could get my “ritual purity card” back. What if I get sick again? I better hurry-- I don’t want to miss this opportunity!

But one of the ten lepers, an outsider, a Samaritan, realized something. He realized that he must stop and turn back to the one who had brought this about, and give thanks. He realized that healing had happened there on that road in that in-between space. So he stopped and gave thanks to Jesus for it. And Jesus uses a different language to describe what happens to him as a result of his gratitude-- he is “made well” for it.

God is generous in this text to all ten lepers. All of the lepers receive a generous gift-- they are healed and made clean. But only one is “made well.” The Samaritan was made well only when he stopped, turned, and gave thanks for what the others took for granted from this generous God. Giving thanks makes us well at some much deeper level.

Today is the beginning of the Courageous Journeys campaign. We will, over the next six weeks, begin to give thanks together for the ways God has been generous with us at St. Paul’s Cathedral. This year we are stopping, pausing, and looking back-- we are giving thanks back to God for the many ways and many times God has been generous with us, and also reflecting on how the people of St. Paul’s have been courageous enough to recognize God’s generosity in the midst of the journey.

There is so much to be thankful for at St. Paul’s! I have been amazed, for instance, to learn that the first pipe organ in San Diego was procured by this congregation in 1887. Our first land was donated by Alonzo Horton-- the same Horton of Horton Plaza-- who allowed the mission to become a parish with his generous donation of property; and we bought our first sound movie projector in 1948. Now we have one of the largest organs in San Diego used throughout the week to play beautiful music to glorify God in the midst of a thriving music ministry. We steward this amazing space filled with shifting light and stained glass designed by Frohman, Robb, and Little, who also designed the National Cathedral. And soon we will be able to live stream sermons as they happen thanks to the generosity of a donor, which will allow us to evangelize in whole new ways.

But this congregation’s courageous response to God’s generosity has always included the mission of God in pastoral and relational ways, too. In 1899, we offered ourselves as a place for a funeral when a policemen died, and over 2000 attended. In both World Wars, we took a position of peace while supporting our men and women in uniform, as our clergy took up regular eucharistic services in the chapel at the Naval Hospital. Realizing an emerging need for senior housing, the idea for what would become St. Paul’s Senior Services was approved by our vestry in 1953, which continues its role in housing seniors in need to this day. Our deans have supported the baptismal call to respect the dignity of every person as the movement towards Women’s Ordination moved forward in the 1970s and as the Church began to recognize the full sacramental worth of LGBT persons. We hosted the Integrity convention for LGBT inclusion in the church in 2003, and have brought thought-leaders in the Church to the city for conversation and dialogue over the years. Dorcas House, now Vida Joven, has been a vital partnership for the cathedral as we have partnered to meet the needs of children along the border of Mexico.

And now we continue in that trend as we deepen our role as Cathedral for the City-- this year alone we held three memorials for a city reeling from tragedy in Orlando, including one in a gay bar. Our Showers of Blessings ministry to bring showers to homeless neighbors celebrated its first anniversary in April. The youth of the congregation began a garden and started cultivating bees, and Simpler Living started a community supported agriculture initiative to keep our environment sustainable. We continue in partnerships with Episcopal, ecumenical, and interfaith organizations throughout the city to help those who are in need, marginalized, and forgotten-- and this congregation won’t stop until we have celebrated the abundance of God so resolutely that all have homes, all have the care they need, and all are loved with the respect and dignity that they are endowed with at their creation by the loving, generous God we believe in.

Yes, we have a generous God. We have a long tradition of responding courageously in gratitude to the generosity that God has poured out on us at St. Paul’s cathedral. But we aren't finished. God isn't done with us yet! The plans for the new building are moving along, which will give us much needed space in a few years. So next year that means we have to start preparing for construction, but that doesn’t mean we will cut back. We have big plans at the Cathedral!

The Vision for Mission plan is in full swing. Next year we plan to hire a part-time youth minister. To keep all of our members nourished and continue to nourish our newest and spiritually hungry young people, we need to make sure our youth have somebody who can support them.

We will also re-tune our Saturday night service. Our Sunday services are beautifully traditional. To meet a changing world, we will start working with our millennials to see what their worship needs are and how we might best begin preparing the church for a generation whose worship needs may be very different from our current services-- without impacting our current wonderfully high Anglican liturgy.

And finally, as a Cathedral for the City, we have a distinctively outward focus. We have a dedicated core of long-time members who pour themselves into our mission, but we have to continually invest in deepening our inward relationships and constantly welcome in the stranger. We will invest next year in a small group ministry to ensure that our relationships with each other remain strong and nourishing so that we remain fed to do the work in the world we are called to do.

As we go through these weeks, pray and give thanks, I invite you to reflect on your own journey. Give thanks and reflect not only on how God has been generous in your life individually, but I ask you to reflect on our common life as well. We will have information on budgets and spending and all the reasons that secular non-profits use when they ask you to give. But the Church is not a secular non-profit. The Church is Christ’s, and you are a member of that body by nature of your baptism.

This is your community. As you pray on how much to pledge, don’t give because you should. Don’t give because of duty or guilt, even.

As we move forward, I ask you to reflect on who God calls us to be. How shall we live as a people of God? How shall we reflect the love of God and the call of Christ? How shall we carry forward the tradition of the generations before us? And then make a pledge that reflects that vision courageously so that we might turn towards the One we serve, give thanks, be made well, and continue on the journey that has already been so richly blessed and wonderfully empowered by the One who we serve.

The Rev. Jeff Martinhauk

Sources Consulted:

Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Sunday Sermon: Our family, creation.

What can we say about a man who preached to the birds, who picked worms out of the road so they wouldn't be trampled by traffic, and who, when he was dying, insisted on being stripped naked and laid directly on the ground so that he could be at one with his beloved Mother Earth? We can say he was a saint. We can say that he was perhaps not quite sane. And perhaps we can say that Francis of Assisi was the first Christian environmentalist. Francis regarded the whole of creation as his family, and 800 years later, we are learning more and more about the intimate connections between all living things; we are learning just how perceptive our crazy saint was.

In Genesis, God commissioned human beings to subdue the earth and have dominion over all the creatures. In Francis' day it was safe to speak without qualification of dominion over the earth because humankind didn't have the technology to do real damage. Major environmental change was caused only by natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, volcanoes or tsunamis.

Not until the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries did human beings start to get the idea that we could actually override nature, that we could tame the earth and force it to do our bidding. We started to believe that dominion meant totalitarian control and the freedom to do anything, no matter how abusive, to Mother Earth. This kind of power, this kind of hubris would have had no place in Francis's world.

God placed us in charge of the creation, a sacred trust, and how have we repaid that trust? We have hunted species to extinction. We have created chemicals that kill indiscriminately, whether insects or plants, human beings or microbes. We have irrevocably altered ecosystems with dams, with mountaintop removal mining, with carbon emissions, with nuclear explosions. We have created designer animals for food and as pets; we have even started to create designer human beings.

And all this manipulation of the environment is coming back to haunt us, in allergies, in lethally resistant strains of bacteria, in climate change, desertification, and rising sea levels.

But God lovingly created human beings with an incredible capacity for learning and for inventiveness. In our unending quest to understand our world, we are now learning more and more about the checks and balances built into our world, and we are starting to appreciate what Francis meant when he sang of our mother earth, of our brothers sun, wind, and fire, our sisters moon and water. All of creation is intricately connected, and just as we care for our human families and our furbabies, we must also care for our nature family.

We are coming to understand that we need to change our attitude to dirt. My mother used to talk about "good, clean dirt", meaning natural dirt, the kind of dirt that nurtures life, as opposed to something like motor oil. It sounds like an oxymoron, but there is wisdom in the saying.

Take the humble germ, for instance. We're just starting to learn about the microbiome, the amazing multitude of microbes that live in our bodies: millions of non-human organisms that actually make up part of who we are. We are discovering that without the proper population of those microbes we fall prey to all kinds of ailments whose origins have been a mystery. Those ailments may include autoimmune diseases such as lupus, and ulcers. In other words, we actually need germs in order to be healthy. So it's OK if your dog licks your plate, or if your toddler eats a cookie she found under the sofa. Too much hygiene is bad for your health.

We've learned from the experiment over half a century in Yellowstone National Park, where, in response to ranchers' complaints, wolves were eradicated, which led to overpopulation of elk who ate all the young trees, which caused erosion and damaged the landscape. When wolves were reintroduced in recent years the balance shifted again and the landscape started to recover, benefiting the humans who live there.

The natural world, on every scale, is indeed part of our family. And living in harmony with that family is a faithful way to live, because the whole creation belongs to God, who entrusted it to us in love. All the earth is sacred ground and reverence towards it gives honor to the creator.

As people of faith, God's people, we revere the products of the earth that are central to our sacramental life. Jesus took bread and broke it; he took wine and shared it. When we follow his example, opening the table to all who come, we are acknowledging our connection to all living things, and we are renewing our covenant with the earth, the ancient covenant that God made with Adam and Eve in the beginning.

When we welcome new members into the church, our baptism service asks us to make several promises, including a promise to honor the dignity of every human being. At the last General Convention of the Episcopal Church, an additional promise was approved, one that expands our previous covenant to include the wolves, the microbes, and our mother earth: "Will you cherish the wondrous works of God and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation?" The response of course is "I will, with God's help."

I think Francis would have approved of that promise.

Our care and protection of all creation must begin with the way we respect the dignity of other human beings. The suffering of the world's poorest people - whether through hunger, disease, or oppression - has a direct relationship to the greed and luxury practiced in the developed world. As long as we pursue a way of life that demands ever-increasing production and consumption, we will continue to perpetuate the tragic inequities of our world. Francis of Assisi was uncompromising in his commitment to simplicity of life, one of the things that make him a saint.

In a time when public rhetoric encourages us to fear difference and to withdraw into homogenous enclaves, an inspiring story comes out of Omaha, Nebraska, where people of the three Abrahamic faiths have come together in something called the Tri-Faith Initiative. Christians, Muslims, and Jews pooled resources in 2011 to buy a 35-acre parcel of land, a former country club. Members of Temple Israel completed their synagogue on the property and opened their doors in 2013. The American Muslim Institute will complete its mosque next year, and Countryside Christian Church is currently raising funds for its new building. A shared community center will be the final component. The land is already being used for interfaith gatherings, and the three congregations are developing a network of relationships and shared ministries.

Last week I attended an interfaith meeting at the San Diego Islamic Center. We aren't at a point of planning a shared worship space, but I did have a conversation with the Imam about a joint book study to read Michael Kinnamon's forthcoming book on fear and faith.

This week the shooting of a distraught African man by an El Cajon police officer brought an ongoing national crisis into our own community. We grieve the death of Alfred Olango even as we grieve the climate of fear that causes police officers to literally shoot from the hip and that causes us to lock our doors against those who seem different. But our faith demands that we acknowledge our connection to one another, that we open our doors and our hearts to hear different voices, to learn new ways to care for our community, to use our God-given intelligence and creativity to build a more peaceful and abundant world for all of creation.

Bringing our pets to church is one symbol of our connection to all other creatures, an acknowledgment that without them our lives are impoverished.

And so we echo the beloved saint today as we offer praise to God for the earth and all her creatures, for all whom we call family, human and non-human alike. All praise and thanks be to God: creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all.

October 2, 2016 St Francis (transferred)
The Very Rev. Penelope Bridges