Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Episcopalians are Coming! Hide the Women and Children.

Well, there are now less than three weeks before thousands of Episcopalians will be descending on the Happiest Place on Earth, Anaheim, California. No, we're not actually staying at Disneyland Hotels, but the mouse house is just up the street. And, from what I can see, there is already lot's of Mickey Mouse behavior going on.

First, my pet peeves: The Hilton Hotel (along with the Marriott) attached to the Convention Center, is charging $12/day for wireless. Mind you, we could stay at a Motel 6, a Super 8, a Holiday Inn Express, or virtually any other hotel in the area and get it for free. But we're special, so paying for the more expensive Hilton, which basically means not walking 5-10 minutes each morning, grants us this outrageous fee.

I might have gotten over it until I was told about the refrigerator fee: it's another $30. So much for saving money by having breakfast in my room. It's embarrassing to the hotel chain. I hope every Episcopalian who learns about it tell their friends.

Anyway, that's the rant. Right now, I'm just trying to work my way through the emails, Facebook messages and snail mail that are showing up on a daily basis. I usually ignore my spam file except once a week, but now all sorts of people I have never heard of want to share information with me. And every one of them wants to invite me to lunch/dinner/cocktails/church.

Except they really want to take me to the cleaners. These 'invitations' are running anywhere from $25-$50 per meal, and I am sure I could go to one or two each day. At least my seminary apparently actually wants to treat me; no one else does.

Even the invitations to Eucharist have to be treated with suspicion. The printed programs will no doubt tell us the worthy cause that our offering will be funding, and a second pitch will be made right before the offering is taken up. We're not being nickeled and dimed to death - this is serious money.

And, let's face it, Anaheim isn't exactly cheap to begin with. $24 for breakfast at Denny's? IHOP is a bargain at $17? Now you know why the refrigerator (yes, I already have one reserved) is so important.

And the reports. It is ironic that we will pass so many resolutions about the church going green this time around. The Blue Book (actually a shade of maroon), filled with Convention Resolutions, is over 800 pages long. Most people will probably ship it out west rather than be forced to carry it on the plane and pay excess weight fees. And it doesn't even include the proposed budget, which was a separate document. The Church Pension Fund sent me their own report, another fifty pages I probably won't be reading. And the paper keeps arriving. Yes, a rain forest was hurt in the making of this convention.

It would be nice if the rest of the world cared one whit about what we do out there. What will happen instead is that there will be one report on the day we deal with the resolutions about same sex marriage, a relatively small part of the convention agenda. But it is the, ahem, sexy part, so you can be sure it will hit the major news media unlike everything else. Condemn a war: who cares? Raise millions for fighting malaria: so what? National health insurance for church workers? Hell, the Presiding Bishop could probably swear up a storm, declare herself to be a Sarah Palin Republican, and smoke a cigar naked without gathering attention unless she was talking about same sex marriage.

Now, this is not to take anything away from the importance of that issue. BUT IT'S NOT THE ONLY THING WE TALK ABOUT!!

Personally, I am looking forward to what Brian McLaren has to say to 10,000 Episcopalians. That should be funny. I wonder if they will even understand what he has to say?

Anyway, be sure to bookmark the Episcopal Church home page for an opportunity to see daily updates about what is actually going on ( You will have to go through the silly "I Am Episcopalian" cover site, in which various church members prove they know nothing about Christianity except the word 'welcome', but then you'll get some actual reporting.

Or you can go to this blog. Or my Facebook page. I am going to try to write some things from my experience.

Now, let's get out there and starting talking about sex, shall we? We do it so well. Or at least so loudly. Or, well, anyway, frequently. It took the Episcopal Church to make sex boring. Go figure.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Proud Shoes, Indeed

What's on your summer reading list?

Well, besides the utterly fascinating (NOT!) 800 page Blue Book (which is Maroon, but so what) that contains the reports for the Episcopal Church's General Convention, I have recently reread Proud Shoes, a wonderful biography/history of the family of the Rev. Pauli Murray. I was asked to write a book guide for it recently (one of my previous lives was as a writer of book guides), and went back to read it again as part of the process. Reading a book to write on it is a different activity from reading for enjoyment, though I have to say I did enjoy it maybe even more this time than I did back in the 1980s when I first read it.

Pauli was born in 1910 in Baltimore, Maryland into a family that blended northern free blacks and southern children who were part slave, part master--thanks to the peculiarly accepted and shunned practice of white men going down to the slave shacks and raping women. We have lots of other names for it, but, stripped of euphemisms, that is what happened. If this sounds like Murray was attempting to cash in on the Roots phenomenon of the 1970s, you need to know that the book was originally published in 1956, and unlike Roots, it does not fill in known history with fiction - no Chicken George in sight. Murray does not go back as far, staying with her grandparents and great grandparents for most of the story.

What you get, instead, is one of the earliest books to examine in detail the challenge of color in the black community, specifically they way that lighter skinned blacks enjoy privileges within both the black and white communities that darker skinned black do not, but also suffer some consequences in terms of loss of community. Also of great interest is the way the South moved from hopefulness for blacks in the post Civil War period to the tragedy of Reconstruction and Jim Crow.

One of the things that make the book so wonderful, though, is the sense the reader gets that this family, told with all the warts showing, continues to triumph and maintain hope even in the midst of setbacks. Like when the grandfather gets shot during the war and continues to lose his sight even as he establishes classrooms all over the south; years later he must fight for a pension because the army won't acknowledge that the injury occurred while he was a soldier. Or the great grandmother who is separated from her husband because the master wants her for himself. Or the brothers who fight the elements to prove their trade as brick makers and, for a time, are more successful in Durham than the Duke family.

And if this story is not sufficient for you, check out Pauli's autobiography (yes, we were on a first name basis before she died), Song in a Weary Throat. Pauli's life is American history that you have never heard before, unless you are one of the lucky few. An orphan at the age of three, this family combined its efforts to raise her in Durham, North Carolina.

Her life includes the following: she refused to attend a segregated school in the south (she graduated from Hunter College in New York); she was then rejected for entry to UNC graduate school due to race, a school sitting on land given to it by her family; she was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat long before Rosa Parks; while studying law at Howard University, she organized a successful lunch counter sit in in 1943, well before other such demonstrations; when she applied to Harvard Law School, she was rejected because of her gender, later attending the University of California at Berkeley.

Let's not forget co-founding the National Organization for Women or becoming the first African American woman ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. She celebrates her first Eucharist in the Chapel of the Cross, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; the Chapel is next to the university and is the place her grandmother, born a slave had been baptized. Oh, and did I forget to mention she was the first woman priest to celebrate in the entire state?

Yes, I admit she's one of my heroes, made no less so from having met her in the last few years of her life as I was heading off to seminary. At that point, she had returned to Baltimore, the home of a father she could not remember.

So, if you need a sense of triumph in your life or a perspective that reminds you where the difficulties you face fall in the scheme of things, check out both of these books. And in a few weeks I'll be able to tell you where to get the book guide (because I know everyone reading this has a book club you'll want to discuss these books with).