Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Five

Songbird, over at RevGals, offers this Friday Five:

i've got home on my mind: what it feels like, how we make it, what we carry from the past and how we separate other people's leftovers from objects that really reflect our identity. My family has had one home for the past 13 years, the longest I've ever lived anywhere. As the time when all the children are gone comes closer, I wonder where my next home will be?

So here are five questions about home.

1) Where was your first home? I was born in Salt Lake City. The first house I remember was in "Avenues" near the university. Later we lived further up the side of the mountain in a house with an apricot tree and a view of the valley below.

2) Do you ever dream about places you used to live? I use to dream about my Great-grandmother's farm house in southern Idaho. It was a big yellow house with a turret room where my great grandmother kept all of her sewing materials. I remember playing with her sewing materials in that room and enjoying fresh strawberries from her garden. I have, from time to time dreamed of that house.

3) If you could bring back one person from your past to sit at your dinner table, who would you choose? I'd love to bring back my great grandmother and just listen to her stories and then gather around the piano while she played and sang. She loved music.

4) What's your favorite room in your current living space? I like every room in my current house. The kitchen has a great view of the backyard, the living room has a fire place, and a room upstairs is my yoga and mediation/prayer room.

5) Is there an object or an item where you live now that represents home? I love fireplaces, they speak home! To me. But mostly I love my artwork, created by friends, and my kids. Nothing of great value, except to me.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Morning Musings

With the start of the church program year I have experienced a significant increase in activity. Many, many meetings. A lot of learning. Lots of activity.

Coming up briefly for air.

This morning is cool, rainy. Perfect for drinking coffee and moving slowly.

On Friday I will host the vestry for dinner at the rectory. That means I have some cleaning to do, and reorganizing of furniture, and setting up extra tables for dining. And prepping and cooking the meal. Looking forward to some time to just relax with this group of leaders, fine people!

Otherwise, a week that should be relatively slower than those in recent past...

What about your week? Busy? Slow? Anything you are looking forward too?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Strand in the Web of Creation

A reflection on John 3:1-17 for the Season of Creation 1A

When I was a little girl I lived in a neighborhood on the side of the mountains that rim the southern section of Salt Lake City. Our driveway angled sharply down, providing a great place to skateboard. And from the street I had a fabulous view of the city and valley below. For me it was most spectacular at night, with thousands of bright sparkling lights. I remember that Petula Clark’s song, “Downtown,” was a hit on the radio.

Another of my favorite memories of living there was the apricot tree in the backyard. Now, I know that apricot trees are not very large, but as a little girl it was a big tree for me. I loved to climb up in the branches, high enough that I could see beyond the garages to the city in the valley below. And then I’d settle in on a good branch, remove the book from my pocket and enjoy fresh apricots while reading. These memories are rich in imagery, of the amazing beauty of God’s creation – even now they fill my senses with the sights, sounds, and tastes of those days.

It reminds me of a poem that Mary Oliver, my favorite poet, published in her book, “Thirst”

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."


A few years later we moved to a small town in Wisconsin. It was the time when kids ran outdoors on a summer morning to ride bikes, play hop-scotch, or make up games to occupy time. We’d head home hot and hungry for lunch only to return to the outdoors until dinner. In that backyard my dad built a fabulous tree-house in the branches of a giant oak – providing my brothers and I with hours of play. And then, on the edge of our property was a small wood land area, remnants of what might have been a larger forest, or maybe just a random growth of trees. This wooded area afforded the neighborhood kids a natural play ground, building forts and other games of make believe, inviting us into our imaginations daily. My favorite game in these woods was to pretend that I was Sacajawea, an Indian maiden, and I’d try to walk undetected, silently, leaving no broken twigs or crushed grasses. Of course I was completely unable to do this, but I loved to try.
The poet and author Wendell Berry wrote a poem about this idea:

I part the out-thrusting branches
And come in beneath
The blessed and the blessing trees
Though I am silent
There is singing around me
Though I am dark
There is vision around me
Though I am heavy
There is flight around me

We begin, today, our five week series called, Season of Creation. This liturgical season falls in the middle of Ordinary Time, which begins after Pentecost and lasts until Advent. Created by an ecumenical group in Australia, this season offers us an opportunity every fall to spend some time reflecting on the world around us and our role in creation.

Environmental theologians suggest that God’s household is the whole planet: it is composed of human beings living in interdependent relations with all other life-forms and earth processes.

A theology of environmentally focused worship acknowledges that the earth is God’s home, the place where God enters into relationship with all creation. Our scripture supports this concept.

As I said in my presentation last week: A theology of the environment is a sacramental theology. Sacrament means an outward and visible expression of an inward and invisible grace. Holy Communion, which we share every Sunday around this table, is a sacrament – the bread and wine are outward expressions of an invisible grace, of God’s profound love for us and all creation.

The world is sacramental because it is an expression of God’s self. The world is also incarnational. In the prologue of the Gospel of John we hear that the Word of God, which was with God before creation, is expressed into the world in human flesh, in Jesus – this makes the world a sacramental incarnational reality. As our Gospel this morning reminds us, our role in creation to assist God in bringing forth the kingdom of God. Jesus shows us how to do this.
Acknowledging this in our worship for the Season of Creation provides us with an opportunity to embrace what incarnation means; how – being born of the Spirit - we are invited by God to partner with God in caring for God’s home.

Chief Seattle, a member of Suquamish tribe in the Pugent Sound region near Seattle,WA, known for a famous speech he gave in 1854 on the condition of humanity and nature, offers this:

Teach your children
What we have taught our children –
That the earth is our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth
Befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
If men spit upon the ground,
They spit upon themselves.

This we know
the earth does not belong to us,
we belong to the earth.
This we know
All things are connected
Like the blood which unites one family
All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth
Befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
We did not weave the web of life,
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web,
We do to ourselves.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Happy Birthday

It's Ollie's third birthday! What a silly boy-dog. Here is a photo of him during his recent visit. I hope our daughter is giving him dog appropriate birthday cake!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Turning Whine into Grace

For a time Dan and I lived in the Sonoran desert south of Tucson, Arizona. It was a beautiful place – wide open space, cacti with brilliantly colored flowers and amazing wild life. Our house was on the foothills of the Santa Rita mountain range, which is home to the Madera Canyon. This canyon, plunging some 9000 feet from the mountain peak, is riveted with ravines known as arroyos. The Santa Rita’s are famous for the birds that live and migrate through, especially the seasonal hummingbirds that come every spring and fall.

This mountain range is also one of many passage ways used by undocumented people who cross the border between Mexico and the US, some 45 miles to the south. Some of these people are truly awful –involved in the drug trade and human sex trafficking. But most of the people coming across are simply trying to find a way to make a living. As I understand it the issue is one of a global economic concern – of how corporations, industry and governments have impacted the world markets in such a way that the farmers and local people have lost their financial base. For example, in Mexico and Central America the small local coffee farmer, unable to compete with large coffee corporations, can no longer earn a living wage. Farms that have been in families for centuries are sold, people move to the cities for factory work only find that no positions are available. Struggling and starving, desperate people make the dangerous journey to come across the border in the hope of earning a viable living wage. Most of what they earn will be sent back to Mexico to support the family that remains behind. Fair Trade coffee and tea are effective responses, aiding the local farmers to earn a living wage, stay on their farms, and eliminate a dangerous border crossing.

The desert sand around my house was filled with foot prints of people who travelled only at night. If the desert is a dangerous place during the day, with high heat and dehydration, night is even more dangerous. Snakes, mountain lion, bobcat, and coyotes, prey on human beings and animals alike. But even more dangerous are human beings who prey on other human beings. Leaders escorting people across the desert illegally, have zero tolerance for anyone who becomes injured or ill.

In 2009 I attended a border crossing memorial service, which is held once a week in Douglas, Arizona. People are organized to process down the main street that leads to the border crossing station. Each participant is asked to carry one or more simple wooden cross. Each cross contains the name of a person who died in the desert near that border crossing. As the procession moves down the street the person in front pauses, reads the name of the person on their cross, their age, and the year of their death - “Maria, 4 years old, 2003.” After the reading the cross is set down. Sometimes the people have no identification and so the marker simply says, “male, about 18 years old, 1999” or “female, about 25, 2003”. Then the next person moves ahead and repeats the ritual. Before long the street is lined with crosses, the line goes on for a mile or more. White crosses, plain wood crosses, one after another, all in remembrance of a real person who perished in the desert.
The remains of over 5000 people have been found in that one small region in the last decade.

When I read this story in Exodus, of the Israelites wandering for forty years, getting hungry and discouraged, I am filled with some real life understanding of how difficult this journey was. It’s no wonder they began to grumble to Moses and his brother Aaron, complaining about the lack of food and water and wondering why they ever left Egypt in the first place.

Even if you have never been in the desert each of us has surely had a time in our lives when we have wondered, “Why me?” or, “God, where are you?” times when life is filled with challenges and struggle and difficulty, fear and grief, worry, frustration, and anger, have become so much a part of everyday life that despair is the “new normal.”

Our readings have two themes this morning – “where is God?” And, “what does God’s justice look like?” The point is, how do we remain faithful when life feels unfair?
The Israelites are blaming Moses for their starvation. Moses appeals to God for help and God assures Moses that food will be provided – bread in the morning and meat at night – enough food that the people will know that God is with them. Enough food to help this band of frightened wandering people learn to trust in the goodness of God, for God will always provide.

In our Philippians reading Paul is in prison, facing the real potential that he will be executed by the Roman soldiers for being a follower of Christ. Still he writes this letter encouraging the Philippians to have hope, to trust in the goodness of God.

A journey of faith is one that includes many dimensions. Being a Christian does not mean that we are exempt from the bad stuff. As a person of faith, informed by prayer and scripture and a community of others who have struggled, a community that prayers with and for us, we come to trust that God is with us on this journey, that God intends to sustain us and help us through, even when we have no idea how God is helping, nor even how we are going to manage. But the truth is when we have travelled through a few of these challenging times we begin to understand that God is indeed with us, and somehow we do make it through, and somehow we do come, eventually, to a place of healing and wholeness. Sometimes all that means is we feel at peace and have a sense of wholeness - even when nothing in our lives has really changed, except how we feel. Sometimes God’s grace, God’s presence is being manifested through a transformation of our inner selves, more than in the change of external circumstances. Sometimes God’s grace is made manifest through others, the community, who surround us in prayer like a shawl around our shoulders.

Our readings this morning serve as a reminder that the key, to moving through the challenges and growing in our faith, is three fold: our willingness to walk the journey, our willingness to walk with others in their journey, and our ability to trust in the goodness of God, even when all the evidence is to the contrary. We cannot skirt our problems, nor push them away, nor ignore them, though we may want too. Our gospel reminds us that God’s justice requires us to be attentive to how, as individuals, our actions impact others, and how one culture can affect the rest of the world – to pay attention too and understand how, what we consume, even our cup of coffee or tea, impacts the global economy and affects the livelihood of our sisters and brothers.

In so doing, we will come to know that not only does God hear our prayers, joins us in the journey, sustains us in our struggles, and loves us just as we are – BUT God expects from us that we will do likewise, that we will be attentive to our neighbors. Thus, instead of being lead by our anxieties and apprehensions, we become disciples, we become the hands and heart of Christ, guided by the love of God.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How Many Times?

A reflection on the readings for Proper 19A:Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114; Matthew 18:21-35, on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2011.

The other night Dan and I were sitting in the family room, watching a movie. Suddenly we heard an odd noise in the wall. A noise that had our cat glued to the spot! Some more odd sounds and some scrambling and scratching took place; all the while the cat was motionless, staring at the spot. Dan and I wondered what was in the wall – a squirrel? A chipmunk? A mouse? After about 40 minutes there was a loud screech and the cat jumped backward! Suddenly there was a mouse running for its life around the family room floor. A mad chase ensued, the cat cornering the mouse, Dan and I overturning furniture to try and grab it, the dogs barking, and the poor mouse, a blur as it ran from corner to corner. Finally, after several failed attempts, I scooped the mouse up in a rag and ran outside to let it go. I know the mice are seeking a warm nest for the winter, but they will soon learn that this house, with these dogs and cats, is not a safe harbor for them.

Playing a game of cat and mouse is what I think of when I read this story in Exodus between Moses, God, and Pharaoh. Remember our dramatic reading last week, God commands Moses to tell Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery? Pharaoh refuses, so God sends forth plagues to torment the Egyptians. Frogs, gnats, skin boils, flies, all kinds of pestilence. Ten times Moses asks for release, ten times Pharaoh refuses, ten times God sends a plague, ten times Pharaoh begs for release and swears to be nice and change his ways, and ten times, the reading says – “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Like a game of cat and mouse. And, the game continues right up to our reading today, ending with the death of many Egyptians, drowned in the very water God separated to rescue the Israelites.

This just doesn’t seem very God-like to me.

So, I went looking for some Midrash, for what the Rabbi’s had to say. One Midrash said that God had to do this, play this game, in order to convince the Israelites that God was God and Pharaoh was NOT God. We even hear that at the end of today’s reading. It was common in the ancient world for people to believe that Pharaohs and Emperors and Kings were Gods. So God took away Pharaohs free will, something only the one true God could do, so the Midrash says. And, thus Pharaoh had no choice.

I think there are some real problems with this Midrash. It makes me think of the book, “Under the Banner of Heaven” by John Krakauer. It’s the story of the murder of a young woman and her infant daughter by her brother in law. The brother in law used, as a defense, the idea that God had told him to do this – he was doing God’s will, he had no choice. Fearing that other criminals would justify violence as doing God’s will, the prosecutors, being people of faith, built a great defensive strategy. They had a Mormon psychologist testify about the difference between God speaking to us in prayer, and someone who, for one reason or another, is incapable of sound judgment, and thus capable of heinous crimes.

Then another Midrash offers this. The Hebrew word for “harden” as in God hardened Pharaoh’s heart can also be interpreted as “strengthen” – God strengthened Pharaoh’s heart. Ten times Moses goes and prays, God releases the plague, and Pharaoh changes his mind. Pharaoh is on a downward spiral, he is out of control. For some reason he is determined to get his way, to do what he wants. We all know people who continue to make destructive decisions regardless of all the efforts to help them make better life choices.

Rachel Kahntroster writing in the Huffington Post, offers this Midrash from a contemporary rabbi -

“The Fast of Tisha B'Av, which (began) this year on the night of Aug. 8, has been a way for the Jewish community to confront and contain trauma through the telling of stories. First established to commemorate the destruction of First Temple in B.C.E. 586, it has become the day to relive the trauma of many other national calamities. … The rabbis tell the story of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai and Rabbi Joshua visiting the ruins of the Second Temple after it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. Rabbi Joshua bursts into tears, anguished that the place where Israel atoned for its sins (through sacrifice and burnt offerings) had been destroyed. Rabbi Yochanan comforts him, declaring that deeds of lovingkindness (chesed) had more power to achieve atonement and heal a broken world than sacrifice ever could. Chesed is not just something God shows us; it is our obligation to our fellow human beings in light of unimaginable tragedy. Chesed and not hatred or revenge.”

And, then there is this comment on Psalm 114 by Marcia Brown-Ludwig (of the UCC Massachusetts Conference):

“At the time this (Psalm) was written, the God of Jacob supposedly belonged to the Israelite people – but now at least three faiths claim this same God as the One God: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As we consider how divided people of faith remain at our time of history – especially on the anniversary of a day when so many felt it was one religion against another (September 11, 2001), may we remember that the Earth is home to all of us, these three faiths and all the rest of the people who live on this planet.

These readings, placed in the context of our Gospel reading, remind us that forgiveness is the central focus of the day. Thomas Long, a biblical scholar wrote this about today’s Gospel reading:

"… we are sailing…on a deep sea of grace…. forgiveness is not to be dispensed with an eyedropper, but a fire hose" (Thomas Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion).

The Exodus story was written thousands of years ago in a different language – the context of the story as it was first intended is lost to us. At the very least we can attempt to understand it through a historical lens that reminds us that the societies and cultures were built on different principles. Civil society with laws and rules, with social justice and acts of compassion, were formed as society shifted from nomadic families to diverse cultures living together in larger and larger cities.

As Christians we have come to know the formation of a just society through the life of Jesus – as one who models for us how we are to live. Our Gospel reading points us in that direction, the concept of forgiveness and compassion is present in the story we hear. “Peter came and said to him, "Lord, how often should I forgive? Jesus said to him, "… seventy-seven times – in other words, over and over.”

A Litany of Reconciliation from Coventry Cathedral, written in response to the bombing that destroyed the Cathedral in 1940, ends with this:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

What we take away from these readings, what ever we feel about the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, one thing holds true – we will find our safe harbor in every effort we make to forgive others, to love, to show compassion, for we will be supported by God, who will strengthen our hearts and sustain us. Over. And Over. And Over.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Monday Morning Musings

I spent the day at the church, leading a special Eucharist for Labor Day and a prayer vigil initiating our Week of Prayer to Transform the Tragedy of 9/11 into a Mission of Unity and Hope.

Here is one of the prayers from the booklet I created using prayers from the Episcopal Tradition, and prayers from other traditions:

Buddhist Vow

Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, We vow not to kill.

Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, We vow to not take what is not given.

Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, We vow to not engage in abusive relationships.

Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, We vow to not speak falsely or deceptively.

Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, We vow to not harm self or other through Poisonous thought or substance.

Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, We vow to not dwell on past errors.

Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, We vow to not possess any thing or form of life Selfishly.

Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, We vow to not harbor ill will toward any plant, animal or
Human being.

Knowing how deeply our lives intertwine, We vow to not abuse the great truth of the Three Treasures.

(In Buddhism, the Three Treasures refer to the Buddha, the dharma – teachings, and the sangha – community)

Whether you are laboring this day or resting or feasting with friends and family, may it be blessed.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sunday Prayer: Proper 18A/Pentecost 12

Gracious God, who hears our prayers, who Strengthens hearts (tho we do our best to harden them) who blesses, over and over, Be with those who suffer and Bring them peace. Be with those who hunger and Nourish them, as only you can. Be with those who weep and Wipe away their tears. Be with this who rejoice and share their joy. Be with us all, however we Are this day. And help us To be your hands and heart Loving others as we love self, you. Help me to pray for all:
May I be free from danger,
May I be free from fear,
May I be healthy,
May I dwell in peace.

May you be free from danger,
May you be free from fear,
May you be healthy,
May you dwell in peace.

May all beings be free from danger,
May all beings be free from fear,
May all beings be healthy,
May all beings dwell in peace.

(Traditional Buddhist Prayer)

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Pray, It May Be The Last Thing

Pray for those
who persecute you.

Have you ever
tried to do this?

I did once.

I was having
a very difficult time
with someone
who had a fair amount
of authority and control
over my life
and was causing me
all kinds of challenges.

Because this person
could influence
the outcome
of some work
I was doing
I had to tread lightly.

I wanted
to dislike this person
and rail against them,
that would have been
counter productive.

One day
it occurred to me
what I ought to be doing
was praying for this person.

the very thought
of holding this person
in my prayers
almost made me ill.

Prayer was my time
with God,
a time for me
to be vulnerable,
to share my grievances,
a time to be silent
and still,
to find peace.

All of that
would be disrupted
if I brought this person
into my prayers.

And so
for a time
I fought the impulse
to pray for this person.

But eventually
I decided to try praying
for this person.

My anger
was so strong
that all I could muster
was to say the persons name
while in prayer,
and nothing else.

Day after day
for months
I offered this person,
by name,
up in prayer.

Nothing else,
just their name.

And a weird thing happened.

After awhile
my anger subsided
and went away.
I had the ability within
to no longer
allow the actions
of this person
to manage
how I felt.

Something inside me
and I was no longer held
in the grip
of that person.

the person continued
to be who they were,
not nice.
But their impact
on me
was diminished,

I felt a greater
ease and peace.

Praying for those
who wound us
does not mean
that we accept
or violence
or bad behavior.

We are to love self –
abusing others
nor accepting
abuse of self
are acts of love.

Praying is an act
that invites transformation
because it is an invitation
for God to act
in and through us.

Joan Chittister
in her book,
Scarred by Struggle
Transformed by Hope says,
“The hard thing
to come to understand
in life
is that it is the
that counts,
not the achievements…
When despair comes
we have to dispel it
with hope,
we have to make
the effort…
holding on
when holding on
seems pointless,
brings us
to that point of
personal transformation
which is the juncture
of maturity and sagacity…
the struggles of life
may indeed shunt us
from mountain top
to mountain top
they will not
destroy us.” (pg 110)

Prayer has enabled me
to have hope
when I had no hope,
to take that next breath,
that next step,
prayer holds onto me
until I can take the next one,
to keep on going.

Because prayer
has enabled hope
to live within me.
And hope enables me
to trust
in the ultimate goodness
of God,
even when
all the evidence
is to the contrary.

I invite us
into a week of prayer
with the hope
of transforming
the tragedy of 9-11
into a mission of unity.

This transformation
is not just my hope.

There is a movement afoot,
from the Presiding Bishop,
Katharine Jefforts Schori,
to various agencies
and houses of worship
in the Detroit metropolitan area,
this transformation
from tragedy
to hope and unity.

Prayer is an action,
a response,
we can make
to an egregious act
of senseless violence.

Prayer is as much about
transforming our hearts
as it about transforming
the hearts of others,
even those
who persecute us.

Prayer helps me
as I strive
to follow the instruction
of Paul
in his letter
to the Romans:
“for the one
who loves
another has fulfilled
the law.”

I invite you
to participate
in the prayer vigil
held here tomorrow,
beginning with a special
Labor Day Eucharist
at 10am,
followed by a prayer vigil
until 7pm.

I invite you
to also take home
and use this
book of prayers
we created for
individuals and families
for a week of prayer.

I invite you
to pray with me now,
the Book of Common Prayer
to page 833,
let us pray
the prayer attributed to St. Francis:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace...

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Friday, September 02, 2011

Friday Five: September

Headquarters for me is the northeast of the United States. Here school is getting back in session, the tease of autumn is in the air (or the hope for the tease of autumn is in the air) and church life is gearing up to full throttle.

One thing I've learned with blogging and social media is that the where I live is not necessarily where you live. And so I want to know what September means to you, in your place of the world and time in your life.

This week's Friday Five is:

What are 5 things that the beginning of September mean to you?

1. Relief from long hot steamy weather....which I love, but am always ready to move from summer to autumn.

2. Apples, September is apple season where I live, particularly picked fresh from a local orchard. I like sweet apples for slicing and eating with lunch or in my breakfast yogurt, and tart apples for baking.

3. Start up of fall programs and events at the church, and a return to a more formal worship with choir and longer sermon, vestments and chanting the Eucharistic prayer.

4. Time still moves relatively slow in September but the early morning chill reminds me that the busy, fast moving winter seasons are coming...and so, September is an opportunity to remember to rest and breath.

5. The changing light as the sun moves south casting shadows. A sun that has not gone so far south as to lose it's heat, still warm even as the air has a chill.

Bonus: What's one thing you could do without? Yellow jackets craving liquids, buzzing all over?

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Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...