Tuesday, November 20, 2012

on the Church of England's vote today

I am deeply disheartened by the Church of England’s failure to pass the measure to allow for women bishops.  Doubly hurt that the vote failed in the house of laity — not the bishops or the priests, but the laity would not allow for women bishops.

I was raised Episcopal, so I have a heart for the church of England.  They are the grandparents, in a way, of the church that raised me.  But they will not call me.  They will not call me priest because I am gay, and they will not call me bishop because I am a woman.

I had to sit through the Episcopal General Convention in 2003 when we fought over the ordination of openly gay priest Gene Robinson to bishop of New Hampshire.

I had to sit through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Churchwide Assembly in 2009 when we voted on the ordination of partnered gay and lesbian people.

I am so, so sick of sitting through votes on whether women and/or gay people can serve.

Today, I am totally done with this. There are children dying in Israel / Palestine.  There are children starving all around the world.  There are children abused and broken and hurt, and the church is complicit at least by its silence if not by its own acts of oppression.

I love working with people.  I love seeing brokenness explored and wounds begin to heal.  But I am so, so done (at least today) with people who think they have some sort of God-given right to perpetrate abuse and inequality in God’s own kingdom.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sermon on Mark 13:1-13 -- "Are the promises of God still true?"

This week's sermon was knitted up with the hymn of the day, so that text is included also.


Canticle of the Turning verses 1 and 2
Text: Rory Cooney, b. 1952, based on the Magnificat
Tune: Star of County Down

My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
and my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant's plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
so from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?


My heart shall sing of the day you bring.

Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn.

Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me,
and your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and to those who would for you yearn,
you will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn.                                   Refrain


Text: Mark 13:1-13 (NRSV)

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”  Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.  When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.  This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them.  And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.  When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”


Click here to listen along.



I did something this week that I have not done in two and a half years:  I read a book for fun.

I’m reading a book called The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, and Some Don’t.  It was written by Nate Silver.  He’s a statistician, and you may recognize his name, because he’s the guy who last week correctly predicted the presidential winner in all fifty states.  He’s a smart guy, and he understands a lot about predictions -- and also about humanity.  In his introduction, he explains that our strength, as humans, comes not from being able to defend ourselves but being able to recognize and anticipate events.  We can recognize patterns.  We remember what happened in the past, and it helps explain our present and plan for our future.

But the problem, Silver explains, is that our ability to find patterns can make us find them where they don’t actually exist.  We want the world to make sense, and so we look for signs that will explain it.

The first hearers of Mark’s gospel, in about 65 or 70 AD, were living in a time of struggle.  Many of the early Christians were Jews.  Their lives had been centered around the Temple, the great work of so many hands over history, a symbol of their struggle to be a people with a home where they could worship God.  And in 70 A.D., the Temple was destroyed.  All that remained was one of the great walls -- the Western Wall, as we know it today.  Their home, and the house of God, was gone.  It was taken over by Rome, the oppressing political power that made their lives and their faith a struggle every day.  They asked each other, “What does this mean?  Are the promises of God still true?”

And the early Christians, both Jews and Greeks, were struggling with their own individual lives.  Family members turned against them.  They were dragged before political authorities and church leaders and declared to be heretics and terrorists.  They were trying to live out Jesus’ message of love, of peace, of hope, and they were condemned for it.  So they wanted to know -- what does all this mean?  Why does the kingdom of God feel so far away?  Are the promises of God still true?

So they turned to one of the storytellers in their community, Mark.  Now Mark, unlike Nate Silver, was not a statistician.  He didn’t have a liberal arts degree in economics.  Mark didn’t analyze the church’s struggles from the perspective of numbers.  They turned to him because his job was to know and pass on the stories of Jesus.  So he didn’t make a blog to predict changes in government.  He wrote a gospel, to help his people see the patterns in Jesus’ life and death -- and to help them see the patterns in their own.  And he wrote chapter 13, which we read today, in the style of apocalyptic literature.

Apocalypse is a Greek word -- two Greek words, actually.  Apo and kalupto.  Kalupto means "to cover", and apo means "away from", so together they mean:  to uncover.  To take the cover away.  To reveal what has been hidden.  Apocalypse is not destruction but revelation.

And in apocalyptic literature, revelation is about the unveiling of something much bigger than what we currently know.  We're pulling back the curtain on something much larger than us.  Apocalyptic writers believe that there is a link between everything happening on earth and the larger ongoing struggle between the forces of good and evil.  Oppression and war and injustice on earth is not only human history but also a mirror of an invisible, spiritual battle.  So apocalyptic writers look at earth now and understand it to have much bigger significance.  Apocalyptic writers look to the future and anticipate a great and final battle between evil and good -- between hatred and compassion, between oppression and justice.

So apocalyptic writers see wars, and rumors of wars, and nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and they want to tell everyone:  "This is what all this means.  This war is a symbol of a much greater war that we can't see."  

You see, apocalyptic writers are usually writing during times of great struggle.  They are writing for communities who feel like they are living in the end of the world.  They see wars and hear rumors of wars.  They are living in famine, or struggling in the aftermath of an earthquake.  They are believers whose family members turn against them, whose government refuses to believe in justice and love.  They're the Catholic teenager in northwestern Minnesota, who supported the Vote No campaign on Facebook and was then denied confirmation and communion by his family priest.  They’re the Palestinians in Gaza, watching as Israel’s three-day air strike turns their neighborhoods to rubble and fills their children with terror.

These are people who want to know what’s going on.  And because they believe that there is more to life than the world we can see, they want to know where God is in all of it.  They want to know, “In the face of all this, are the promises of God still true?”

Wars and rumors of wars have always been with us, from the time we realized we could kill one another.  As long as there have been nations, they have been fighting.  As long as we have known solid ground, we have known earthquakes.  As long as we have known food, we have known famine.  As long as we have had religion, we have had leaders who take it and try to gain power, who claim, “Follow me!  I’m the one!”.  And as long as we have had religious beliefs, we have fought over them, condemned each other, killed each other.  We see all this struggle and war, in our sliver of human history, and we ask, “Are the promises of God still true?”  And Jesus says:  “This is not the end.”

This sliver of history where we live is a small part of a great span of time.  We live at only a single point of the cloud of space and time that God has made.  And into our sliver of history, God speaks through Jesus and says, “This is not the end.  I can see the end.  My promises are still true.  Love and justice will reign.”

This is good, and yet it’s so hard.  It's a condemnation of our desire to get a schedule, to try to know everything.  We keep looking for patterns.  We keep wanting statistical answers and firm dates.  Peter and James and John and Andrew ask for us:  "When will this happen?"  We've been trying to answer that question for two thousand years.  Will it happen with Haley's Comet?  Is it the Y2K bug?  What about May 21, 2011?  What about December 21, 2012?  What about now that Hostess is closing and there will be no more Twinkies?  

Many have come in Jesus’ name and said, “I am he!”  There are still wars, and rumors of wars.  There are people dying in the Gaza strip.  There are earthquakes, and hurricanes, and destruction we cannot prepare for.  There are family members turning against each other.  There are forces of evil that say “No”, over and over, to a message of compassion.  It tells us instead to hate, to fear, to compete.  To shoot and bomb the bad guys.  To protect ourselves from each other.  To earn more money and buy more stuff.

So we see lies, and oppression, and war with other countries and within ourselves.  And our human brains, looking for patterns, want to know:  Is this the end?  When will the kingdom come?  When will love and justice reign?  

Maybe you’ve noticed that when the disciples ask Jesus questions, they don’t usually get a straight answer.  And they don’t in today’s story, either.  But they do eventually.  Jesus predicts the coming destruction, all the struggles and pain, and then says in verse 32:  “But about that day or hour, no one knows.”

God stands outside of time, and yet enters into our little sliver to promise:  “I can’t tell you when we’ll be there.  But we’ll be there.  I already know the end.”  We're drawn from our small point of experience into a much bigger picture, where God stands and looks at the whole of history and then says to us, "Don't be afraid."

Jesus says, “Let go of your worry.  Let go of your fear.  Let go of your need to know the schedule.  Let go of your need to prepare.  Be alert, but not afraid.  Don’t look to buildings to house you, or institutions to protect you, or government to fight for you, or money to save you.  The end of the story is that all of that will be gone.  Not one of these stones will still be standing.  Be alert, but not afraid.  You already know what to look for:  look for love.  Look for love of God and love of neighbor.  That is where the kingdom is already here.”

It’s a hard promise, really.  That all of this will pass away.  That none of the things the world offers will save us.  That we will still have troubles, and trials, and hate.  God did not say: You will never be troubled; you will never have difficulties; you will never be anxious.  God said:  you will never be overcome.

Jesus promises:  all this will pass away.  But the one who endures will be saved.

And we will not endure because of our fear, or our knowledge, or our preparations.  We will not survive because of anything we have a grip on.  We will be saved because of God’s grip on us.  We will endure because the One who endures will save us.

The God who created all of time and space, who stands at a place where you can see the end and the beginning and everything in between, entered into a sliver of history to tell us just how much we are loved.  How much we are wanted in the kingdom.  How hungry God is for justice.  How much the heart of God wants to see wars cease, oppressors fall, and peace reign.

In all of this, God holds us fast.  The promises of God are true.  The reign of love and justice is coming, brick by brick, heart by heart.  The world is already turning, and the kingdom is here.


Canticle of the Turning verses 3 and 4

From the halls of pow'r to the fortress tow'r,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
ev'ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
there are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.                                

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn.

Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God's mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror's crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard
is the promise which holds us bound,
till the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around.                           Refrain

Monday, November 12, 2012

A family eulogy, for my Uncle Maynard

(I had the privilege and honor to offer the family eulogy for Father Maynard Kegler, Catholic priest and my uncle, at his funeral this morning.)

Remembrances have flooded in about Father Maynard’s life.  One thing that has been mentioned over and over again was his loud, merry, infectious laugh.  He was a man who brought joy to this world, from a source deep within.

And there is no question that that same laugh is ringing out now as he watches me stand here and speak.  You see, I am Emmy Kegler, the youngest daughter of Father Maynard's brother Stan, and one of the many children of the Kegler family that Father Maynard baptized during his nearly sixty years of priesthood.  And since I was one of those many children, Father took a special interest in my growth in the faith.  One December when I was very young, when he called from Arizona, I got the chance to talk to him.  “Do you know whose birthday we’re celebrating, Emmy?” he asked me in his patient voice.  “It’s Jesus’ birthday,” I told him with four-year-old confidence.  He responded, “Do you know where Jesus was born?”  “Of course I do,” I said with exasperation.  “In the hay.”

You could hear his laugh through the phone from across the room.

I am only one of the many children Father cared for throughout his life.  So many of us in the Kegler family and in this room were baptized by him, married by him, had their children baptized and married by him.  Many of us in the family had the privilege to call him not formally Father Kegler, but Father Maynard -- and we were honored by that privilege.  We were honored to have a priest in the family, but more so to have a priest who knew how important family was.

Father learned the importance of family from a young age.  Life in Glencoe and Winstead was not elegant or easy, but family made it worthwhile.  The Kegler children learned to be rich in imagination and creativity.  They played leapfrog through the house.   They made up translation games with German and English.They played make-believe church, with Monica and Benilda as the choir, Stanley as the server, and Maynard, of course, as the priest.  Family continued to nurture him as he went to prep school and seminary.  A borrowed cushioned kneeler, begged from a neighbor, brought a host of bedbugs into the house.  Even when Maynard could not come home, his clothing could -- a suitcase full of laundry to be washed, dried, starched, ironed, folded, and sent back to the seminary.

His family’s care and nurture, and Father’s dedication to God, came together when he was ordained and when he celebrated his first Mass at Saint Augustine’s.  Father Maynard’s early days of ordained ministry are filled with beautiful memories for so much of the family:  the dresses made by Monica for Paulette, Jeanette, and Betty; Joanie Amtsbauer chosen as the “little bride” for the first Mass; the ice cream treats afterward, with tiny candy crosses on each one.

Father Maynard’s ministry to the family continued.  He baptized many of the Kegler family children, with Vern helping to coordinate meals afterward.  He officiated many marriages, sometimes for children he’d baptized.  Receiving communion from him meant receiving the body and blood along with his own tangible joy that we were there with him.  The private masses he offered for family were solemn and intimate, and always followed with a potluck and storytelling.

Worship under Father Maynard’s direction was solemn, but not strictly serious.  At one wedding in particular, here in St. Francis Xavier Church, Father had proceeded to the altar to prepare communion.  Unbeknownst to anyone in attendance, a small black bat was sleeping in one of the potted plants around the table.  Something must have woken it, for its little black head appeared, along with little black claws that climbed up the altar cloth, for all the congregation to see.  The bat peeked its little head just above the edge of the table and looked right at Father.  A respecter of all God’s creatures, Father also knew that each animal has its time and place, and he snatched up the service book to shoo it away, while he spoke the words of the Sanctus: “Holy, holy.”.  He was able to finally swat it on the third cry of “Holy.”  The whole event was caught on tape, and eventually submitted to America’s Funniest Home Videos; it was not televised, which only proves that the Kegler sense of humor is a truly unique one.

Father was with us for some of the happiest days of our lives - and also for some of the saddest.  He buried many family members, saying the Mass for his brother Aloysius and for so many fathers, mothers, and loved ones.  His comforting, calm presence made the pain easier to bear.

Father’s warm welcome extended to more than worship.  He and Vern continually opened their home to family and friends.  We were welcomed to the cabin in McGregor and to pontooning on Big Sandy.  Father’s hospitality gave many of us opportunities to visit and explore places we otherwise might not.  He invited us all to share in his love for classical music and the opera.  In all the good times with family, his laugh was sure to be heard, from the time he handed out “white elephant” gifts at Kings House after a celebratory mass, to buzzing around a campground in Arizona on Al’s four-wheeler.

Father’s travels continued beyond his different homes in America.  He and Vern traveled the world, sailing on the Queen Elizabeth 2 across the Atlantic, riding the Orient Express from Hampton to London, watching polar bears migrate near Hudson Bay, and visiting, in the course of their journeys together, all seven continents -- even dipping their toes in Antarctic waters.  They loved cruises, and Father was often a chaplain on them, where he’d spend an afternoon playing bridge with the likes of Omar Sharif.  He was a teacher and mentor to Cardinal George of Chicago, and remained his friend throughout his life.

Throughout his adventures, Father also displayed incredible gifts of generosity and compassion.  He faithfully sent out beautiful, handwritten Christmas cards, bringing warmth and light into our homes during the winter.  He gave gifts that were personal and heartfelt, encouraging us through them to pursue our interests and dreams.  He remembered the forgotten and the poor, ministering to Native Americans on the reservation in South Dakota and supporting HIV/AIDS housing in Minneapolis.  He championed Thomas Anthony Dooley III, physician and humanitarian, for beatification.

Father’s deep spirituality and joy meant that he continued to find family wherever he went.  He was a great light in our lives, and saw the light in so many of us.  He was always open to new people, new ideas, new stories, and welcomed all into his wide embrace.  Many of us remember his gentle kisses when he greeted us and when we left.  Throughout all his life, and through many of ours, his twinkling eyes and contagious laugh made us feel at home wherever we were.

Cousin Yvonne most recently visited Father and Vern this past February.  She remembers going with them to Coco’s, one of their favorite restaurants.  As they crossed the restaurant, Father reached for and took Vern’s hand for support.  It was a tender, poignant moment, and a beautiful sign of the team they truly were as they walked this life.

We have lost a beloved brother, a beloved uncle, a beloved companion, a beloved priest.  When I was four years old, he laughed at my utmost certainty of Jesus in the hay.  I know that he laughs with joy now, his eyes twinkling, to know that we may be just as certain of Father’s presence with us, now and always, because of all the love he bestowed on us in his life.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Uncle Maynard

My uncle Maynard died this morning.  He was 87.  He’d struggled the past several years with Alzheimer’s and general old age.  He started palliative care last Monday.

He had no children.  He was my father’s only brother.  And he is the Catholic father who baptized me.

My parents were both raised Catholic but were uncommitted to any institutional church at the time they married.  They had a justice of the peace officiate the wedding, in my father’s living room.

When I was born, it was almost instinctual that I be baptized, and Catholic; there was enough family impetus, especially with a priest for a brother, and no good reasons not to.

I had my own reasons, it seems; at five months old, I screamed through the whole Mass, from first words to finish.  This is a favorite story in my family.  The hilarity has increased as I’ve grown older and come to insist, every time, “I knew you were baptizing me Catholic, and I objected!”

Uncle Maynard was older than my father, and like my father was retired well before I finished grade school.  He became a chaplain on cruise ships, staying in Arizona when they weren’t sailing.  I saw him only rarely, perhaps once every few years.

My mother remembered today a winter phone conversation I had with Uncle Maynard when I was three or four.  We were still unchurched as a family, and Maynard had some concerns about my lack of education in the faith.  He asked me, kindly, “Emmy, do you know whose birthday we’re celebrating?”  ”It’s Jesus’ birthday,” I told him earnestly.  He chuckled with that tone of voice that adults use when they ask a question they don’t think you can answer:  ”And do you know where Jesus was born?”  ”Of course I do,” I said, exasperated.  ”In the hay.”

He laughed so loudly my mother could hear it through the phone line.

Tonight my mother told me that thirty years ago, before I was even born, Uncle Maynard told her and my father that the church was in error.  It was time, he said then, to begin ordaining women.  By the time I began pursuing my own ordination, he was too sick to remember from conversation to conversation what I was doing or even how old I was.  I haven’t talked to him in years, and in the past few, he’d be so confused by phone calls that he’d accuse the other person of lying about who they were.

Tonight, perhaps, is the first night he knows that the little girl who knew where Jesus was born is learning to tell everyone else.

It is a sad thing, and I am mourning him.  And yet it is a beautiful thing now to be taking up the work that he began.

I commend you, my dear brother,
to almighty God
and entrust you to your Creator.
May you return to him
who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to meet you as you go forth from this life.
May Christ, who was crucified for you,
bring you freedom and peace.
May Christ, who died for you,
admit you into his garden of paradise.
May Christ, the true Shepherd,
acknowledge you as one of his flock.
May he forgive all your sins
and set you among those he has chosen.
May you see your Redeemer face to face
and enjoy the vision of God for ever.
-a Catholic prayer for the commendation of the dead

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The whole lovely world’s gone orange
and my soul sings with ineffable and unrhymeable joy.
House by house they stand up for us.
Yard by yard promises,
“The someday of which you dream
is not so very far away.”

When we get married,
I don’t want rice or doves or bubbles,
and I don’t care if you wear white.

What I want is this feeling
of coming home, not just to you,
but to a whole city full of people
who live the word prevenience:
“we welcome you, we love you,
we support you
even before you picked the china patterns.”

[On November 6th, the Minnesotan ballot will include Amendment 1:  ”The constitution shall be amended to define marriage as between one man and one woman.”  The above signs are from yards, businesses, and churches in our south Minneapolis neighborhood, urging passerby to vote No against marriage inequality.]