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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Friday, December 15, 2006

The Ripple Effect (pass it on)

Sometimes paths cross- my path and Br. Justus was during the final training year with the first crop of deacons in the Diocese of New York. Justus was stationed @ St. Elizabeth's Friary in Brooklyn at the time while he became one of our program's mentors... not to me, but to the process that was set in place to revive the diaconate here. That would put our meeting date at around 1991.

I saw him in 1992 - in fact, he asked me if I could drive him from St. Luke's in Katonah back to Brooklyn. It hadn't settled into my brain at the time that the interviews I had just completed after the training session that day led directly to my being "held back" from being ordained a deacon - with the rest of the first class from NY - in about a month and a half. I didn't know.... he did. I drove him home all the time muttering about the 'hoops' everyone was forced to jump through, the horse and pony shows, the 'let us have your feedback on this process' when they really didn't want brutal truth. He sat patiently as I rattled on and on. He nodded knowingly about disappointment and frustration. He listened with his whole being. When I asked for feedback he haltingly [as was his pattern of speech at the time. I thought it was a nervous tic.....a stammer, a fault. On the contrary, he had learned something I had not yet learned. He faithfully practised speaking through the filter of love - the Love of God... he had learned to choose his words wisely and that those words would be infused with Wisdom] told me to pray and hand it over to God.

After a year of hard work on many, many levels I had another interview. My outward and inward anger had been tempered by prayer, soul inventory and some focused therapy. A commitee recommended that things moved forward and the Canon of the Ordinary informed me at the end of May 1993 that Peg Norman and I were set for ordination by Bishop Walter Dennis on June 15. Within weeks a small package arrived in the mail from Brooklyn, NY - it was a short mini-stole of many muted colors in a tight striped pattern that had obviously been used. The note with it said:

"Dear Joanna, This is the stole I wore during my night ministry and jail chaplaincy in San Francisco. I pass it on to you, knowing that you will wear it well -- and might even say you've earned these stripes. The quotation I think of is ' ... by His stripes we are healed' - I know you will pass the healing on. Justus, SSF"

What he did - what each of us does - has a ripple effect. The good vibe he sent out set a ripple in motion in me. I know in my heart and in the tributes that have come in from across the country and other lands afar that Justus had a mission to send the love of God out whenever he could to whomever he could touch - physically, spiritually, pastorally, intellectually. He - like Francis - was outwardly unassuming, but there was no denying the power of love that inspired him... and the ripple effect it set in motion in so, so, so many others.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you............. that's a directive from Jesus. And we do what we can to send out a good vibe. To passers-by, to workers, to parishioners, to our enemies, to our friends, to our family members, to e v e r y o n e .

The saints amoung us give us lessons and inspriation every day. Justus did and I rejoice with the saints gone on that they have indeed been joined by another good and faithful servant. Justus started ripples - ripples of hope, ripples of faith. You can, too. Start up that ripple. You never know who will be wrapped up in the love of its wake.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Advent 3, Year C

The texts -in the Revised Common Lectionary for this coming Sunday are a conglomeration. They are:
Zephaniah 3:14-20;
Isaiah 12:2-6;
Philippians 4:4-7;
Luke 3:7-18. If you'd rather read the text, you can go to the following link:

There are times - in any liturgical year - when the readings seem to have a theme. There are other times when one of the readings comes in like a curve on the outside of the plate - where did THAT come from??

The section of Zephaniah that is used has strong, positive language: There will be rejoicing! Fear not! God is with you and turned away your enemies. Gee, that sounds like good news to me!

In Isaiah a similar tone: I will trust and not be afraid. Sing for joy! The God among you is great!

In Philippians another variation on the theme: Rejoice in the Lord always! Do not fear! God is very near!

The curve ball, of course, comes in the discourse of John the Baptist who is, if nothing else, direct and to the point. Do you think you have it made? You think you are exempt from conscience and accountability because God was forever forgiving to your ancestors? In sharp contrast to the earlier readings, John is saying something that was paraphrased by Goldie Hawn in "The First Wife's Club" (I believe): "Be afraid.... be very afraid".

For their sake and for ours, John does not beat around the bush. They ask what they can do to improve and he points to the nuts and bolts of living a good life: if you have enough, share with those who don't; don't steal; don't extort, bear false witness or be a disgruntled employee. Fair enough. Fair.

John went back to the 10 commandments and applied them both specifically and liberally with his devotees: God asks this of you - fulfill your end of the deal and don't expect the reputation of your family to bail you out.

The reading ends with line: 3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. The good news. On the face of it you could scratch your head and wonder what was so "good" in this good news. The good news was that they already had a general blueprint for constructing a good life; they would now have the good fortune of entering into a personal one-on-one relationship with the real Messiah who would baptize each of them, enduing them with faith, strength and power such as had never been seen before.

The good news of John's message remains with us today: take up the invitation to work with Jesus. The merit gained will be the one he grants you through grace, not one passed on by class or denominational privilege. Now THAT is good news.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A waft of Christmas past

My sister Janet again has sent me some lovely Molasses Clove cookies* from the Dancing Deer Baking Company. They remind me distinctly of special cookies our Mare would share with us at Christmas. Just plunging through the styro-popcorn I could smell that unmistakable aroma that brought be back to an earlier time..... and to Christmas recollections.

Christmas when we were younger was a very combination holiday. Part religious, part family tradition. One involved midnight mass and the other a combination of F.W. Woolworth and our traditional decoration observances.

For the readers here who are younger, let this old girl tell of memories; for the readers here of a certain age and above, a winsome smile of recollection may cross your face --(give in to it!)

First, there were not "the 25 days of Christmas" as blasts from one of my cable TV stations. There were the 12 days of Christmas..... which come AFTER Christmas, NOT BEFORE.

The Christmas retail season began after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.... and not before. A Christmas card, candy, bows or wrapping paper could not be had before that day.

In Woolworth's Ma, Janet and I would map out our separate paths in order that they may not cross and spoil the magic. Sometimes Janet and I would pool our resources for our parents, but in most cases, we had our own ideas and were set on our singular missions. We would rummage past exotic items like talc which came in a tall rectangular green tin with a shaker top you would twist to open. The excursion occasionally included All Spice - in an elaborate box: two tapered off-white glass bottles - one with cologne, the other talc. My father eschewed ties for the most part, so that did not enter the picture, although "work handkerchiefs" in red or navy - what some might call bandanas - were always appreciated.

One year Janet procured a broche for Mommy. Chips of glass "crystal" imbedded in lead. The bloody thing must have weighed in at 1/2 lb. easily. I got my Daddy a belt and white handkerchiefs for a change.

She and I bought each other pure plastic corsages... adorned with plug-on red plastic berries, a flox red bow, some semi-permanent glitter and mini packages. A new one each year. We could never figure out where the previous years gem had disappeared, but we got new ones every year, to be worn on the lapel of a heavy wool coat.

In public school we would learn or practice Christmas carols.... and there would be some kind of Christmas concert that may or may not include battery-powered hand held candles that flickered in front of each fresh face complete with white collar and red bow. A hush would come over the parents gathered in a darkened auditorium or gymnasium while their very own angels (if even only temporary ones) processed while singing "Adeste Fideles" - the first verse of which was in Latin.

The tree.... ah, yes, the tree. The trek to the tree place. My father, sister and I would go to buy the tree.. sometimes trees - one for my paternal grandmother (Mare) and one for us. This took place no sooner and no later than one week before Christmas. My father would haggle with the proprietor who during the year would sell potted flowers and veggies - we went to one of two places, each owned by a rotund sturdy Italian man who spoke broken English. We - more often than not - would get a tree that had fairly good (75-80%) limb coverage- inevitably one side would be stunted or flat or sparse. The tree was always stored out of doors until the day before, at which point it would be propped up in a corner while furniture was moved and an incredibly heavy makeshift tree stand my Daddy had crafted by welding together a steel plate and large pipe (painted gold for effect) would be gingerly retrieved from the attic and placed on newspaper. In went some water, a 1/4 inch wedge was sawed off the trunk and the tree was wielded into the stand. After every one's opinion about how much to tighten each of the 4 screws to make the tree stand straight, the tree was then freed from its jute binding and allowed to "fall". Next my Dad would try to improve the look of the tree in his own unique way. What could not disguised by the wall would be - dare I say it - enhanced. Daddy would cut off redundant limbs in one section, drill holes in the trunk and plug in branches as necessary; the man was on a mission to make a true 'Charlie Brown' tree look magnificent and full.

Trimming occurred later. Lights tested and applied, glass ornaments hooked and hung and finally tinsel added ... one strand at a time. You read correctly. Willy-nilly tossing was not allowed. The trimming was done with the TV on, tuned into local station WPIX, to a 3 hour segment without commercial interruption know simply as The Yule Log that had only the image of a fireplace with the logs burning to a medley of many carols and secular wintry-themed music. Gene Autry sang both 'Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer". Brenda Lee, Mitch Miller (and the Gang), Arthur Fiedler w/the Boston Pops, Johnny Mathis, the Vienna Choir Boys, Montovanni (AND the 1,000 Strings!), the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and on and on.

We ate something, 'though I don't recall what, for dinner. Janet and I then were dropped of to attend midnight mass at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. Outside of the main entrance fresh garland framed the wooden doors. An outdoor creche was in front of the convent in the back of the parking lot. Inside there was the smell of pine and candle wax. There were hymns (in English). The service in later years even segued from Latin to English.

One year we both remember fondly. After Mass we left the church and it had snowed - not very heavily - during the service. We ran along in our boots and coats (with corsages in place) and hats and gloves. We crossed the street and took the 'short cut' through the back of the junior high school property, sliding gleefully down the significant incline to the bottom of the hill.

The night was not so frigid - just cold, crisp. As the snow fell, we could hear it... this was not hail or sleet.... simply snow. The night was so quiet that you would hear it fall. We didn't mind the walk. We passed through the "center of town" a hamlet, really, watching the snow come down or swirl and glitter in the light cast from the street lights above. Maybe a car came by.... or two. Even they (with their tire chains---remember them??) travelled past in a hush.

Normally we would stay on Main Street and make our way home by the direct route. This night we went through the Municipal Park. Past the emptied, fenced municipal pool. Past the ball-less tether and pole. On the path, down the hill, through a vacant field. Without even saying a word we were both headed to the single house on Hillside Avenue that had a fairly large lit manger scene replete with straw and a dusting of snow on the donkey and cow and sheep figurines. We crept up on it with an inherent reverence. Mary and Joseph looked down at baby Jesus, his hands outstretched. The Holy Family were sheltered by the rustic stable; not a single flake made it in there.

...... all was calm, all was bright.

Many Christmases have taken place between then and now - and still I feel it warm in my heart as a sacred time.

No matter what your tradition for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I hope and pray that you have a sacred time - a sacred moment - that you will never, ever forget. If it hasn't happened yet, I believe it will; if it has, cherish it and encourage an atmosphere where more take place.


If you have your own special Christmas memories, think of posting them either as comments to this entry or sending them to me at so that I can post them.

* My own version of these cookies can be found on p. 15 of The Geranium Farm Cookbook.

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