Haiku Friday: Surprised by . . .

On a recent Sunday morning, I was strolling down one of the open walkways that surround the courtyard at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. I almost didn’t notice that something was odd about the water fountain as I walked by it. There was a “duck” floating at the edge of the lower pool — a decoy painted like a Mallard.

Wayward Duck

Later that same week I saw the same decoy, which had moved on up to the elevated part of the fountain. I keep meaning to ask someone if there’s a story behind this fowl sight. But that doesn’t matter because it surprised me and made me smile.

Perhaps you have been, when you least expected it, surprised by joy or a visit by an old friend, confused by oddity, even overwhelmed by holiness. Stumbling onto something that you really didn’t expect to see or to feel can be our haiku theme this week. Translate that experience into one verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Here’s mine:

Walked past the fountain,
and a Mallard — mute — called out
to me, smiling back.

On the Road with the Rector #1

Added LaneLiving in the City of Houston provides us with incredible opportunities to participate in cultural and intellectual events. Throughout the year, I’ll invite you and your friends and neighbors to join me in some of these activities that might either strengthen or challenge us as Christians.

The inaugural “On the Road with the Rector” event is a lecture on “Public Religion in America” by Peggy Edgell, Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, which is sponsored by the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University. It will take place tomorrow — Friday, January 30 — at 9:00 a.m. in the Kyle Morrow Room of the Fondren Library on the Rice campus, which is located at 6100 Main Street.

It will also include a moderated question and answer period and be followed by a brunch reception for those who are able to stay. Whenever food is involved, it’s always helpful to let them know that you will be attending. You can RSVP either by registering online or by sending an email to Hayley Hemstreet, Program Manager for the Religion and Public Life Program, at hayley.j.hemstreet@rice.edu.

Texas Tuesday: An Owl and Mitres Too

Here’s a photograph of one of the more formal side entrances to Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston. I recently noticed a fun detail in it for the first time.

Palmer's North Side Entrance

It’s in this close-up of the crest above the doors. The owl, presumably, makes a connection to Rice University, where three owls appear on the academic seal and Sammy the Owl is the mascot. Christianity is highlighted in the three mitres, a traditional headdress of bishops in the Christian tradition, generally, and the Episcopal Church, specifically. Perhaps others who are more familiar with heraldry than I am can make additions or corrections to my rather amateur interpretation.

Palmer's North Side Door Crest

Storm’s-a-Brewing: Party Like It’s 1993!

Well, it appears that the equivalent of a meteorological bomb is about to explode across the Northeast. The National Weather Service has issued blizzard warnings for counties from New Jersey to Maine, with folks in Boston preparing to wake up on Wednesday morning to as much as three feet of snow on the ground. Media reports describe this approaching storm variously as historic, crippling, life-threatening, etc. As the Governor of Rhode Island put it, “We believe this storm is so severe that it poses an imminent threat to the safety of our citizens.” The warnings have been both consistent and dire. My hope is that people will take them seriously.

For me, that brings back memories of the so-called “Storm of the Century” in mid-March of 1993. It was described in the New York Times as “a monster with the heart of a blizzard and the soul of a hurricane.” Because of the snow, I was stuck for three nights at a Holiday Inn off the New Jersey Turnpike on my way back from North Carolina to Connecticut during my first year at Yale Divinity School. Freemasons — a lot of them — from New York City were also stuck there. They had a party.

Storm of the Century

I remember, too, that hundreds of people died as a result of that 1993 “Storm of the Century,” and there will surely be too much suffering as this new mega-storm develops. So here’s a prayer for tonight and for the dark nights that await us all:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Haiku Friday: Art

Two of the Christmas gifts that I received from my wife Carrie in 2013 were a copy of Roger Hutchison’s The Painting Table: A Journal of Loss and Joy and an original work of art by the author of that book. Roger and I became friends more than 18 years ago while serving different Episcopal churches, each within walking distance to the beach, along the Grand Strand of South Carolina. Today I finally hung that painting on the wall of the Rectory here in Houston, where we moved last summer.

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Art would make a good haiku theme, don’t you think? It could be about anything from the product of a child’s imagination with crayons to something that you saw long ago in the National Portrait Gallery in London. That gives you a lot of latitude to create your one verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Here’s the haiku that I wrote:

Is the sun rising
or setting? Same painting, but
more than one story.

Texas Tuesday: Houston Marathon

Sunday morning was a great day for a run, not for me but for 13,000 runners in the Chevron Houston Marathon and 12,000 runners in the Aramco Houston Half Marathon. Yes, interestingly, these foot races are sponsored by oil companies.

On her way to church with our kids, my wife got stuck in traffic but took advantage of that to watch the runners for a few minutes. She took this amazing photograph not too far from our neighborhood. Needless to say, there’s a lot going on here — The Shoe Hospital, Pilgrim Cleaners, Goodwill and Urgent Care in the background, live music under the sign to serenade the runners, and, yes, someone carrying wheeling a cross on the marathon route. “All God’s children got travelin’ shoes,” I suppose.

Houston Marathon

Haiku Friday: Butterflies and Bugs

Today my youngest son and I went on an adventure to the Cockrell Butterfly Center and Brown Hall of Entomology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. For the very first time, we didn’t spend the majority of our time looking at dinosaur bones in another part of the museum. This morning was all about butterflies and bugs.

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So let’s make that our theme for writing haiku this week. Your one verse needs five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Mine hearkens back to childhood summer evenings in North Carolina:

Birds fall silent, then
a symphony arises —
crickets and their friends.

Texas Tuesday: Holy Spokes and Prayers

Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, has an awesome group of folks who call themselves the Palmer Holy Spokes. They love to ride together on their bicycles for fun and fellowship and to raise funds for worthy causes, such as helping those with multiple sclerosis and educating people about breast cancer.

Palmer Holy Spokes

Their congregation, where I now serve as the Rector (i.e., senior pastor), also has an impressive legacy of ministries with recovering alcoholics. Part of that continues today through a high school, which is located on Palmer’s campus and, as described on its website, is “dedicated to supporting teens in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse or dependency.” This past summer, I wrote about that high school and also about an amazing man in my previous church who helped recovering alcoholics, like himself, both find and keep a job in “Grace in Addiction: Archway Academy.”

I’ve been thinking about all of that while reflecting on the horrifying, tragic events that unfolded in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland on December 27, 2014. The pastoral letter that appears below was written this week by an Episcopal priest to her congregation in Brunswick, Maryland. It provides a summary of what happened and refers to an educational fund for two young children who needlessly lost their father two days after Christmas Day. My wife and I have two boys about the same ages as those children, and we made a contribution to that fund last week. This isn’t the way things are supposed to be. Keep them in your prayers. Lord, have mercy.

Dear beloved in Christ,

Until now, I have refrained from addressing the distressing news surrounding the automobile collision involving our Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook on December 27, 2014 which resulted in the death of Baltimore cyclist Thomas Palermo. In the wake of this collision, details have emerged over Heather Cook having a prior DUI in 2010 in Caroline County. In addition to the police investigation, the national church has launched its own investigation under Title IV of the Constitution and Canons which may lead to Heather being put on trial in Ecclesiastical Court with the possibility of her being deposed. This morning at 11AM, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that Heather Cook has been charged with manslaughter, driving under the influence and texting while driving and a warrant has been issued for her immediate arrest.

There has been much speculation and outrage expressed in the media – both in newspapers and on social media. Pastorally, I felt that refraining from speaking until the facts of the investigations became available rather than adding to speculation was an appropriate Christian response. Now that charges have been filed and having attended a clergy meeting with Bishop Sutton and diocesan staff this past Tuesday, I am in a better position to now speak to our Grace family as your rector.

First, as an avid cyclist myself, I am deeply grieved by the death of Tom Palermo – a man who left a wife and two children behind as well as many friends in the cycling community in Baltimore. We offered prayers last Sunday for the repose of his soul and will continue to pray for his widow and children. A consensus which emerged in our meeting last Tuesday with Bishop Sutton was to designate an offering on Sunday, February 1st to be directed to the education fund already established for Tom Palermo’s children Sadie and Sam. Please consider making a donation to Grace Church on this Sunday and mark your donation to be directed to the Palermo fund. While nothing can bring Tom’s back, this act to help his children is what we can do to help them as they go forward.

Second, I want to address many of the questions which have arisen regarding this tragedy: How could someone with a history of driving under the influence be elected bishop? Did anyone know about this prior arrest? Did the search committee or standing committee fail to exercise due diligence in vetting the candidates for bishop? Bishop Sutton and the diocesan staff addressed questions about the search process on Tuesday and I want to share that with you.

  • Heather Cook self-disclosed her DUI to the chair of the search committee and Bishop Sutton. What level of detail she disclosed about her arrest was not discussed with us at the meeting. She received probation before judgment and satisfied all of the requirements of the court for her probation. In so doing, her record was eligible to be expunged. This was her first arrest for driving under the influence.
  • As per the national church’s guidelines, all of the bishop candidates were referred to a psychiatrist for evaluation. Heather was deemed fit to continue in the process. Exact details of what she discussed with the psychiatrist are protected under HIPAA laws.
  • The search committee and standing committee were told “a candidate has a DUI in their past” and both committees were asked if this would disqualify the candidate. No other details of Heather’s arrest were disclosed, such as how long ago it happened (4 years ago), what her blood alcohol content was at the time of arrest (the breathalyzer registered .27 – indicating severe intoxication), and the presence of drug paraphernalia and marijuana in the car (a charge which was dropped). This was in keeping with the national guidelines on handling sensitive information in a search process.
  • The information about Heather’s prior DUI was not disclosed to the electing convention per the national guidelines.

The conclusion I have reached is that our search committee and standing committee followed the guidelines from the national church but that our guidelines are woefully inadequate and naïve in addressing the complex problems of substance abuse and addiction. Questions regarding how one is managing and treating a chronic condition like addiction, or any other chronic condition which could impact a clergy’s ability to serve as a church leader, are questions which need to be addressed as part of the search process. I strongly believe our national guidelines need revision to address this deficiency but recognize that within the limits of what they could do our search and standing committees did their job to the best of their ability.

Some have expressed their feeling that the details of Heather’s DUI should have been made public to those charged with electing her. Heather was encouraged to self-disclose this during the walkabout meetings. She chose not to disclose. In hindsight, her lack of transparency over disclosing this raises serious questions about whether or not she was addressing her alcoholism. Indiscriminately publicizing the details of a DUI beyond the search and standing committees would have been akin to labeling someone with a scarlet letter: it is shaming. Shaming is never redemptive or Christian and serves to discourage those suffering from alcoholism and addiction from seeking needed treatment. Revising the process for more transparency in disclosing to search committees and standing committees would likely have resulted in Heather’s candidacy for bishop ending before her name was put forward for election.

I have been asked as to whether or not Heather was subjected to a criminal background check as all candidates for ordination are in the Episcopal Church. Candidates for deacon and priest are subjected to a thorough criminal background check. The background check I went through was more rigorous than the one I went through for a top secret clearance with the DOD. The responsibility for running a background check for bishop’s candidates is that of the Presiding Bishop’s office at the national church, not the local diocese.

Some have made the blanket statement that no alcoholic should ever be ordained. I disagree strongly with that statement. We have many fine clergy in the Episcopal Church who are alcoholics in recovery. They have many years of sobriety to their credit and work solid programs to maintain their sobriety. They seek ways to be held accountable in sobriety and are transparent in disclosing their alcoholism when it is appropriate and when it can be of service to another alcoholic or to help educate others about the disease. Our church would be much poorer without their ministry. I do believe we need to better address the problems of clergy or candidates for ordination whose alcoholism is active and who are acting out in ways which damage themselves and others. I pray we can begin to address this in the wake of Tom’s tragic death.

In the end, this was an epic failure. It was the failure of a process to stop a candidate for bishop from being put forward when clearly her alcoholism was not in remission. It was a failure of Heather’s to choose not to treat her alcoholism and conceal her past. This resulted in the death of a husband and father – something which Heather will have to live with for the rest of her life and for which she may be incarcerated. This was our failure of Heather too. As the Church, we set her up to fail by confusing forgiveness with accountability. We did not hold her accountable to a program of sobriety and we failed to ask the tough love questions which needed to be asked. In so doing, we offered cheap grace – and that is enabling.

This tragic and painful situation has brought grief, a sense of betrayal, anger, and embarrassment to all of us in the Diocese of Maryland. Yet St. Paul reminds us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The many failures which resulted in Thomas Palermo’s death should not have happened, but they did. I ask your continued prayers for the Palermo family as they grieve. I ask you to pray for those who will be charged with bringing Heather Cook to trial that justice may be done for Tom’s family and the cycling community. I ask your prayers for Bishop Sutton and the staff at the diocesan offices as they move through this painful situation and seek healing. And I ask your prayers for Heather Cook that she may face the harsh reality of her alcoholism and, in accepting the consequences of her actions, be drawn to seek treatment to begin living a sober life. As always, I remain available to discuss these difficult issues with you in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Faithfully,

The Rev. Anjel Scarborough
Rector

Haiku Friday: Winter Wonderland

It’s been cold this week here in Houston and even colder in most of the rest of the country. Folks in Minnesota, where my family and I lived before moving to Texas, are having flashbacks to last year’s so-called Polar Vortex. When I woke up on Monday morning, I checked the weather and noticed that it was eleven degrees below zero in Edina, a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis and the location of my last church. Here I am, wearing my winter armor, a little more than a year ago:

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So this week’s haiku theme is, appropriately, winter. It could be about snowflakes, cold temperatures, ice hockey, cozy fires, slick roads, bulky coats, warm socks, or pretty scarves. Be creative with your one verse, using five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Here’s mine:

Once I wore snow boots
under my cassock during
Lessons and Carols.