Every night is Halloween

At some level concerts are also costume parties.  Think about it, even if all you do is put on a t shirt featuring the headliner, you still probably made an effort to change your outfit from what you were wearing earlier in the day.  Depending on the band that costume can get pretty elaborate… from tie-dyed shirt for the Dead to teased-out hair and makeup of glam metal to fans who mimic their idol’s dress from the Material Girl to Katy Perry, to punk rock Mohawks, most people look different when they’re at a show.

But IMHO the most elaborate costumes can be found at either a goth or black metal show.  These tend to include not just elaborate clothing choices but also make up.  As you see the costumes can get quite elaborate

Now, here’s the puzzle… what do you do when your rock and roll costume party takes place on the night of our cultural costume extravaganza, namely Halloween?  Do the goths dress as bankers?  Does the black metal crowd shed their corpse paint for Miss Clairol?  When for you, in the words of Type O Negative, “Every night is Halloween?” how do you dress for the show?

Oddly enough, not much changes.  In 2008 I saw this first hand when I saw the Sisters of Mercy on Halloween night.  The only non-goth piece of clothing present was a Phillies cap sported by guitarist Chris Catalyst as a nod to the Phil’s recent World Series win!

Earlier this week I took my daughter to see Motionless in White on Halloween and saw much of the same… not a shred of black leather had been replaced by sear sucker.  If anything it was an invitation for the audience to go even darker.

 

Corpses, demons and slutty nuns abounded.  A couple of over-sized dinosaurs and the fact that Miss May I were dressed Power Rangers added an element of levity but overall the crowd stayed in its lane.

Miss May I

 

 

Contestants in the costume contest including zombie Jesus, and a murder-suicide bride and groom.

But then Amity Affliction took the stage and I had to laugh.  It looked like Greg Marmalard, Douglas Neidermeyer and the rest of Omega House had formed a metal band.  They were dressed straight out of a J-Crew catalog.

 

Finally, someone in this counter-culture crowd understood that Halloween costumes can be fun precisely because they allow us pretend to be the exact opposite of who we are.

I am not complaining.  Halloween inspires the already theatrically minded rockers to go over the top which means that even if the crowds at goth and metal shows tend to stick to their dark and scary uniform, I’ve found that it’s worth missing out on trick or treating to go to a concert. 

 

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So this Canon walks into a bar….

 

So my usual summer hiatus from writing stretched on for several months more than usual.  Not to offer excuses but in the last few months we have bought and renovated a house, moved from our home of 14 ½ years and I left my position at St Timothy’s and started a new gig working with my bishop on the staff of our diocese.  OK- so I guess I am making excuses.  But along with the new job I also picked up a new title…. You are now reading the words of The Reverend Canon Kirk Berlenbach, Canon for Innovation and Community Engagement.  

Impressed?  Probably not.  More likely you are wondering just what the hell “Canon” means?  Well you’re not alone. Folks might be more familiar with the term as it relates to church law (our bylaws are called canons) or perhaps as it related to the official accounting, history or contents of something.  For example, different branches of the church have differing opinion as to which books of the bible are “canonical”… that is, which ones would be included in the “canon” of scripture.  Or for non-religious types, my son uses the term in relation to anime or sci-fi.  For example, according to him most of the DBZ movies are “not part of canon” which means they are not part of the official story line approved by Toriyama.

Naturally my new job would be a lot cooler and more fun if it meant I got shout “Kamehameha!” and make my hair turn silver but sadly that is not to be.

What I wish my new title empowered me to do

No, my “Canon” powers are much more mundane.  Wikipedia explains it as follows:

“The title of Canon is not a permanent title and when no longer in a position entitling preferment, it is usually dropped from a cleric’s title nomenclature. However, it is still given in many dioceses to senior parish priests (including some Rural Deans, those who have played a role in the wider life of the diocese, those who have served in the diocese for a long time, or similar) as a largely honorary title. It is usually awarded in recognition of long and dedicated service to the diocese.                                        Generally speaking, canons in the Anglican Communion are of this sort, and thus are equivalent to a monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church, often wearing the violet or violet-trimmed cassock which is associated with that rank.”

In real terms the title implies that I have some measure of expertise but apart from a new fancy cassock that is on order from the Wippell Company, my new title of Canon and $3 will get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks, just like everybody else.

What my official new duds will look like.

In truth, although I used the new title in my Twitter and Instagram handles (@canonkirk), what I’m really excited about is the work that comes with it.

While I truly loved my work at St Tim’s, in this new role I get to bring my experience to bear to assist many congregations simultaneously.  I also have the privilege of working along our Bishop and my talented co-workers to help articulate a bold vision of what our Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania could become and how we can act to help change our communities for the better.  And best of all, not only do I get to keep walking into bars, part of my new job is to teach other clergy and parishes that they should be too.

So this priest walks into a hardware store…

So as you may recall my wife and I have gotten really into bourbon.  On our tour of the Bourbon Trail we tasted a lot of different bourbons and ryes and we saw a lot of different bottles.  The coolest bottle by far was from Willett.  Their flagship bourbon comes in a bottle shaped like their still.

My lovely wife and I at Willett

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But what do you do with that very cool bottle once it’s empty?  Turns out they can be made into lamps.  While I’m not a very crafty person I figured it was worth a try.

So here’s how it’s done.

I started with a trip to the local hardware store,  You can get a basic lamp kit most anywhere but I did have to order the bit for drilling the glass.  Once that arrived I assembled all the parts and got to work.

Drilling a hole in the bottom of the bottle seemed tricky.  I practiced on an empty Four Roses bottle just to get the hang of it.  Turns out it’s fairly time consuming.  You have to constantly drip water where you’re drilling to keep things running smoothly.  But eventually the bit went through and the bottle was intact.

This meant it was time to try the Willett bottle.  The long, narrow neck made keeping things steady and level somewhat challenging but just ten minutes later it was all done.

Next came wiring the lamp.  I had spent some time trying to figure out what to do with the wire that would run up the middle of the lamp.  While a nice cloth covered cord wasn’t too unattractive if left exposed I really wanted something nicer.

Here’s a bare bones one I found online. Note the exposed cord- definitely not the effect I wanted!

Thankfully, there’s a whole lot of these lamps on Etsy and Pinterest.   After scrolling through the options I finally found a solution.  I could run the wire inside a slender copper pipe.

So, after drilling through the stopper I threaded the pipe and then the wire.  Wiring up the socket is very straight forward.  Once everything was made snug came the moment of truth.  Sure enough it lit up right away.

With lamp assembled and working, all I had to find a shade.  This was no simple matter.  After a lot of searching  I settled on a smaller shade made of copper colored silk.  A final tweak had to be made because the 10 inch harp that came with the kit was too tall .  One last quick trip to the hardware store and I had an 8 inch harp that worked perfectly.

While it took more than a month to go from the impetus to the final product, all in all it wasn’t that much work.  So next time the crafty urge strikes me I might just find myself walking into a hardware store again.

Show me the way to the next whiskey bar (or not)

 

Well, here we are, one week into Lent.  For the past several years my Lenten fast has been alcohol related. I have alternatively abstained from beer and from alcohol altogether.  As I considered my options I started taking stock of my life.  What habits were starting to trouble me?  What might God be calling me to change?

The answer didn’t take long.  Whiskey (usually bourbon or rye) had become a nightly ritual.  Just a few years ago it was a very occasional indulgence.  Beer was my undisputed drink of choice.  But since our trip down the Bourbon Trail in 2015 that after-dinner whiskey cemented its place in my nightly routine.

Unfortunately, along with that habit came a gradual increase in my consumption of alcohol. Especially when the whiskey isn’t getting measured out by the bartender it became all too easy to pour a double. Add high-proof varieties into the mix (one of my favorites, Old Weller Antique clocks in at 107 proof on up into barrel-strength whiskeys which tip the scales in the 130’s), and suddenly that “one” glass has the alcohol equivalent of one and half all the way up to three regular 80 proof drinks.

Just to keep things simple, I extended the fast to include all hard liquor, otherwise I’d be tempted to start substituting G&T’s or Armagnac which would defeat the whole purpose.

One week into Lent, I pleased to report that I’m doing OK. It’s been interesting to notice that when I am heading into the living room after cleaning up from dinner, my eyes are drawn inexorably upwards towards the liquor cabinet. While I miss it, the absence of whiskey isn’t causing me any existential crisis. And, as I hoped, it has cut down on my alcohol consumption. While I might choose to have a nice quad or Imperial Stout after dinner, I am certainly not temped to go back for seconds.

Of course I still have five more weeks to go and a lot can happen in that time. But I’m not losing any sleep over it. What will be really interesting is how I re-integrate whiskey back into my life once Christ is Risen. But for now, that’s a question for another day and another post.

What about you?  Do you fast for Lent?  If so, what do you give up?  Have you ever fasted from alcohol?  How did it go for you?

Saint Brigid’s Great Lake of Beer

Today is St. Brigid’s day. It continues to surprise me that this post continues to be my most popular of all time. Ten again,when you consider Brigid in all her holy, strong-willed magnificence, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at all.
Hope you enjoy and now,
May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell
Bless every fireside every wall and door
Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
Bless every foot that walks its portals through
May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.

So This Priest Walks Into a Bar...

I should like a great lake of beer to give to God.
I should like the angels of Heaven to be tippling there for all eternity.
I should like the men of Heaven to live with me, to dance and sing.
If they wanted I’d put at their disposal vats of suffering
White cups of love I’d give them with a heart and a half.
Sweet pitchers of mercy I’d offer to every man.
I’d make heaven a cheerful spot,
Because the happy heart is true.
I’d make men happy for their own sakes.
I should like Jesus to be there too.
I’d like the people of heaven to gather from all the parishes around.
I’d give a special welcome to the women,
the three Marys of great renown.
I’d sit with the men, the women of God,
There by the great lake of beer
We’d be drinking good health…

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Spikes and All

Priests and punk rock don’t often mix.  As open as I am about my past, stories from that phase of my life don’t often make it into my sermons.  Yet this Christmas, I reached way back to high school to tell the story of a brief conversation with Maggie (not her real name).  And for what may well be the first time in history, a tale of black leather and spikes managed to find its way to Bethlehem.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I liked preaching it.

Christmas, 2016

We’ve got three teenagers at home which means that in addition to the joy of watching them grow into young men and women, we’ve also had to endure our fair share of rebellion. But as difficult as their angst can be for us to endure, I try to take it with a grain of salt. Because to be fair, I put my parents through worse.

Kirk Mowhawk 1
If you’ve seen my Mohawk pictures then you understand just what I mean. My rebellious phase started harmlessly enough- camouflage army pants and some heavy metal sprinkled in with the prog rock. But once my parents announced their divorce things took a much angrier turn. In a matter of months I transformed from suburban dork to punk rocker.

I got a black leather jacket and started wearing the shirts of scary bands. As things progressed I added spiked bracelet and Doc Martens. And as much as it bothered my parents it also made me stand out in the preppy halls of Haddonfield Memorial High School. But here’s the thing about my punk rock phase, no matter how much paraphernalia I piled on, in my heart of hearts I didn’t reflect who I really was. I was really just a poseur.

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Haddonfield High

But there was one kid at school who wasn’t. Maggie was a genuine punk, one of few in all of Haddonfield. Her hair was dyed jet black and her nose pierced which, in 1986, was a MUCH bigger deal than it is today. She knew everyone in the scene on South Street. But her biggest credential was getting arrested. The rumor was that she got picked up for hopping the turnstile of the PATCO High Speed Line coming back late from partying with the other punks. No matter what percentage of my wardrobe came from Zipperhead, I couldn’t hold a candle next Maggie.

Anyway, one day I saw her walking down the hall and noticed that the back panel of her leather jacket had been completely covered with two-inch long spikes. I caught up and told her how cool it was. Maggie smiled and said, “Doesn’t it just make you want to give me a hug?”

A hug? Really? But I suppose that’s was the point (no pun intended). At the time I really didn’t give it any more thought. But now I realize that her quip, “Doesn’t it just make you want to give me a hug?” was in fact an extremely serious statement. Far more than just an expression of teen angst those spikes were armor… armor meant not for her body, but for her heart.

And you know what? I bet it worked pretty well. If someone was going to get scared off by those spikes, well then in Maggie’s mind that was someone who wasn’t worth getting to know anyway. But, if a person was willing to make the effort- to look beneath all the leather and scary exterior and still managed to see the creative and caring person underneath, well then that was a person who was worth getting to know… someone who was worthy of her trust.

For the most part, I’ve long since outgrown that rebellious phase. But you know, as far removed as I am from being that angry young man who tried to freak out my parents and scare the holy heck out of the rest of the school, there are times when I am still haunted by the same feelings of insecurity and doubt that so plagued my adolescence. When that happens, when people let me down or I begin to doubt myself, my instinct is to once again armor up and try and protect my heart against more hurt and disappointment.

I suspect I am not alone. Because regardless whether you were a cheerleader, a nerd or if the only leather you ever in high school wore were Sperry Topsiders, there is something universal in the urge to take your pain and project it outwards.

The unfortunate truth is that some of us are still putting on an act or erecting barriers, just daring anyone to actually try and get close. And it doesn’t matter if we wear a suit, work boots or a lab coat, when it comes to our pain and feelings of vulnerability we might as well be wearing Maggie’s spiked leather jacket.

The only way we know to protect ourselves is to keep others at a safe distance. Unfortunately, if we wear it long enough, we forget how to take it off and how to let people in. In the name of self-defense we drive person after person away. Then we look around at our lonely lives and start to wonder if we really are unlovable.

If that describes how you feel, then maybe it’s finally time to try something different. If you’re tired of being lonely, if you’re tired of being held back by fear, if you hurt so badly that all you can seem to do is to lash out at the very people who are trying to help, if what you want more than anything else in the world is for someone to love and accept you for who you really are, then I want you to know that this night is for you. Tonight, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are reminded us of the incredible truth… namely that no matter how many layers of armor we put over our wounded hearts, there is nothing we can do that will scare G-D off.

In fact it’s just the opposite. G-D sees through all the layers of our anger and pain and G-D… G-D loves us anyway. G-D loves us so much that he was willing to do whatever it took to close that distance we had created. In order to draw close to us again he came down from heaven and became one of us.

Born in Bethlehem, Jesus joined us in the whole range of our human existence. That means he knew doubt, isolation, betrayal, anger, fear, grief and all of those other terrible emotions which have caused you to withdraw or to push others away. Yet, no matter how bad things got, in spite of all the pain, Jesus refused to give up on us. In fact, Jesus loved us so much that he allowed himself to be broken so that we had the chance to be made whole.

That’ sounds too good to be true.  Imagine what that must be like… to have someone who looks at all your mistakes you’ve, at all the people you’ve hurt, at the whole of your messed up and messy life and somehow, still love you anyway. If that’s true then it means is that Jesus is someone you can trust with your heart. Jesus’ love for us is so great that if we let him, he is willing to hug us, spikes and all.

Such a relationship would change everything. To finally have someone who accepted you without condition or judgment… someone who could look past your anger and see the pain that lay beneath it… someone who you didn’t make you feel ashamed… someone you didn’t have to push away. To have someone like that would have to be some kind of miracle.

Well guess what? That miracle… that two thousand year old, heartbreaking, universe-changing miracle, that is what we celebrate tonight. In the birth of Jesus G-D comes into our world once again, and he comes so that you might finally know the love and acceptance you’ve always longed for.15673076_1246014532144500_3635799269079202813_n

Tonight you have a choice. You can go about your life as you always have; holding onto your pain, refusing to let go of your anger and doing your very best to keep G-D and everyone else at a safe distance, OR…. or just for tonight you can take a risk and choose to believe that Jesus just might be worthy of your trust. You can dare to let him see you without your armor. Just for tonight you can let your guard down just long enough to let Jesus come close, open his arms in love and hug you, spikes and all. AMEN

Recovery Sunday

Several years ago a new family joined my parish.  They were engaged in worship, came back to coffee hour and were otherwise showing all the signs of settling in.  However I noticed that they never came up for communion.

Eventually I found the right moment to ask.  It was at that time that the husband told me that he was an alcoholic.  But, since we only offered wine (and not juice) he didn’t feel like he could fully participate.  This was a real eye opener for me.

While I’ve done a lot to try to help establish a healthy and balanced relationship with alcohol at church, since then I have been increasingly aware of the ways in which addiction affects the lives of my congregation.  Just two weeks ago after services I spent hours counseling parishioners about coping with their own addiction or those of a family member.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This past Sunday alone 9 people in Philadelphia died when they overdosed on heroin.   All around my neighborhood I see people with the telltale signs of “meth mouth.”   The real trouble is that for every person willing to talk about their problem there are many more who are silent.

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The shield of Recovery Ministries

Last year it was estimated that 40 million adults struggled with addiction to drugs or alcohol.  If you start to account for their immediate family that number grows geometrically.  The Church needs to respond.

Thankfully many denominations and individual congregations already are.  Within my own denomination there is Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church which offers support and resources.

Taking their lead, I am pleased to announce that St. Tim’s is holding its first Recovery Sunday on December 11th at both the 8 and 10:30 am services.

In worship we will offer prayers, encouragement and support for those affected by addiction.  After church several members will speak about their own struggles and recovery.  And we will have resources on hand to help you get more support once you leave.

I don’t know how many people will be helped but I do know that offering love, acceptance, hope and support is an essential expression of what it means to be a Christian.

If you are affected by addiction and need support and happen to be in the area, I sincerely hope you will join us.  You don’t need to talk about it.  You don’t need to stand up and introduce yourself.  You just need to come and be with us.  Sing with us.  Pray with us.  Let us pray for you.  Or just sit quietly.  Whatever works for you.  Just come be with us as we acknowledge the reality of addiction and celebrate the hope and possibility that can be found through the love and grace of Jesus Christ.