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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Unforgiveable Sin? Blasphemy!

Pentecost III – June 10, 2018 – St Martin in the Field, Selbyville, DE
(Lectionary Lessons appointed for Pentecost II I can be found here.) 

They thought he was crazy! His family thought he had lost his mind!

Jesus had been working hard – healing many sick people – and the word about him quickly spread. People came from Judea and Jerusalem and the regions around the Jordan, from Tyre and Sidon, just to be healed by Jesus.

There were so many people pressing around Jesus that he ordered his disciples to get a small boat to be set in the Lake so that all the people might not crowd him. He healed many of them with many different diseases and those possessed of “impure spirits” fell down before him and proclaimed him the Son of God. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone.

He left the lake and went up to the mountainside where he called the 12 to be his disciples, changing Simon’s name to Peter and calling brothers James and John the Sons of Thunder. And, among them was Judas Iscariot, who would betray him.

After that, they came down off the mountainside and entered the house where they might have something to eat, but again the crowds surrounded them and begged for mercy and healing. And Jesus, of course, healed them. We can only imagine the scene.

When his family heard about it they were worried and went to “take charge of him”. 

They were afraid he was out of his mind. 

The teachers of the Law who had come down from Jerusalem said Beelzebub, the Prince of Demons, had possessed him. 

Imagine! Saying THAT to Jesus!

But, Jesus dismissed them with parables – one of which is deeply disturbing. Well, it is, at least, to me. He says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness. Never. Guilty of an eternal sin.

Has he lost his mind? Jesus has preached that God is love, and that God’s forgiveness and mercy are unending. Are we now to believe that this same God withholds forgiveness for this one sin? Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? What does that even mean?

Different branches of Christianity have different responses to that. Augustine of Hippo said this was the most difficult passages from scripture. Thomas Aquinas listed six sins against the Holy Spirit, including despair, presumption and envy.

Because of this teaching, the church - meaning all churches - saw suicide as a sin of despair and thought it unforgiveable.  Those  who had committed suicide were not granted a Christian funeral or burial in a Christian graveyard. The Roman Catholic Church was one of the last ones to hang onto this belief.

That has changed, of course - including Rome - and we now understand suicide to be the result of the mental illness of depression. There have been two celebrities – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – who have committed suicide this past week which has, once again, since the suicide of Robin Williams, raised the conversation about despair and forgiveness and suicide.

I want to be very clear with you this morning: Suicide is not a sin. Suicide is the direct result of depression – an emotional pain so severe that the only way a person can see to end the pain is through death. Suicide can strike when it is least expected – when everyone thinks the cloud of darkness has lifted and everything is going alright.

I had a dear friend, Eileen Gallagher, who was a nurse. She worked in the cardiac intensive care unit and was an excellent nurse – highly skilled and deeply compassionate. Eileen had battled depression all her life. She was Irish so we teased her about being “from the North” – sometimes called the “Black Irish” –where the Irish had married the Normans, from France, as well as the Spanish traders and sailors and had darker hair and complexion to match their darker moods.

Indeed, she would tell us that the translation of Gallagher from the Celtic means “foreign help”. 

I remember her saying once that perhaps the fact that she never felt she fit in anywhere and always felt like an outsider was “just in her blood”.

There came a time, however, when despite her ethnic heritage, the cloud of darkness which seemed always to follow Eileen dispersed and she seemed to be doing well. We were all relieved. And, happy that she seemed finally and for whatever reason, to be happy

Well, that was until one morning, several weeks later, when Eileen didn’t show up for work. One of her friends went to her apartment and found her dead. She was sitting up in her chair, facing the window which looked out on the city.

We later learned that she had been saving up the cardiac drug Digoxin which she could have easily taken out of the hospital pill supply without anyone noticing. She apparently took a heavy overdose of the drug which caused her heart to immediately stop beating.

Eileen’s death was the first I had experienced of a person close to my own age. Her death was also the first suicide I had experienced. It was, in a word, devastating. I was simply devastated. And, confused. And, anxious. I was also afraid that she had committed the “unforgiveable sin” of despair and worried that she might not get into heaven.

I found myself overwhelmed by a strong desire to go to church – to attend Mass and receive communion. In my mind – or, more accurately, out of my mind with grief – I thought I might intercede with Jesus for my friend Eileen, and beg that she be forgiven.

I was doing well until we came to the part when the priest breaks the bread. I don’t know about you, but that’s always a very powerful moment for me – whether I’m sitting in the pew or privileged to be at the altar, breaking the bread as a priest in the church.

In that moment, something in me broke and I wept and wept and wept. I wept not because I thought Eileen was going to hell but because I knew she was safe, now, in the arms of Jesus. I wept not because she needed me to intercede for her – how arrogant of me to even think that – but  because I realized that Eileen knew something about God’s love and forgiveness that I obviously didn’t. Indeed, I think she risked her very life on it.

To understand this, we need to listen to these words of Jesus about blasphemy and remember to whom he directed them. Jesus was speaking directly to the Pharisees who seemed to know a lot about rules and how to enforce them, but seemed not know anything about the power of God’s love and forgiveness. They did not believe that Jesus was the most precious part of that same God. Indeed, I’m sure Jesus already knew that they were plotting with the Herodians to kill him.

Over the years of studying this text, I have come to believe that Jesus intentionally used the theological word “blasphemy” because he knew it would get the attention of the Pharisees. He turned their harness of heart against them, essentially saying, “You want to dictate who is forgiven and who isn’t? Consider this: YOU won’t be forgiven because YOU have said that I have an unclean spirit.”

I think he might have gotten their attention, don’t you? And, I think it’s pretty clear that he was Very Angry. Sometimes, anger can lead us to overstate the point. 

I know that happens to me when I'm angry. My kids remind me that I used to send them off to their room for punishment, saying at the top of my voice, "And, you'll be grounded until you're 35!"

I say that he said those words in anger, directed at the Pharisees, because the very next words out of his mouth to the crowd are ones of expansive love. The mother and brothers of Jesus have come to him because they are worried about him. One of the disciples tells him that his family wishes to see him, and Jesus responds, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister and mother.”

Has he lost his mind? Can you imagine how hurt his family must have been? Well, Jesus says that not to hurt his family but to underscore the amazing love and grace and forgiveness of God which breaks down barriers and makes us one in the Love of God. 

That love changes and transforms us and the things we once thought were important are no longer relevant.

These are not light thoughts or easy concepts to get our heads wrapped around. Indeed, I tend to agree with Augustine of Hippo and say, “Yep, this is the most difficult passage in all of scripture.”

In fact, if you said them out loud in most places, people would think that you are crazy! That you have lost your mind!

And to that I’d say, well, people – even his family – thought the same thing of Jesus.

So, I guess you’re in good company.

Amen. 

Suicide Prevention Hotline
1.800.273.8255

Saturday, June 09, 2018

It is well with my soul


Photo credit: Christopher Waddell 

 Yesterday afternoon, St. John's Chapel at the Episcopal Divinity School was deconsecrated.  

The picture above is of former Dean Frank Fornaro and Alumnus Harry Walton carrying out the "Philadelphia Cross" from the newly deonsecrated chapel.  

For those of us who were shaped and formed theologically and liturgically in that sacred place, the image is almost too much to bear.  It is tempting to see it as a manifestation of a line in the Gospel lesson appointed for tomorrow. (Mark 3:29)

This morning, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. A thunderstorm is predicted this afternoon. The laundry is getting done, the floors are being mopped, and later in the day - hopefully before the rain and thunder and lightening begin - the marketing will be done. 

Life does, in fact, go on. 

So does the heart, as the theme from the Titanic sings to us in impossible, soaring notes. 

It is important, however, between the death and the days before the resurrection, to spend at least a few quiet days in the Upper Room with other disciples.

Statue in tribute to Jonathan Daniel ouside St. John's Chapel
 A long, long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far, far away, a bishop once said to me, "It is better to have people say 'Bad decision' than 'Bad process'".

I think - from everything I've been able to glean- that his was the right - not good, but correct, albeit painful - decision. (* See note below.)

But, holy boy-howdy, was that a doozie of a bad process.

Indeed, the process was so bad that those of us who come from formative process that were built on a framework of shame and blame have been handed a veritable toxic feast on which to dine for at least a few decades.


The bulk of the 'shame and blame' has been assigned, of course, to the decision-makers. I did read a posting on FB from one alumus (who has always been a jackass so I don't know why I would expect anything different from him) who blamed it on the alums. 

I laughed right out loud when I read that. Could there seriously be a more blatant example of the need to 'shame and blame'?

The particulars and details of the decision-making process are not known to me - and, at this point, they don't even matter - but even from my distant vantange point of Rehoboth Bay, DE, there can be no other conclusion drawn from the events in Cambridge, MA than this body of "TRUST-ees" betrayed every single last damn operating principle that shaped and formed the scholars and students of the academic community known as The Episcopal Divinity School. 

And, and, and, and AND, it doesn't take a genius to understand what might have been the myriad of reasons to throw one's hands up in the air and decide that closing the school in its present incarnation was the only reasonable, sensible thing to do.

I have absolutely no doubt that the cost of rehabing the buildings - just the asbestos removal alone - would have financially bankrupted the school the nanosecond after the buildings stood there, all shiny and newly rehabed until the next 200 years took their eventual toll.

It's easy to play all sorts of mind-games around this. The "What if's" and the "Yes, buts" and the "What abouts". 

And, there will always be 'that person' who knows someone who knows someone who was in the room when it happened who reports, with absolute confidence, some piece of information which s/he thinks would have made all the difference it the world had it been made more widely known.

It doesn't. Not now. Not to the pain. Not to the grief.

It reminds me of what medical intuitive Caroline Myss calls "The Judas Effect".
She says that whenever we place our trust in the institution rather than the Divinity, it will drive us to madness which leads to a kind of 'spiritual suicide', resulting in killing off some vital, important part of ourselves.

In my more generous moments, I'd like to think that the Board of TRUST-ees chose to put their trust in the Divine than the institution. That would help explain their decision to sell off the buildings in Cambridge and take the endowment to the Upper West Side of New York City where The Episcopal Divinity School will start the manifestation of a new life there with the venerable Union Theological School and be known as "EDS@Union".

That's not so unlike what Berkely Divinity School did with Yale. Or,  the merger in 2012 of Bexley Hall Seminary in Ohio with Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Chicago to become, creatively enough, "Bexley Hall Seabury Western Theological Federation (or just "Bexley Seabury)".

Other Episcopal Seminaries are already taking note. Which is wise. Some put on a brave public face but the whispers of life support grow stronger by the day.

What is happening at seminaries is a reflection of what has been happening for some decades now in parishes and congregations around the country.

You know exactly what I'm talking about. Perhaps it has happened to you in your church. I know some folks who have moved from one closed church only to find that the one they moved to also closed after five years. 

And, not just in The Episcopal Church. The Institutional Church is shrinking. That ought not come as a surprise to anyone.

It has become its own enemy, existing to support itself and not the mission of Jesus, feeding on its own mediocrity and not striving for excellence, investing more in hierarchy than the people in the pews, following its own mind and not quieting its own mind and rather, seeking the mind of Christ.

The Body of Christ, however, is alive and well. It is resurrecting itself in new ways. We are here - out in the world. We are alive and well and living in ecumenical and interfaith movements like "Repairers of the Breach" and "The Poor People's Campaign," "Black Lives Matter Movement" and "The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence", "The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice" and "The National Alliance to End Homelessness."

I could name more - lots more - but you get the gist. 

It's all the ways EDS taught us to be The Body of Christ in the wold.

That picture of two men carrying the cross out of the deconsecrated chapel would be absolutely devastating if that cross ends up gathering dust in some storeage unit somewhere. 

If, however, that cross is being taken out into the world to proclaim the promise of hope in the face of despair, well, it would be well with my soul to know that faith in the Resurrection lives on. 

Meanwhile, there are more than a few faithful who are milling around in the Upper Room, nursing our hurts, subduing our anxieites and fears, trying to figure out what to to do next, what to make of it all, what it all means for us and for our future. 


Here's what I know to be true about grief, these two things:
(1) There is no right or wrong way to grieve, there is just your way.

(2) The only "cure" for grief is to grieve.

And, those two things affect: 
(1) Your perspective of what once was

(2) Your vision of what might be.


In times of grief and sorrow, it's important for me to remind myself of these things and to know that I am not alone in that Upper Room.

And, as hokey as it sounds, it is nevertheless true: The heart will go on.
The heart of EDS lives in my heart. 


It may be EDS@Union, but it is also EDS@me.

As Bishop Carol Gallagher sang at the end of her brilliant and pastoral sermon for The Service of Deconsecration of St. John's Chapel, The Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well

With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

And,  let the church, the Body of Christ which lives in the world and lives in me, say

Amen.

You might be interested to read a wee bit of the history of St. John's Chapel. 

And, here are a few more pictures of that amazing place from "Boston's Hidden Sacred Spaces"

You might also find this essay by Caroline Myss helpful: "The First Mystical Law: There Is Only Now." in which, among other gems, she notes:
"The consciousness of present time allows you to keep your memories, but they can no longer hold you hostage, so they can no longer drain you of your energy, which inevitably drains you of your health. The need to let others know you feel entitled to attention because of your pain and suffering is very seductive and releasing the entitlement of the suffering self is more a battle with the shadow of your own pride that it is with anyone else."
* One of the questions on my GOE exams what "What is the difference between the right and the good". I wrote for pages and pages and pages. One of my classmates wrote, simply, "God is good and the bishop is right."

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

"It's Complicated"



Will I get there, she asked,

her eyes wide with anxiety,

in her wizened, cachectic face?



It’s not for me, she said.

     Heaven. Clouds. Harps. Angels. Wings.

Those things are not important.



I really don’t care where I go,

      . . . . after . . . .

So long as I know I’ll be

with my beloved

     . . . .one day . . .



She rushes to say, “It’s complicated.”


Jewish father, so “not really Jewish.”

Roman Catholic mother, but “never baptized.”



Will God let me in?



Oh, how I long for religious conversations

that do not center around questions like this.


Questions that do not rest on

assumptions of 

     a stingy God

     a punitive God

     a God who thinks more highly

     of the rules people created

     than the people She created.



For now, all I can do

is search for the place in

the center of my soul

     which is holy.

     which is truth.

     which is love

and let all my words come from there.



Because …. “after”. . .  is complicated

And, . . . “one day”. . . is not now.



All I can do is live within the

tension of the dots

of complicated conversations.                                                             

c  Elizabeth Kaeton 2016
Hospice Chaplain

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Sunday, June 03, 2018

Obedience

Pentecost II - June 3, 2013 - Proper 4, Year B, Track I
The Episcopal Church of St. Phillip, Laurel, DE
(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

How do you know if you’re doing the right thing? If you’re making the right choice? That you’re doing what God wants you to do? Even if it means you have to break a rule?

The first lesson from the first book of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20) is one of discernment. Samuel hears the voice of God calling him, but thinks it is Eli. Three times, Eli sends him back to his bed. And finally, in the morning, Samuel tells Eli what he has heard and Eli confirms for Samuel that it was the voice of God.

In Mark’s Gospel (Mark 2:23-3:6), we are presented with two instances when Jesus defends his disciples when the Pharisees charge that they have broken Sabbath law. In the first case, the disciples, walking through a grain field begin to pluck the heads of grain. In the second case, Jesus heals the man with a withered hand.

In both instances, Jesus calls the Pharisees on their own ignorance and hypocrisy.  He calls them to observe the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law. When Jesus confronts them on plucking wheat on the Sabbath, he says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath;” And, when he confronts them about healing the man with the withered hand, he asks, ““Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”

Sometimes, discernment is pretty cut and dry. Other times, it is more complicated. Sometimes we need to confer with a trusted person, as Samuel did with Eli. Other times, we have to trust our own authority. Just as Jesus did we must take the risk and trust our ability to discern the spirit of the law over the letter of the law.

There comes a time in each of our lives when we face these kinds of decisions. If you think back over your life, I’m sure you will be able to tell the story of a time when you had to take a stand for what was morally right, what was decent and kind, what was just the right thing to do, even though it went against what was expected, what was easier or more convenient, even what was ‘the rule’.

I remember years ago – in the early 80s – in the early years of the AIDS pandemic. I was in Boston at the time and I had been working with a young man in his mid-twenties. His name was Jimmy Mac and he was a popular radio personality. He was also a gay man who had AIDS.

Jimmy and I worked tirelessly on the Ecumenical AIDS Task Force, doing educational seminars at churches and schools and civic clubs – anywhere anyone would have us. He was bright and funny and a very effective teacher. And, he became very sick very quickly.

I learned that he was in the hospital and went to see him. In those days, what we didn’t know about AIDS was even more terrifying that what we knew about how it affected the body, much less how it was transmitted. People with AIDS who were in hospital were treated like modern-day lepers. It was not uncommon to see a full tray of food outside someone’s hospital room because no one would dare go into the patient’s room.

And, when you did go into the room, you were required to wear a paper gown, mask, gloves, shoe coverings and to cover your head. That was the hospital rule. When I went to see Jimmy, I dutifully got “dressed” before I entered his room.

Jimmy was so thin and so frail he could barely lift his head up off the pillow to say hello. Still, he managed a brave smile and to crack a joke. “Well, look at you, Ms. Thing” he snickered, “You know, your gloves don’t match your shoes.” And then he coughed so hard his poor frail body shook violently.

I went over to the bed and held his hand, trying to soothe him. “What can I get for you, Jimmy?” I asked. “Tell me what to do to help and it’s as good as done.”

He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Elizabeth, I’ve been here for almost two weeks and, in all that time, no one has touched me. Oh,” he said, “they have with gloves on, but I haven’t felt human skin – haven’t seen a full human face – haven’t heard a human voice that wasn’t muffled behind a mask in all that time.”

“Look,” he said, “I know what the rules are. But, I also know that I’m dying. Please, Elizabeth, would you take off your mask so I can see you one more time? Would you take off your gloves so I can feel you one more time? Would you hold me, one last time, before I go? I know I’m going to a better place, but I sure am going to miss some parts of being human. Would you do that for me? Please?”

And, even though I knew it was against the rules, even though I knew that because his immune system was so compromised, I was putting him at greater risk than I was putting myself, I pulled off my mask. I pulled off my gloves. And, I looked him right in the eye as we both filled up with tears, cleared my throat and said, “Well then, push over. If you want me to hold you, you better move over and make some room.”

And, he did. And I held him. And we cried. In the midst of it, a nurse came into the room, saw us both, smiled and nodded her head. And then, she did something I’ll never forget. It was a simple act of human kindness – her stamp of approval on our breaking the rules. She closed the door.

I guess I stayed with Jimmy for about an hour. The next day, his mother called to say that he had died and asked if I would preside at his funeral. Of course, I said. It would be one of the great privileges of my life. And, it was.

St. Paul says in his second letter to the church in Corinth, “But, we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-12)

I believe that “treasure” we each have within us is the love of God. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, preached at the Royal Wedding:  There's power in love. There's power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There's power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There's power in love to show us the way to live.”

That power in love is stronger than any man-made law or well-intended rule. 

As Bishop Michael preached, “Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.”

The thing of it is that love didn’t change or save Jimmy – he died the next day. And it sure didn’t change the world – it was then and remains now an often dark and broken place. But it changed me. That hour with Jimmy Mac in that hospital room in Boston where I made a small sacrifice for love changed and transformed and redeemed me and I’ve never again been the same. 

Now, my friends, I told you all of that to say this: In churches all over the country this morning many people are wearing orange to bring attention to the crisis of gun violence. Clergy are wearing orange stoles. I don’t have an orange stole but you may notice that I’m wearing orange sandals. And, under my vestments, I’m wearing an orange scarf.

In the 80s, the epidemic was AIDS. Today, the epidemic is gun violence. Our children are dying in schools, on playgrounds, on the streets where they live. Somehow, in the midst of all of this madness, we Christians have to discern what it is God is calling us to do. 

We’ve got to examine the law and move above and beyond the letter of the law to find the spirit of the law. Somehow, we’ve got to find a way forward that does not compromise the rights of others while making good on the foundational principles of this country of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for ALL of God’s children.

We may, like Samuel before us, need the help of a trusted person to discern what God is calling us to do. We may, like Jesus, find the means to trust our own authority to discern what is right and what is good, to find the path to the sacrificial, redemptive love of God, of neighbor and self.

St. Paul reminds us that we have “this treasure in clay jars”. He said, We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.”

Here's your homework assignment this week: Take home the scriptural insert in your bulletin. Read over the lessons, espeically Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth. 

Ask your self, in the midst of all of the chaos in the world today, how am I making Jesus visible in my mortal flesh? 

Christ lives in me. How will people know Jesus through me? 

I have this "treasure in the clay jar" that is my body. How am I sharing the treasure of God's love with others?

The late Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said, "We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way."

I believe the treasure we have within us of which St. Paul speaks is the love of God. May we discover the power of that love so that we may be changed and transformed. And, when we do that, we will change the world.

Amen. 

Track 1

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6


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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reclaiming Jesus

Tonight, I've been watching the "Reclaiming Jesus" event in Washington, DC. 

You can read the important statement, signed by twenty-three Christian leaders, including Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, Author Walter Brueggemann, Rev. Jim Wallis (Sojourners), Dr. Tony Compolo (Red Letter Christians), Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner (Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network), and Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon (GS Weslyan Church), among many others.  The statement is here.

The event began, as one would expect, with a service in church. Lots of clergy saying lots of decidedly inspiring things about faith and hope and, yes, Jesus. 

If you're on FaceBook, you can find a recording of that service here. 

I had almost forgotten that we, on the Left, are able to speak unabashedly, unashamedly and with passion and clarly about Jesus of Nazareth - the man, the child of God, the One who is, for us, the Way, the Truth and the Light. 

I heard preachers say things like:

We are all made equally in the image of God and that, in this day and age, is a profoundly political statement.

Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination.

We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives.

Jesus is the The Truth. We need to follow The Truth, not get lost following a daily pattern of lies.

Trump Evangelicals are destroying the “evangel” — the “good news” of Jesus Christ.

We are deeply concerned for the soul of our nation, but also for our churches and the integrity of our faith.

“America first” is a theological heresy for followers of Christ.

There were other - many other - inspiring, courageous statements, about rejecting misogyny and racism, heterosexism and homosexuality, tribalism and nationalism and hegemony.

It warmed my heart. I was inspired. Indeed, I am inspired.

I found myself recalling a conversation I had with a colleague this past weekend. We were lamenting the present POTUS and his Administration and expressed our mutual bewilderment over the complete capitulation of the Evangelical Christian Right to a corrupt political agenda - all in the name of Jesus.

Are they just nice people who have been duped, we wondered? Or, have they sold their soul in a Faustian bargain? 

Have they momentarily lost their minds in a 'sugar high' of getting what they have always wanted, politically and culturally, even as they have sharply rebuked those of us on The Left for being political and not religious?

We recalled that when the ancient prophets looked around and saw what was wrong with the culture of their time, they laid the blame right at the feet of the priests who, they said, "Preach peace when there is no peace." Ezekiel 13:10 (And, as he added "and because, when the people build a wall, they smear it with whitewash".)

I want to repeat what I heard myself say because, well, as my colleague said, it really does need to be said. I suspect it may sound scolding to some. Well, so be it. 

Truth is, I need to remember it myself, especially in those perilous times when it is so tempting to "play nice" and "pull punches" and let people have "comfortable words" instead of being inspired and instructed by the life and teachings of Jesus. 

It's so much easier to whitewash a wall instead of doing the hard work of taking it down. 

So, here's what I said. If you don't want to know, stop reading now.

Let those who need to hear, hear:

If you are an ordained Christian leader and you are not preaching Jesus from the pulpit every Sunday, then you are part of the problem of the hijacking of Jesus by the "fundgelicals".

You are part of the problem of immigrants being called "animals" and having children separated from their families as a "deterrent" to coming to this country.

You are part of the problem of people losing access to adequate health care because they've lost their insurance.

You are part of the problem of people of color - all God's children - who are not being treated with dignity and respect - indeed, some of whom have had the police called on them because a group of them are having a barbeque in a public park, or are walking in a predominantely white neighborhood.

You are part of the problem of gun violence in this country.

Because the fundgelicals are doing all of this in the name of Jesus with the authority of the most corrupt POTUS in the history of this country, the people have no other alternative to know and understand Jesus.

Leave on the pages of your personal journal your sweet metaphors and vapid stories of the insight you gained about the ocean on your vacations and the pithy quotes from other theologians you found.

Tell the people you serve how Jesus has transformed YOUR life, how you've seen Jesus transform the lives of others. 


Show them your faith alive and lively.

Preach Jesus. Teach Jesus. Feed people Jesus. 


You have a duty and an obligation - indeed, you took a vow - to feed the people you are called to serve from the abundance of God's bounty so they migh be nourished for this life and the next.

Or, trade in your stole for a pulpit gown and be an ethical, moral person in a non-Christian denomination.

I mean it.

Here endth the rant.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

It takes a village to elect a bishop

Today, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark elected the Rev'd Carlye J. Hughes as its eleventh bishop.  The election was won on the first ballot.

There were three candidates: Carlyle J. Hughes of Ft. Worth, TX, Lisa Hunt of Houston, TX and Scott Slater of Maryland.

There were 116 clerical and 241 laity ballots that were cast. A simple majority was required concurrently in both orders. That meant 59 votes in the clerical order and 121 votes from the laity.

Bishop-elect Hughes won with 62 (out of 59 needed) clerical votes and 141 (out of 121 needed) votes from the laity. You can find all the details here.

She is the first woman and the first African American woman to be elected bishop in the Diocese of Newark. She joins one other diocesan bishop who is an African American woman (Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows) and two others who are Bishops Suffragan (Barbara Harris, retired and Gayle Harris).

My phone has been blowing up. Social Media has been absolutely agog.

There is great joy in The Episcopal Church today.

This morning, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, the first African American man to be elected Presiding Bishop, was privileged to deliver the sermon at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

We have gotten more than our "market share" of PR from these two events.

Update: Even SNL's Weekend Update featured a parody of a visit from Michael Curry. Okay, they didn't get him exactly right and they said he was "the bishop from Chicago" but it's a parody, for goodness sake.

Amid the many congratulatory messages I received from Episcopalians and non-Episcopalians alike, came the same question, over and over again: How did you do it? How did you get a woman elected? And, an African-American woman at that?

The expected answer, of course, is "the work of the Holy Spirit". As Bishop-Elect Hughes said in her acceptance remarks, "I am well aware that moments like this do not come in a vacuum. It takes a village to discern a call to the episcopacy."

My answer to that is not an answer but to make a few observations.

First, I think it's much easier to imagine something when you've seen examples of it. I think it's much easier to imagine a black woman as your bishop once you've seen other strong, black women in the role of leadership.

So, yes to the three African American women who are already bishops and especially to Barbara Harris, the first woman to be bishop in The Episcopal Church who is also a woman of color; but I'm also thinking about strong, black women who are leaders like Sandye Wilson (pray for justice), Teddy Brooks, Nan Arrington Peete, Stephanie Spellers, April Alford-Harkey and a growing contingent of amazing others. (Please feel free to add the names of other women in the comments).

I also don't want to discount women like Michele Obama, Kamala Harris, Maxine Waters, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and, of course, Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordon. We see and hear these intelligent, wise women leading our government, some of them against odds that are daunting.

We also see and hear strong women of color, especially African American women, who are doctors, lawyers, judges, scientists, teachers, professors, and yes, astronauts.

And, go ahead and snicker, but I wouldn't minimize the impact of the recent Beyonce Mass held at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco which was a celebration of the spirituality of Black Women. Or, Oprah Winfrey who has a program on her own network about spirituality.

The word is out that the stereotype of Black women is cruel and wrong. The word is out that Black women are intelligent, strong, skilled, capable and wise.

I think, when "the word is out," that is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working.

And, people pay attention to that.

The week after the "Walkabouts" the Newark Episcopal Clergy Association (NECA) reorganized itself and gathered together to discuss the candidates. The word was out about that.

Two weeks later, just this past week, the women clergy gathered to discuss the candidates and develop a strategy for election. With two women out of three candidates, there was a definite 'buzz' to the word that went out about that.

The word was also out that the Newark Chapter of The Union of Black Episcopalians had also caucused.

Now, some would call that 'politics'. Some would say that with more than a bit of obvious disdain. As if 'politics' were a vehicle too tarnished for the Holy Spirit.

That is not to say that anyone sent out word that one candidate was favored over another. Indeed, people were pretty tight-lipped about what was discussed or if any concenses had been reached.

That is also not to say that the other two candidates weren't qualified and might have also made good bishops. The Search Committee did  a good job presenting us with a qualified slate.

And, it's absolutely not to say that folks were working purposefully AGAINST anyone. I didn't hear or see any evidence of that. And, even though I live in DE, my heart is still in the DioNwk and my ear is still pretty close to the ground there. The network of relationships among the baptized is "the tie that binds our hearts" and will do so forever.

It is to say that I think that, when "the word goes out" (even when that was not the intention), that is evidence of the work of the Spirit.

And, people begin to pay attention to that.

I'm sure Bishop-Elect Hughes (or any of the other candidates, in fact) probably didn't know about these groups meeting, but it might have been part of what she meant when she said that "moments like this don't come in a vacuum."

I think that is at least part of what she might have meant when she said that "it takes a village to discern a call to the episcopacy."

She called out the Diocese of Ft. Worth in general and the church where she is presently rector, Trinity Episcopal, as well as her fellow candidates and the Diocese of Newark, in general and the ministry of Bishop Beckwith in particular for being integral parts of that "village".

Yes, yes, yes and, yes, of course.

And, I think when "the word goes out" that specific demographic groups are meeting, the Holy Spirit moves in powerful ways.

What do you think happened when "the word went out" that the disciples were "hiding out" in that Upper Room for a couple of days after the crucifixion? Do you really think those guys were just up there, shaking in their sandles the whole time?

Do you suppose it was Monday or Tuesday after the resurrection when Peter slapped his hand to the table, got up and said, "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going fishing!"?

And, the word went out.

And, people paid attention.

And, with that, the Jesus Movement began to take its first few steps.

Tomorrow is Pentecost, the day when the people of God were given the gift of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus in the power of The Holy Spirit.

I think we, in The Episcopal Church, have had a "Pentecostal" moment today, in the powerful preaching of our Presiding Bishop - the first African American man to hold that position - and the election on the first ballot of a new bishop for the Diocese of Newark - the first African American woman to do so.

It does take a village to discern and elect a bishop.

But it takes the Holy Spirit, working through all sort and manner of people in a great variety of ways.

Including "politics".

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Conscience + Tolerance = Unity


General Convention is just around the corner so, of course, we're going to talk about sex in general and homosexuality in particular,  marriage - especially "gay marriage" (which, you would correctly assume is not about a "happy" marriage), selling 815 and moving it someplace to the middle of the country (which surprisingly gives rise to heated debate) or revising the Book of Common Prayer.

It's as predictable as General Convention happening every three years.

This year - probably because there are several resolutions proposing "expansive language" and the Rites of Marriage for Same Sex Couples as part of the BCP - when it is revised, the heated discussion is around revising the BCP.

This year, a fascinating thing is happening: the same lament is being heard from different ends of the spectrum for Prayer Book Revision. There's even a special and different FB page entitled: "Prayer Book Revision: Discussion and Debate".

Those who don't really want to engage in the discussion, much less the process of revision - mostly bishops who have a firm grasp on the power and authority of their office but not on the reality of the people they are called to serve - are claiming "No one really wants to revise the BCP".

As if.

But, some Very Anxious people are believing them, anyway.  

I'm not hearing that. At all. Just 5 minutes on the FB page linked above will prove that point. Revising the BCP seems to be hot on everyone's lips - all representing their own particular perspective.

What I am hearing is that there seem to be two camps: One large group of feminist men and women are making the argument about inclusive/expansive language. The other, smaller but more vocal group wants a return to the language of Rite I and 1928 BCP.

I know, right? Couldn't get more binary than that.

I'm also hearing another small group of folks say that the mistake of the 1979 BCP was returning the primacy of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist (they want to be more like the RCs and have "seven sacraments" vs our "two sacraments and five sacramental rites). 


They also say that having Eucharist as the normative Sunday service is a "hardship" (seriously) because there are not enough clergy to preside at Eucharist on Sunday morning; they claim the situation is worse with the "clergy shortage".

So, my question is "What clergy shortage?" I see lots of clergy more than willing to serve congregations. I see some congregations unable/unwilling to pay clergy a fair wage. I also see a shortage of congregations - and BISHOPS - who are willing to think creatively about the collaborative efforts of the ministry of the laity and the ministry of the ordained. 


So, they want to change the BCP because it's easier than changing themselves.

Or (gasp) "What we've ALWAYS done".

Finally, the other argument/concern I'm hearing raised is: "BOOK of Common Prayer?? How passe! We don't do BOOKS anymore. We are in the age of technology. Don't buy BOOKS. Save the planet! Save the forests! Buy TABLETS or KINDLES or NOOKS, install WiFi in the church and download what you want and need in the service."

So, I am hearing some - some, not a lot - in the middle saying, softly, "Hmmm . . . . maybe this is a can of worms we don't want to open. Maybe we can make the point another way."

I'm also hearing the argument that this is what "Mother Church" (meaning CofE) is doing - keeping "the original" BCP and just authorizing supplemental texts.

That could be a typical batch of Anglican fudge. Or, it could be a more accurate reflection of the reality of the great diversity that has become The Episcopal Church. 

Me? While I love the theological improvements of the 1979 BCP, I do admit that I'm weary of having my gender italicized. I can't imagine what that must feel like for folks who are gender trans or fluid. 


I'd like the normative language of the prayers of this church in terms of God and the people of God to be expansive and inclusive.
 

Originally, I came down on the side of our needing a revised BCP. Now. Yesterday, in fact. 

I know. It's going to take at least three General Conventions before that's a reality.

After listening to and engaging in several conversations, I'm actually now leaning more toward a "smorgasbord" approach like that of the CofE. Instead of trying to please everyone with a revision of the 1979 BCP that "is inclusive of everyone" (an impossible task, anyway), it might be better to offer a whole host of additionally authorized texts.

The tipping point in my thinking process came when someone on a FB page wrote simply: "manifold sins and offenses". 


I don't know that person or how she meant it. I took it as snark. And, it stung. Just my experience. That's not important or even the point I'm trying to make. Bear with me here.

Now, that's not my theology of sin or God or God's people. That's waaaay too Calvin for me. 


But, I know and love people who love that language. The poetry. The meter. Funny thing is, that language doesn't really express their theology of sin or God or God's people, either. It is the language that they know and love. The language they learned when they were children. It brings them a sense of comfort to say the same words they've been saying for decades.

Let me try to explain it this way: I see in their faces my face when I was at the airport in Bangkok, Thailand and couldn't find a cab driver who spoke English. When I did, I had that same look on my face: Relief mixed with comfort. It wasn't WHAT he said. It was THAT he spoke "my language". 


Does that make sense?

Okay, one other example: Ms. Conroy is a nurse with national credentials in Hospice/Palliative Care. In the 80s she was deeply involved in caring for people who were dying in the AIDS pandemic. She would attend 8 AM Mass at a High Anglo-Catholic church which used the 1928 BCP.  And, OBTW, loudly proclaimed that they "neither believed in nor accepted the ordination of women."


When I asked Ms. Conroy why she would attend that church, she said, "Look, no matter what I do, my patients die on me. I need one hour, once a week, where I can hear the language of my youth that provides me with the illusion that God is in control. I'm surrounded by painful realities. Please don't take away this one hour of illusion. It helps me make it through the rest of the week and it's the way I'll get through this plague."

We say that we want revision because we know that liturgy and language are powerful tools for shaping and forming faith and belief. And, they are. Absolutely. 


And yet, when we mock or want to eliminate older forms of the BCP, we totally disrespect what has already been done. We can't change that. We are not powerful enough to change that. Besides, it's not so much about belief as it is about respecting that language of a formative culture that is different from our own.

And, what of those who want Rite One and even the language and theology of the 1928 BCP? Can we demand changes WE want to see without making room for the changes others want to return to what once was? Even if we think they should "know better"?

So much for "inclusion".

I don't want to forget this point: Blessed Dan Stevick, who was on the SCLM that gave us the 1979 BCP, was my liturgy professor. He liked to point out the effort for inclusion in the 1979 prayer book while simultaneously admitting that it was out of date the minute it hit the printing press. 


He pointed out that there were three forms - Rite I, II and III - and 7 authorized Eucharistic forms in the 79 BCP:

Rite I: Prayer I and Prayer II (most like 1928 BCP)

Rite II:
Prayer A - most like Rite I with "modern language".
Prayer B - most like the Roman Catholic form
Prayer C - a nod to the Evangelicals in our church, with the more penitential nature and more congregational participation.
Prayer D - most like the Orthodox form of prayer.

Rite III - Follows the "shape of the liturgy" while allowing for more individual, creative, spontaneous prayer using whatever language "the traffic would allow" (as he said, tongue in cheek, meaning not "traffic" but "bishop".)

Is it enough? No. Dan admitted that. But it was a start. We need to continue, as Dan encouraged us to continue, reminding us not to fall into the trap of "worshiping the worship" but continuing to worship God in "the common language of prayer".


So, to revise the BCP or to leave the "good intentions" of the 1979 BCP in place as the "normative" while making it abundantly clear  to bishops that clergy need to provide for their congregations the liturgy that will be most nourishing for them, where they are, at this time in their life cycle?

I was always taught that the one thing that holds the Episcopal Church together is not theology or the constitution and canons but the BCP. There is great wisdom and truth to that. The same is true around the Anglican Communion with each their own authorized individual BCPS. 

Imagine! A church held together by prayer! What a concept, eh?

That is really what is at the heart of being Anglican: Some agreed upon norm of "common prayer" with tolerance for other forms of prayer. 


This strikes at the heart of one of the principles of Anglicanism: Tolerance. And, tolerance flows from the Aquinas' notion of the primacy of Conscience. 

Conscience is especially important to keep in mind, especially as we consider the various Christologies there are from all of the wonderful diversity that has blossomed and taken root in our church. 

In your spare time, check out "Christology: A Global Introduction" by Veli-Matti Karkkainen. 

If you haven't already, be introduced to the differences in Western Christologies (Barth, Bultman, Tillich, Zizioulas, Rahner, Moltmann, etc.) and Contextual Christologies (Process, Black, Feminist, and Postmodern Christologies, as well as Christology in Latin America, Jon Sobrino's Christ as Liberator, African Christology as a Search for Power, Benezet Bujo and Christ as Ancestor, Christology in Asia and the Search for Meaning as well as Stanley Samartha and Christ the Universal Savior). Make sure to read the Epilogue:  "The Future of Christology".

So, before we start talking about "norms" and which and whose "norms" ought to be "normative", we need to back up - way, waaay up - and have a conversation - hell, many conversations over great pots of tea or glasses of single-malt scotch - about what it means to be 


(1) a Christian who is 
(2) Episcopalian with all of our cultural diversity and 
(3) part of the Anglican Communion. 

That will bring us into a deep dive into the history of our formation (especially Reformation history - not freely offered at many Episcopal seminaries) which will lead us into what I trust will be rich discussions about theology and philosophy.

Then, maybe - just maybe - we'll be able to settle on conversations that will take us long into the night about what Jesus meant when he prayed the high priestly prayer, "that they all may be one" as he and God are one. 


And, we'll talk about UNITY and how that is achieved.

And, maybe we'll remember what St. Paul said which one of the early Lambeth's proclaimed (? 1938?) about what it means to be an Anglican - the "norm" of making theological decisions as Anglicans: that we "seek the mind of Christ".

So, for me, it's not so much about language which suits me but what makes me part of the whole that tries to live into the high-priestly prayer of Jesus for UNITY while balancing Acquinas' notion of CONSCIENCE and practicing Anglican TOLERANCE, all the while "seeking the mind of Christ."

Not easy. Been trying to do it all my life. It's a lovely thought to think that it could all be changed through revision of our BCP. I fear it isn't. But, as St. Paul's says, "it will be perfected in the doing."


So, if you haven't been having this conversation in your circles, please consider it. I hope it will expand your perspective and maybe even change your mind. 

Just know that you are going to piss off some of the people some of the time, just by raising this as something to be discussed. They'll say, "Oh, NO ONE wants to revise the BCP."

If you're lucky, maybe you'll even change your mind a couple of times.  

Like, I'm just thinking: Maybe we'd best start with the 1980 hymnal. There's more yucky theology and offensive language in there than there is in either the 1928 or 1979 BCP. 

See what I mean?