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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Changing the Climate of the Church

I'm just back from a two day conference at Seabury-Western Seminary in Evanston, Illinois (just outside of the great Windy City) for a gathering of leaders of justice organizations and progressive deputies to General Convention which was called together by the Chicago Consultation to prepare for General Convention 2009.

The Chicago Consultation is a group of some 50 bishops, clergy and lay people which supports the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Christians in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

While you're visiting their web page, please do read the essay by Marilyn McCord Adams, "Shaking The Foundations", and the commentary by Jim Naughton, "The Archbishop of Canterbury's Hands are Tied, Not Ours."

You will not be disappointed.

We worked very hard and stayed very focused on formulating our goals and developing strategies to achieve them. Even more importantly, we prayed together in that glorious chapel, heard The Word broken open for us by two stellar preachers, and were nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

We also deepened and expanded our relationships with one another in Christ, which made us bold to continue to claim an audacious hope for "most this amazing" church of ours.

I grow more and more convinced that our unique identity as Episcopalians who are members of the World Wide Anglican Communion flows directly from the Five Promises we make as part of our Baptismal Covenant (Book of Common Prayer page 304), as well as the way in which we organize our life together in Christ in the Constitution and Canons of our Church.

When the 1979 Book of Common Prayer restored the Great Vigil of Easter to our liturgical life, it also restored the primacy of the Sacrament of Baptism and Holy Eucharist and clarified the role of the five sacramental rites in our lives of faith.

These two things - Baptism and Eucharist - have, more than anything else, given us the unique identity and vocation that is The Episcopal Church today.

I have returned emboldened to help us claim this unique identity, to proclaim and celebrate it, and to help the rest of the church in the important developmental task of self-differentiation.

If you don't know about 'self-differentiation', I suggest you read "Generation to Generation" by Rabbi Edwin Freidman. I also highly recommend this excerpt from his essay, "A Failure of Nerve."

Here's a wee bit of a taste from that essay:

"I will describe a similar "failure of nerve" affecting American civilization today. But, I will add, when anxiety reaches certain thresholds, "reasonableness and honesty" no longer defend against illusion, and then even the most learned ideas can begin to function as superstitions.

I believe there exists throughout America today a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try to stand tall amidst the raging anxiety-storms of our time. It is a highly reactive atmosphere pervading all the institutions of our society—a regressive mood that contaminates the decision-making processes of government and corporations at the highest level, and, on the local level, seeps down into the deliberations of neighborhood church, synagogue, hospital, library, and school boards. It is "something in the air" that affects the most ordinary family no matter what its ethnic background. And its frustrating effect on leaders is the same no matter what their gender, race, or age."

It is my perception that this leadership-toxic climate runs the danger of squandering a natural resource far more vital to the continued evolution of our civilization than any part of the environment. We are polluting our own species. The more immediate threat to the regeneration, and perhaps even the survival, of American Civilization is internal, not external. It is our tendency to adapt to its immaturity. To come full circle, this kind of emotional climate can only be dissipated by clear, decisive, well-defined leadership. For whenever a "family" is driven by demand-feeding, what will also always be present is a failure of nerve among its leaders."

I believe that the critically important work leading up to General Convention is about nothing less than beginning to change the climate of our church. We must stop polluting our faith environment with the toxins of anxiety which cripples us by the resultant spiritual immaturity which insists on simple answers to complex questions, and uniformity of belief in a strict adherence to 39 Articles or Anglican Covenants as the solution to all of the "troubles" in the church.

A mighty wind is beginning to blow, shaking us at our foundations, to quote Dr. McCord Adams, and separating the wheat from the chaff. We must raise up and continue to support "clear, decisive, well-defined leadership", to quote Dr. Freidman - in our church (oh, and BTW, in our country - but that's another essay for another time).

I am excited and energized by the possibilities that await us.

All that being said, I am, at this very red hot second, weary from travel and exhausted from the intensity of the work of the past two days.

There is much more to say, and you can count on hearing more from me. Just not tonight. But soon. Very soon. The work is important and we all - every last one of us, and not just those who were privileged to be in Chicago or who are called to serve as leaders - have a critically important part to play.

So, I want you to start thinking about how you can begin to change the climate where you are. How can you begin to impact the emotional and spiritual environment where you live and move and have your being?

How are you contributing to the demand-feeding of anxiety where you live? How can you turn off a few emotional switches to conserve precious leadership energy? What faucets of emotional energy do you need to more carefully regulate so as not to be wasteful of natural resources? How can you reduce your own dependency on the spiritual 'fossil fuel' of riding on the ecclesiastical bus named, 'Peace At Any Price'?

If I'm not careful, I'll start singing something from Bob Dylan. In fact, you know what?

Consider this the hymn for tonight's Compline.

"Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace."

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