Come in! Come in!

"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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Perturbing the forces

This past week, Norton Schwartz, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, said he was reluctant to scrap the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"This is not the time," he said, "to perturb the force that is, at the moment, stretched by demands in Iraq and Afghanistan."

What a curious thing to say. Makes me, oh, I don't know, a bit perturbed.

Perhaps that's because too many commanders still don't ask, and too many victims still won't tell, about the levels of violence endured by women in uniform.

Women now make up 15% of the armed forces. The Pentagon's latest figures show that nearly 3,000 women were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up 9% from the year before.

Among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%.

Close to a third of female veterans say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving - twice the rate in the civilian population.

The Pentagon estimates that 80 - 90 percent of sexual assaults go unreported because of "the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip."

More than a half feared they would be labeled troublemakers. That may be due to the fact that the only person a victim can get confidential assistance from is the military chaplain. Anything she says to a doctor, lawyer or victim advocate is not "privileged information."

Women also worry that they will be removed from their units for their own "protection" and talk about not wanting to undermine their missions or the cohesion of their units.

And then, some just do the math. Only 8% of cases that are investigated end in prosecution, compared with 40% for civilians arrested for sexual crimes. Astonishingly, about 80% of those convicted are honorably discharged nonetheless.

Makes you wonder just how, exactly, the repeal of DADT would "perturb the forces". Would the presence of people who are stripped of the fullness of their humanity by being associated with a sex act raise the already sky-high testosterone level supposedly needed to be in battle?

Or, would knowing who was an LGBT person and, therefore, "hands off" to sexual activity so reduce the "available population" so much as to be perturbing to the forces?

The policy of "Don't ask don't tell" is killing us - in the words of the old Book of Common Prayer - "our souls and bodies."

I'm reminded of that spectacular court room scene in "A Few Good Men," when Daniel Kafee, played brilliantly by Tom Cruise, demands, "I want the truth!" Colonel Nathan Jessup, acted with equal brilliance by Jack Nicholson, responds "You can't handle the truth!"

Seems to me that truer words were never spoken.

We need to perturb the forces with the truth of what violence - and secrecy - do to the human soul and body.

We may just discover that we can handle that piece of truth better than either the truth of rape or the truth of our sexual orientation.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Apparently, this is what I'm going back to

It's been C.O.L.D. in Nashville.  Everyone here rushes to tell you that it is "unusually cold".

Well, I understand it's been unusually snowy - even for North Jersey.

Ms. Conroy says that West Milford, NJ got 37 inches of snow.  That's a record, apparently.

She slept at the EMT Squad House last night because she was on call and didn't want to not be able to respond to an emergency.  Turns out, she got about 3 hours sleep.

This would be known as "Not Good."

I leave - am scheduled to leave - at 1:20 from Nashville tomorrow. There's nothing to be done, apparently, except to fly into DC and then into Newark.

That's a recipe for "delays" if I ever I saw one.

Never mind.  The hospitality has been GREAT in Nashville.  We had a fabulous lunch:  pear salad with minestrone soup and an incredible boston creme pie for dessert.

The ice tea was to die for.  Our chef, Donna, demurred by saying, "Well, you start with a very strong tea, but every Southern woman has her own particular way of serving it.  This one has pears and just a hint of almond."

I don't think she used Splenda.

I had two glasses.

Lord, have mercy.

I have made up my mind, however, that tomorrow morning I will change the channel in the dining room at breakfast.  This morning, it was "Fox News" (an oxymoron if ever there was one), with a debate about the Health Care Summit between what they described as "The Party of No" (gee, wonder which one that was) and "The Party of Spend Dough" (just because they try to be 'fair and balanced').

I don't care who's down there.  I'm changing the channel.  NBC. CBS.  CNN.  I don't really care.  It WILL be changed.

If I don't make it back to NJ it may be the weather.  I understand JFK, Newark and La Guardia are all closed to domestic flights until late Saturday.  Over 1,500 flights were cancelled.

Then again, it may be a case of Fox News in the dining room at the Hampton Inn and a girl who's part of "what's left of the Left" who just couldn't take it any more.

Film, as they say, at eleven.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem

That's David Noregard, the President of IntegrityUSA, on the left. Michael Hopkins, one of the past Presidents of IntegrityUSA, on the right.

This picture was taken in the midst of a discussion of The Consultation in Chicago. If you look closely, David is slack-jawed with astonishment. Michael can barely believe what he has just heard.
This is the moment when the information has sunk in. David, ever the Minnesotan, is under-reacting. You can't see it, but that pen in his hands is in a death grip. Michael, however, has utterly collapsed in disbelief.

See, now, why I love this church?

Did either of these two men storm out in complete disgust? Did they throw up their hands and throw in the towel?

No, they did not. They could have, and no one would have blamed them. But, they did not.

Indeed, they both hunkered down with the rest of the committee, rolled up their sleeves, and worked on a strategy to deal with the problem.

Sort of puts me in mind of the gospel for this Sunday - a little pictorial reflection on the words of Jesus:
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.' (Luke 13:34-35)
I'm in Nashville right now, having traveled all day from Chicago to get here, and had the first round of meetings with the Episcopal Women's Caucus.

We start bright and early in the morning and work straight through the evening. We'll finish up on Saturday noon and then I'll make my way back to New Jersey.

There is much work to be done in the fields of the Lord. Jesus is trying to gather God's children together as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Mission Shaped Church: Back to the Future II

Note: I want to continue this discussion by presenting some highlights of Zschiele’s vision of what a ‘Missional Church’ looks like at every layer of the church – denominational, diocesan and congregational - as well as an image of each of the orders of ministry: laity, diaconate, priesthood and the episcopacy.

These are some of my notes which I presented as stimulus for discussion. What you will miss, of course, is the conversation we had, the questions and observations that were made. I look forward to your input in the comment section.

First, some understandings of today’s changed context.

“The conception of an ecclesiastical identity at the center of society simply no longer accords with reality. . . . The Episcopal Church counts for a very small and shrinking percentage of the U.S. population. . . .its influence is diminishing along with its members. . . . it’s voice today is generally disregarded.”

“Basic acquaintance with the Christian story can no longer be assumed on any level. “

“ . . . The parish (or neighborhood church) system around which Episcopal diocese are typically organized in the US is increasingly irrelevant. The idea of domain that has long been hallmarks of Anglican conceptions of the episcopate are also under attack: international and missionary bishops . . . have asserted oversight over disaffected conservative congregations in liberal dioceses.” (I would add that we are observing the reverse of this as well.)

Mission Assumptions of Current Polity

“The underlying mission paradigm in Episcopal polity is a Christendom expansion or colonial model. That is, mission is primarily understood as extending the church’s geographical domain into foreign lands. Historically, this has meant extending European culture and political rule alongside the gospel, whether across the US frontier in the 19th Century or overseas through foreign missions. “

“Subsequent to the 1952 International Missionary Council meeting in Willingen, Germany, . . . leading mission theologians sought to reground mission in the doctrine of God, and specifically in the Trinity. . . .expressed as missio Dei – the idea that God is a missionary God. The Father sends the Son, the Father and Son send the Spirit, and the Father, Son and Spirit send the church into the world in mission.”

“Thus, mission is not a church-centered activity but rather a God-centered activity, the essential nature of the church itself.”

“Mission is God’s initiative, in which the church participates.”

“A missional ecclesiology calls for rethinking many basic underlying assumptions about the church and its participation in God’s mission. The church is turned inside out: instead of focusing inward and on tending to its members’ needs, its purpose and primary activities are out in the world as it in God’s redeeming work as sign, foretaste and instrument of the reign of God. Everything the church is and does must be missionary in character. “

“We can no longer portion off mission as a subordinate activity or program of the church.”

“Mission is the very reason for the church’s being and its lifeblood.”

Zscheile notes that the emergence of a ‘Koinonia ecclesiology’ in ecumenical circles has begun to enter into and influence Anglican theology. Koinonia a Greek word that means communion by intimate participation.

Zscheile writes that “Orthodox theologian John D. Zizioulas has been most influential this reconceptualization of human personhood and the nature and organization of the church through the doctrine of the Trinity, particularly as developed by the Cappadocians, emphasizing the social, perichoretic character of the Trinity as opposed to the economic emphasis typical of the West.”

“Koinonia . . . is a more relational, interdependent sense of the self, based in the social Trinity which better reflects the world view and assumptions of the biblical and patristic sources that are so cherished by Anglican theology.”

“[It]. . . invites fresh imagination about human interdependence and communion across racial, tribal, socioeconomic, geographical and cultural boundaries in an increasingly complex world.”

“[It]. . . offers a rich theological framework for reconciled diversity in mission.’

“[It] . . . presents an opportunity to reframe and enrich theological debate within Anglicanism beyond the current polarities . . . it is through communion God seeks to reconcile the world . . . “

“[Koinonia ecclesiology] presents a paradigm for understanding how the church’s diverse structures, bodies, and offices can collaboratively engage in God’s mission, reflecting reconciled diversity aligned in service to the mission of God.”

The Mission-Shaped Church

From “Mission-Shaped Church’ a recent document for the Church of England, puts it this way: “It is not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission that has a church in the world . . . God is on the move and the church is always catching up with m. We join his mission. We should not ask him to join ours.”

The Ministry of the Laity

“The tendency of the Reformation was to define the church not according to the four marks of the Nicene Creed (one, holy, catholic and apostolic), but rather as a place where certain things happen, generally performed by clergy (preaching, administration of the sacraments . . . church discipline).”

“As long as the focus remains on the gathering to the exclusion of the sending, the church will lose sight of its missionary character: it will lose sight of the fact that the frontline missionares are not intended to be specialists sent overseas but rather ordinary Christians in their daily spheres of influence.”

“What that would mean for Episcopal polity is to assert a priority on the ministry of the laity in the world as the primary expression of the ministry of the church.”

The Ministry of the Congregation

“Congregations are local expressions of the gathered church organized around core missional practices that enable all of they members to reach maturity in mission wile at the same time serving as signs, foretastes, and instruments of the reign of God in their own right.”

“These core missional practices include the classical activities of
Worship (leiturgia)

Witness (martyria)

Fellowship (koinonia)

Service (diakonia)

Proclamation (kerygma)

“The congregation is a local manifestation of the reconciled diversity of the reign of God”

“At its grass roots level, Episcopal life has moved from preoccupation with the intricacies of denominational life toward a practical focus on local community and mission” (William Sachs)

The Ministry of the Diocese

“Congregations are connected together into the koinonia of a diocese, itself a regional representation of reconciled diversity. “

“Diocese might more appropriately be recast today, from the Christendom domains of hierarchical authority and regulation to apostolic networks that serve to support, equip, and unify local mission outposts.”

“There are two challenges inherent in network organizations that must be attended to. The first is that networks depend on teamwork and relationships that must be led, managed and facilitated. The second is that thee diversity fostered by networks requires the intentional cultivation and maintenance of a unifying identity.”

“The ministry of the diocese is to support, equip and empower local congregations and their members for mission through missional practices. For diocese, these missional practices include
leadership recruitment and development,

resource sharing,

partnership facilitation,

teaching/interpretive leadership,

oversight and accountability,

and the sacramental expressions of unity traditionally reserved for the episcopate (confirmation, ordination, the consecration of churches, and so on). “
The Ministry of Denomination

“The denomination links dioceses, congregations, and church members on the national level for mission. The corporate emphasis that made so much sense fifty years ago seems increasingly disconnected from the local realities of congregations and their members. “

“The denomination is uniquely positioned to build theological identity, facilitate resource sharing, and link mission partners on a national and international scale.”

“The core practices of the denomination lie in
identity development,

resource development and sharing,

ecumenical relations for mission,

global advocacy,

and relief work.”
“These activities are best organized not within one massive central bureaucracy but rather through a network of linked organizations.”

“Within a plurality of cultures and languages, with an episcopate weakened by its own legitimacy crisis, and reflecting the divisive culture wars of American society, the Episcopal Church today must tend to theology.”

“The lingering class elitism that would construe Episcopal identity around establishmentarianism is not only contradictory to the gospel and sinful; it is also less and less functional as the church ages.”

“Recasting the Episcopal church’s various expressions as a Trinitarian koinonia of interdependent, mission-focused bodies who share resources and a common life would resolve the Christendom bureaucratic legacy of conceiving the church’s expressions as hierarchically ordered.”

“How can the church’s institutional life best embody the character and life of God?”

The Leadership of the Laity

“A missional polity encourages and equips those laypeople in the congregation who have the spiritual gift of leadership to lead teams in mission in the world.

“These mission teams are understood not to be extraordinary and occasional experiences . . . but rather to be ongoing, central dimensions of the church’s life.”

“Lay leadership must be understood not only as pertaining to explicit congregation or diocesan-based mission initiatives, but also to the exercise of Christian leadership in whatever vocation and sphere of influence a leader maybe placed.”

“Laypeople have a crucial role to play in the governance of congregations, diocese and the denomination, but their leadership must be understood holistically and collaboratively. They are partners on an equal basis with clergy.”

The Leadership of Bishops

“Historically, there has been a tendency among low-church, evangelical Anglicans to assert that bishops are of the bene esse (well-being) of the church. On the other hand, high-church Anglicans have more typically emphasized that bishops are necessary (esse) for the church to be the church.”

“The three primary functions of bishops historically may be described as teaching, sending/developing leaders and governance/oversight. . . current realities are heavily weighted toward the governance/oversight function.”

“The role of bishops within a missional polity is crucial. Bishops . . . have the authority to lead system-wide change, creating . . a “holding environment” to facilitate adaptation on the part of members of the system to a changed context.”

“Within a missional polity, the episcopate must be shed of its regulatory, bureaucratic weight and freed up for a focus on mission. . . . through interpretive leadership.”

“Interpretive (or sense-making) leadership . . .questions the premises of command-and-control. Instead, attention has shifted to the leader’s capacity to help others make meaning and define identity in a changing, adaptive environment. “

“Bishops should shift from seeing themselves as providers of pastoral care to the clergy (pastor to the pastors) to instead reclaiming more directly an apostolic leadership development role.

“The bishop can cultivate relational communities of leadership formation, creating a dialogue and learning space in which established and budding leaders can reflect together theologically and biblically on what God is doing in the world and how the church can align with it. “

The Leadership of Priests

“Priests are still predominantly trained to be professional chaplains who cater to private spiritual needs. . . . also expected to be institutional managers, a role for which they are generally ill equipped.”

“Both roles are based on deep Christendom assumptions: that the ministry of priests takes place largely in settled congregations who greatest need is pastoral care, and that the church is primarily an institutional, nonprofit voluntary society that provides religious goods and services to its members and the community.”

“ . . . a ‘ministerial representative model with roots in the Incarnation.”

“ . . . begin to re-conceptualize the presbyterate by focusing on the following three elements:
cultivating missional communities,

interpretive leadership and

leadership multiplication/sending.”
“The priest’s particular role is to cultivate the gathered and dispersed community through teaching and interpretive leadership that opens up the biblical narrative to engagement b the missional imagination of all God’s people

This narrative leadership role has three intersecting dimensions:
Modeling role (articulation of gospel story enfleshed in his/her own life)

Pedagogical role (teaches and interprets Gospel story)

Liturgical role (convenes and serves as an icon of unity within sacramental telling of the Gospel story).”
“[Priests] cultivate missional communities by developing the capacity of God’s people to discern vocation on personal and corporate levels.”

“A missional ecclesiology is by definition a contextual ecclesiology, and church members must be equipped to read their context. Local priests have important roles to play in convening such spaces and fostering such attentiveness.”

The Leadership of Deacons

Historically, the ministry of deacons is “to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclaiming of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.” Seen as a transitional period before priesthood, reflective of Roman imperial career track.

Zscheile notes that” serving the needy in the community is a ministry of the whole church, not just deacons; setting apart some congregants by way of ordination for the diaconate only feeds the distorted view that mission is an activity done by specialists.”

“In a missional polity, deacons are ‘mobile leaders who initiate, lead and facilitate the church’s missionary witness in the world across congregational boundaries. . . . The deacon also assists members of congregations and the diocese to interpret the mission of God in their context. As emissaries of the bishop, deacons bear the sacred commission of the gospel across boundaries within the larger diocesan mission.”

“Theirs is a regional ministry, while the priest’s is primarily a local ministry.”

Rethinking Diocesan Conventions and General Convention

“ . . . we might reconceptualize such conventions as convocations of missionaries who gather first and foremost to cast vision, share best practices, and build one another up in ministry.”

“In such a model, prayer, Bible study, and theological reflection would take center stage as the main event – with legislation relegated to the sidelines. . . . Collaborate networking for mission partnerships would be a key feature of such events.”

Some Conclusions

The traditional “via media” approach of Anglican ecclesiology leads to “an undigested assortment of contradictory theological impulses that lacks clarity and cohesion.”

“A missional ecclesiology and polity would leverage that richness as a living sign of reconciled diversity, an expression of koinonia whose identity is grounded first and foremost in the triune God’s mission to renew all creation.”

“The Episcopal Church, set within one of the most diverse and dynamic mission contexts in the world today, could contribute significantly to an emerging missional church in North America if it were to live more truly into the comprehensiveness it has historically calimed.”

Questions for Consideration

As you consider the re-vision of the various orders of ministry, what strikes you as most exciting? What does the church lose? What does the church gain?

If you agree that we need a missional polity and ecclesiology, what must we do to begin? What are the ‘growth edges’? What ought we be mindful of as transitional issues in the shift?

When you think or imagine a more missional church, what do you see? What shape and form does it take?

What are your concerns? Where are your hopes?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Back To The Future. . . .

. . . . . Toward a more true Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society: Part I.

Note: Here is the first part of my Lenten Series at St. Paul's. I'll post the second part of the presentation later tomorrow. I'd love to hear your responses and reactions to it in the comment section. You can read the entire essay by Dwight Zscheile here.

There is an old joke about the Episcopal aversion to Evangelism and Mission which ends in the punch line, “Anyone who needs to be an Episcopalian already is.”

That’s not so funny anymore – if it ever was.

This year’s Lenten Series is learning about how to move into the shifting paradigm from a traditional, caretaker model of church to one I like to call “back to the future” which is the mission of the church. More about this particular point in a moment.

I hope we – you and I – will learn something from the discussions that will take place in these session during Lent. We will be using an essay “A More True Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society: Toward a Missional Polity for The Episcopal Church” by Dwight Zscheile, as well as some organizational lifecycle stuff from Arlin Rothauge.

Additionally, we’ll be graced by the presence of three stellar clergy in the Diocese of Newark who have been and are engaged in and passionate about moving congregations back to the future of God’s mission in the church. We will be listening to their stories and engaging them in discussion about what it is like to become a more missional community of faith.

This is discussion that is long overdue. Indeed, it has reached a critical point of importance. We are a denomination in serious decline, which is part of a diocese in decline. As you can see from the handouts (NOTE: You can find statistics for your own congregation here), we are a congregation that has been pretty much at a plateau in terms of average Sunday attendance and baptism for the past decade.

Lawrence Miller’s work on organizational life cycles provides a provocative lens which charts six leadership roles that characterize the phases of an organization’s life, from founding to death: the prophet, the barbarian, the builder, the administrator, the bureaucrat and the aristocrat.

Zscheile writes: “When an organization reaches the administrator phase, decline begins: the tighter emphasis on control and regulation that follows, the deeper into the death cycle an organization has progressed. The fact that many Episcopal churches and dioceses are living off endowments as their membership dwindles may be interpreted as an ominous sign of the aristocrat phase.”

Arlin Rothauge, in his work on the lifecycle of congregations, identifies the easily recognizable milestones of birth, formation, stability, plateau, decline and death. He maintains that any church which has reached a plateau for a decade or more is in danger of decline. Please look again at the charts of our community which were compile by the staff at the National Episcopal Church Center (815) based on the information from our annual parochial reports. We have enjoyed some lovely upward ‘blips’ over the past 10 years, but mostly, we are in plateau.

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but neither is my head in the sand, so let me say this as clearly and as calmly as I possibly can: We are in danger folks. It’s time to think about the questions which Rothauge poses to congregations that have reached a plateau and are in danger of decline. These questions have to do with IDENTITY, VISION and STRATEGY.

We must explore who we are as a community of faith and what we believe our mission and ministry has been, is, and will be. We must examine and challenge the underlying assumptions which are the foundational understandings of our identity as a community, a congregation, a diocese, and a denomination.

We must define, revision and redefine our mission as the mission of God through Christ Jesus whose sacred body we are. Zscheile writes: “The church is a local manifestations of the reconciled diversity of the reign of God.” How are – or how are we not – living into this ‘local manifestations of the reconciled diversity of the reign of God’? And, what do we want to do about that?

What strategy will we employ in order to achieve, embody and make manifest our vision? What tools do we need? With what shall we equip ourselves? What resources do we have, what can be shared, and what do we need to borrow? What is/are the source(s) of empowerment?

Let’s talk for a moment about identity. You may not know this, but in the corporate papers of this church, the word ‘Episcopal’ does not appear. We are simply “St. Paul’s Church of The Chathams”. There’s a hint of arrogance there which flows out of an assumption that, if it’s a church, why, it must be an Episcopal Church. Our identity is clearly bound up in the religion of the establishment.

You may not know this, either, but the legal name of our denomination is not The Episcopal Church. The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, created in 1820 to support evangelism in the United States, became the official legal name of The Episcopal Church in 1835.

This was in response to the anticipated twentieth century revolution in missional ecclesiology, most clearly articulated by Bishop Charles McIlvaine of Ohio, who argued, “The Church is a Missionary Society, in its grand design, in the spirit and object of its Divine Founder”, so that The Episcopal Church is itself a missionary society to which every Episcopalian, by virtue of his or her baptism, belongs.

And therein lies one of the tensions – an identity crisis, if you will – in which we find ourselves in the church today: Are we members of an elite society of the establishment at prayer, or are we members of a domestic and foreign missionary society?

Another tension in our church flows from the two dominant theological strands of our faith. The first and most uniquely American is a liberal Catholicism – a blend of broad and high-church concerns that emerged in the late 1800s – which emphasizes the Incarnation. On the other, competing side is a strand of Evangelicalism, with its roots more firmly planted in the Reformation, and a decided emphasis on the Atonement.

The tensions between the two have been more sharply drawn with the current rise of Evangelicalism. Indeed, the two strands make such different assumptions about human nature that they sometimes seem impossible to reconcile.

And therein, my friends, is the second strand of the identity crisis in which we currently find ourselves. They are the two horns on which we have found ourselves stuck in a crisis of identity: One secular and political and the other theological and spiritual.

Zscheile has many things to say about how the church – at national, diocesan and local levels – as well as individual members in all four orders of ministry – laity, deacons, priests, and bishops – need to shift our understanding of our historic roles and identity as missionaries and move “back to the future” of God’s mission.

I will be reviewing what Zscheile has to say about this re-formation in the second part of this presentation. Right now I’d like to know what you have heard that concerns you or frightens you? What sparks your imagination? What inspires you and gives you hope?

Ima leavin' on a jet plane

Heading out in this miserable sleety-rain for the airport to catch my flight - if it hasn't been delayed - to Chi-town for a gathering of The Consultation.

The Consultation meeting is followed by a gathering of the Episcopal Urban Caucus - which I will miss most of as I head from Chi-town to Nashville for a meeting of the Episcopal Women's Caucus.

It's simply a whirl.

The Lenten Series is off to a great start. I brought my notes so I can blog about it on the plane. Look for something later this afternoon.

I'm not a big fan of air travel (I lurve me some trains, though) but I hate flying in this kind of weather.

I get on the plane and all I can see is Patsy Cline singing "Crazy."

Send a a few prayers my way, wudja? Much obliged.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Light at the end of the tunnel

It's the first week of Lent - you know the quiet season of introspection and penitence. So, for my penance, I haven't stopped for one minute of introspection, much less penitence.

I am working on the final touches of tonight's Lenten Education presentation while putting the last splashes of seasons to the Lentil Soup for tonight.

Then, it's home to finish packing so I can leave first thing in the morning for a meeting of The Consultation in Chicago until Thursday. I leave Chicago to fly to Nashville for a meeting of the Episcopal Women's Caucus until Saturday when I fly home again.

So, I thought I'd keep my Lenten Discipline of "lightening up" with this little clip. I saw it on FaceBook yesterday (thanks Mark!) and haven't stopped giggling.

I've been pulled back from the ledge many times from my sassy gay friends - and then have them help me pick out the best wine for dinner.

I'll try to post something I've been thinking about - the topic, actually, of the Lenten Education program - about some of the tensions of moving from a 'care taking' model of parish ministry to a more missional model.

Sounds heavy, right? It is. So, in the meantime, lighten up a little.

It's Lent. The Season where there is Light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lent I: You'll never walk alone

Jon Richardson preached a very fine sermon today, the first Sunday in the Season of Lent.

He tackled the issue of "the Devil" head on.

Didn't flinch.

Spoke directly to the issue of the presence of Evil in community.

G'won over to his blog, The Ultimate Word, and check it out.

You won't be sorry you did.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Aftermath

Late yesterday evening, I took this picture of "our spot" on Rehoboth Beach. It's at the very end of the Boardwalk, near the breaker.

We like it there because parking is generally better and it isn't as crowded, yet we're a short walk from Thrasher's French Fries and Grotto's Pizza. (Now you will understand our definition of 'A Great Day at The Beach'.)

I'm amazed at the erosion of beach sand. The Boardwalk is gone, and there are stacks of wood everywhere, covered by piles of snow and surrounded by trucks and fork lifts and back hoes and other equipment.

The construction was scheduled to be completed by mid-March. That's not going to happen. Hopefully, it will be completed before Memorial Day weekend - the first big weekend marking the beginning of the Summer Season - a very important time for everyone who makes their living in "The Nation's Summer Playground".

I love to take long walks by the ocean - it helps me sort through my thoughts and emotions. One of our daughters will be starting a new position soon and met with the Board of Directors. One of them asked her a question which startled her. She had written to tell me of it and to work through some of its implications.

I had been working on how to respond to her. Walking in the aftermath of the storm seemed an even more appropriate venue to sort out an answer.

It was too cold to walk for very long on the beach. The wind was pretty strong. I felt as if I were being slapped across the face and body by a whip made of icy wire. So, I took the question posed by one of our daughters to my morning walk/run.

The man who posed the question is in the top twenty of the wealthiest people in America. Apparently, people like to point out that status about him. Perhaps that helps to put this situation into context.

As the group assembled around the board room table, he opened the conversation by asking, "What are the 10 biggest failures you've had in life?" She was stunned by the question and, somewhat reluctant to respond to it at her very first meeting with her new board said, "Gee, I don't know. I'll have to think about that."

The man responded in obvious shock. "You don't know what your 10 biggest failures are?" he thundered. "Why, I keep a card listing the 10 biggest failures I've made in my life taped to the mirror in my bathroom and I read them every morning."

Later, our daughter asked, "What do you make of his question? What was he asking, really? What would you say are your 10 biggest failures?"

I'll talk with our daughter on my ride home this afternoon. Here's some of what I plan to say.

I suppose this man, one of the wealthiest in the country, delights to talk about his failures in public. It may send one of several messages -

See? I may be rich but I'm human.

Or: See? I may be rich but I'm humble enough to admit my mistakes.

Or: See? I may be rich, but you can be too if you learn from your mistakes.

None of those things are bad. Indeed, I hear an obviously very successful man sending out a message that success is often born of lots of failed attempts. And, that it's okay.

In fact, I applaud him for his humility - although I think it may raise a spiritual question or two about the humility of a wealthy man who needs to be reminded about his failure every morning and to let people know that he does. Sounds like there may be some anxiety lurking just under that humility.

Which is also understandable. It's one thing to become one among the top 20 wealthiest men in the country. It's quite another to maintain that lofty status.

I remember my very first management position at a hospital. At the end of the year budget report, I discovered that I was $10,000 over budget. That made no sense to me. I had been on budget every month. Where had that $10,000 gone?

I was worried sick and deeply embarrassed as I walked into a meeting with the VP of my department. I fretfully told him of my situation and died a little bit when a deep furrow crossed his brow. He got up from behind his desk and went over to the window and stared out across the parking lot.

I was certain, when he turned to come back to his desk, that he was going to tell me that I was fired. I can still hear the grandfather clock in the corner of his office, ticking away each painful, long second he was at that window.

Finally, he sat down at his desk, looked at me kindly and said, "Well, if you are making mistakes, I guess I know you are working. You can't make a mistake if you're not working."

I sighed a deep sigh of relief as he said, "Let's go over those figures again."

Turns out, I had put a decimal point in the wrong place. The budget balanced perfectly. I've long since forgotten the exact nature of my mistake, by I'll never, ever forget his kindness and generosity.

I learned something about myself in that moment, but I learned more about how to be a good manager - a good person. That there is always more to the story than what's on paper. That you have to go behind and underneath what's on paper to find the truth. That there is more value in human relationships than monetary failures. That success is often built on failure because there are always lessons to be learned from the failures.

That's part of the value of human work and human lives.

Those were critically important lessons that have stayed with me and guided me in my professional and personal life.

I plan to tell our daughter about my mistake - certainly not the biggest professional mistake I've ever made, but one that taught me one of the greatest lessons.

And, I think, that's the point.

I don't think anything is gained by listing your 10 biggest failures on a card and taping it to your bathroom mirror so that you can look at it as you start your day.

I do think it's an important exercise to look over your 10 biggest failures and write down the lesson or lessons you have learned from each one.

I think beginning each day with a reminder of what is important is more important than being reminded of your failures - unless, of course, your nature is such that you need a daily lesson in humility.

In the aftermath of the storms of life, it is important to take stock of your situation and learn the lessons you probably couldn't have learned any other way.

The "Blizzard of 2010" has renewed my respect for Mother Nature. I've learned that, if you are going to live close to the water, it's not enough to be awed by its beauty. You've got to be prepared to be humbled by its power.

Years ago, when we first bought Llangollen, someone gave me one of those 'beachy' signs as a house warming present which I keep in my bathroom. It says,
"If you're lucky enough to live near the water, you're lucky enough."
I feel blessed to be near one of God's creations that always affords me the possibility of learning new things about the majesty of God's power and abundant grace and the miracle of the constant renewal of life.

It is here that I learn deeper meaning to the words of the Psalmist,
"Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Be still, and know that I am God;"
I plan to tell my daughter that there are blessings to be gained from the aftermath of failure, so not to be afraid of failing. A wise person will not dwell on the failure, but look for the blessing. A wealthy person will count those blessings among her greatest treasures.

Indeed, I think that's the best definition of success.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I don't get it

I've been having conversations with some of my friends and clergy colleagues about Ash Wednesday.

This article in the Chicago Tribune has really been the catalyst for discussing the practice of going to public places - train stations, town squares - and simply imposing ashes on foreheads apart from any liturgy or ritual.

I don't get it.

I hear the arguments, but I still don't get it.

Some think this is Very Cool - bringing the church into the world with a powerful symbolic act. No judgment. No commitment. A wonderful service for those who live Very Busy Lives and can't come to church on Ash Wednesday.

Well, okay. I hear that, but what do we think we're doing, really?

It won't come as a surprise to anyone to hear me say that, as a priest, I like the whole Magila - the silence, the lessons, the psalms, the meditation, the Litany, and the Eucharist - the gathering of the whole community invited to make a 'Holy Lent.'

And, I understand the Very Busy Lives that people lead. At St. Paul's, we have three services to accommodate that reality.

There's one at 7 AM, with a special emphasis on children and families, so they can be part of the ritual and leave before communion to get to school on time. We even provide bagels and juice in the foyer on their way out the door.

There's also one at 12 noon which is a very simple service. People are told that they can leave at the Peace if they need to get back to work.

The 7 PM service is the whole Magila - the choir is there leading us in beautiful music. I find that service most inspiring. It's also the best attended.

I know. Not everyone can make any of those service. I get it.

I agree that there's something Really Wonderful about having a public service - bringing the word of truth about our mortality into a world which is obsessed with 'forever young and beautiful' and a word of penitence and fasting into a culture broken by greed and avarice.

The article from Chicago says that "The idea was to bring the gospel to where people actually live and work."

Are we doing that, really? What are we doing when we only bring the symbol and not the ritual, much less saying a mumbling word about the gospel?

I don't mean that we have to do the ENTIRE ritual. Perhaps a brief invitation, a time for silent reflection and confession, maybe even a bit of a psalm, and then the imposition of ashes.

We humans are creatures of ritual. We have become creatures of many cultural rituals. The daily morning ride on the Metro train is but one of them for many people. This ritual even gives them an identity. We call them "The Commuters".

The problem, at least to my eyes which are admittedly weary after almost 25 years of tending to the people of God who are world-weary, is that cultural rituals and symbols are devoid of any deeper, spiritual meaning.

There is such hunger in the world for deeper, spiritual meaning. Indeed, some people are so famished, so parched, that the ear of a pastoral heart cannot but hear the plaintiff cry of their souls cry out for sustenance and nourishment.

Is that what we're doing when we stand at a train platform or at a city square and simply impose ashes? Are we feeding their souls or contributing to the cultural addiction to feast on the Bread of Anxiety?

Are we nourishing their spirituality or sustaining the new 'consumer' religion with a 'drive through' spiritual fast food?

I don't know.

It is clear that I have my obvious bias, but I am willing to hear the argument to the contrary. So far, what I have heard is "well, you never know how you're going to touch a person."

That's not an unfamiliar argument which finds lots of application around the church in a variety of settings and ways. I gotta tell ya, that always makes me uncomfortable. Of course, it's true. But that's not the point, is it? Or, is it?

Are we bringing "the gospel" into the world, or just participating in a quasi-liturgical "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show"?

Are we any better than those annoying 'street evangelists' who stand on the corner and yell bible verses into a microphone or bullhorn as evidence that we ought to 'repent because the rapture is coming'?

Are we not doing EXACTLY what Jesus tells us not to do in Matthew 6:5
"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward."

6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Yes, yes. I hear the argument that we seem to be doing that in church, too, when we leave with a big old black smudge on our foreheads.

My predecessor always sternly warned people to get rid of the smudge before going out of the church. That practice continues, and I've neither encouraged nor discouraged it. I think people need to take responsibility for their own symbols.

But, I'm not just talking about smudging ashes on people's foreheads - either in church or on a commuter platform. I don't think that's what Jesus is talking about, either.

What I hear Jesus saying is that the practice of piety without being connected to meaning is spiritually bankrupt - it "has its own reward" which is not necessarily rewarding to the soul.

Shouldn't we at least attempt to connect some form of ritual with the symbolic act?

I don't know. What do you think?

I don't get it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Always, sideways

Pierre Whalon is the "Bishop in Charge" of the churches in Europe, based at the American Cathedral in Paris.

He is a friend of long-standing, having previously served for many summers at St. George's Chapel in Haberson, DE, a chapel of All Saints Church in Rehoboth Beach, and the church closest to Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay.

Pierre is a thoughtful progressive man, who speaks with care and clarity about theological issues. He is not a political or social activist but his credentials as a friend of women and LGBT people have never been in question.

He recently wrote an essay in which he writes:
"It is my conviction that wherever one is on the spectrum of opinion, to have no theology for full inclusion, while more or less practicing it, is worse than having bad theology."
He goes on to say:
"This political, non-theological way of going forward is great ammunition not only for the schismatics within our church, and their foreign partners busily violating in deafening silence the third Windsor moratorium on cross-border interventions, but also for those supporters of punitive measures against gays in Africa. It seems lawless. In other words, it gives the appearance that shadowy avatars of some putative "gay agenda" really do rule our church behind the scenes, instead of Scripture and communal Reason, informed by Tradition."
He's right. Of course, he's right. Bishop Whalon is calling for an "official apolgia or defense, based on Scripture, communal Reason, informed by Scripture".

But, here's my question:

Can anyone point me to one such official apologia or defense, based on Scripture, communal Reason, informed by Tradition" we've done in the recent past?

Where is the "officially accepted" apologia or defense of the Sacrament of Marriage? Indeed, where's the one on divorce? Or, how about one on Reproductive Rights?

Hasn't our understanding of "accepted apologia or defense" of any position or sacrament, "argued on grounds of the Tradition" always come sideways and inferred through a combination of (1) BCP liturgies and rubrics (2) canons (3) resolutions of General Convention, (4) Theological "mind of the House" statements from the Bishops (5) Lambeth Resolutions.

I'm remembering that great line in the HBO Series when Elizabeth I (played by the magnificent Helen Mirren) is deliberating about what to do with her cousin Mary. Many are calling for her to be charged with treason so that she might be properly executed. Elizabeth is deeply conflicted and rightly hesitant, even in the face of mounting evidence, to order the execution of "anointed royalty".

One of the members of her court (- and her lover, played brilliantly by Jeremy Irons) looks over her latest decree and mutters, in that wonderful British way of being, all at once, amused and concerned, "Sideways, sideways, sideways, Bess. That's how you always do it. Always, sideways."

I suppose it's in our religious and spiritual and political DNA.

Indeed, we partake of this sideways theology every Sunday at Eucharist. One of the great examples of Elizabeth's inclusive theology can be found in the invitation to Holy Communion.

In order to settle the great Protestant-Catholic debate over consubstantiation vs. transubstantiation, the Book of Common Prayer authorized by Elizabeth I created a brilliant place to stand on the Via Media, which I think, in fact, defines it.

The presider says the following invitation: "The gifts of God for the people of God."

The rubric adds, "And may add: Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and FEED ON HIM IN YOUR HEARTS BY FAITH, with thanksgiving."

Brilliant, isn't it? Whether or not you believe it is consubstantiation or transubstantiation, there's enough wiggle room in the language that both theological beliefs are held in exquisite, invitational tension.

Even so, if you are uncomfortable with that, a simple acknowledgment of the fact that these are, indeed, "the gifts of God for the people of God" will suffice.

But, even when we "do the theology" there's always a political agenda to it.

Henry Parsley, bishop of Alabama, is the current chair of the House of Bishop's Theology Committee. As Lisa Fox points out in her blog post at My Manner of Life,
"Bishop Henry Parsley appointed a group which he intended to be secret, to consider the issues related to same-sex blessings and ordination of people in same-sex relationships. . . .

. . . .We know that Bishop Parsley appointed eight people – four of whom would argue for LGBTs' place in the Christian community, and four who would argue against it. He didn’t seek impartiality or contemplation. He sought advocates. Further, he wanted them to write two competing papers, which would be delivered to the House of Bishops in 2011. All that happened in the middle of 2009. . . .

. . . .The secret panel was told to prepare their papers for consideration by the bishops in 2011. What LeMarquand (a member of the HOB Theology Committee) reveals is that the papers are going to the House of Bishops meeting in March 2010 – a full year before the schedule we had been given.

I can't help but wonder if this is so the bishops can make their deliberations before the May deadline for consents on Mary Glasspool's election.

What else would account for the bishops and/or secret panel moving the schedule up by a full year?"
Sideways, sideways, sideways. Always, sideways.

Here's the thing: If we're going to have any officially accepted apologia or defense, argued on grounds of Scripture, Reason and Tradition about human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, then I think we've first got some back-filling to do in the great yawning void of "officially" accepted apologia or defenses about lots of other matters in our common life in faith.

Even before that, however, we'd probably need to pass a resolution conferring the ability and authority to confer "imprimatur" so we'll know, without any possibility of doubt, who, exactly, confers that "official" status onto the apologia or defense.

And then, we'll have to decide if that comes from an "official" statement written on the appropriate form of parchment paper and sealed with the appropriate kind of sealing wax with the impression of the seal of the Episcopal Church.

Oh, but would even that suffice? Might we also need the seal of the Archbishop of Canterbury? Might we also need the Archbishop of York? Or, would it be, finally, "official" if the Pope himself put his seal on it?

If we started the process tomorrow, I suspect, given the nature and character of the church I dearly love, that it will be at least another 200 years before we get 'round to the issue of human sexuality and homosexuality.

Meanwhile, we'll just keep doing what we have been doing as a Body of Christ - being obedient to the call of the Spirit of God, who, in matters of vocation, tends to act in direct lines of communication.

Hardly - rarely - sideways.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Perfect and improving"

Yes, yes. I know.

It's Ash Wednesday.

We're supposed to be somber. Reflective. Contemplative. Penitent.

Right. Nice work if you can get it.

There are three services today. 7 AM. 12 noon. 7 PM. A few pastoral calls in between. Confessions to hear. Parochial Report to get done (due March 1). Draft wedding liturgy to complete and email off to the prospective bride and groom. Two Letters of Agreement to update.

God knows what else the day will have in store.

God knows. It will be a whirl.

So, you'll excuse me if I tickle my own funny bone about the whole business of sack cloth and ashes and poke a little fun at my own penchant for perfection.

I strive for it but I rarely achieve it. Indeed, I don't think I ever have. Oh, once I came really close. I made a great vat of West African Peanut Soup that was positively divine. I think that was as close to perfect as I've ever gotten.

I know I'll strive to make a perfect smudge on every single forehead that comes before me at the altar rail. Why? Beats the heck out of me. But, I know myself well enough to know that I'll do it.

Oh, I won't go to the extreme of the cartoon, but you know, when I first looked at the cartoon, I laughed out loud. And then, I confess, I thought, "Hmmm . . . an interesting idea . . . I wonder if you could make the stencil just a wee more discrete. . . ."

And then, I laughed again. Out loud. At myself, this time.

So, I've decided that my Lenten Disciple this year is to lighten up. To laugh at myself more. Especially when I catch myself striving for perfection.

I met a friend, a woman in her 80s, in the grocery store the other day. I said, "Good morning. How are you?"

"Perfect and improving," she said.

Isn't that simply marvelous?

I've decided that this will be my new Lenten mantra: Perfect and improving.

And this will be my daily morning prayer during Lent
This life therefore is not righteous
but growth in righteousness,
not health but healing,
not being but becoming,
not rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be
but we are growing towards it,
the process is not yet finished
but it is going on,
this is not the end but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory
but all is being purified.
--Martin Luther
I do remember that I am mortal. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

And then, when I return to ashes and dust, I shall be absolutely perfect.

Voltaire once wrote: "God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh."

My Lenten Discipline: To laugh more at God's jokes. Especially the one that was created in me.

So, here's one last giggle for the day - well, for right now, anyway:
Off I go then. Going to spread some ashes. And, hopefully, a bit of a giggle.

It's Ash Wednesday. G'won. Get your ashes to church!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"As fit as a pancake for Shrove Tuesday"

An engraving by the Dutch engraver H.Cock after the design by Hieronymous Bosch, and dated 1567

That is, of course, a line from William Shakespeare in the ironic, tragic comedy 'All's Well that Ends Well'.

I had always remembered it as "...fat as a pancake..." When I googled the quote just now, I realized the flaw in my memory.

That may be due to my early childhood recollection of my mother's pancakes.  They weren't the wimpy ones you see in Aunt Jemima commercials.  Her pancakes did not come out of a package mix.  She used a mixture of real flour, corn meal and sugar, sifting it several times with baking soda and mixing them with eggs and milk.

My mother also did not make a stack of the small round cakes we know today.  Her's filled the whole of her black cast iron pan and sizzled and popped and rose high, frying happily in the thick slather of  bacon grease she scooped out from the old coffee can she kept on the back of the stove.

I guess I was a teen before I realized that what she made weren't the 'pancakes' my friends were eating.  And while they would never have been mistaken for lovely, delicate crepes, she called them pancakes anyway.

As Roman Catholics, it was the last of what we would have of eggs or meat during the long, austere Season of Lent.  Nothing fried, either.  Nothing sweet. 

The worst of it, at least for us kids, was that there was also no discussion about the fact that ALL of our allowance was to be saved.   I got a dollar a week.  Ten cents off the top automatically went into the church collection plate - "The Children's Offering". 

We were allowed to use the rest  to purchase a treat or a sweet (like bubble gum or soda). It's a good thing that, back then, candy was not called 'penny candy' for nothing, because that's really all we had left after tithing to the church and putting "something away for a rainy day". 

On Shove Tuesday, however, in addition to the fat pancakes, sausage and bacon my mother made, we were allowed to eat a whole, entire Candy Bar for dessert - not the usual fare of eating one quarter of a Candy Bar which my mother would dutifully cut into four precise pieces, one for each child. 

No, this night, we got an entire Candy Bar all to ourselves. I loved Baby Ruth and Buttercrunch. Lord, have mercy! 

Oh, my soul!  What a delight to have pancakes for supper AND candy for dessert.  I ate that supper like a condemned man eats his last meal.  I savored every single bite.  Didn't have to wash my hands after supper because I would slowly lick my fingers of the maple syrup and grease as well as the nutty, chocolaty sweetness of my Candy Bar. 

After eating that gloriously fat feast, I was as fit as a Shrove Tuesday pancake to begin to shrive - to obtain absolution for my 'sins' (whatever abomination a young child might be able to commit at that tender age) by way of confession and doing penance.

Tonight the St. Paul's "Knight's of the Roundcake" will present yet another Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. A selection of plain, chocolate chip, blueberry and banana nut pancakes will be offered, in addition to bacon and sausage, and with the alternative of scrambled eggs for those on low carb diets.

We'll have a traditional pancake race with the "dead pancakes" - although lots of families are out of town / on vacation because this is School Break in Chatham - but we'll carry on in good form in our own way.

We'll not be burning palms for ashes this evening, after supper. We have more than enough left over from last year.

Ash Wednesday will fall like a dark curtain after a festive performance. The house lights will dim and the characters will walk off the stage. When they reappear, they will be dressed in sack cloth and ashes, with the smear of a large dark cross on their foreheads.

Soon enough we will hear, over and over and over again, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

Since that's the case, and no truer words were ever spoken, as they say in NOLA during Mardi Gras, "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez" - let the good times roll.

Or, as Willy would say, be as 'fit as a pancake for Shrove Tuesday'.

Because, you know, in the ironic, tragic comedy that is the human enterprise of life, all's well that ends well - and we all know how the story of Lent ends.

Monday, February 15, 2010

God's daughters and sons

I've just returned from a late breakfast meeting with my Soul Friend (AKA: 'Spiritual Director'). It was not exactly a formal "session", but a time for us to just catch up and chat about what's going on in each other's lives, rather than the focused intensity of our usual time together.

Because of who he is and his deep spirituality, it's almost not possible not to find some 'direction' for my soul whenever we talk.

He was telling me about his concern with the 'climate change' - not in our environment but in our culture.

"I understand why people are angry and anxious," he said. "These are difficult times. I'm wondering why it is that people are so mean spirited," he asked, his face contorted with obvious discomfort.

"Just the other day I took my car in for service and one of the attendants was very discourteous - almost sharp - with me. Now, in another day and time I might have said something to him, but something in me held back. Something in me said, 'Be careful here. This is a man on the edge and you aren't a youngblood any more.' You know, I realized later that I was really afraid," he sighed and shook his head in dismay.

"Something is very, very wrong," he said. "What is it?"

His question was more like plea.

His words and his query resonated deeply with me. Much has been written of late about the loss of civility in our culture. There is a growing concern about it in this country and around the world because it seems to be a sign and symptom of something deeper, something more ominous.

As we were walking back from the diner, I heard myself say to him, "I just read something somewhere - a passing comment - that something happened in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection nor would he accept his party's nomination for reelection as President.

There was something about the tone and tenor of his statement that shocked us all. We knew that there was something more he was not saying, exactly, but was, nevertheless, being communicated clearly in his statement.

It had been on his watch that the Civil Right's Bill passed and he began to usher in his program of "The Great Society".

He declared a “war on poverty” and called for urban renewal, aid to education and Medicare for the elderly. Those were halcyon days of social justice.

But the situation in South Vietnam deteriorated and Johnson began enlarging the military commitment. Though never declared, the war in South Vietnam came to dominate his Presidency. It escalated steadily costing thousands of American lives and causing bitter protests at home.

It was my sense then, and remains so now, that the War in South Vietnam broke his heart and his will. And, I think, that war broke the heart and the will and the soul of this country.

My response to my "Soul Friend" was to wonder if the immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with the growing awareness and understanding that greed - personal and corporate - as the underlying reasons for the present economic instability are not driving the dynamics of anger, anxiety and mean spirit.

Are not our hearts broken? Are not our wills compromised? Have not our souls been shaken to their foundation?

Hear me clearly: I am not making excuses for bad behavior. Neither am I playing arm-chair psychiatrist.

I am trying to understand something about what is going on in our culture and in our world today that leads to the manifestation of these cultural symptoms.

I shared with my Soul Friend a brief exchange I had with one of our five year olds in the reception line yesterday after church.

Evan came up to me and asked, "Reverend Elizabeth, who is Hosanna?" He had obviously been listening to the words of the Sanctus in the Eucharistic Prayer.

"Hosanna is not a person," I said, "It's a word of praise to God. It's like saying, Praise God! Or, Yay, God!"

That answer seemed to satisfy Evan. He nodded his head thoughtfully and then ran toward the Parish Hall for some Valentine's Day cookies.

Later, he father came through and asked if Evan had seen me. "He asked me who Hosanna is and I told him he should ask you. Evan considered my response and then said, 'Yeah, she would know. She's God's daughter.'"

Now, on one level, that's cute. Very, very cute. On another level, it made me uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.

So much so that I found him later in the Parish Hall and said, "Evan, I want you to know that you are God's son. You are one of God's sons and I am one of God's daughters. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

He smiled that Smart-Alec grin common to five year olds and said, "Yeah," adding quickly, "but I'm not a priest."

"Well," I said, "one day when you're older, you'll know that our baptism makes us all priests. Right now, I just want you to understand that you are one of God's sons and I am just one of God's daughters. Okay?"

"Yup," he said, hands in his pockets, not sure, exactly, what I had said but quite certain that it was important enough for him to pay attention and, perhaps, remember.

Which leads me to that magnificent picture at the top of this post. Someone sent it to me so I can't tell you the name of the photographer and give her/him credit where obvious credit is due. I apologize for that.

It's one of my favorite spiritual icons which I frequently use in my practice of meditation. It often leads me to profound spiritual depths and occasional insights.

I love how the sand is caught up in the surf and becomes one with it. I love the "natural" process of momentary chaos which is caught in this particular frame.

I think we, as individuals and a nation - perhaps even the world - are caught up in such a momentary cultural wave. We've become one with it and, in the ensuing chaos, lost our sense of identity.

We were caught up in a similar swell more than forty years ago. We got out of the war in South Viet Nam. We need to get out of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We need to say 'no' to the immorality of war.

We need say 'no' to the immorality of greed.

I fear we are yet to crash - hard. It will come. I have both anxiety and great hope about that eventuality.

I pray that, when the wave has passed and we find ourselves sitting dazed and brokenhearted on land, that we are able to reorient ourselves and our understanding that we are still, and always will be, daughters and sons of God.

I pray that we understand that we will maintain that status no matter how tossed and turned and tumbled and caught up we have been in the strong waves of life.

Once we regain a sense of our identity, perhaps, then, we can rediscover our moral compass - as individuals and as a nation and a world.

That's what been lost, I think. Our identity. And, along with it, our moral compass. It's all mixed up in the chaos of water and grains of sand. But, it's in there. Waiting to crash. And, in the midst of the chaos, waiting to be rediscovered and reborn.

I have faith that we might become "The Great Society" once again, finishing the battle to secure civil rights for all and waging war only on poverty and oppression.

Where we were once able to provide health care for the elderly through Medicare, we will be able to provide health care for all.

We are, each one of us, God's daughters and sons. It's time to stop ascribing that status to others and rediscover - and take responsibility for - our own holiness. It's time to start to behave like the children of God that we are.

I think it begins with saying, "No thank you" to another helping of greed.

And, "Yes, please," to the invitation to the hard work of peace.

It also wouldn't hurt to say - at least a few times a day - "Hosanna in the Highest."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ironic Coincidences

“The Glory of Love” - Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)
Transfiguration Sunday – February 14, 2010
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor.

I find myself intrigued by the ironic coincidence that this Sunday, Valentine's Day falls on the last Sunday of the Season of The Epiphany - the Sunday before the Season of Lent.

It is yet another observance of yet another saint of the church which has been taken over by our culture. Today, more roses and chocolates, lavish dinners and sexy lingerie will be bought as gifts, and more romantic proposals of marriage will be made today than on any other day of the year.

How serendipitous that, this year, this all happens on the last Sunday before the beginning of the austere Season of Lent when sacrifice and penitence will be the dominant themes of our lives of faith. In three short days, we go from excess to austerity.

It’s such an ironic coincidence!

St. Valentine, of course, is the patron of love, lovers, and friendship. Do you know his story? He is believed to have been a priest in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. He was well loved by the Romans who flocked to the temple where he was assigned to listen to his words.

During that time, Emperor Claudius was defending his empire against its enemies. As the wars raged on, fewer and fewer men wished to be enlisted into the army. This became a decided problem for the Emperor. You can’t fight a proper war without lots of soldiers.

Believing that the problem was that men did not want to leave their wives and families or lovers to fight in a war, Claudius passed a new law prohibiting marriages.

Well, however flawed, it does have its own logic. Valentine did not support the new law and continued performing marriage ceremonies secretly. One night, he was caught, arrested and thrown into prison.

The Emperor, however, thought that Valentine was well spoken and wise and took a liking to him. Indeed, Valentine’s jailer, seeing that the prisoner was a man of learning, brought his daughter Julia to Valentine for lessons.

Valentine read her stories, taught her arithmetic and told her about God. It was believed that through the prayers of Valentine, Julia’s sight was restored.

On the event of his death, Valentine wrote a last note to Julia to thank her for her friendship and urged her to stay close to God. The note was signed, “From your Valentine.” (This is where you say, “Awww.”)

Some say that this was the start of the custom of exchanging love messages on Valentine’s Day. (This is where you say, “I didn’t know that!”)

Unfortunately, the story, as many stories of the Saints of the Church, doesn’t have a happy ending. The Emperor encouraged the young priest to renounce his faith and become a loyal Roman.

Valentine refused and was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs, and afterwards, beheaded, which took place on February 14, about the year 270.

Here’s the thing about love – the story the modern Valentines Cards and Madison Avenue sentiments don’t express: it changes you. Transforms you. Makes you bold and brave. Makes you willing to lay down your life and leave behind all the comforts of home you once enjoyed and, perhaps, took for granted.

Makes you take risks you never thought you’d take. Risks that make your parents (and, to be honest, most sane people) gasp in anxiety and horror.

Tell the truth – those of you who are married: Would you really encourage your son or your daughter to get married at the young age you were married? Or had as little money as you had when you first started out?

Or live in the teeny-tiny place that was your first apartment furnished with whatever rag-tag furniture you could find and the heating pipes that clanged noisily in the middle of the night which was, to your eyes anyway, a palace?

“Love is blind,” the old saying goes. Some say that as the height of romantic compliment. Others say it like it’s an ominous, bad thing. Indeed, it can be both.

One thing is certain – love is the most dangerous force on earth because love changes you. Perhaps that’s why we’re always trying to control it. The truth is love transforms you. Indeed, it can transfigure you.

This Sunday is known as Transfiguration Sunday on the church calendar. I don’t think that’s a a coincidence, either. We heard first this morning about the transfiguration of Moses after he met God on Mt. Sinai.

“When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. . . . When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.” (Exodus 34:29-35).

In Luke’s gospel we learn that Jesus took Peter, John and James with him to the mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

I can hear some of you saying, “Oh, pshaw! That only happens to Very Holy People when they are deep in prayer.” Not so, my friends. Not so. We become transformed whenever we look into the face of Love. Our appearance changes. Indeed, our lives change.

Our youngest daughter, Mia, just announced her engagement. I knew it was going to happen. Anyone who saw her together with the man she loves would not – could not – be surprised.

It’s about to happen to her older sister, too. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Julie is in love. Big Love. I’ve never seen either of these two of our daughters look so happy.

Love does that to you. It can bring you joy. It can also break your heart. Don’t get me wrong. I’m absolutely over the moon with joy for our children.

I’m already looking forward with great anticipation to gaining even more beautiful grandchildren we’ll have from these unions. (I can hear both my daughters groaning, “Oh, Mooooooommmmm”).

But you know, if I’m completely honest, there’s a touch of something that’s not quite sadness, but probably something closer to being described as “bittersweet”. Oh, they’ve been out of the house and on their own for years now.

This is different. Their lives are going to be changed – radically different. Transformed. Transfigured. Just as yours and mine were when we decided to say ‘yes’ to love. ‘Yes’ to a lifelong, faithful commitment and all the sacrifice that takes to make that commitment work.

Love can be the ultimate ironic coincidence.

This is the absolute worst of times to be making a life long commitment. The global economy is still struggling to recover. I fear the worst is not yet upon us. Seventeen – 17 – houses in Chatham went into foreclosure so far this year.

The unemployment figures are improving but people are still underemployed or living in a state of constant anxiety about the possibility of being downsized.

War continues to rage in Iraq and Afghanistan and Congo and continues to threaten in Iran and parts of the Middle East, while Haiti valiantly persists in the recovery from the devastation of the earthquake last month.

Love is blind. Love does not see despair. Love only has eyes for hope. For possibility. For dreams and the attainment of impossible dreams.

Isn’t that part of the allure of watching the Winter Olympics? We’re watching the reality of someone living into the achievement of what looks for all the world like an impossible dream.

Perhaps the worst of times is the best of times for lovers.

Perhaps what we need, now more than ever, is more lovers – or all ages. I’ll spare you my temptation to break out into a warbling rendition of that 60s hit, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” But you know, there’s some real truth hidden among that sappy sentiment.

We need young lovers to remind us that sacrifice is worth it. Indeed, sacrifice doesn’t make much sense if there is no love.

In fact, Lent makes no sense, no sense whatsoever, without the sacrificial love of God in Christ which brings us to the glory of Easter Day.

It is the ultimate in ironic coincidence.

Because of the gift of Jesus, as St. Paul reminds us, the veil is lifted from our eyes and we, too, can see the glory of God in the sacrifice He made for us.

Jesus is God’s Valentine’s message to us about the sweetness and the goodness, the hope and the joy of God’s sacrificial and salvific love for us.

If we’re willing to make the sacrifice and take the risk, because of Jesus – who, by our baptism in him, lives in you and lives in me – we can catch a glimpse of the face of God in each other’s eyes.

The love of God in Jesus makes lovers of us all.

I’m reminded of an old song that’s become one of my favorites on Valentine’s Day, but you know, it captures the essence of the sacrifice and joy of the love that St. Valentine exhibited.

He doesn’t have a religious hymn in his honor, not in our hymnal, anyway. Perhaps this one will do.

Indeed, I think congregations like St. Paul’s should consider using it as their theme song. I think that, especially after the Vestry retreat this past weekend, this is especially true.

I think this little song captures what life in Christian community is like. Perhaps you remember it or you’ve heard it once or twice. If you do, sing it with me. It goes like this.
You’ve got to give a little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little.
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.

You’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little, until the clouds roll by a little.
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.

As long as there’s the two of us, we’ve got the world and all it’s charms.
And when the world is through with us, we’ve got each other’s arms.

You’ve got to win a little, lose a little, and always have the blues a little.
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.
That’s for you, St. Valentine, and all the lovers who follow Jesus into the sacrifices of Lent and joys of Easter love.

Alright, then. I’ve got chocolates to buy before Ms. Conroy comes home. Somebody give me an Amen so I can get out of here.

Thank you. And, Amen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vestry Retreat

The Wardens, Vestry, Rector and Missioner for Youth and Young Adults began our Vestry Retreat last night. We will continue through late this afternoon.

We understand ourselves as selected and elected Servant Leaders in Christian community.

Our time together will be spent in the work of prayer, actively discerning what God might have us do to serve the people of God at St. Paul's this year and take on the mantle and responsibility of leadership as servants to the servants of God.

We will do this within the context of Eucharist, bringing before God our hopes and fears, our dreams and brokenness, amidst the challenges of a fragile economy in which many of us are unemployed or underemployed or live in the anxiety of losing our jobs. We are staggered by the recent news report that seventeen of our neighbors have lost their homes in foreclosure so far this year.

Yet we live in sure and certain hope. We will fortify ourselves with that hope, strengthen the bonds of trust between us, and listen to each other and God for a Word of truth about our vocation in this time and in this place.

Of your mercy and kindness, please keep us in your prayers today that we may trust in the abundance of God in this time of scarcity and anxiety and find the strength and courage to do - and be - God's mission in the world.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sex in the pulpit?

It seems an interesting if not serendipitous event that this Sunday, Valentine's Day falls on the last Sunday of the Season of The Epiphany - the Sunday before the Season of Lent.

It's interesting that our thoughts would be about romance and intimacy, chocolates and roses, and lavish dinners and sexy lingerie before entering into the most austere and self-sacrificial season of the Church's calendar.

I've been reading the newly-released report from the progressive Religious Institute on Sexual Justice, Morality and Healing which raises the alarm about this “disconnect between sexuality and religion in America.”

Citing the largest ever survey of mainline Protestant clergy, “Sexuality and Religion 2020” reveals that 70 percent have seldom or never discussed sexuality with their congregants.

Seventy percent? Mainline Protestant clergy? Talking about human sexuality? Seldom or never?


I'm shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church and Evangelical / Fundamentalists on the Right talk endlessly about 'family values' and the 'evils' of abortion and the 'intrinsic disorder' of homosexuality.

Meanwhile the sexual proclivities and escapades of Tiger Woods, John Edwards and Mark Sanford fill the news.

Meanwhile, we allow the Religious Right to frame and lead the discussions and debates about human sexuality and then decline to talk about it with our congregations, either privately or publicly from the pulpit.

Do you think that maybe, just maybe, this might be a 'causative factor" to the reason we are hopelessly mired in disagreement about homosexuality, reproductive rights and what defines "the sanctity of marriage"?

Do you suppose that our disinclination to discuss teen pregnancy, 'date rape' or rape, premarital sex, marital infidelity or sexual orientation and gender identity - in not being part of the solution - might actually be part of the problem?

According to the Rev. Debra Haffner, the Institute’s president and a sexologist and Unitarian Universalist minister, the fact that clergy “are choosing silence over action where sexual justice and health is concerned” has contributed to a growing crisis.

“An untold number of congregants are suffering in abusive or dysfunctional relationships, struggling with questions of sexual identity or orientation or harboring histories of rape, abuse, or marital infidelity,” Haffner said at a Tuesday press conference when the new report was released. “The fact is that all clergy, whether they’re Baptist or Roman Catholic, Jewish or Protestant, have people in their congregations who need help.”

Rev'd Haffner will get a loud "Amen" from me on that. And yet, as committed as I am to discussing human sexuality with individual members of my congregation, and as forcefully as I have insisted that Human Sexuality and Ethics remain a part of the Confirmation Curriculum, and as often as I have led Adult Forums on issues of human sexuality, I must confess that I don't preach on the topic very often.

I've always taken the lead from one of my seminary professors who cautioned that preachers often don't understand the power of their presence in the pulpit as a vehicle of communication. "Some people," she said, "won't hear much of what you have to say, or will hear what they want or need to hear, because it is coming from a woman and not a man."

I've discovered, over the years, that she's right. I don't have to "make an issue" about the ordination of women from my pulpit because I am "the issue". Same with issues of human sexuality. It's not that I don't ever mention "the issues". It's just that I don't "make an issue" of the issue.

I think that's called using a "bully pulpit" (a term coined by President Teddy Roosevelt by which he meant "bully" as in "excellent" or "brilliant". He did not mean "bully" as it has come to be known - i.e. a harasser or someone who intimidates - but the term has come to be known in that pejorative sense).

That does not - has not - prevented me from discussing issues of sexuality privately or to hold educational events and Adult Forms on issues of human sexuality.

Still, I often feel caught between the tension of being one of the few clergy who do - "the voice of one, crying in the wilderness" - and battling indifference - having what I say being easily dismissed as "Oh, there she goes again." Or, "What do you expect from someone like her?" Or: "Why is she talking about that HERE? NOW? That's so yesterday's issue. We're soOOoo over that."

I would beg to differ from that indifference. And, I would love to have some other voices joining me in the vast, uncharted wilderness of a progressive position about human sexuality - except the one that everyone THINKS we hold which is noting short of "anything goes".

You know, I'll bet, if we actually started talking about "the progressive position" on human sexuality, we'd be amazed by the diversity of opinion AND how fairly traditional, if not flat-out conservative, many of us actually are.

Why is this issue such an "issue" with me? Well, I thought you'd never ask.

From where I sit, this is not just about winning awards in the Great American Religious Debate Club. Besides, at this point in time - in the history of the Anglican and Episcopal Church, at any rate - I fear it may well be a waste of time for "the orthodox" and "the progressives" to seek common ground.

I see something far more dangerous and nefarious at work.

Indeed, I don't see this as a theological debate. Not right now, anyway.

Rather, I think the current dissatisfaction of "orthodox" Episcopalians and Anglicans stems less from widespread resistance to the church's stance on hot-button issues like sexuality and more from outside groups eager to keep The Episcopal Church - and other mainline Protestant denominations - from successfully attending to issues we see as central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you look around at the grinding poverty that still exists, the delays on Health Care Reform, and the erosion of Reproductive Rights, they've been pretty successful.

The strategy of these outside groups - like, but not limited to the IRD (Institute on Religion and Democracy) - is to keep churches so busy fighting among themselves or within themselves that they can't do the work of the gospel.

The IRD, for example, recently submitted a grant proposal in which the IRD speaks of "redirecting Protestant churches away from their reflexive alliance with the political left."

What these outside forces wish to accomplish is not the agenda of Jesus (AKA our "reflexive alliance with the political left") - indeed, they abhor and reject it - but their own agenda of what it means to "return to our roots" (read: "orthodoxy") and become, once again, "a Christian nation."

The church is no stranger to being complicit with a political agenda of oppression and violence. Indeed, history teaches that she has benefited from it. The allure of cultural acceptance and governmental favor has often proven more seductive than the cost of taking stands against slavery or the Holocaust.

I know, I know. "Vast right wing political conspiracy". "Images of brown shirts". Even so, the old saying may be trite but it is still true: just because you're paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't out to get you.

And you thought it was all about sex. It's not. But, it is about intimacy. And, relationships. And, community. And families and their value. And how we understand intimacy and relationships, community and family within the context of our relationships with each other and God.

So, on this Valentine's Day weekend, the weekend of romantic dinners and get-aways, and before we talk about self-sacrifice, I'd like to invite your thoughts about sexuality and intimacy into the church this weekend.

I'd like you to consider, if you already haven't, reading and signing onto the
Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.

It says, among other important things:
Sexuality is God's life-giving and life-fulfilling gift.

Our faith traditions celebrate the goodness of creation, including our bodies and our sexuality. We sin when this sacred gift is abused or exploited. However, the great promise of our traditions is love, healing, and restored relationships.

Our culture needs a sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure.

Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.

Faith communities must therefore be truth seeking, courageous, and just.

Faith communities must also advocate for sexual and spiritual wholeness in society.

God rejoices when we celebrate our sexuality with holiness and integrity
While you're there, read their report Sexuality and Religion 2010: Goals For the Next Decade.

I encourage you to consider being part of the solution. Speak out. Preach out. Teach out. If you are clergy and haven't already written your sermon for Sunday, consider how God's love transforms us and prepares us for the sacrifice of Love.

We need to re-enter the conversation and re-frame the debate, one pulpit at a time. One person at a time. One pew at a time. One church at a time. And, most importantly, bring that conversation from the church back out into the world.

That may well be the beginning of bringing the world back into the church.

Author and religious historian Martin E. Marty said at a press conference releasing the report, “it usually takes the Christian Church about 200 years to settle things.”

Because of the urgency of these issues for people’s lives, they are ill-served by protracted theological debates. “We don’t have the luxury of 200 years of fighting on this one,” Marty argued, “because the stakes are so high.”