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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Seed of the Jack Pine

The Jack Pine
Well, here we go again.

I don't like writing about church stuff - I generally leave that up to Mark Harris over at Preludium, who does it well because (God knows why) he seems to have a real passion for it - but this particular subject has pulled my poor, last, tired nerve.

According to ENS (Episcopal News Service), Bishop Stacey Sauls, the former bishop of Lexington and the new COO (Chief Operations Officer) of The Episcopal Church, presented a "model resolution" to the House of Bishops, meeting this week in Quito, Ecuador, for each diocese to submit to the 77th General Convention in 2012 for consideration.
Sauls asked the House of Bishops to engage the laity and clergy in their dioceses in conversation in support of a potential structural reform that he said could shift the church's focus toward mission.

The model resolution would call for a special commission to be charged with "presenting a plan to the church for reforming its structures, governance, administration, and staff to facilitate this church's faithful engagement in Christ's mission…."

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson would appoint members to the special commission. The resolution would also call for a special meeting of General Convention before the 78th General Convention in 2015.

The resolution, Sauls said, could be distributed at upcoming diocesan conventions or in committees to start the conversation.
You can read the whole ENS article here.

Or, engage in a far more erudite conversation with Mark about it here.

Or, not.

Personally, I got an acute attack of what my kids call MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) while reading the ENS article.

I, for one, would find the Sauls resolution more attractive if there were also a parallel resolution for the HOB that begins to look at ways in which that House could also get itself in order and restructure the ways in which it conducts its own business.

You know: Lead by example.

I'm going to say something that some may find unnecessarily provocative but here goes: It seems to me that this resolution works very hard to return The Episcopal Church to it's former identity as "The Republican Party at prayer".

I grow weary of the call for "smaller government" and to "cut spending" while those who raise their voices in this cry do absolutely nothing to restructure themselves or take pay cuts or reduce their substantial benefit packages.

I understand: we are in a serious financial crisis. We need to do "something". Some would say "anything". Others would say, "Who cares where the idea comes from or where the conversations start?"

I would submit to you, once again, that we need to be clear about our identity and mission before we restructure ourselves and cut spending to fund the "idea" of mission.

We say we are "The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society". Whatever does that mean? How do we live into - and out of - that identity? How do our structures support that identity? What might we need to change in order to better support our identity? And, if that's not our identity, then, what is?

"The Episcopal Church Welcomes You". Is THAT our mission? If so, who is 'you'? And, what do we do after we say, "Hello" and "Welcome"? Nicely. Politely. With a fresh, hot cup of coffee.

The Anglican Communion has identified "Five Marks of Mission"
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
Has The Episcopal Church adopted these as our own? If not, why not? If we bear these five marks of mission, how might we restructure ourselves so that we might be able to carry them out in the church and the world?

The business of the church is not being the church. The business of the church is doing the mission of God. Jesus made it abundantly clear that God's mission is already going on in the world. Our job, as His Body, is to try to catch up with that mission and do our part, in our own unique way, to further it.

Yes, yes, I know, I know. We need a "business plan". The Sauls resolution is just a way to begin the conversation. I'm saying that I lament that there is no clear "mission plan" around which we ought to build our business plan.

Just saying that if we restructure we would have more money to do mission without a clear articulation of that mission only lays the foundation to pave the road that leads to the final destination of all good intentions.

Or, as my grandmother would say, "Wishes don't wash dishes."

I'll leave you with a powerful meditation from Howard Thurman, one of the great preachers of the twentieth century; a spiritual adviser to such prophetic leaders as MLK, Jr., James Farmer, and our own Pauli Murray; the first black dean at a white university; and one many regard as a visionary and a modern mystic.

I offer it as meditation and modern parable for The Episcopal Church

The Seed of the Jack Pine
From “Meditations of the Heart”
by Howard Thurman

In response to a letter of inquiry addressed to a Canadian forester concerning the jack pine which abounds in British Columbia, the following statement was received:
“Essentially, you are correct when you say that jack pine cones require artificial heat to release the seed from the cone. The cones often remain closed for years, the seeds retaining their viability. In the interior of the province, the cones which have dropped to the ground will open at least partly with the help of the sun’s reflected heat. However, the establishment of the majority of our jack pine stands has undoubtedly been established following forest fires. Seldom do the cones release their seed while on the tree.”
The seed of the jack pine will not be given up by the cone unless the cone itself is subjected to sustained and concentrated heat. The forest fire sweeps all before it and there remain but the charred reminders of a former growth and a former beauty.

It is then in the midst of the ashes that the secret of the cone is exposed. The tender seed finds the stirring of life deep within itself – and what is deepest in the seed reaches out to what is deepest in life – the result? A tender shoot, gentle roots, until, at last, there stands straight against the sky the majestic glory of the jack pine.

It is not too far afield to suggest that there are things deep within the human spirit that are firmly imbedded, dormant, latent and inactive. These things are always positive, even though they may be destructive rather than creative.

But there they remain until our lives are swept by the forest fire: It may be some mindless tragedy, some violent disclosure of human depravity or some moment of agony in which the whole country or nation may be involved. The experience releases something that has been locked up within all through the years.

If it be something that calls to the deepest things in life, we may, like the jack pine, grow tall and straight against the sky.


it's margaret said...

I find it necessary to amend the five marks of mission with a sixth --but make it first --Worship. All else comes out of worship. Sacramentally grounded worship. Otherwise we are nothing but a social service organization....

And, yes, I too am fearful that this "less is best" is part and parcel of the "less government" stripe --and leaves little consideration of/for those doing the work in the front lines.... and what they might need/want to accomplish such work.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - I would agree but I think that's part of the "proclaim" part of first "mark'. I think.

it's margaret said...

I thought about that too --but then we'd get stuck with a sola scriptura rant sooner or later.

Let's make it plain: Worship.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I hear ya, Margaret. It surprised me that, as Anglicans who ascribe to "lex orandi, lex credendi", it wasn't there.

The Rev. Br. Aelred Bernard Dean said...

I looked at Bishop Sauls' proposal, Elizabeth, and I've spoken with him about it (he was until recently my diocesan). One of the whole points of this restructuring (which applies both to both houses of GC, and to the CCABs) is specifically to increase mission, to increase the funds for mission, to increase the personal for mission, and to increase the flexibility of the church's governance in the service of mission.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Chris - I know Bishop Sauls and am a great admirer. I love the fact that the budget part of the proposed restructuring is for "mission". My argument is that this plan puts the cart before the horse. We need to talk about mission FIRST before we restructure and budget for mission.

Anonymous said...

"Destroying is a necessary function in life. Everything has its season, and all things eventually lose their effectiveness and die" Margaret Wheatley

Thank you for your refection. You write beautifully and cogently.

Tom Gibson
St. Mark's Cocoa Florida

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Tom, for that quote and your kind words.