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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Monkey Mind

Ever wake up in the morning, certain of how your day - and, in fact, the next few days - were going to proceed, and then, something happens and you have to go to Plan B.

Except, there wasn't even a Plan B to begin with?

That happened to me just today.

I won't bore you with the details, but I had it in my head - and written down in ink in my calendar, so I knew it was going to happen - exactly what I was going to be doing today and tomorrow.

I had made a most excellent start - up before dawn, my car full of gas, my bags packed and in the car, I got to my first meeting and was anticipating another before I hit the highway - and then came the phone call that changed everything.

It wasn't the end of the world, but it was the end of my carefully made plans. 

I promptly made a few calls to the folks who were expecting me, experienced some momentary disappointment because I wasn't going to be able to see them as planned, and then went on with the rest of my day.

I've already filled up the empty spaces in my calendar for tomorrow - God knows, there's never a want of things that need to be done - but I found that, in this time, the time I had planned to be traveling and listening in my car to a book I've been reading on my Kindle, I was suddenly "itchy".  Restless.

I tried reading my book.  I couldn't concentrate. I tried listening, as I had planned, not in the car but in my comfortable, favorite chair. I found myself noticing something that was ajar or amiss in the house and my mind wandered.

"Monkey mind". That's what the Buddhists call it.  It's what I had.

Most often, I experience "Monkey Mind" when I'm trying to meditate. If I try meditating when I'm anxious or worried or Very Busy, I have to use three techniques I was taught years ago in order to  prepare for the actual meditation.

The first is "Sit. Stay.", wherein you treat your mind as you would a puppy.  Very calmly and evenly but very firmly, you give your mind commands to be quiet and still. "Quiet," you say. Out loud, if you need to. "Be still," you say, or "Easy now". It takes a bit of work, but within 10 minutes, I can actually notice a difference.

The second is to help you to focus by getting physical with the exercise "Push Mountain, Lift Sky". It's simple enough. You stand still for a few minutes, taking deep breaths. When you're ready, you inhale as you raise your arms and exhale as you push off that mountain of worry and anxiety that is burdening you. Still breathing, you bring your arms together over your head and visually lift yourself toward and become one with the sky of tranquility.

Stop snickering. This isn't "new age crap". It really works if you give it half a chance. The act of imagining what you are doing - pushing the mountain and lifting the sky - actually helps you to focus, which helps to train "Monkey Mind" and keep it from jumping around.

Finally,  in standing or sitting meditation, I use "The First Prayer". It's a deceptively simple exercise, based on the first prayer uttered in The Garden. If prayer is a response to God, then, the first spoken prayer was when God asked Adam, "Where are you?" And Adam responded, "Here I am."

So, I breath in and say to myself, "Here." I exhale and say to myself, "I am."

After a few minutes of this, my "Monkey Mind" may not be completely gone, but I'm in much better shape to meditate and pray than I was before I began.

It takes lots of practice and I've gotten much better over the years. Not perfect. Better.

It occurred to me just now, as I was doing meditation, that this is really the work of Advent.

These three pre-meditation practices contain the essence of the spirituality of the Season of Preparation for the Nativity.

The first is about intention. The second is about focus. The third is about openness.

As I looked at my calendar, which is rapidly filling up with holiday obligations and celebrations which I try to stuff in around my normally scheduled life, I laughed and thought, "Well, nature may abhor a vacuum, but my schedule really hates it, too."

If I'm going to make it through the next couple of weeks and have any shred of spirituality for Christmas, I'm going to have to be very intentional and focused so I can stay open to the possibility and joy of The Feast of the Nativity.

It's hard work. A labor of Love. Divine Love. Incarnate Love. 

Making all my good intentions and nice words flesh. Real. Human.

Intention. Focus. Openness.

Well, that's my work of Advent spirituality. Hope it helps you.

And, here I thought I knew what I was going to be doing for the next few days.

Turns out, no matter what I'm going to be doing, I'm going to have to do these three things first, or I'll never get anything done around here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Mayor-elect Bruce Harris
Meet Bruce Harris.

He's Black. He's openly gay. He's Republican.

And, he's the Mayor-elect of Chatham Borough, NJ.

With a total turn-out, including mail-in ballots, of 36.89 percent, Harris was elected mayor with 1,211 votes to incumbent Democrat Mayor Nelson Vaughan's 889.

Folks in town are calling this mayor "one-of-a-kind": Black, openly gay, AND Republican. Some are scratching their heads trying to find someone in all three categories in a similar post.

Black? Yes. Openly gay? Yes. Republican? Not so much.

Then again, one of the terms of endearment for Chatham (admittedly, by most Democrats and a few Republicans) is "Republicanville". One of the members of my former church used to lovingly call it "MayberryUSA" because it is almost stereotypically "Small Town USA".

And, that's just the way folks there like it, thank you very much. Indeed, it is one of the platforms on which Harris based his campaign. He promised to keep the "small town" nature of Chatham Borough intact.

I personally think it's pretty remarkable that a person of color - specifically, an African-American - was elected in a town which, according to the 2010 Census, counts 89 black residents in a total population of 8,962.

Did I mention that he's a Republican?

He's also 30 year resident of "Republicanville" who is has also worked tirelessly as a member of the Borough Council.

Harris is an attorney who also holds an MBA and has 15 years of corporate experience. He began volunteering in municipal government more than a decade ago, and was selected to fill a vacant seat on the council after a mayoral election. Harris was re-elected to the council in 2005 and again in 2008. This was his first mayoral campaign.

Most folk in town are pooh-poohing the fact that he's gay. "Openly" gay.

Indeed, Leanna Brown, a borough resident and former state senator, was quick to note,
"I think it speaks very well of the borough," she said.

"I think we've gone through an interesting time," she said. "There've always been people who have made their sexual preferences known, and people didn't care. If 30 years ago people were making a big deal about [sexuality], Bruce wouldn't have made it."
Well, there it is, then. Big deal or not, make of that what you will.

Oh, and Mrs. Brown, it's "sexual orientation". Not "sexual preference". No big deal, except, well, it is, actually. I don't mean to upset or bother you, but allow me just a few seconds to explain.

One has to do with the way your are born. The other connotes a choice. Like, you know, you could, but you won't because of your preference, instead of you can't (or, won't) because of your orientation.

Anyway, where was I? (Isn't it amazing that we still, after all these years, have to do this wee bit of education? Especially since it's no longer such a 'big deal'.)

Oh, yes. Here's what really amazes me: I'm amazed that this "news" hasn't made it "out" in the Press. Especially the gay press.

I've talked with several of my colleagues and friends in surrounding towns and no one - not one person - was aware of the results of the election. One - an African-American LGBT person - knows the man and his family and was astounded to hear the news. Which, I should point out, is almost a month old.

Okay, okay. With a population of only 8,962 residents, maybe it's not exactly headline news. Besides, people in Chatham like their small-town and want to keep it that way, remember?

So, maybe the spotlight wouldn't exactly be welcomed - especially since we don't want to make a "big deal" about sexuality, remember?

Well, it's a big deal to me and lots of other LGBT people who don't want our sexuality to be a big deal, either, but it is a "big deal" when one of us is elected to public office.

Denis Dison, the vice president of communications for The Victory Fund, believes Harris is likely the first openly gay, black Republican to be elected mayor in the country.
"We could not think of another," Dison said. "There have been a few openly gay African Americans who have been elected mayors in their town, but not Republicans.

"We have a very knowledgeable board, and they could not think of another example where this has happened," Dison said.

"When you see someone who can speak not just to the gay community, but the African American community and the Republican Party, that's a powerful thing," Dison said. "It speaks of the acceptance of gays and lesbians in public life."
It's a real cause for celebration when "one of us" is recognized and valued for our intelligence and commitment and skills and abilities because, as we've been saying all along, our sexual orientation isn't a "big deal". It's just one aspect of the totality of our humanity - which some people would like to make a "big deal" - and the defining quality of our existence.

It's not. Neither is the color of a person's skin. Or, I hasten to add, one's gender. This is a victory not only for Chatham but for all socially progressive people of whatever political party everywhere.

So, I guess if someone has to toot our own horn, I might as well be the one.

Let me also sound a note of caution and a request for prayer for this brother.

Less than twenty-four hours after his defeat, Mayor Vaughan abruptly resigned from office - clearing off his desk and handing in is resignation at 3 PM on the Wednesday after the Tuesday, November 8th, election.

During his campaign, Mayor Vaughn was asked his opinion about his opponent. He reportedly said, "Isn't it nice that Chatham has gotten so tolerant." I can't find a link to anything online, but I have it on good authority from more than a hand-full of Chatham residents that this is what the man said.

He's gotten a great deal of flack for that statement, as well as his abrupt resignation, as he should.

Note: This is Mr. Vaughn's letter of resignation as printed in The Independent.  He writes: "Chatham has broken historic boundaries in electing Bruce Harris, and demonstrated tremendous tolerance."

The man has resigned but he just won't quit.

The Borough Council is now in turmoil, trying to appoint an Interim Mayor.  They heard from three candidates last night who were willing to step into the little more than two month position but couldn't come to a decision. There is now a special Council Meeting called for next week to make that decision.

None of this bodes well, despite the predictable "positive spin" everyone is trying to put on it - and Chatham is residence to more spin-masters than Michigan has lakes or Georgia has peanut farms. Like most affluent suburbs, presentation is very important. There are property values to consider.

Admittedly, the former Mayor's words and behavior do not cast him in the best light, but it also must be said that he has, most unfortunately and inadvertently, tarnished the borough's name in doing so.

I hope Denis Dison of the Victory Fund is right about acceptance. I fear it speaks more of 'tolerance' - especially when one doesn't 'make a big deal' of one's sexual orientation.

Tolerant? Who wants to be "tolerated"? I know only too well what that feels like, and I can tell you from personal experience - as well as those of others who are "other" - that those who say they are "tolerant" will be the first to try to cut you off at your knees because of the color of your skin, your gender, your sexual orientation, or your class status.

Oh, they'll say it's because of you - because you aren't always "nice", perhaps because you made a "big deal" of something they'd rather not look at or own or admit or do - but when you are "tolerated" and not "accepted", you know. You understand.

Tolerance is the lowest minimum standard for life in community - at least, as I know it as a Christian who is also an American. I 'tolerate' people I dislike because I know that, even though I don't like them, Jesus loves them. (I know. Go figure.).

Because I'm an American, I know that everyone is "endowed with certain inalienable rights". I am compelled to treat others as I would have them treat me - with respect for the dignity of every human being - whether I like it - or them - or not.

Tolerance is hard work, but it's even harder not to let people know that they are being "tolerated" but respected for who or what they are.

And yet, the conundrum is that unless you make your "otherness" at least "a deal" (albeit not a "big deal"), you aren't ever going to get passed "tolerance" and onto "acceptance".  I'm still working that out for myself.  I can say this much: it ain't easy. Still not. After 35 years.

I think that's called "micro-oppression". It's like the death of your soul by a thousand paper cuts of tiny acts of oppression - some of which are self-inflicted.

Significantly, a little more than a third of the residents of the borough voted for the man.  That's not a resounding mandate but, then again, the man they voted for was a thirty-year resident with a proven record of service and leadership and an impeccable set of skills and abilities and credentials who promised to work to keep the "small town" nature the same.
"I am not doing this to be a trailblazer. ... I never think of it that way," he said. "I just remember that when I first moved [to Chatham], I woke up and I thought, 'Oh, it's so nice and quiet here.'"

Harris was raised in Iowa, the oldest of 12 siblings. He moved to the borough from Boston in 1981, into an Elmwood Avenue home that he continues to make changes to and improvements.

"People ask me, 'Why do you do that? Why don't you just move?' I say, 'Well, I love where I live. I love Chatham, and I love my neighborhood,'" Harris said.
No "hope-y-changey" thing for that Republican, even though his election gives many of us hope for change.

My hope is that there will be, one day soon, dear Lord, less and less "one-of-a-kind" mayors - and governors and Presidents of The United States.

Change comes slowly, but when it does, it's a real cause for celebration and joy.

And, hope.

And, not just for a one-of-a-kind change, but the change that brings us closer to living into the image of the one-of-a-kind Realm of God, which is our sure and certain hope.

Monday, November 28, 2011

To Compensate a Mystery

Well, the fat has hit the fire, so to speak, and things are heating up.

The realities of implementing General Convention resolution A177 are now before many dioceses - my own included, which has postponed the whole debate from our Annual Convention in January until a specially called convention in June, 2012.

Yup. It's that red-hot.

You can read the entire resolution by clicking on the link above, but the purpose of the resolution was to establish a Denominational Health Plan for "all domestic dioceses, parishes, missions, and other ecclesiastical organizations or bodies subject to the authority of this church, for clergy and lay employees who are scheduled to work a minimum of 1,500 hours annually".

The idea is to provide health care plans for ALL church employees - lay and ordained - by reducing the overall cost of insurance, over time, through the establishment of a denominational health plan.

I supported Resolution A177. Lobbied for it. Although, I had my own misgivings about this part:
"each diocese has the right to make decisions as to plan design options offered by the plan administrator, minimum cost-sharing guidelines for parity between clergy and lay employees, domestic partner benefits in accordance with General Convention Resolution 1997-C024 and the participation of schools, day care facilities and other diocesan institutions (that is, other than the diocese itself and its parishes and missions) in The Denominational Health Plan;".
Turns out, my concerns were not without warrant. The reality of each diocese "making decisions" about "minimum cost-sharing guidelines for parity between clergy and lay employees" is beginning to hit the realities of tough budget decisions in a fragile economic climate.

LDS Statistics
Just this past weekend, the Diocese of Missouri passed a resolution to "pay 100% of the cost of individual health insurance coverage (selected from the offerings included in the Denominational Health Plan and administered by the Episcopal Church Medical Trust) for all lay and ordained employees working 1,500 or more hours annually, in accordance with Title I, Canon 8 of the Episcopal Church and to be implemented no later than January 1, 2013".

AND: " . . . that Congregations within the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri and the Offices of the Bishop shall not reduce existing coverage or increase the cost of existing coverage to employees to comply with A177 or this resolution;".

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Oregon, passed a resolution during their diocesan convention, November 10-12, "that congregations and missions are encouraged to assume 100% of cost related to clergy and lay employee health insurance premiums as has been tradition, however, they may exercise a premium sharing arrangement with employees who shall assume a maximum of 20%".

Ya gotta watch those "however's" and "may's" in any church resolution.

Apparently, the good folks in that diocese followed the lead of A177 which allowed dioceses to practice "local option" and allowed individual congregations to do the same.

A very pragmatic approach. Thoroughly Anglican.

And, I would submit, places the church on a very slippery slope when She's already in very turbulent baptismal waters.

I grow very weary of hearing discussions which compare clergy to teachers or employees in a not-for-profit "charitable" organization.

I'm tired, as well, of the "professionalism of the priesthood".

Weary and, quite frankly, frustrated and yes, angry.

I must say that I grit my teeth when I hear clergy talking about how many "units" they are working in determining whether or not they can "make" a meeting or be on a committee or do anything on their "day off" (in some places, known as "Sabbath time").

I understand that there are courses in some Episcopal Seminaries that have titles like "Career Paths for Priests". The course seeks to help seminarians find the good "jobs" that will lead to the better "jobs" - and, although it's not said outright (although, I understand it is discussed over coffee in the refectory) - might get them elected Dean or Bishop.

LDS Statistics
Back in the day - when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a seminarian - we devoured books like John Snow's, "Impossible Vocation" and Henri Nowen's "Wounded Healer" and anything Evelyn Underhill had to say about the church and the priesthood.

Mind you, the premises of these books have been misunderstood and abused. I am always stunned to hear aspirants for Holy Orders tell Commissions on Ministries that they are seeking ordination because it is their way of working out their issues of.... oh, name an issue... adult child of alcoholics, their own addiction issues, their childhood abuse. They sometimes point to Nowen's "Wounded Healer" as the basis of their claim.

That's NOT what Nowen was talking about! It's not about narcissism dressed up in clerical garb!

It's about living a life of the sacramental embodiment of a heart so filled with gratitude for what God has done in your life, through Christ Jesus, that you commit yourself to the standards of excellence and generosity of Jesus, so that whatever personal sacrifice is made to achieve excellence and generosity, it is made from that place of gratitude.

A priest's whole life is to be that "outward and visible" sign of the inward and spiritual grace of gratitude so as to inspire the church to "go thou and do likewise". The life of an ordained priest is to be that 'sacramental presence' of the 'praise and thanksgiving' of the 'everyday Eucharist' of "ourselves, our souls and bodies".

A priest is a "parson" - a person - with a very public practice of ministry who has been ordained by the institutional church to, in all things, "nourish Christ's people from the riches of his grace, and to strengthen them to glorify God in this life and the life to come." (BCP 531)

How does one "compensate" that?

We all want someone - a God re-presentative - to be there when the diagnosis of cancer comes, or to sit with our grandson in a jail cell at 3 AM because he has been picked up for distributing drugs, or to be the first person we see when our eyes open after open-heart surgery, or in family court when there's a messy divorce with child custody, or in the maternity ward celebrating after the birth of a much longed-for child, or to write the important reference for a much longed-for adopted child from another country, or to answer a difficult question from a six year old when his 40 something father dies in a car accident, or to do a graveside service for the family matriarch, or say some "meaningful words" in a country club setting of a Memorial Service or Wedding, or to testify in a public hearing about an issue of justice - pick one, any one, from marriage equality to a zoning issue or a labor union organization to whether or not a Walmart or Starbucks or Soup Kitchen or low income housing should come to your neighborhood - to be reassured that God is there, with us in the joy and pain and struggle of life.

To be a poet - an artist - making the connection between a spider's web and the fragile but incredible strength of the interconnected web of the human community across lines of ethnicity and race, gender and sexual orientation, age and physical ability.

But, we don't want to think about actually paying for that service because, well, it's vulgar and it spoils the romance of the moment.

We're the church, for Christ's sake! Aren't we even a little different from public schools or local service organizations or even the Red Cross - good as they may be?

Neither Nowen nor Snow or even Underhill promote the sacrificial life of priesthood as something one ought to give oneself to until the very marrow of their bones had been sucked dry. Indeed, if that happens, something else is going on and it's terribly wrong.

I fear that the whole "sacrificial priesthood" has been so misunderstood and abused as to find itself on the other end of the extreme in some discussions about "Clergy Wellness" and "units" and "Professionalism" and "Career Paths for Priests".

It's an understandable defense mechanism against the abuses of the sacrificial nature of the priesthood - both imposed and self-imposed - but it is based on a more secular, pragmatic, "professional" understanding of the role and function of the priest and not on the theology of what "the priesthood" is - and who "the priest" is - in the church, which, as St. Paul tells us, is the Body of Christ.

Which brings me to my point: I think this whole conversation is really just a symptom - like a cough is not a diagnosis but a symptom - of a larger issue about the current state and the ever-rapidly-approaching future of the church.

The easy, pragmatic path is to compare the church with any other not-for-profit organization and talk about how the church ought to "model compensation" in terms of "parity".

It's easy. It's pragmatic. And, it's wrong. Dangerously wrong. It's much more complicated than that.

Parity, I should note, is not a biblical - much less theological - term. Justice, on the other hand, is. Justice, however, does not mean sacrificing anyone for the sake of the institution. 

If anything, the institutional church - The Body of Christ - ought to sacrifice for the sake of its members. You know. The way Jesus did. Alas, it rarely does.  Unfortunately, the institutional church is all about self-preservation, which is why She is so often beset by mediocrity and injustice.

If there is any "modeling of compensation" to be done, why not look at how priests are compensated from church to church and diocese to diocese?

And then, let's look at how deans and bishops are "modeling compensation" for the rest of the church. I'm thinking we'll find such wide variables to make our heads spin, our stomachs ache and our hearts weep.

We are not just another "charitable organization" that does "good works". We do that, of course, but not so that we can "feel good about ourselves" in "giving back to others" and "making a difference". That happens as a byproduct of a life of faith lived in community, but it is not the raison d'etre for the church.

Which leads to the questions that, I think, are central to this discussion about "clergy compensation": "What IS the reason for the existence of the church? Today? In this day? In these times? Right here. Right now. And, for future generations of Christians?"

Talk to me - please - about what it means for YOU. Where you are. In your life. And then, let's talk about that in ever-widening circles of community.

And then, let's talk "church as institution" and about power and authority.

And then, let's talk about how we describe the church in that amazing prayer we all say at the Great Vigil of Easter (BCP 291): ".....Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery...." and what that really means for us.

How do we "compensate" a mystery if we can not even acknowledge it except in a prayer said once a year in a service that too many are "too busy" to attend because it's "such a long service" and never held an a time that is "convenient"?

Perhaps we will discover that mysteries don't look like hierarchies. They are more circular and amorphous in structure - if they have any structure at all.

However will we deal with THAT?

I've gone on too long - much longer than I intended - and I apologize for that, but I'm not taking back a single word. Nope, not one. Indeed, I have more to say but I'll leave it at that.

I hope this post provides the stimulus for conversations in ever-widening circles about the great mystery of the church and how it is the vehicle for "the effectual workings of (God's) providence" - BEFORE we get into discussions about compensation for clergy.

Oh, and here's a book for today's generation of clergy and laity which I think ought to be required reading before any discussion about the "business" of the church: "This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers" by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver.

The fat has hit the fire which has been smoldering for a long time, temporarily waylaid by our heated discussions about human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular.

I hope we can build on what we've learned in these years of discussion about sexuality and begin to talk about intimacy and power and authority.

There's a reason that religious communities take vows of "chastity, poverty and obedience".

Sex. Money. And, power.

These three issues will always be central to any discussion about what it means to be "church" - the Body of Christ.

Let the discussion begin.

I hope it will set our hearts on fire with a passion for the gospel.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The tender branch

"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near."

An odd scripture reading (Mark 13:24-37), in a way, for the first Sunday in Advent. A reminder of summer in the midst of Autumn. Winter is just around the corner. Christmas is less than a month away.

In the midst of ever shortening days - the dark late mornings and early evenings - the gradual hardening of the ground, and the falling of the leaves, Jesus calls us to look at things tender and ready to bring forth new life.

It's counter-intuitive. Indeed, that's way most of the gospels read.

Jesus is asking us to look for the tender branch in the midst of the hardness of the times of our lives.

It must be the Season of Advent.

I've been having a conversation with a male clergy colleague about Advent. He's a good guy. Truly. One of the best. Intelligent. I learn so much from him. Votes on the side of the angels in terms of all the justice issues.

We disagree about lots of things. Advent is one of them.

He sees it as a mini-Season of Penitence.

I see it as a Season of Anticipation.

He wants Liturgical Purple (the coming of Royalty).

I want Liturgical Blue (the color of Mary).

He sees it less about the Incarnation and more about the Resurrection, pointing out that "even" the RC Church does not require its members to believe the Nativity narratives in Luke and Matthew (chapter 1 & 2 - in case I didn't know).

I say, excuse me, but the Resurrection would be meaningless without the Incarnation.

He says, ah, excuse me, but the Resurrection is the foundation of our faith.

I say, are you kidding me? What would the resurrection be without the incarnation?

He says, but, but, but, scripture says......

It's the perennial fallback position of the insecure who know they can't win the argument.

Only a man would argue about the veracity of The Annunciation being on the 25th of March - exactly nine months to the day from the Nativity, when any woman who has ever been pregnant can tell you that it would take more than a miracle for that to happen.

Besides, those who read scripture-as-historical-fact say that Jesus was probably born sometime in March - not December and certainly not when there was "snow upon the ground". 

As Bill Stingfellow said, The Bible is a guide book. Not a rule book.

I really - Really - believe that you don't have to crawl on your knees a hundred miles to the manger in order to meet the living God.

I think it takes a lot more work than that.

I think you have to be as tender as the branch of a fig tree in the midst of winter to understand the deep, sensual, illogical longing for the impregnation of God.

You have to be a woman - or a man - tender with hope and desire for new life. Transformation. A new way of being male or female which surpasses understanding the limits of gender identification.

Tender. Pliable. In the very midst of the rigidity of social constructs.

Jesus said to his disciples, "In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 
Are you ready for Advent? Not penitent and on your knees but humble and pliable, like a tender branch, ready to bear figs?

I can't think of a time in my life when I was more tender - more open - than being pregnant and in labor. After my last child was born, I remember holding her in my arms and saying, "Hello. There you are! I've been waiting for you."

And then, I looked deep into her eyes, frowned and said, "It hurt to have you, did you know that? Sometimes, while I carried you and couldn't see you and then there were moments just now, before I looked into your eyes." And then, I smiled, tenderly, and said,  "But, I suspect you might say the same to me. This couldn't have been easy for you, either. Even so, you were so totally worth waiting for. I'm so glad you're finally here with me."

I suspect I'll say the same to Jesus, when I see Him in heaven.

And, Jesus might say the same to me. 

Pregnancy and childbirth are very messy, illogical affairs. You have to remain tender and pliable in the midst of the transformation that is happening to your body and your life.

Advent is much like that.

Ah, but the sweetness and goodness of the fruit you will bear is unlike any other.

So, get up off your knees. Unclutter your mind. Quiet your thoughts. Still your life. Remember to breathe deeply, relaxing your body and tending to your soul.

Most of all, try to enjoy this time of spiritual pregnancy as you feel new life growing within you, so that when the time of labor comes - you'll know not when - you can give your whole self to the process of new birth and open yourself to your new and renewed life in Christ.

"Keep awake,"  says Jesus, "for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly."

"And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Army of God

The Reverend Donald Spitz (photo: Steven M. Katz, Virginia Pilot)
A report from the Southern Poverty Law Center describes him as "a wild-eyed extremist."

I suppose that's as good a reason as any for me to have gotten this "godly admonition" in this morning's email from the Reverend Donald Spitz:
I just saw your church listed as a GAY friendly church on
To accept sexual deviancy as normal is a sin.

You put your soul in danger of eternal damnation for welcoming unrepentant homosexuals into God’s house. You blaspheme the Name of God.

Homosexuality should be criminalized. Homosexuals commit crimes against God, against nature, against the Holy Bible and against the human race.

Because of your church, I now know why God wrote:
Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Romans 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
SAY THIS PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am a sinner and am headed to eternal hell
because of my sins. I believe you died on the cross to take away my sins
and to take me to heaven. Jesus, I ask you now to come into my heart and
take away my sins and give me eternal life.
Well, there it is, then.

A quote from Holy Writ (in proper King James version) - which, apparently, "my" church has helped him to understand - some unsolicited advice, and a helpful little prayer to say.

Now, I don't know if, by referring to "my" church, he meant The Episcopal Church or the church where I was formerly rector. If you click on you have to click on a country and then a state and then scroll down to find my former church.

Which has nothing explicit on its website that would make it a "Gay church" - except that it still has something I wrote when I was there: "Absolutely everyone is welcome here."

It's pretty clear from the website that I'm no longer rector.  Indeed, they have a lovely new rector - who will celebrate the first anniversary of her ordination to the priesthood next month - who, herself, has a husband and three sons.

Things that make you go, "Hmmmmm . . . .".

However, if you check out HIS website - Army of God (which I advise you not to do, unless you are prepared to get quite ill) - it's all about "saving unborn babies". There's nothing there about being gay.

Oh, and there is an "Honor Roll of American Heroes" who have murdered doctors who perform abortions, including Scott Roeder, who killed Kansas Dr. George Tiller, and Paul Jennings Hill, who shot and killed clinic doctor John Britton and his bodyguard, James Barrett, and seriously wounded Barrett's wife, June in Pensacola, Florida.

Yes, way.

Now, I don't know what being an LGBT person has to do with reproductive rights, but if you're a "wild-eyed extremist", I suppose details don't matter much.

Spitz lives in rural, southern Chesapeake, Virginia, where he says he tries to demonstrate at least five times a week outside clinics where abortions are performed - usually by himself and without violence.

You know. It's just part of his spiritual discipline. His own "Rule of Life".

In a 2008 news article, he was described in this way,
"His friends and allies call him a religious man of passion. His detractors insist he remains a dangerous figure in a bloody, underground movement responsible for clinic bombings, killings of abortion doctors, and anthrax threats. Some even call him one of the worst possible names in this day and age: terrorist. He's proud to count as friends people who have been to prison - and one (at that time) who has been executed - for anti-abortion violence.

But, sitting in his home in rural, southern Chesapeake, Spitz seemed unfazed by the taunts.

"I think it's obvious, I'm not a terrorist," the 60-year-old said. "I'm just old Don doing my thing."
Spitz, a first-generation American, says that his strict Roman Catholic upbringing as a child started him on his path. His father was in the military and he moved across the country a great deal. Spitz himself served in the Navy - joining at age 18 - and served in Vietnam for two years.

He moved with his wife to Hampton Roads from Queens, N.Y., more than two decades ago. He has no children and refuses to talk about how he supports himself and his cause.

He says that he is an ordained minister, but he does not have congregation - except those who follow him on his website and his work in "Pro-Life Virginia" (not to be confused, apparently with the Virginia Society for Human Life). In New York, Spitz ran a street evangelism ministry on Times Square - again, without evidence of any support from any denomination or congregation.

He appeared before grand juries in Alexandria and Philadelphia during separate investigations into Hill and Clayton Waagner, the man who sent hundred of anthrax scare letters to abortion providers in 2001.

The letters, containing white powder, stated: "You have been exposed to anthrax. We are going to kill all of you. From the Army of God, Virginia Dare Chapter."

Spitz sees nothing wrong with Waagner's tactics.

"It's fine with me," he said. "My two goals in life is to stop unborn babies from being murdered and to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ."

So, perhaps this is the reason for this morning's email to me. Just spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Or, maybe it's "just old Don" doing his thing.

Which, he insists, is not about murdering anyone. And, if his preaching and teaching lead others to murder? Well, he says, they are just being "righteous". They are his "heroes".

Which is why I'm giving this guy "air time" on my blog.

Spitz says he has no illusions that he's going to change abortion laws. He says he's given up long ago the hope of a Supreme Court reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision legalizing abortion.

I suspect, with the defeat of the "Personhood" movement in Mississippi, and the inevitable momentum to defeat DOMA, combined with the growing support of Marriage Equality, he's expanding his ...."ministry".... to save the world from "teh Gay".

Indeed, I think he - or one of his supporters - "found" me on the internet and targeted selected me - and, no doubt, many other LGBT activists - for one of his friendly little emails.

I think it's pretty obvious that "old Don" Spitz is, in fact, a terrorist. Which is why it is a good thing that the FBI and organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Project keep a close eye on him.

I'm not worried, much less terrorized. I suspect his lawyers have advised him that, if he continues to inspire murder and acts of terrorism, there could be serious legal implications for him, as well.

I'm just keeping my eye on him.

He may consider himself part of an "Army of God" but he's really just a pathetic, pathological, narcissistic old man with a computer and access to the Internet.

Which is obviously dangerous enough to inspire some poor, unstable souls to do murder and commit acts of mayhem in the name of the "righteousness" of God.

So, "just old Don," here's my morning prayer for you. It's one of my favorite prayers written by Ted Loder. I remembered it and it reminded me of you.
I Want So To Belong

O God, I want so to belong;
     teach me to accept.
I want to be close;
     teach me to reach out.
I want a place where I am welcome;
     teach me to open my arms.
I want mercy;
     teach me to forgive.
I want beauty;
     teach me honesty.
I want peace;
     show me the eye of the storm.
I want truth;
     show me the way to question
          my unquestionable convictions.
I want joy;
     show me the way of deep commitment.
I want life;
     show me how to die.
And, let all the children in God's Army of Righteousness and Salvation who march on the paths of Mercy, Justice and Humility which lead to Divine Truth and Love, say, "Amen."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day, 2011

I don't know about you, but I love StoryPeople. No matter the subject, they always get right to the heart of it. I always admire anyone who can do that using very few words.

Here's today's story for Thanksgiving:
There are things you do because they feel right; they may make no sense; they may make no money; it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other; to eat each other's cooking; & say it was good.
I can't think of a better explanation of Thanksgiving, can you?

So, whether or not you are cooking for 25 or 30 and having the whole fandamily at your house - or a sister-in-law or parent's home - or having a small, intimate meal at home or in a restaurant, or taking one of your children or grandchildren to your favorite local diner, Thanksgiving is all about taking inventory of our lives, discovering our abundance and being grateful for what we have.

A very wise woman recently told me, "Gratitude is wanting what you already have."

That works for me!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Oh, behave!

Let me say a few things, right from Jump Street, about the November 19th episcopal election in the Diocese of New York.

I have no doubt that the Rev. Canon Andrew M. L. Dietsche, who has served faithfully and loyally as Canon Pastor to Bishop Mark Sisk and the clergy and lay leaders of the Diocese of New York, will not only continue to be pastoral, but he will also vote on the side of the angels on all the issues of justice.

He is almost universally described by those who know him as "a nice guy" with a "gentle spirit" who "really cares about the church".

I've not met the man, but it's pretty clear from his picture that the words are not too far off the mark.

Dietsche, a Poughkeepsie, NY resident who is currently on the diocesan staff as Canon for Pastoral Care, was elected on the third round of balloting by a majority of the active clergy (176 of a total 262) of the diocese and of delegates from all of its congregations (131 out of a 233). A brief biography of the bishop elect may be found here (where you will also find information on the other nominees and videos of all).

Bishop-elect Dietsche was one of two candidates nominated "from the floor" in addition to the five who were put forward at the end of August by a special Committee to Elect a Bishop, which began work following Bishop Sisk's call for an election at the diocese's 2010 annual convention last November.

You can learn more about the election process and other nominees by clicking here.

Let me also admit that I had my own "favorites" among the nominees. It's no secret that Tracy Lind was my absolute favorite. She's a skilled, talented, competent and proven leader. Her election would not only have been of great bishop for that diocese but for the whole church.

Which leads me to admit some things that just might ruffle some feathers. I've never been a "good girl" in the church. I've never really "behaved".

Or, as some bishops are wont to say, been a "good team player". Which means that you understand that they are the "captain" and you take your directions from them. Including keeping your mouth shut and not ruffling any feathers.

If that's what you expect of me, well, good luck with that. Be sure to have a comb and brush nearby after you read this.

What is disturbing and, in fact, deflating about the NY election is that, in one of the most diverse dioceses in The Episcopal Church - indeed, I dare say, the Anglican Communion - the good people of the Diocese of NY elected someone who looks for all the world like The Episcopal Church of Olde.

Nice, heterosexual, white guy - complete with beard - who bears little resemblance with the majority of the people in that diocese.

It's not like the candidates didn't offer diversity. They did. So, I'm wondering what the heck happened. Apparently, so are a lot of people who were there. And, voted.

One theory is that some folks followed the "First Ballot Is Always A Crap Shoot Theory of Episcopal Elections".  People vote for the "sentimental favorite" or for their committed candidate, or to make a statement of sorts, but mostly, they want to see how the first ballot goes before making a decision.

People who subscribe to the "First Ballot Crap Shoot Theory" are often those who haven't done their homework - read: political campaigning.

Oh, I know. I know. No one campaigns during an episcopal election because it's not political. It's spiritual and prayerful. If you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

Don't even get me started by having to ask where the caucuses of the LGBT people, Women or People of Color were in all this.

Bishops are rarely elected on the first ballot, although it has been known to happen. This is often seen as a clear mystical working and a strong statement from God, "himself", that this candidate is, in fact, God's choice.

Others see it as the predictable result of a 'crap shoot'. "It" happens when some folks play fast and loose with the power of their vote.

My recollection of episcopal elections in the Diocese of NY is that they tend to go on a bit. Days, even. So, I'm sure most folks felt comfortable with that first ballot as being a window into where folks were leaning, never thinking for a red hot NY minute that momentum would build and the election would be over in three ballots.

Let those who have ears, hear. And, learn.

I also think that the good people of the Diocese of NY forgot that, when we ordain a priest or elect a bishop, we are not just doing so for the diocese. We ordain priests and consecrate bishops for the whole church.

Which is why the election process is not complete until a majority of the diocesan bishops and standing committees in The Episcopal Church give their consent to the election, and the Presiding Bishop must certify that this is so.

What The Episcopal Church ( and all of the dioceses and provinces) needs right now is bold leaders who are willing to take the risks of leading the church into a future which will hold challenges on every level of institutional governance.

I'm not saying that the new bishop-elect will not be that leader. Eventually. It's just that nothing in his portfolio gives that indication.

Then again, I am remembering that the election of Edmond Browning as Presiding Bishop gave rise to a similar sense of deflation and disappointment.

No one has a larger pastor's heart than Ed Browning. When he said, "In this church of ours, there will be no outcasts" he said that from a place of absolute authenticity as a pastor.

What caused some of us to raise a left eyebrow in suspicion was that there was nothing in his portfolio to back up the claim that he had the "right stuff" to live out that bold statement and lead us into the future of the church.

For the first third of his episcopacy, he was a disappointment to many of us. I think the turning point was the Ellen Cooke debacle - the former treasurer of The Episcopal Church who was found to have systematically diverted 2.2 million dollars from the PB's discretionary fund to renovate the manse in Virginia where she and her husband, a priest at St. Luke's, Montclair, NJ, were planning to live.

That deep betrayal changed Ed Browning and emboldened him to be one of the great leaders in The Episcopal Church. He was able to see much more clearly and take important stands for what was right - no matter the cost.

Perhaps God has something similar in mind for New York. I'm waiting to be pleasantly surprised.

Meanwhile, you'll excuse me if I continue to sit with my dismay and distrust while my sense of disappointment and deflation linger around the corners of my heart.

Indeed, if the Diocese of NY went for what was - at least at all outward appearances - to be the "safe choice," I'm wondering if the Spirit isn't sending us a message in all this.

I'm wondering if we ought to depend on bishops to be the leaders in the institutional church to bring about the change we so desperately need.

I'm wondering if we aren't electing the very reasons the institutional church MUST change or die.

I'm wondering if we aren't electing hospice chaplains to tend to a church that is dying to be reborn.

I'm wondering if change is going to come, it's going to come from the ground up - and, in fact, outside the grounds of the institutional church.

I'm wondering if change can happen in straight lines of institutional authority, or if it happens best in small circles of people, whispering among themselves.

Breathing together.

A "con-spiracy", you know?

I'm wondering if "revolutions" don't always begin in small circles comprised of people who don't behave in the way the institution or "powers that be" expect or want us to.

Not "team players".

Uppity women - and men - who question the status quo and challenge the way things are and always have been, world without end, amen.

People who look around at all the problems and challenges and hear people ask, "What are we to make of this?" and hear in that a call to enter into the process of being Co-Creators with God.

To "make" something out of what appears, at least at first, to be chaos. You know. Just like it was at the beginning of creation when God breathed over the chaos and formed "this planet earth, our island home".

People who listen to those around them who say, "We're headed for disaster!" and change the narrative by asking, "But, what if we're headed for an adventure?"

You know. Dreamers. Visionaries. Risk takers. Fools for Christ.

You know. What the Church in every diocese in The Episcopal Church in every province of the Anglican Communion desperately needs right now.

Leaders who are less interested in either preserving or making history, but listening to cries of the people who occupy the present reality and commit themselves to molding the future of the church.

As for me, I'm not holding my breath for any other election as I did for the Diocese of NY. Instead, I will continue to think globally and work locally and believe more in Jesus and less in the institutional church.

I think I can accomplish more this way.

Besides, this way, I don't have to behave.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Body Maps

Several of you have written to me - offline - to ask, "What the heck are body maps?"

I used them as the "point of activity" during the three-day retreat on Narrative Leadership I lead for the interns who are part of the Episcopal Service Corp Program known as Newark ACTS.

I chose 'body maps' for several reasons.

First of all, I think we are growing more and more disembodied as a people in a church which professes to be incarnational. We don't always remember the mind-body-spirit connection. We forget that our bodies have great wisdom.

As I learned from a very wise Hawai'ian woman named Auntie Margaret:
Your mind can play tricks with you.
Your heart can deceive you.
Your body never lies.
Auntie Margaret is a kahuna - a spiritual healer - from whom I first learned the process of forgiveness and reconciliation in the art form known as ho'oponopono.

Auntie Margaret incorporates deep massage when she does a ho'oponopono session because she believes that we carry our stories deep in the muscles and sinews and joints and bones of our body.

In massaging the body, Auntie Margaret teaches, we are better able to locate and then release, if necessary, the places where our stories need to be unlocked and unleashed so that we can find healing and reconciliation.

No, we didn't do massage, but I wanted to take the first step in helping the interns tell their stories and locate where they might be residing in their body through a process of relaxation and guided meditation.

We began by getting large paper rolls of table covers and laying them down on the floor. Then, each person took a turn laying down on the paper and having another intern trace the outline of their body on the paper.

After each aspect of Narrative Leadership I was presenting, we stopped and located the stories on our body map and drew them in, symbolically or with letters or words.

As you can see from the pictures I've posted, some of them really got into it. Others, not so much.

It wasn't that they didn't like it. In fact, I think most of them did - if nothing else than the fact that I shut up for 15-20 minutes and they could just doodle on their body maps.

Some were, well, shy about their art.

"But, I can't draw," they would moan.

"That isn't the point," I'd say.

Even though they knew that, it was still difficult to engage in a visual art form when you believe that you can't express what you're thinking and feeling in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Blessed are those who are willing to risk for the sake of learning, for they will receive their reward. 

More to the point, the purpose of the exercise was to be more in tune with their bodies and the message their bodies give to them. Like, when they find themselves saying,

"It makes me sick to my stomach." Or,

"What a pain in the neck!" Or,

"It made me grit my teeth."

I hope this exercise will help them explore the metaphor their body is giving them as a clue to the stories that contain those emotions and where they may be found in their bodies.

Why? Well, because one of the important aspects of being a good leader is knowing yourself and being connected to your own story - and, in fact, stories. 

I happen to think that our bodies are very wise and can help us find the resources and tools we need to dive deeper into our spiritual wells and surface as better Servant Leaders.

A good leader is a good listener.

We need to be able to listen to our own cries before we can hear the cries of the people we are called to serve.

You know. So we can get our own "stuff" out of the way and listen to what's really going on.

You know. So we can serve by leading. In community.

I'm not going to answer all your questions about that in this wee post. It would take me three days of a retreat for you to understand it all. Or, at least, begin to understand.

My hope is that, having a body map will make the journey into self-knowledge and deep wisdom a bit less formidable, helping a generation of Servant Leaders become more of who God is calling them to be and what God is calling them to do in this world.

Well, at least ten of them.

In the Newark ACTS Project.

Of the Episcopal Service Corps.

One body map at a time.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Yesterday, I said I was terrified to be spending three days on retreat with ten 20-somethings called the Newark ACTS Interns.

Today, I am no longer terrified.

I am in awe.

These are some really incredible young people. Bright. Passionate. Funny. Filled, simultaneously, with revolutionary ideas as well as aspirations for a successful life that pretty much mirrors the look of the affluence they would revolt against.

You know: normal young 20-somethings.

The focus of our work is on Narrative Leadership, which is to say that we are looking at our own stories and the stories of the people we live and work with to discover how it is we are - or, are not - living out the Gospel story. 

And, how we can change that narrative.

I've decided to call this "iStory" - sort of in the way we have an iPhone, and an iPad, and an iPod - but, in googling the term, found that, of course, there already is such a thing.

According to Wiki, "iStories is now a program especially created to allow multimedia story telling. Images, text, music and sounds can all be combined to create excellent online resources iStories come in many genres, such as adventure, horror, combat, quiz games, or just simple fun. Anyone can make an iStory about anything, as long as they have a program like iWriter, iStory Creator or are familiar with the use of basic HTML coding."

Well, I don't have the program iWriter and I have no idea about the use of basic HTML coding, but I think iStory is a good way to talk about Narrative Leadership as a post-modern concept that is as ancient as Holy Writ.

Narrative Leadership is a term used by such places as the Alban Institute as a tool of congregational renewal by seeking to "develop a conversation between narrative theorists and congregational leaders that focuses on the practices of Pastor as Storyteller and Congregation as Storyteller, and how these practices interact to provide resources for congregational transformation".

I'm using some Larry Goleman's stuff on Tragic, Romantic, Comic, and Ironic stories, and how those iStories attract us to certain communities of faith whose liturgy and mission live out that sense of our iStories. 

I'm also using a lot of Diana Butler Bass' stuff on Narrative Leadership, especially her story Titanic or Mayflower? in her book "Christianity for the Rest of Us" in which she writes:
"The Titanic storyline dominates how we talk about mainline Protestantism. But what if the Titanic is not the story? A better story may be that of the Mayflower. In this story, a boat of pilgrims finds itself in uncharted seas, blown off course by a storm and heading for an unnamed country. Like the Titanic story there is a sense of urgency, confusion and fear, but the ship is still intact. The leaders are not loading lifeboats, they are looking for land while they navigate the choppy and unfamiliar seas. In the Titanic story, leaders lead while the ship is sinking. In the Mayflower story, leaders stabilize a pilgrim community as they head into an unknown world. Is the story a crisis or an adventure? Titanic or Mayflower?"
I think the way to develop Narrative Leadership is to develop iStory - to learn how it is to listen deeply to our own stories in order that we might be better able to listen to the stories of others and discern our common story in light of the Gospel story.

I say that because I have come to believe that the best characteristic of a leader in community is the ability to listen. And, if we can't hear our own stories, how can we hear the stories of others?

So, as I've told some of my own stories and listened deeply to the stories of the 20-somethings in this group, what I'm hearing is a passion for transformation and justice that plays on the strings of my heart and causes my spirit to sing.

It is both humbling and exhilarating. I feel as if I've got an exclusive look into the window of the future, and the view is pretty amazing.

Indeed, I am in awe.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Retreat: Narrative Leadership

Cross Roads Conference Center, Port Murray, NJ
I won’t be blogging much for the next few days. I’m leading a three-day retreat for a group of 20-somethings know as the Newark ACTS Interns. These are ten young people, ages 22-26, fresh out of college, who know that they want to stay in the city and work for Jesus.

To be absolutely honest, I’m absolutely terrified.

Oh, I’ve done retreats before. Lots of them. Usually Friday night and all day Saturday.

I did a one-day retreat for last year’s Intern’s group. That was one day. I thought that was enough. Turns out, one of the Interns from last year is doing another internship year. He and a few of his classmates said that this year, the whole Fall retreat should be with me.

I’m so glad they have that confidence in me, but truth is, I’ve never done a three-day retreat. With anyone. Ever before.

So, there’s that.

The thing of it is that this age group is my absolute favorite group. I love 20 and 30-somethings. Which is why I’m terrified.

What I love most about this age group is their curiosity and quest for learning. I love the fact that they have a very keen instinct for bullshit, which is accompanied by zero tolerance for it.

No one can sniff out a phony like a 20 or 30-something. They see. They know. If what you say doesn’t come from a place of truth in you – if it isn’t authentic – if it doesn’t have any integrity – well, you’re sunk.

Now, anyone can pull that off for a few hours. Even a day. But, three whole days. Well, that’s whole ‘nother story, isn’t it?

So, part of the reason I’ve been asked to do this retreat is because of the work I’ve been doing on Narrative Leadership. It’s really about looking at the stories of our lives and listening deep for the stories in the lives of others so, together, we can enter into a co-creative process of living into God’s unfolding story for the world.

I first came upon this idea years ago when I was in West Africa. We were way in the north of Ghana – in a remote village outside of Tamale – where there is an even greater paucity of what we euphemistically call “modern conveniences”.

You know, like running water and electricity.

Indeed, one of the villages I visited consisted of mud huts with thatched roofs. I thought I was in a middle of a picture right from the pages of National Geographic. Little naked kids running around. Women pounding grain. Women walking the dirt roads carrying 40 gallon cans of water on their heads and bundles of branches on their backs and suckling infants strapped on the front of their bodies.

I went with some of the women to see the newest modern device – a gift from a church in America – which was the cause for great joy. A pump had been installed at the well, so no longer did women have to lug heavy buckets from the bottom of the well before they dumped them into the 40 gallon barrels which they carried on their heads. Now, through the miracle of modern engineering, they could simply push down on the handle of the pump and – voila! – there was water.

I marveled with them and their joyful laughter as one woman gathered us all around and – like a miracle no one grew tired of seeing – paused a bit and looked wondrously around at us before she began pumping the handle. A few pumps later and – great gasps, and ooohs and ahhhs – water began flowing.

Everyone applauded!

As we talked about this miraculous sight, I began talking with one woman who awaited her turn at the pump while others engaged in their own conversation. I allowed as how we didn’t have such a thing in my home.

Oh, she said, how can this be? You are American, right?

Yes, I said, but in America, most people have faucets and sinks.

She looked confused. What is this, she wanted to know.

So I explained that every home has water that is piped in from our own wells, or from a common water source.

Her reaction surprised me. She was once part amazed and one part sad.

So, she asked, you do not have to go to the well for your water? No, I said. We just simply turn on the faucet and the water flows out.

Now, she looked perplexed, but wanting to be polite, she kept her silence.

What is it, I asked. What’s wrong?

And, that’s when she stunned me. Well, she said, clearly feeling sorry for me, if you do not go to the well for your water, how do you tell your stories?

Imagine! Here was this woman living in abject poverty, without benefit of “modern conveniences” and she was feeling sorry for me!

I’ve come to understand that listening deeply to each other’s stories is one of the key components of leadership. Our best tools of leadership are curiosity and deep listening – to the other as well as our own stories.

Truth be told, I’m both terrified and excited by what I’m about to learn from these 10 young people. What I know about the human body is that, whether one is frightened or excited, the body’s reaction is the same.

Adrenaline begins to pump. The hands get sweaty. Your pulse increases as do your respirations. The thought process is either cloudy or heightened and your perception of reality changes.

Fear or excitement will do that to the body.  It is your brain, however, that decides whether or not to be afraid or excited.

It's a choice.

So, I’m choosing excitement.

But, a few "arrow prayers" headed my way wouldn't hurt, you know?

As that quintessential storyteller, Garrison Keillor would say, "Be well. Do good work. Keep in touch."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Muscular Christianity

I - like just about everyone, everywhere - am simultaneously shaking my head and wringing my hands over the unfolding story coming from Penn State.

It seems as if everyone involved did what was required by the letter of the law but not in the spirit of moral obligation to protect the kids.

Certainly there is, now, ample evidence that coach Jerry Sandusky actually admitted to breaking the law, since it's illegal for professional mentors in Pennsylvania to shower naked with their charges (DUH!).

Yes, yes. I heard the interview the other night with Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State coach accused of heinous sexual abuse, and Bob Costas, NBC Sports Commentator.

He claims he's innocent. Of course he does. Claims the rhythmic "slap, slap, slap" that was heard from the locker room was just Sandusky and a 10 year old boy playing "towel slap" while naked in the shower.

Never mind that he was naked and alone in the shower with a 10 year old boy. He admits that was "wrong". (Gee, ya think?) And, yes, he "occasionally" hugged kids. While they were naked. In showers. Occasionally patting their upper thighs. Snapping towels. Hugging them. But all "without intent of sexual contact."

See? It was nothing more than a little innocent "horseplay" in the shower.

You know. Just normal "guy stuff".

Is he sexually attracted to young boys? No, Sandusky said to Costas. But only after a long pause. Seventeen seconds, the media is reporting.

Sandusky answered,
"Am I sexually attracted to underage boys … sexually attracted? You know … no, I enjoy young people … I love to be around them. Umm, I, no … I'm not sexually attracted to young boys."

Besides, in this country, you are "innocent until proven guilty", which, in this case - as in others that involve "celebrities" - means that you have access to a team of lawyers and 'spin doctors' and 'wordsmithers' who can work their way around the letter of the law but ultimately leave us wanting for the moral obligation required of all public figures.

I mean, his defense attorney is Mark Geragos, who successfully helped to defend the late singer Michael Jackson against child-abuse charges.

You figure it out.

So, here's the thing: I understand the whole "football world".

Well, no, I don't exactly.

I know that it has it's own world, it's own culture, it's own language. It's own rituals. It's own "spirituality". I don't understand it, but I know it to be true.

I watch my family get all hyped up before - and during, and, yes after - a game. I hear them talk about it with much the same enthusiasm and passion I speak about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I get it.

That being said, I don't understand the whole "Muscular Christianity" thing.

Now, the term "muscular Christianity" actually has its roots in Anglican theology.
I'll give you a little taste of it from "The Victorian Web": 
Beginning at mid-century, the broadchurch (or liberal) Anglican F.D. Maurice and his pupil, the Rev. Charles Kingsley, began espousing the virtues of muscular Christianity.

Maurice and Kingsley, like many Englishmen, worried that the Anglican Church and Britain were suffering from the evils of industrialization: among others, growing slums, poverty, secularization, and urban decay.

Life was a battle, Kingsley argued, and Christians should be at the center, actively employing their "manfulness" and "usefulness" against the evils of industrialization.

Kingsley doubted that traditional morality would be able to cope with the effects of industrialization unless the Church reformed itself.

He also deplored what many considered to be increasingly "suffocating effeminacy" within the Anglican Church, and believed that muscular Christian men equipped with a cohesive philosophy consisting equally of athleticism, patriotism, and religion could rescue Church and country from sloth.
That's not what I mean - especially the part about "suffocating effeminacy", whatever that means. 

No, wait. I think I do know what that means and I think it has something to do - at least in part - with what I heard happen just before the Nebraska-Penn State game on Saturday.

Actually, I'm referring to the sort of "muscular Christianity" I heard in the prayer given by Nebraska Coach, Ron Brown, at the beginning of Saturday's game - the first football game after Coach Joe Paterno and the President of Penn State were fired.

You can listen to a clip of the raw video of the prayer here.

Here are the words that I find most disturbing:
“There are a lot of little boys around the country, today, who are watching this game. And they’re trying to figure out what the definition of manhood is all about. Father, this is it right here. I pray that this game will be a training ground of what manhood looks like.”

I mean, what was THAT all about?

Is that what manhood is all about? A great huddle of men, on their knees, praying to God? Before an often violent game that more often than not leaves many young men with concussions and head injuries? A game that is a modern version of gladiators in a spectators ring?

Is that what "a training ground of what manhood" looks like?

Silly me. I thought it was just a game of college football.

Okay, so in the past Brown’s faith has come under negative scrutiny. He claims to have been passed up for a head coaching job at Stanford University because he, like many conservative evangelicals, believes that gay sex is sinful.

Is that what Brown was praying about? A hint? . . . A suggestion? . . . Another ignorant, uneducated predictably Evangelical link . . . between pedophilia and homosexuality?

Say it ain't so, Joe!

If Jerry Sandusky is guilty of the allegations against him, that doesn't make him a "homosexual person".

It makes him a pervert.

Big difference.

Get it?

No? Then when, exactly, will you get it?

Oh, probably about the same time the Roman Catholics do.

Did you see this? Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Penn State crisis reminds the bishops of their own failures to protect children.
"It reopens a wound in the church as well," said Dolan, the New York archbishop. "We once again hang our heads in shame."

"Our love and prayers go out to the victims, the families and the whole Penn State community," Dolan said. "I know it's a bit of a cliche, but we know what you're going through."
Cliche? Gee, ya think?

I don't know if Jerry Sandusky is Roman Catholic, but is sure sounds to me like two brothers consoling themselves in their own corner of the hell of their own making.

I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm a woman. I don't understand this whole thing about using sex as a tool of power.

I don't understand child sexual abuse.

I don't understand rape.

I don't understand "domestic violence".

Indeed, I reject them all as pathetic last gasps of a desperate attempt to hold onto the dominant cultural paradigm.

I suspect what we need is not a "muscular Christianity" and its critique of a "suffocating effeminacy".

Rather, what we need is a Christianity which equips the people of God with a "cohesive philosophy" consisting equally of compassion, accountability and responsibility which could rescue Church and country from sloth.

I'm not going to hold my breath until that happens.

Meanwhile, I'll just simultaneously shake my head and wring my hands.

And, pray for the victims.  And, work like hell to make sure there is zero tolerance at every level for sexual violence and sexual predators of young children.

Because prayer and service to God's people - especially the most vulnerable among us - are the two strongest muscles a Christian can have.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy General Convention?

I keep hearing rumors of a movement to "Occupy General Convention".

The impulse, as I understand it, comes from the desire to raise some of the issues of church governance which have surfaced as critical to the life of the church that have some startling parallels to the issues of our national governance which have been raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Some are supportive and others are appalled by such proposals as Bishop Saul's proposal to call a Special Convention 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."

Isn't that a bit like putting the organizational cart before the horse of mission, some ask? One organizes and builds structures to support mission, not the other way 'round. Let mission spring up from the grassroots, not be imposed by the institution.  Others point to the decline in membership and finances and think we need to take action now. 

Many are also concerned about the direction of the proposed changes in Title IV concerning how we deal with "clergy misconduct". Indeed, the dioceses of Dallas, South Carolina and Western Louisiana have expressed concern because they feel the revised Title IV grants greater authority to the church’s presiding bishop over other bishops, and to diocesan bishops over their clergy, amid accusations of misconduct.

Still others are concerned about the ramifications of General Convention Resolution A177 which establishes a Denominational Health Care Plan for all clergy and laity employed 1,500 hours per year (30 hours / week).

The idea was to lower costs of health care insurance so that ALL employees (lay and ordained) would be covered equally. The problem comes with implementation in dioceses and congregations, some of whom are either reducing hours below the required minimum (and thus avoid the cost entirely) or proposing that clergy "cost share" by contributing 10-20% of the cost of an individual health care plan so congregations can better afford to pay the now mandated health care costs of their lay employees.

And then, there's the Anglican Covenant which also centralizes power within the institutional church in general and with the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular.  This piece at "Eruptions at the Foot of the Volcano" pretty much sums up some the concerns.

These are just some of the tips of the iceberg in the church sometimes known as "God's Frozen Chosen".

This is being discussed in some places on FaceBook as well as in the comment section on some blogs.

Just as Occupy Wall Street and other "occupy" movements in other cities are about calling us to examine and reexamine the institutions that are foundational to democracy - government, health care, education, banking and taxation (for starters) - the rumored OGG movement seeks to call us to examine and reexamine the institutional church and the programs and personnel that are foundational to our faith: the four orders of ministry, General (and Diocesan) Convention, as well as ways to do the mission of the gospel.

That's just for starters.

Some are asking questions like,

"Is the church 'just' another not-for-profit organization?

Are those we hire and pay for their services - bishops, priests, and some deacons and laity - simply employees who are analogous to teachers, social workers, and other employees in not-for-profit agencies?

What about 'sacramental grace'? Does that make a difference? How is the sacramental grace of baptism different from the sacramental grace of ordination?

If the church considers herself 'not-for-profit' organization only and structures herself accordingly, how long will it take before we become 'not-for-prophet'?"

Here are some comments from a thread on FaceBook about a proposed OGC:
"I don't experience GC as the money changers in the temple-just as a big celebration of how lame we can be."

"Wouldn't that be kind of like occupying a funeral?"

"The occupiers of Wall Street and their compatriots have a better chance of getting Fortune 500 executives to give half of their stock options to charity than GC occupiers would have at getting deputies to forego this triennial, multi-million dollar, quad-legislative debacle and donate the savings to efforts addressing just one of the Millennium Development Goals (remember those?)"
I know what you're thinking but the essence of this rumored, proposed OGC movement is not about complaining and whining.

It's not about 'hijacking' GC or The Episcopal Church or making a "pro-union" point or spending thousands of dollars to counter the millions of dollars it costs to have GC.

No one I've heard propose a OGC movement "hates" TEC. Indeed, they would OGC because they love it but are disgusted with it at present, in the same way that people who get involved in the OWS movement love democracy so much they want us to return to it.

Like OWS, there is no OGC "Bill of Particulars".

I'm hearing folks say that people will come and create an emergency-style alternative community of justice, live out what they say they believe and practice aspects of what they dream, and from that, a new vision of The Episcopal Church will emerge.

I'm hearing folks suggest that it might be done in tents, hallways, the property of The Cathedral.

I don't know if these rumors will find their way into reality but I, for one, find myself excited by the possibility.

I think it's a brilliant idea, calling us back to the foundations of our communities of faith which is not about institutions but about serving the people of God.

We've lost sight of that vision, of late. It's been easy to do, given all the internal struggle we've been through as an institution and as a people of God.

Perhaps a movement like "Occupy General Convention" is just the thing we need to get us to refocus and revision ourselves.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.