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

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Leadership with integrity

At 3 pm ET on April 21st, the Board of Directors of the organization known as (no) Integrity USA called a meeting for 8 pm ET that same day. The only agenda item was "Vacate the Office of Stakeholder's Council Chair". The meeting lasted seven (7) minutes.

To the best of his ability, Michael Backlund, the Duly elected Chair of the Stakeholder's Council, remembers the motion, moved by Ronnie Ward, the man who identifies himself as President of (no) Integrity, as this:
"The Board of Directors of Integrity Inc. upon the finding for cause removes Michael Backlund as Chair of the Stakeholders' Council based on his advocating for the demise of Integrity Inc. and for excluding stakeholders from the council." 
It was seconded by Paul Horner, VP for National Affairs. There was no discussion. The motion was carried 5 to 1. No regret was expressed. No good wishes. No thanks for 2 1/2 months in office, attempting to do his job in touching base with the membership but being thwarted at every attempt by a Secretary who refused to give him the membership list and a President who forbade him from being in touch with any members.

It should be noted that the call to "sunset" or "sheet-cake" Integrity has been voiced by many members, former members, former board members, former chapter conveners, many concerned straight allies, many Queer people who are not Episcopalian, and six of the nine living former presidents of Integrity.

It should also be noted that whenever anyone expresses an opinion that differs from the one held by board members, they are silenced, dismissed, or banished.

So, in many ways, no one was really surprised by the action of the board to remove Dr. Backlund.

However the outrage expressed by members and stakeholders to this injustice and flagrant abuse of by-laws was swift and loud. The Rev Canon Jeff Martinhauk, former Treasurer, Integrity USA, and Staff Liaison Integrity, St. Paul's Cathedral, San Diego, CA, joined with his colleagues in writing an open letter to the Board of Integrity.

You can find that letter HERE  I posted it on my blog with Jeff's permission so it would get a wider audience. Indeed, that post has been accessed over 700 times.

The Rev Michael Backlund, PhD
Ronnie Ward, who identifies himself as President of Integrity but was not actually voted to that office (he ran unopposed because the other candidate was ruled not a member in good standing - but was), has responded on behalf of the board.

Jeff has given me permission to post that letter here. You will find it immediately after Jeff's letter, below.

Jeff has again requested that I post his letter on my blog as it will receive a wider audience. This is part of a continued effort to keep the governance of Integrity USA transparent and accountable to its stakeholders.

I am happy to do so as Jeff and Michael represent to me the best of leadership with integrity, for Integrity USA.

If you prefer to read this in order, Jeff's Open Letter can be found HERE.

Ronnie's response can be found at the end of this post.

Here's is Jeff's response letter to Ronnie's response:

I received Mr. Ward’s April 24, 2020 response to our letter of April 22, 2020.

I note that your letter dodges the serious issues raised and is nonresponsive to the substance of the letter.  Namely:

1.       The board has neither the authority nor the cause to vacate the Stakeholders’ Council chair. Illinois statutes state:

(805 ILCS 105/108.35) (from Ch. 32, par. 108.35)
    Sec. 108.35. Removal of directors.
      (c) In the case of a corporation with members entitled to vote for directors, no director may be removed, except as follows:
(2) No director shall be removed at a meeting of
members entitled to vote unless the written notice of such meeting is delivered to all members entitled to vote on removal of directors. Such notice shall state that a purpose of the meeting is to vote upon the removal of one or more directors named in the notice. Only the named director or directors may be removed at such meeting.
(4) If a director is elected by a class of voting
members entitled to vote, directors or other electors, that director may be removed only by the same class of members entitled to vote, directors or electors which elected the director.

Bylaws do not overrule the above statutes, and the Integrity bylaws surrounding the Stakeholder’s Chair are vague at best.  Accordingly, the action taken by the board in vacating the Stakeholder’s Chair violates Illinois statutes.

Even if the board was found to have the legal authority to vacate the office, the Board did not have cause.  The Rev. Michael Backlund was pursuing his fiduciary duty in attempting to persuade the board to engage the question of Integrity USA’s feasibility as an ongoing concern.  The fiduciary duty of care requires each board member to evaluate the organization’s ability to survive as a going concern, a legitimate question for Integrity raised by many members and former presidents of Integrity.  The Board’s refusal to engage the question has further raised speculation that Integrity is not viable as an ongoing concern.  Fr. Backlund was a responsible fiduciary in pursuing the question in accordance with those concerns.  To avoid the question, as other board members have done, is a breach of fiduciary responsibility and contributes to reduced membership, instability of the organization, and further raises the question of whether Integrity is viable as a going concern.
The Rev. Michael Backlund must be reinstated immediately.

the Rev Canon Jeff Martinhauk
2.       The Stakeholder’s Council has not met to discuss these concerns and elect a Vice-Chair.  The Vice-Chair of the Stakeholders’ Council (the successor to the Stakeholders’ Chair) may not be appointed by the Board.  The Board’s claim that it will appoint a successor to the Stakeholders’ Chair position is a flagrant violation of the bylaws.  The Board must convene the Stakeholders’ Council by May 6 to remedy this inappropriate interference in the governance prescribed only to the Stakeholders’ Council. As directed in the bylaws, Board members do not have a vote in the affairs of the Stakeholders’ Council but may, from time to time, bring matters to the Council for consideration.  The Agenda is to be set by the Stakeholders’ Council Chair.

3.       The board must engage its membership and open board meetings to allow for normal governance with appropriate input from all classes of membership.  The board must call for an open board meeting with all classes of membership no later than May 22, 2020 to allow all classes of membership and stakeholders to hold the board accountable to the questions surrounding transparency and governance.

Should the deadlines pass without action, I will seek remedy by filing a formal complaint with the Illinois Attorney General and other legal recourse as allowed under Illinois law.


The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk

This response is an open letter in a continued effort to keep the governance of Integrity USA transparent and accountable to its stakeholders.


The Rev Jeff Martinhauk
Canon, St Paul's Cathedral
Episcopal Diocese of San Diego

Dear Rev Martinhauk ..

I'm in receipt of your email dated April 22, 2020 regarding your "Open Letter To the Board of Integrity USA."  You did not make any effort to speak to me or email me prior to your "open letter being publicized widely."  Had you been in contact, I'd be happy to discuss your concerns.   I've attached relevant sections of the Bylaws of Integrity, Inc. related to issues raised in your letter and email.  It's my hope that these provision of the Bylaws demonstrated the basis upon which the Board of Directors of Integrity has taken action.

Ronnie Ward
I'm surprised to see that you have used your ordained position of Rev Canon at St Paul's Cathedral San Diego, its web servers and email service to initiate this communication.  Not sure why you decided to send your letter to Bishops that are not involved with the decision making process of Integrity, Inc.  It appears that for each member of the Integrity Board of Directors that you sent your letter to the Bishops of their respective Dioceses.  That you included these Bishops indicates a purpose beyond a reasonable conversation seeking to resolve your concerns.

I believe that your intent was to create a hostile environment by engaging in intimidation and harassment.  Given that I'm a Baptized member in good standing with the Episcopal Church, it seems to me that you are engaging in activity that is "unbecoming a member of the clergy" as defined by Title IV of the Canons of the Episcopal Church.  Also, here is a link to the California penal code on use of electronic communications for the purposes of harassment and bullying.

I'm requesting that you cease using your ordained position to publicly shame and disparage the members of the Board of Directors of Integrity. 

Ronnie Ward, Esq.
President, Integrity, Inc.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Words fail

One of the alleged roads to Emmaus
A Sermon preached via Facebook Live
Easter III - April 26, 2020

On 20 August 1875, ten nuns left their monastery in Pau (France) to found a Carmel in Bethlehem. One of them, Marie of Jesus Crucified (Mariam Baouardy), was really the soul of the little group.

It was Mariam who, feeling led by the Lord, indicated the place of the future monastery, on top of the hill of David, which is in front of the hill of the Nativity.

The foundation stone was laid on 24 March 1876. While the monastery was being built, the community lived in a temporary house near the Basilica of the Nativity. 

On Easter Monday, 1878, Mariam saw a place in a vision and she was told, “This is the place where Jesus blessed the bread in the house of the disciples at Emmaus.” 

Two weeks later, she left Bethlehem in the company of several nuns to prepare the foundation for the Carmelite Monastery in Nazareth.

Arriving at Amwas, she suddenly started to run, having recognized the place she had seen in the vision; she stopped at some barely visible ruins and said to her companions with emotion, “Here is the true place where our Lord ate with his disciples.”

And, so it came to be that this place in Amwas became one of three places in the West Bank of Jerusalem which are identified as Emmaus. Today, there is a monastery there, part of the Carmelite Convent of the Holy Child of Jesus, Bethlehem. 

When you drive up to the top of the hill, on your way to the chapel and monastery, there is, there, off to the right, a path leading into the woods, which is strongly suggested to be the very path on which Jesus walked unrecognized among the disciples after his resurrection. 

Cleopas, Jesus and Me
When you come down from that path, you will find a cardboard structure depicting Jesus and two apostles – one of which is Cleopas. 

The face of the second apostle is cut out so a pilgrim can stand behind it and put their face there for a most memorable photo op. Just like Disneyland! 

(Yes, when I was there, of course, I had my picture taken!).

The Carmelite Community at Emmaus is one of three locations thought to have been THE place where the Resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples, walking with them and teaching them about scripture until their hearts were strangely warmed and then – in case anyone had any doubt about the full, bodily resurrection – ate dinner with them.

As I was checking out of the gift shop there, at THAT Emmaus, I asked the sweet, young nun behind the counter – who was taking payment in dollar, gelt, or Euro and spoke perfect English – what she thought. She smiled brightly and said, “"It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Mt 4:4)

I wanted to press her a bit more but figured I was hardly the first (and wouldn’t be the last) pilgrim to ask her that question.  I decided that it was the greater part of valor to take her at her word; and the word I heard clearly was ‘faith’. 

Isn’t that what this story about Emmaus, about the Risen Lord, is all about? Faith?

It’s not a story of historical or geographic accuracy. The name Emmaus was likely a Greek version of the Hebrew word 'hammah', or hot spring, and there may simply have been multiple sites sharing the name. 

All we really know from Luke’s gospel is that the story took place 60 stadia from Jerusalem, a measure that translates well to the 11 kilometers (or 7 miles) that separate the city of Jerusalem from the hill of Kiriath Yearim and Abu Ghosh, thought to be another possible location of the ancient village of Emmaus. 

It’s not a story about scientific facts. If a notable attorney like Clarence Darrow or Williams Jennings Bryan argued in court for the Resurrection, they would, no doubt, lose the case. And, well, they should. It makes absolutely no sense. There is no scientific data to support the claim.

An ancient tomb at Emmaus
No, this story is a story not of history or scientific fact; rather the story of Emmaus is a story of faith. 

You can choose to believe it or not. You can hear it the way you choose to hear it – as a report of something that actually happened or as a metaphor that beckons us to seek a deeper meaning in the mystery that is life and mortality and eternal life. 

It will take faith to believe it in such a way as to find its implications for our lives of faith in our day and time. 
Today is the third Sunday of Easter and the seventh Sunday that we have been under lockdown and locked out of most of what has given our lives structure and, with it, a sense of security. That includes, of course, our church buildings. 

What I’ve learned in these past seven weeks is something I’ve known since I was a young child of a Portuguese immigrant family. 

This COVID-19 pandemic is teaching me once again that words cannot hold the fullness of our lives as human or spiritual beings. 

Words fail. 

Words fail to express our deepest beliefs. We find ourselves in this Eastertide of the Empty Churches very much like Cleopas and the other disciple, on a journey, a bit disoriented and made not a little anxious by a world that seems turned upside down by events out of our control. 

We are hungry for information but also famished for the assurance of words of truth. 

We long for the real presence of the Resurrected Lord but our eyes have been kept from recognizing him because we have lost a sense of the familiar in our liturgies and in our church buildings. 

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we have been caught up in something that is too large, too complicated, too frightening for us to fully comprehend. 

I wonder. I’m sure you do, too. I’m sure this thought has crossed your mind at least once if not several times. I wonder if, when this pandemic is over and we have a vaccine and it is safe to resume some semblance of life in these United States as we once knew it, when we are able to come back to our churches and pray in the old familiar way in our own pews, what life will be like. 

St. Mary of Jesus Crucified
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I suspect that we, too, will be surprised when it turns out that the Risen Lord has been with us, walking right along side of us, as we tried to make sense and journeyed through the world consumed by COVID-19.

Like the apostles, I hope that the first thing we do when we come to that realization is to invite Jesus to be a guest in our homes as well as our churches.

As Anglicans who are also Episcopalians, I hope we recapture and reclaim our identity as people of Word and Sacrament, reassured in our belief that Jesus appears to us in the breaking open of the scriptures as well as the breaking open of the bread. 

I want to say that, as I've been watching services being live-streamed on Facebook - services of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline, all led by faithful members of the laity - well, I've never been more proud of the members of The Episcopal Church who care about feeding each other on The Word during this time of the pandemic.

Most importantly, I hope we have learned that words may fail but the faith that endures is the one which has allowed itself to suffer and die and be born again in the glory of the Resurrection. 


Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

(Absolutely no) Integrity

The following is an Open Letter to the Board of Integrity which was written by the members of the Stakeholder's Council in protest of the board's latest action of the removal of the Rev Dr. Micahel Blacklund as Chair of the Stakeholder's Council.

Please note that there are only two duly elected members of the board: the VP for local affairs and the Chair of the Stakeholder's Council. The rest were all appointed by the previous president of Integrity a few weeks before she resigned after having been on an unannounced LOA for most of the year.

This open letter has been reprinted in several places on Social Media. I wanted it here, on my blog, so that it might have a wider audience. Because I want this whole sad (what I hope is last) saga of Integrity to be documented. Because it's important.

I also want to state right up front that I had absolutely nothing to do with the inspiration or writing this letter. That a measure of just how dead Integrity really is and how obvious that has become to more and more people.

I am told that a copy of this letter has been mailed to every bishop of each of the board members as well as the Dean of the seminary attended by the current president of Integrity. I have no idea what will come of all of that but it does exhibit that the writers of the letter, at least, understand that Christians know themselves to live in a web of interconnected relationships and that we are accountable, one to the other, for our behavior.

It brings me no joy to say any of this; indeed, it is heartbreakingly sad.

This is like watching a really bad version of Frankenstein's Monster.

You remember how that book/movie ended. I hope it's not necessary, and I don't want to get out ahead of my skis, but don't be surprised if I come to you asking for a contribution to a GoFundMe Page to help pay for legal expenses. I hate to have the last of Integrity's $51,000 left in their bank account, $30,000 of which is a bequest, spent in defending this Board of No integrity, but they currently offer us no other choice.

The best strategy, I think, is to plan for the worst but hope for the best.

Yeah, let's go with that.


St. Pauls Cathedral Integrity
2728 Sixth Ave.
San Diego, CA 92110

Ron Ward, President
Fred Clarkson, Treasurer
Kay Smith Riggle, VP Local Affairs 

Paul Horner, VP National Affairs Ellis Montes, Secretary 

An open letter to the Board of Integrity USA 

April 22, 2020

Dear Board of Directors of Integrity USA:

This letter is a demand for specific and immediate action in accordance with the bylaws. 

We are members of the stakeholder’s council, representing the Proud Parish Partnership of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Cathedral’s Integrity presence (the San Diego Chapter) began in 1978, just a few years after Integrity itself was founded. St. Paul’s has also hosted a national Integrity convention. 

Signatories on this letter include a former Treasurer of Integrity USA, a former Vice President of Integrity USA, and current and past conveners of the Integrity Proud Parish Partnership at St. Pauls Cathedral (formerly the San Diego Chapter of Integrity). Integrity in San Diego as it continues at St. Pauls has been important to each of us. Combined we have years of experience with Integrity. 

We are deeply disturbed by the issues surrounding the board’s action and the Office of Stakeholder Council Chair. We have three concerns, and as members of the stakeholder council and of Integrity, we expect a formal written response from the board. 

1. Lack of cause for removal. The Rev. Michael Backlund was duly elected by the Stakeholder’s Council. He advocated for positions taken by numerous past presidents of Integrity, numerous members of Integrity, and those with a longer history with the organization than many on the board. At a minimum, the board’s responsibility is to engage a conversation about the mission and future of the organization, which Michael has attempted to do. This is hardly cause for removal, but rather it is part of his job description. If there is more to the story, then the Stakeholder’s Council deserves to know that. The bylaws make clear that the Stakeholders Council chair is elected by and accountable to the Stakeholders Council. 

If there is cause to remove the Stakeholders Chair, the Stakeholders Council must be informed. Carrying out the agenda of the Stakeholders Council does not constitute cause for removal from office. Advocating that Integrity’s mission has evolved and that the organization is no longer needed is not valid cause for removal: numerous major stakeholders have publicly taken that position and it should be no surprise that the Stakeholder’s Council chair follows suit when the board has failed to engage. It is his job.
  1. Failure to call for elections in Stakeholder’s Council. Your letter states that an interim replacement for Stakeholder’s Council Chair will be appointed soon. The bylaws are very clear that the Stakeholder’s Council is unique and does not allow for appointment in the event of a vacancy. Stakeholder Council officers must be elected by the Stakeholder Council in every case. This board has failed to provide for a Stakeholder Council meeting for several years. 

    There is some question as to whether this board believes the Stakeholder’s Council is necessary. There are many past officers whose wisdom can help explain why the Stakeholder’s Council exists. New bylaws can be presented if this board feels it is time to make a change. But this board is compelled to act within the existing bylaws and call for an election from the current Stakeholder’s Council once a vacancy exists in the officers of the Stakeholder’s Council. 

    (The existence of a Stakeholder’s Council is designed to prevent boards of directors unfamiliar with the legacy of Integrity from running away from the mission. It is not for those who can afford to be in it, as has been inferred. The Council is for those with a multi-year or multi- decade commitment to the organization who can steer the board, because board members may not have a depth of experience with Integrity and its history. The board of Integrity is not a vestry, turns over completely every triennium, and requires the institutional memory of the Stakeholders Council for stability.) 

  2. Gross negligence in governance. This board is insular, resists engaging the membership, and ignores the stakeholders who created the legacy of Integrity while touting that same legacy as the reason Integrity needs to continue. Integrity is a grassroots organization. You owe transparency, accountability, and engagement to both the members of Integrity and those who built the organization. This board has been negligent in both adherence to the bylaws and its fiduciary responsibilities. 

    In your eNews communication, you draw upon a survey. It shows that the membership believes that more work is needed towards equity and that Integrity has been effective at its mission in the past. That does not lead to the conclusion that Integrity, as it has been configured, is the best way to move forward. It is possible to believe more work is needed, that Integrity has been effective, and that Integrity is not the best way forward. You cannot engage the membership on this issue from a survey. You need conversation and relationships with your membership, especially the ones who do not agree with you, and especially the ones who built the organization. This board has not only neglected such relationships but actively spurned them. 

    In summary, this board has refused to be accountable and transparent to the requests of its members and avoided direct conversation on the main issue at hand. When members express views that contradict the board, the board has taken steps to suppress their points of view rather than considering them. The board has failed to acknowledge how one can confirm membership in Integrity. The board refuses membership requests so that provisions holding the board accountable in the bylaws are ineffective (bylaw amendment and board recall). The board has silenced members on Facebook. The board has failed to call a Stakeholder’s Council meeting. Suppressing voices is the opposite of Integrity's mission; it is what we work against, even when we disagree.
As a result, trust in this board is very low. You are not taking actions to re-establish trust with those who built the organization. 

Accordingly, we demand return to adherence with the bylaws with the following specific actions:
  1. Reinstatement of Michael Backlund as duly elected Stakeholder’s Council chair.
  2. A Stakeholder’s Council meeting shall to be called within two weeks to elect a Vice Chair and
    other officers as the Stakeholder’s Council sees fit, without interference from the Board.
  3. Within one month, that the Board shall hold open board meetings to discuss the governance
    issues surrounding this board, including discussions about the future of Integrity USA.
We look forward to your prompt response. 


Wayne Blizzard, Convener, Integrity, St. Paul’s
Robert Heylmun; former Vice President, Integrity USA; former Convener, Integrity St. Paul’s
Joe Letzkus, former Convener, Integrity, St. Paul’s
The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk; former Treasurer, Integrity USA; Staff Liaison Integrity St. Pauls Jerry Motto, former Convener, Integrity, St. Pauls

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Courage to Live with Uncertainty

Easter II - April 19, 2020
Livestreamed on Facebook Live

In the church, there are two things more certain even than death and taxes.

The first Sunday after the Feast of the Incarnation – Christmas – the gospel appointed for the day will always be from the first Chapter of John: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

And the second certainty is like unto it: The first Sunday after Feast of the Resurrection – Easter – the gospel appointed for the day will always be about the disciple Thomas (John20:19-31).

I seriously doubt that the number of sermons that have been preached about “Doubting Thomas” aren’t so many that, like the stars in the sky, they could be properly numbered.

I don’t know about you, but for most of my childhood, I never heard a sermon that didn’t scold Thomas in some way for his insistence on having his questions answered or his impudence for insisting that Jesus not only appear to him but allow him to place his hands into the wounds in his side before believing in the resurrection of Jesus.

The message over and over again was that, in matters of faith, seeing was not necessarily believing. Jesus himself says, Do not doubt but believe." And, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Well, that’s what John reports Jesus said, and at that particular time.

Doubt, we were oh so very carefully taught, had no part in a life of faith. And then, for some of us we grow up and life happens and our hearts are broken and our very carefully nurtured lives of faith begin to crumble and we begin to doubt the existence of God.

For others of us, when that happens, we choose not to doubt God but ourselves. We believe that somehow, we did something wrong. Or, perhaps, it is the ‘sins of the father being visited upon the son’. Or, ‘somewhere in my youth or childhood’ I must have done something terribly, terribly, awfully wrong.

Or, perhaps, it is someone else’s fault. It will not surprise many of you to hear me say that there are a surprising number of our brothers and sisters in Christ who would say that their faith and belief in God is so strong, that they do not doubt the presence of God’s chastening rod. 

Indeed, these are the ones who strongly believe that the current pandemic we are experiencing is God’s punishment for at least one of the many sins of a “rebellious” society – abortion, divorce, homosexuality, etc. – which is proof that we have doubted the power of God’s wrath and vengeance.

As my friends in the South would to say, “Bless their hearts”. You know, they’re really only living out what they have been so carefully taught - and that would be:  This is Thomas. Thomas has doubts. Don’t be like Thomas. Don’t doubt. Have faith. Just believe (and that would be what I tell you to believe.)

Author Anne Lamott reminds us that you can be fairly certain you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.

You will not be surprised, then, to learn that Thomas is one of my favorite apostles. 

I love it that he always questions. And, I’m fairly certain that Jesus loves him a great deal because he comes back for him. He appears once and Thomas is not there. When the disciples tell Thomas that Jesus has resurrected and returned, Thomas will not believe until he sees it – and feels it – for himself. 

And so, eight days later, Jesus comes back. Just for Thomas. He invites Thomas to see him. And touch him. And feel him. And know him. Turns out, doubt can play an important role in our lives of faith.

Perhaps some of you have seen or read the play or seen the movie, “Doubt”. The author of that play is John Patrick Shanley, and these words preface his work:
 Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite – it is a passionate exercise. You may come out of my play uncertain. You may want to be sure. Look down on that feeling. We’ve got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. That’s the silence under the chatter of our time. ”
Shanely also wrote: “Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind.” 

Let me say that again so you can take it in.
 “Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind.”
I think that is exactly what happened to Thomas. It took doubt to get him to the point where the tectonic plates of his soul shifted. Indeed, his wonderful profession, “My Lord and my God,” is the clearest declaration of the divinity of Jesus in all of scripture.

I have come to know this in my life: Belief is a choice. Faith is a gift. When I choose to believe, faith is the gift that strengthens my belief.  When we use this gift, when we see life through the eyes of faith, our belief is not only strengthened, it is expanded.

It reminds me of the story told by the woman police officer who found Matthew Shephard's body on the fence there in an open, snowy, barren field in Wyoming, as the AIDS pandemic was raging and the hate-fueled violence of homophobia bubbled just under the surface of our lives.

She said that when she got out of the car, she could see what she thought was a scarecrow tied to the fence. As she looked closer, she saw it was a human body. 

As she looked again, she saw a deer, lying at Matthew's feet. She didn't know how long the deer had been there, but she was clearly there to be with Matthew in his suffering, so he would not suffer alone.  
Upon her arrival, the animal looked straight into the officer's eyes and ran away. 

What the officer said about the dear was this: "That was the good Lord, no doubt in my mind." 

I’d say that police officer had a Thomas moment.  

It was just as unlikely for her to see God’s presence in the holy presence of a deer, keeping vigil at the dying body of a young, gay man as for Thomas to see the presence of Jesus in the wounded, resurrected body of Christ. 

So, my friends, in the remaining days of the 50 days of Eastertide I ask you to consider letting your spiritual discipline to be more like Thomas. 

Allow yourself to doubt and allow your doubt give rise to questions; then allow your questions give rise to a spiritual quest to seek and find, to see and feel and touch the Risen Lord for yourself. 
In these uncertain days of the pandemic, choose the courage it takes to doubt and to live with uncertainty. Allow yourself to feel the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaking through the dead habits of what you have been so carefully taught to believe. 
For that, my friends, is where and how and when you, like Thomas, will understand, not just with your head but in your heart and in your soul, and deep into the depths of your own wounds, the mystery and the glory of new life promised in the resurrection of Christ.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Liturgy, Love, Questions & Pandemic

So, I've been meaning to write about this for a while now, but a question earlier today prompted me, like the Prophet Habakkuk, to sit down and "write it and make it plain."

For all of the Sundays in Lent and the days in Holy Week, I presided and preached at a service of Morning Prayer via Facebook Live. On Easter Day, I presided at a service of ante-Communion. This Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, I will return to Morning Prayer with Sermon. And, at the request of the bishop, I will be live-streaming all Sunday morning services and Wednesday evening Anglican Prayer with Anglican Prayer Beads from Christ Church, Milford's, Facebook page. 
I've been asked lots of questions - by laity and clergy - which include:
+ Why am I not presiding at Holy Eucharist?
+ Why ante-Communion or one of the Daily Offices? 
+ Aren't we a Eucharistic church? Isn't Eucharist at the center of our identity as Christians who are Episcopalian and Anglican? 
+ Aren't I concerned that people will want to "go back" to Morning Prayer and not Eucharist for the principal Sunday service of worship after the pandemic? 
+ Don't I know that there is this thing called "Spiritual Communion"?
And, my favorite question: 
Why should you, a priest, get compensated for something I, a layperson, can do?
That last question is my favorite because it is based on the assumptions that (1) only priests can preside at sacramental acts; (2) the only sacramental acts are those the church narrowly defines and controls; (3) there are not sacramental aspects of Scripture and Worship - that we only live our faith "by bread alone" - and that the true presence of Jesus is somehow absent apart from Eucharist.

(4) It is also based on the assumption that clergy, as leaders of and in community, function apart from the act of leading public worship; that their lives are not lives of prayer. And, we do it for the compensation.  
Nothing could be further from the truth - well, for the largest percentage of clergy, anyway.

The Presiding Bishop has written a short essay on his feelings about the matter. Here's the link. I encourage you to read it because I think it answers many of the questions I've been asked.

Here's where I am: I have decided not to preside at or partake of the elements of Eucharist until we can all be together again in one place and celebrate together as a community of faith.

Please do not hear that as anything other than what it is: This is an informed, carefully discerned, thoughtful, prayerful, theological position that is well with my soul. This is not a judgment on anyone who thinks differently. I hope those who hold other positions will not judge me for my position.

It really comes down to this: I am choosing to stand in solidarity and hunger and thirst with those who are also hungry and thirsty but do not have access to Eucharistic bread and wine.

I am choosing the sacramental nature of solidarity over the sacramental nature of bread and wine. I am choosing to break open Scripture so that we all might feed on and be nourished by The Word.

And, I am choosing to use my institutional and spiritual power in an attempt to empower the spiritual, sacramental and institutional lives of others during this time when incarnational presence as a worshiping community is not possible, all in one sacred place.

As I said, this is just me. I'm not arguing with anyone. I'm not judging anyone. 
You may think me wrong; that's okay with me. I've been in this position before with "Ashes to Go". I would be fine if the liturgy were done outside the church building. I don't like what I experience as separating the central liturgical act from the rest of the service of worship. 
I've been sharply criticized for it. So be it. 

Doesn't change the fact that Jesus loves me as well as those clergy who impose ashes at bus stops and bakeries and train stations. 

God knows what's in our hearts.

I also have an aversion to "Drive-by Eucharist/Distribution of Palms" and "Parking Lot Communion". 
It's not that I'm opposed to creativity or innovation. Some may remember that I'm the one who baptized a convert from Judaism in a hotel fountain during General Convention. And, some may also recall that I recently presided at a Civil Wedding via Zoom. 
Both of these liturgies were performed after careful thought and prayer and conversations with several bishops, priests, deacons and laity, some of whom were specialists in liturgy and church history. Neither liturgy was innovative and creative for the sake of innovation and creativity; rather it was with the utmost regard for the pastoral needs of the people and the tradition, rubrics, liturgy, and canons of the church. 

We made the decision over time and in community. 
It's important, as Anglicans, to be proactive vs reactive, which means praying and thinking things through, together, as a community of faith. 
I remember one woman, a priest who was first ordained a minister in another denomination and has never really embraced the Anglican Ethos, who decided, all on her own, to move the location of the baptismal font and ordered up a new "portable" baptismal bowl. 
She talked to a few folks about this novel (to her) idea that excited her. It's not that she was totally offbase. She wasn't, actually. What grieved me was that she totally missed the opportunity to educate the congregation (and, herself) about why we believe what we do and how that gets acted out in our liturgies. 

It became all about her and her insecurities and desperate need to be liked and her newly-found power to affect change on her own. It was very sad. 
And, the earth did not quake, the heavens did not fall, the stars remained in the sky, the planets are still in their orbits and I'm certain Jesus loves her every bit as much as He loves me. Maybe more.

Here's the thing: We Anglican/Episcopalians put the "common" (shared by, coming from, or done by more than one) in "common prayer". 
This is why I, for one, am so grateful that the bishop in this diocese has put a halt on liturgical creativity and innovation for the time being - until we can discern together liturgical adaptations not only for our present situation but how this honors our tradition and impacts our future.

What I love about this time in which there is not much to love is that it is given rise to so many questions. I love it that all assumptions are off the table and we are, once again, questioning why we do things and what we believe about what we do and say.

We like to say that Anglican liturgy is based on the principle of "lex orandi, lex credendi" (as we pray so we believe). We may have allowed ourselves to get a wee bit 'theologically flabby' over the years about thinking that through. This time of #stayathome and #shelteringinplace has provided us with time to more vigorously lift up and look under the foundations of our beliefs and the ways in which we pray what we say we believe.

There are two things I know to be true. The first is from Rainer Maria Rilke: 
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.
And, the second, from St. Paul, is like unto it: 
"All things work together for the good for those who love God." (Romans 8:28).
In my moments of deep sadness about not being able to worship God together, I try to allow myself to think, instead, on the "new normal" that will emerge from the formerly empty tombs of our church buildings.

I'm remembering the words of the prayer we always say at the Great Vigil:
" . . . that which had grown old is being made new, and all things are being brought to their perfection through Jesus Christ."
May it be so.

Amen. Alleluia!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

For the Time Being

I have intentionally chosen this slightly irreverent but wonderfully humorous image for my FB banner to celebrate Easter.

I read somewhere that this is being called "The Easter of Empty Churches". It is also "The Passover of Empty Synagogues" and will be "The Ramadan of Empty Temples."

And yet, empty or not, Passover has happened and the Counting of the Omer has begun in earnest. it is still Easter, and Christ is risen. It will be Ramadan and the fasting and reflecting and prayers will continue as they have for centuries.

I know it is expected that religious folk will say something profound and meaningful about this pandemic. Something about the moral lessons we are learning because we clearly needed to learn them - that's why all this bad stuff is happening.

We are expected to say something that is a slightly more sophisticated version of how we've displeased Big Daddy or Big Mama in the Sky and so 'bad things happen to good people' who have just forgotten whose planet this is, anyway and that's why we can't have nice things.

Well, I got nothin'. Not anything that's deep or profound or even remotely meaningful.
Not today. Probably not tomorrow, either. Or, the day after that.

Here's what I got, which will amply demonstrate that I have a firm grasp on the obvious: This pandemic was caused by a virus. Viruses don't have intellect. Neither do they have reason. They do seem to have skill, however. They are quite skilled at what their evolutionary process has given them.
It is we who have intelligence and reason and skill to marshall those God-given gifts to tame this wild, invisible beast who has gotten out of control and doesn't have the capacity to understand whose planet this is, anyway.

Meanwhile, religious people will still observe the important dates on the calendar. The calendar is an interesting human invention that was created to give us some sense of control over this thing called 'time'. Which, by the way, is not at all linear, as the calendar and the clocks would have us believe.

The wonderful, delightful, irreverently humorous thing about the illusion of control of calendars and clocks is that Easter, of all religious observances is about God's message to us that time - or, rather, capital T. i. m. e. - is in God's hands. The Resurrection is about how our time as mortals is finite but God's time is infinite, and Jesus came to shatter our sense of control and open our minds to the limitlessness of the universe.

And so, I think at least a wee bit of irreverent humor and laughter is in order for this day.
Meister Eckhart is one of my favorite mystics. I've always loved what he says about laughter:
“When God laughs at the soul and the soul laughs back at God, the persons of the Trinity are begotten. When the Father laughs at the Son and the Son laughs back at the Father, that laughter gives pleasure, that pleasure gives joy, that joy gives love, and that love is the Holy Spirit.”

I think, if you drilled down to the center of the earth, the sound you would hear is laughter. And that laughter is there not because life is absurd but because we are. And our human absurdity gives enormous pleasure and joy to the One who created us in the most absurd of all human emotions: Love.

So, I think the greatest statement of faith we can make on this Easter of the Empty Churches is to laugh.

To laugh with a God who can not be destroyed by monstrous suffering, nor contained by stone graves.

To laugh with a God whose laughter can be heard in the joy of the jonquil and the color of tulips and the soft, subtle beauty of the willow.

To laugh with a God who absolutely melts in the delight of our inventions of calendars and clocks and other illusions of control and allows us to live out of and into our illusions with impunity.
To laugh with a God whose empty tomb taught us centuries ago about a lesson of God's fullness which we are still trying to understand.

To laugh with a God who is both timeless and timely, who is the very essence of the paradox of breath - two opposite truths, both inhale and exhale, without which we will most certainly die - which is wrapped in a conundrum and sealed in mystery.

So, my friends, my wish for you this Easter Day is that exquisite, unspeakable, unfathomable joy that the disciples first knew - Mary and "the other Mary" first among them - the joy of God and Jesus and Ruach who is laughing with sheer delight that maybe, just maybe THIS year - of all years - this year of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we will come closer to understanding the gift of Resurrection, and so more deeply cherish the gift of this one limited, finite yet eternal life.

At 10 AM this morning - well, it will be 10 AM where I am but it may be an hour or, perhaps two or even three hours different where you are, time being what it is - it will be my privilege to preside at a service of ante-Communion. My fast from Eucharist will continue until we can all be together again and all have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

The service will be broadcast on Facebook Live - in something called "real-time" which I'm sure makes Jesus giggle uncontrollably - over at Christ Church, Milford, DE's page. C'mon over and share in a little Easter joy!

Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!
The Lord is Risen, indeed! Alleluia!