A sadder but better wisdom

I was surprised to see that it's been almost two and a half years since I last posted to this blog. Given my propensity for running the Church and the world, you'd think I'd have had a lot more to say! Family deaths and the accompanying grief and readjustment have been part of it, and also not a little laziness. Retirement suits me to a T, and sometimes every day seems like Saturday.

Recently a group of people of our diocese gathered to discuss our state's newly implemented law allowing same gender civil unions. I was asked to share the process that the parish at which I had been interim rector several years ago used for its educational process in determining if that parish would offer same gender blessings. I'd lost the files that I'd kept on this process--though just the other day I accidentally came across them in a box on the floor of the closet. Just in time to be too late. Without the files and with my unreliable memory, I faltered in the telling of the story, which deserved a better fate. I spoke extemporaneously, and without a lot of forethought. I deservedly learned--or relearned--that foot-in-mouth disease has no upward age limit. With the crystal clear vision of hindsight, I realize how much I relied on my own ability to "snow" my way through anything. I also realized that I hadn't taken this event nearly as seriously as it deserved.

Had I done my homework more thoroughly I would have spent more thought on justice issues than on how well we did the process. I focused on how "balanced" the process was with attention being given to both sides of the issue. How much more effective it would have been for me to have considered how that must sound to people who are being treated as those who have to wait for others to determine their worthiness. As if both sides have equal validity! One priest very astutely mentioned, in our small group discussion, how inappropriate it would have been if in the discussion of civil rights for African American citizens we offered a "balanced" presentation. As if both sides have equal validity.

At the time we did this process, it seemed like the right thing to do, and probably if I had to relive that time, I might still do it the same way, given who we were and who I was then. But if I had to do it now, I believe I'd be sickened by trying to give equal time to all views. Maybe being retired has allowed me to be less timid about speaking the truth to power. Being democratic is not always the same as being just. Behaving "pastorally" is not always the same as behaving in accordance with Gospel imperatives. An educational process is not limited to presenting all views on a subject.

I believe the Church at its best is really trying to do the right thing, the loving thing, the Gospel thing. Perhaps one impediment to being even better at that would be to revisit our need to keep everyone in the parish happy--or maybe revisit our need to keep everyone in the parish--by giving equal weight to each one's position on an issue. Haven't we all participated in parish polls to determine who the new rector should be and come up with a job description that even Jesus wouldn't fill! And based our choice on what the majority wanted instead of what the faith community and the world needs...

"In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." (From The Great Law of The Iroquois Confederacy) To our credit, we're beginning to take this idea to heart when we think of the natural environment. I wonder if we should transfer this idea to how we do our decision-making in the Church and local parish, as well. It seems as if we often base our choices on what the current group of people around us approve of and will reward us for by continuing to come to church and sign a pledge card. What if we could listen to what our seventh generation descendants will say of the choices we've made and how we made them?

I've spun in all directions since that gathering, wishing I'd thought through some of these things before showing up. Hopefully, Love will forgive my thoughtless arrogance in believing I knew all I needed to know, and had done all I needed to do, to participate. And perhaps Love will also award me a point or two for taking away from the experience a sadder but better wisdom.


Welcome Home

The House of Deputies and the House of Bishops have, amazingly, both passed Resolution D025, which reaffirms The Episcopal Church's commitment and desire to be part of the Anglican Communion but which also affirms that this church believes that God may call and does call all sorts and conditions of people to serve in all orders of the ordained ministry. Here is the resolution as amended slightly by the HOB before they passed it:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; give thanks for the work of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 2008; reaffirm the abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to participate fully in the Inter-Anglican Budget; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm the value of "listening to the experience of homosexual persons," as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God" (2000-D039); and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church,; and that God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.

On Lisa Fox's blog, which can be accessed from the link in the sidebar, the joy is evident. Lisa is a gay woman and many of her readers are also gay, both ordained and lay. I was touched by one comment in particular, which read: "you realize what this means? none of us are going anywhere! we're already home praise God."

As a straight woman priest, ordained in 1978 when it was a tremendous struggle to find my own place at the hearth in this church, and even today know that there are firesides where we are still not welcome to warm ourselves, I can say to all our GLBT brothers and sisters, welcome home!


A Prayer for General Convention

I saw this prayer used on Lisa Fox's blog, My Manner of Life, which you can visit using the link on the sidebar here, and though I was unable to find out how to communicate with its author, Paul, I hope he won't mind if he sees it on my blog, too. I think it's terrific and wanted to share it.

Dear God, you are our Source, our Goal, and our Way. Your Word calls the cosmos into being and sustains it, your Spirit gives it life, blessing us with an endless diversity and that unity which is your gift to creation. Some of us are prone to anxiety and dread when church legislative bodies gather. Lift that cloud from us, we pray, and remind us that when your faithful people gather it is you who have called them together, you who are in their midst, you who work your purposes through the most fragile, flawed, and recalcitrant vessels. Pour out your Spirit in abundance on the Deputies and Bishops gathered in Anaheim and open their hearts to you and to one another. Keep us all ever mindful of the mission of your Church and of your initiative for the salvation and sanctification of the world, that we may align ourselves to your intentions and work rather than presume to harness you for ours. May our representatives in General Convention and all of us never lose sight of those we are called to serve. If it is not too presumptuous of me to ask this, please remind the bishops that they are the junior house in our Church, called to serve and not to rule, and feel free to use a two-by-four if necessary. Help us all to love one another and unite in shared mission and ministry.
--Your wayward brat, Paul



What Church????

I've been reading a few blogs and their commenters regarding what's going on, or not going on, at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church which is meeting right now in Anaheim, California. What gets decided there will have profound effects on how the Episcopal Church interacts with its GLBT parishioners and the "Anglican Communion." [I feel I have to keep putting the AC in quotes because it's so difficult to believe that such a thing exists any more, except as some club that requires a strict application and acceptance process. For some reason, the Episcopal Church--or a significant part of it--seems to be obsessed with not being left out of the Old Boys' Club and are prepared to sacrifice themselves, and a lot of others who haven't agreed to being sacrificed, in order to be in it. I suppose membership has its privileges, but the dues are excessive, IMO.)

Anyway, the commenter on one blog I was reading was cautioning the blog author against leaving the Episcopal Church if the decisions of General Convention went in an unfavorable direction to what was hoped. He said that no matter what, he intended to remain inside and to continue to be a thorn in the side of the Church. Leaving simply allows the Church to exercise the "out of sight, out of mind" process. Staying says "this isn't going to go away."

I think that's where I come from, too, in my own way. The catch for me is that not only don't I know what the Anglican Communion is any more, I don't know what the Church is, either. And I'm not sure I ever have. I've had a recurring dream my whole adult life that I'm trying to find "the church," but I never quite do. In this dream, I often can see the church and it seems to be within reaching distance, but I never quite reach it.

I've found this dream to be very profound in its revealing of my conscious and unconscious conflicts with what the Church is, isn't, should be, will never be, but might be. And added to the dream's message that I want to be in it, but may always be just outside it, struggling and moving toward it, is the present day upheaval that has made the definition of what the Church is even harder to hold onto.

But what I'm growing more and more to feel about my relationship with this bizarre creature we call the Church is that I'm destined to remain at least close enough to it to continue to be as much of a thorn in its side as I can manage! I don't know what that means right now and I sure don't know where any of this is going. As one other commenter on another blog put it, "My crystal ball sucks!" But all the fertilizer (read: s##t) being tossed around out there is simply nourishing my thorns and I'm taking aim!


She's Ba-a-a-ack!

I've been on a sort of hiatus from this blog for a while. I've been co-facilitating a book study on Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence and that's been taking up most of my reflection time. I'm still processing a lot of it and haven't quite known how to put the results into words. What I do know is that the emerging Church is real. I also know that I want to be part of it. One of the nuggets that has managed to solidify itself in my thoughts is something that Tickle refers to as the difference between "Believe, behave, belong," and "Belong, behave, believe."

One of the reasons I became an Episcopalian was because that particular expression of the Christian faith offered a refreshing latitude for where one could put one's self on the spiritual and theological spectrum and still be considered a good Episcopalian (if the various acronymed expressions of "Anglicanism" haven't made that an oxymoron these days).

My previous experience had been of the believe, behave, belong type. There were two checklists: one was for believing exactly what the rest of the community believed, the other was for behaving exactly as the rest of the community behaved--or at least how it said you should behave. Keep those two checklists up to date and you belonged. Mess up, and you didn't.

The belong, behave, believe pathway seems much more user-friendly, and spiritually and theologically inviting. Travelers are welcomed into the community as they are and given the freedom to walk around, look around, and join in the life of the group first. Then if they like what they see, they may begin to behave in ways that the group does because it's life-giving and rewarding. Finally, as a result of belonging, and behaving, the seeker comes to believe.

My reading of the Gospels says to me that this is how it worked with Jesus. People followed him around either close up or at a distance as they got to know him. Nowhere do I read that they were first given a litmus test of their beliefs before being allowed to join the crowd. As they liked what they saw, they began to emulate his behavior, and finally--when they were convinced of his authenticity and the value of his way over other ways--they came to believe.

It seems to me that it comes down to one basic question. Do we believe because we have to in order to belong, or do we belong because we want to believe?


Please Don't Sign on the Dotted Line

More stuff going on about the "Anglican Covenant," and it's only weeks now until the General Convention gathers in California in July. While I hope the gathering follows the Presiding Bishop's thought that there hasn't been enough time for The Episcopal Church to make an informed choice at this Convention about joining or not joining, I have an even stronger hope that no one will sign onto it, ever.

I and my friend and colleague, The Rev. Rita Nelson, are facilitating a book study on Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. If you haven't read it, make tracks to your nearest bookstore, or go to one on the internet, and get it. It's the right book for the right time. Tickle's premise is that we are smack dab in the middle of another re-formation, a phenomenon that comes along about every 500 years. Bishop Mark Dyer, whom she references in the introduction, compares the process we are in as our need to respond to the "intolerable carapace*" that the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity have become and that we struggle to shatter it so that renewal and new growth can happen.

One doesn't have to look too far to see this happening, not just in the Episcopal Church, but throughout Christendom--or what used to be Christendom. A recent article from the Episcopal News Service describes what is being called "the emergent Church." This is mainly about Episcopal circles, but the movement is happening in many other denominations as well. The Church is stretching its limbs and taking a deep breath of fresh air as it experiences the delicious freedom of being able to write new scripts for how it will respond to following in the way of Jesus. And, predictably, just as actively, those who are intimidated and frightened at such wide open spaces, are hunkering down and trying to nail the roof back on to keep from being blown away.

For me, it's the roof fixers who want a covenant and those who are enjoying the exciting possibilities still to be revealed by God who don't. I'm definitely in the second group. To sign onto this covenant is to crawl back under the intolerable carapace and submit again to the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity. And just when the Church is moving and dancing, seeking and finding. To use a scriptural image, it's like quenching the dimly burning wick which is eager to catch fire again and bring warmth and light to an aching world. (Isaiah 42:3)

I'm not so naive as to think that in our heady enjoyment of a new freedom we won't make mistakes. But the one mistake I hope we won't make is to sign on the dotted line of an instrument that I fear is being created for the express purpose of curbing any freedom of thought that differs from what the empowered structures want us to have. Our freedom may lead us to stumble and scrape our knees, but along with this awakening Church is what Annie Dillard calls "the waking God [who] may draw us out to where we can never return." Let's not return to the carapace. Its tight structure may promise safety, but its inflexibility will never draw us out.

*The protective hard shell-like shield that covers the back of an animal (such as a crab or a turtle).



I almost didn't go to the Maundy Thursday service last night. I was tired. I wanted a warm shower, a DVD, and bed. But the tug of Holy Week I mentioned in my previous post was too strong, and Maundy Thursday liturgy is my second favorite in the Church Year (Easter Vigil is number one).

The highlight, if that's the appropriate term, of this service for me is the stripping of the altar. It seems ironic that such a heart-wrenching act would be the part I look forward to. Yet, it has always pulled me into it, especially in my active ministry when I was the one who presided over it. Some of it goes too deep to be articulated in words. But as I sat in the congregation last night, an unaccustomed view for me, I thought about it and about the larger stripping of the Church that I think, and hope, is going on.

The stripping of the altar is an act of grief, a symbol of loss and mourning. And if we can see what's happening in the Church and Christianity today as a similar act, perhaps we may understand the process of what has to happen in order to get to the other side of our distress.

We're being laid bare. All the layers of "stuff" we've added to our understanding of what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus meant and means is being painfully stripped from us. If you've read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, you may remember Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He's a persnickety little pain-in-the-neck who makes all his fellow travelers miserable. One morning he awakes to find he's covered with a horrible dragon skin. No matter how he struggles, he can't get rid of it. Aslan the Lion appears and tells him that the only way is to have it pulled off bit by bit. With his sharp claws, Aslan helps Eustace strip off the terrible covering that has adhered to him. The process is excruciatingly painful and when the last piece has been wrenched off, Eustace's skin is raw and red. Aslan tells him to dip himself in a refreshing, cooling pool and as he does so, he begins to recognize his better self that was underneath the dragon skin.

No analogy can be pushed too far, yet I believe the Church and Christianity can learn from Eustace's experience. Perhaps not all our accretions are bad, but in order to discern which are the good ones and which are the bad, we may need to submit the Church and Christianity to the same painful process. Yes, it hurts. But when we have allowed the accretions to be stripped off, we can bathe in a refreshing, cooling, cleansing pool and begin to recognize the better part of ourselves as the people of God who follow in the way of Jesus.

There's something beautiful about the bare altar, the empty aumbry, and the darkened vigil light. They allow us to see the unadorned structure on which the rest is built. Let's not be in too much of a hurry to cover it up. Sometimes less is more.