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.


O still, small voice of calm

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

John Whittier, 1872

It's Holy Week, again, the first since I officially retired. There's a delicious freedom in not being responsible for multiple services and marathon sermon preparation this year. But the old tug that this time has always exerted on me is still present, though in different ways. I feel as if I've stepped back from the experience, kind of like one steps back from an impressionistic painting in order to see the full picture, rather than just the individual brush strokes and dots that go into its creation. There's certainly a deep sense of participation when one is the Celebrant of this unique seven days' events--saying the words of consecration over bread and wine, washing the feet of parishioners with whom one has not shared anything more intimate than a handshake at the door, stripping the altar, throwing the black veil over the altar cross and turning the lights out.

But there's something just as powerful in being a step or two removed from being in the center this time around. And I find that distance helpful as I listen to the cri de coeur--the heart cry-- of the Anglican community, all parts of it, known and unknown, rising to an even louder pitch, at least it seems so to me, as we approach this holiest of all span of days. Perhaps as we retrace the anguished steps of Jesus through his final attempts to bring humankind back to its senses, we struggle for some way to express our angst that somewhere along the way we've all taken leave of our senses. We're all trying to find where to place our feet where the ground won't crumble underneath them and in our stumbling we cry out against our pain and against our own clumsiness. If only there were clearer road signs that we could confidently follow, knowing they'd bring us where we want and need to be.

If ever the Church did something right, it was in establishing Holy Week and its observances as the way to Easter. It's inevitable that we will stumble and curse our awkwardness, but the promise is that if, with God's help, we keep getting up again we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. The problem is that along with the roughness of what's underfoot is the distracting howling of strange beasts and the cackling of other hysterical creatures dinning in our ears as we plow onward. Somewhere in the cacophony we suspect there are some voices that are giving us the right directions, but it's hard to discern them through the uproar. Our spiritual GPS is finding it hard to connect with the right signal.

As I reflected on some of this, I was reminded of the hymn "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind." I confess that the masculine language of the first phrase has been daunting for me, but the rest of the poetry has always brought peace when there was none. Above are a couple of the verses that have been especially helpful. And as I further reflected on this, I thought of something that Phyllis Tickle has written in her book The Great Emergence which I'm reading right now.

She addresses this "mighty upheaval" that all of Christianity, as well as other faith traditions, is experiencing. What I like about her approach is that she offers a "still, small voice of calm" amid the clamor. Each time that these hinge times, as she terms them, occur--usually about every 500 years, three things have always resulted:

  • A new more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge.

  • The organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its former self.

  • Every time the incrustations of an overly established Christianity have been broken open, the faith has spread--and been spread--dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas, thereby increasing exponentially the range and depth of Christianity's reach as a result of its time of unease and distress.

What could be more appropriate for our reflection in this Holy Week, in the midst of our distress? The traces of death to resurrection are clearly seen in this voice of calm. As we walk again the path to the cross, with all its pain and noisy shouting, we can take hope that this earthquake, wind, and fire that we now experience contains within it the voice of calm that will point us in the right direction.


Camping Out

While airing my views on churchly things over the last months, I've also been inwardly reflecting on what my idea of a New Church would look like. Knowing that whatever forms and formulas we might create to renew and re-form the Church will inevitably be the work of human beings, I suspect that some of my hopes are unattainable, at least in this world! Yet it may be okay to dream them anyway and to explore what a realistic version of my "perfect" Church could be.

So, this post is a beginning--but only a beginning--to the process of describing a new way of being the People of God Who Walk in the Way of Jesus. I've used that last phrase intentionally, because I believe that the less we use the word "church," the more freed up we can be to imagine something new. And, coincidentally, it echoes what the first followers of Christ were called--those who follow The Way. (I'd like to take up the idea of The Way in another post because it, too, can be a loaded concept, but for now I want to continue with my original direction.)

My first dream for this re-formed community would be that it claims no particular edifice as its location or identity. Having buildings, in my experience, has been one of the greatest energy and resource draining factors in the life of the Christian movement. Their beauty is certainly a testament to the human spirit's ability and desire to express its response to God through visual creativity. Yet as history has rolled on and the human spirit has come to seek a less confining venue for its need and desire to connect with The Holy, our buildings become beautiful but expensive balls and chains around our feet. The weight of them tugs heavily at our efforts to walk in the Way. We have become seduced into believing that building and maintaining them is an expression of good stewardship. And the seduction doesn't end there. Its powerful attraction beckons us to marry our buildings and even be willing to die as viable communities rather than divorce them.

In The Nomadic Church, Bill Easum and Pete Theodore write, "According to the U.S. Census Bureau, $7.3 billion [that's $7,300,000,000] was spent on religious construction in 2000." They go on to say that today "it costs between five hundred thousand and a million dollars to plant a church in the traditional way!" And that's only to put the buildings up. Let's not even go in the direction of how much it costs for yearly maintenance on those buildings erected in 2000 and all the thousands of other religious constructions that have existed for hundreds of years. It's impossible, as well, to measure the cost in lost ministry opportunities and the price we pay in human angst as a once-thriving Christian community watches itself go down a black hole, struggling to survive while pouring all its resources into a building that sucks them up like a giant sponge that never reaches capacity. Nor do we want to go in the direction of contemplating what the implications of "owning" property and buildings has had on the current situation in The Episcopal Church.

Are permanent gathering places really necessary for the People Who Walk in the Way? The Biblical models of God's gathered communities doesn't particularly defend this thought. Yes, there was the Temple and there were synagogues. Yet Jesus, in whose way we presumably walk, was an itinerate preacher. Gospel stories imply that he visited those places occasionally. But the Temple was eventually destroyed and I don't think Jesus would have wept over that or suggested that people throw lots of money into building it again or maintaining its upkeep. I even recall a story in which he was angry enough to throw furniture around in that edifice over its fundraising activities. If, as we keep telling our children, the Church is not the building but the people, then why are our budgets always top-heavy on the Buildings and Property items?

I feel the larger picture we glean from Biblical models is that the authentic community of those who walk in the ways of God is a community on the move. We may sojourn together from time to time (in fact the word parish comes from the Greek word for those who sojourn together), but sojourning and taking up permanent residence are not the same thing. To sojourn is to rest temporarily between parts of a journey. We don't need a permanent dwelling for that. A tent, or a storefront or a schoolroom or someone's home will do.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. . .They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13b-16)

Are we, the People Who Walk in the Way, willing to set out on the next leg of this journey, not knowing where we are to go? Willing to live in tents and be strangers in the land? Always aware that the life of those who are on this Way is a moveable feast?


Theological Garage Sale

At a Lenten program this week the comment was made that about every 500 years we human beings have a need to churn everything up, especially in matters of faith, theology, religion, church, or whatever. It was Bishop Mark Dyer who originally compared this activity to a theological garage sale, getting rid of the stuff we no longer want or that isn't serving a useful purpose, so that we can make space for renewal and new growth.

It's been about 500 years since the historical period we call The Reformation. Mention the word reformation and we start thinking of Martin Luther, indulgences, documents nailed to church doors and general mayhem in ecclesiastical circles. One group is collecting items for a giant yard sale and the other group is defending the attic door, declaring that all its contents are sacred and must be kept until death do us part. And there may even be a third group, which I often eye wistfully, who just want to create a bonfire of the whole business and start over. We could all stand around the blaze, holding hands and singing nostalgic songs of how life used to be. But eventually the warmth would die out and we'd have to figure out what to do with the ashes and, even more importantly, what to put in their place.

So, all in all, I guess the garage sale isn't a bad idea. And as long as we're going to do some serious housecleaning, it may be a good time to think about why all this stuff was so important to us in the first place. The elephant with the clock in its stomach is a no-brainer—we only kept it because Aunt Martha gave it to us and now she's gone to her reward and we don't have to bring it out every time she comes to visit. Kind of like the bishop's chair at one parish I served. It was not exactly a thing of beauty, far from comfortable to sit in, and it took three or four brawny people to lug it from the back of the church to the front when the Bishop was coming. Eventually, it was decided to just leave it in the back, taking up significant space in the narthex, and use a decent-looking but much more comfortable and portable chair on visitation day. A good garage sale decision, as far as it went, except the old chair still hung around, oozing ugliness all over the narthex.

We Episcopalians are famous for these kinds of decisions. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is a great example. We were afraid of losing people if we did away completely with the 1928 liturgies, so we kept them somewhat intact, but added a bunch of contemporary ones because, theologically and linguistically, they were more in tune with the times. And what we ended up with was a tool so schizophrenic and user unfriendly that many, if not most, parishes these days don't even use it because it's too intimidating for both Episcopalians and people who seek out the Episcopal Church from other backgrounds. And we lost people anyway.

Decisions about what to keep and what to put out on the curb are always difficult. My fear about what's happening right now in the Church is that in order to keep the attic from being divested of its ancient treasures, we're willing to put people out in the yard because there isn’t room for them and they're expendable.


Being a Good Loser

It's no secret that many mainline churches have been losing members in a steady stream since the 1960's. (I guess I should take comfort in knowing that it had already started before I was ordained!) The issue is far too complex to be addressed here in this post, though I've seen many attempts to convince us that it's due to a single cause, usually something a particular parish or denomination is doing wrong. The thread I'd like to pick up is a double ply one. First, the assumption that losing is bad and must be related to something bad that's being done, and second, that gaining members and having full pews is a sign that a church or a denomination is healthy. The goal then becomes to do whatever increases the numbers, and to stop doing whatever is making them go down.

Perhaps we obsess on this here in this culture more than in others because of our American indoctrination that bigger is better, the more the merrier, etc. I can remember ads in the past that employed phrases like "50 million people can't be wrong!" to convince potential consumers that a product was good. McDonald's still uses this tactic in its "billions and billions sold," to imply that if so many people keep going for this thing, it must be good.

All this has its influence on our minds, not to mention our souls, even when it comes to what we decide to believe, or what church we'll align ourselves with, or how correct our theology is. The majority rules is our touchstone, and going counter to the direction that the rest of the crowd is traveling takes us way out of our comfort zone. This is especially true if, having made the decision to take the road less traveled, we lose something: friends, a church, a way of life, a clear direction.

I see this dynamic working in the present turbulence within the Episcopal Church and the so-called Anglican Communion. It's a fact that the Episcopal Church has lost members over certain decisions it has made, and this is a cause for glee among those who have chosen to set up alternative choices to being in the Episcopal Church. The assumption is that TEC is losing members because it is doing something wrong, and that it deserves to lose people. After all, this is only to be expected of a church that goes its own misguided way, counter to the road the crowd has decided to take (the "right" one, of course).

It's hard not to falter in the face of this widely-held belief. But as I wrote on Mark Harris' blog, in response to his question, How important is it to belong to the Anglican Communion?:

"In all the hoo-ha about covenants and restraints and consensus, etc., I keep thinking about the life of Jesus and how, as he went about challenging the unhealthy systems, his group of supporters got smaller and smaller. He didn't wait for the system to come to consensus about him. In fact, the only consensus it came to was to get rid of him. It feels to me as if something like that is happening to TEC. If we believe that we're following in the way of Jesus, then we may have to come to terms with being crucified. We may end up as a very small group, at least for a while. I feel our challenge is to decide if what we believe is worth "dying" for. Quoting The Rev. Darryl Dash, 'Jesus may want to lead us as churches to places that will hurt our church's growth and health. He may want to lead us to places in which our churches won't even survive. The issue isn't church growth or health. The real issue is whether or not a church is willing to follow Jesus. What about this - a church that is willing to die to its own interests and welfare, to pick up its cross, and follow Jesus? What about a church that, if faced with a choice between following Jesus into unknown and dangerous territory, and taking a safe route that would lead to growth and health - what about a church that would willingly take the dangerous route in order to follow Jesus?' "

Is it possible to believe that we can lose because we're doing something right, not because we're doing something wrong? W.R. Inge says, "We are distressed because our churches are half empty; and many of them would be emptier if the Gospel were preached in them." Perhaps we should take heart that we're losing. It just might mean that we're doing something right.


Me and My Shadow

Well, I finally did it--I cancelled my subscription to The Living Church, something I probably should have done years ago. I hung on for a long time, feeling that it was important to know what others in the Episcopal Church were saying and writing.

Though my high blood pressure is familial, reading The Living Church certainly didn't help it any. Now I've decided that I don't need to read any more issues of TLC (there's an anagram for you!) to know what's being said. It's the same, issue after issue. The blame for the mess the Church is in belongs to Katherine Jefferts Schiori and Gene Robinson. The final straw came when I read an editorial in the last issue taking Gene Robinson to task for his prayer at the inauguration activities. The article was headlined "Gene Robinson had an opportunity to witness for Christ and he didn't." Mind you, Gene Robinson is someone who, in the minds of schismatics, isn't worthy to witness for Christ yet he merits a full length editorial when he allegedly doesn't.

Quoting Duncan Macleod at PostKiwi.com: "The very act of pinning the weight of evil on a character, be it Saddam Hussein or the molester in the news, prevents us from dealing with our own shadow - our own capacity to distort God’s gift of life. In the time of McCarthyism in the 1950s, the enemy was communism. Individuals and groups were singled out for harsh treatment and rejection - because of their perceived lack of loyalty. I’ve seen the same dynamic at work in churches sick with mutual suspicion and fault-finding."

Our Church is certainly exhibiting its shadow side, yet we seem to be the only ones who don't see it. In our anger, confusion and distress, we look for someone to blame for the situation we're in. Very human, very understandable. But I'm reminded of the old Pogo cartoon that others of my generation will remember. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

We are a Church that is behaving badly--all of us. Pulling in every direction away from each other. It's hard to walk through this stuff, but the going is better if we join hands rather than curl them into fists. Someday perhaps there will be a publication called The Healing Church, to which we could all happily subscribe.


The Sounds of Silence

Words, words, words,
I'm so sick of words.
I get words all day through,
First from him, now from you.
Is that all you blighters can do?

Eliza Doolittle, in "My Fair Lady"

I went to the Friends (Quaker) Meeting this morning. As I sat in the shared silence of a simply furnished room, I was wishing that the Anglican Communion--or whatever it is now--would be able to just sit in silence for a while and let each other be.

I'd been reading the St. Andrew's Draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant just the other day, plus various multi-paged responses to it. It just seemed to me such a misdirection of energy to be writing in hundreds and thousands of words what never needed to be put in words for hundreds of years. And when everyone is finished rephrasing this section and that section, and finesse-ing this thought and that thought so that, supposedly, no one can take offense and everyone gets to have a say, what will we have? From my little corner, I foresee another document that everyone will read from whatever stance he/she now reads the Bible. We'll have the literalists and the progressives, the fundamentalists and the free interpreters, and instead of--or perhaps, in addition to--throwing Bible verses at each other, we'll now also be throwing Covenant verses at each other, as well.

I also foresee that what we'll have is something in writing--always more binding than mere ties of affection and hospitality--that we can poke at each other in proof that someone has broken the Covenant and thereby has relinquished their position in it, whether they wanted to or not.

When all have signed onto whatever version of the Anglican Covenant is eventually ratified, will Peter Akinola kneel at the same Communion rail with Gene Robinson, or even be in the same room with him? I expect we all know the answer to that. And if this isn't what being in "communion" is about, then what's the point?

When I think of an Anglican Covenant in a graphic sort of way, I'm reminded of a picture of the Tower of Babel in the King James Version of a Bible I received in childhood. We'll have those at the top who believe they're closest to God, and the rest in descending tiers (or tears?).

Instead of a covenant, I wish we'd all just take a three year vow of silence, where no one says--or writes--anything about anything, or anybody, and we all just get on with God's work in the way we feel called. It wouldn't surprise me if the world, and the Anglican Communion, would be in a much better place than it is now.


Hope Over Fear

Like millions of others, I was deeply moved by yesterday's inaugural ceremonies, and especially our new president's inaugural address. Much of what he said was equally applicable, in my mind, to the state of the Church, as well as this nation. Choosing hope over fear seems to be a concept that has fallen by the side of the road in some parts of the Anglican Communion, or what used to be the Anglican Communion, as well as other faith traditions.

I seem to recall that Jesus incurred some of the same type of criticism that The Episcopal Church and others who have chosen to be inclusive are getting. "He eats and drinks with sinners," was the rap on him. One doesn't often hear the corollary to that: if he didn't eat and drink with sinners, whom else would he find for company? He consorted with prostitutes, spoke openly to women in public (something that was simply not done in the Jewish culture of that time). He touched the untouchables, he let children interrupt him at work. He was accused of eating and drinking too much and having too good a time. And we've looked at all that and decided that it couldn't really mean what it seems to mean. We would rather have a Jesus who is more discriminating in the company he keeps. We want to make a rules-keeper out of the one who was constantly being maligned for breaking every rule there was. We want a Jesus who knows where the boundaries are instead of one who invites even criminals to share Paradise with him.

In other words, we want Jesus to be like us. Author, Anne Lamott, writes "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." We fear that the undeserving, the unlike, the un-us might get to be at the party, too and, like children, we fear that they might eat up all the goodies and drink all the wine so that our share is diminished. Or perhaps we fear that being seen in their company will be misinterpreted to mean that we actually accept them and that we might actually be of the same species and even, heaven forbid, neighbors!

Quoting from Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, President Obama said "The time has come to set aside childish things. . .to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift . . .the God-given promise that all are equal."

To choose our better history, to choose hope. Does the Church have a better history? Perhaps not, since it has been and always will be a human institution. Yet, that it continues to survive after 2 millenia is a sign of hope that there is something about it and its better message that has managed to live on despite all our efforts to kill it. I hope we can find and choose that better message and put aside our childish fears that in finding it we might have to share it with everyone.

I was reflecting yesterday that there's an African-American family in the White House and they aren't there to work in the kitchen or clean the bathrooms or wait on the President at meals. They are the President and his family--the rightful residents in their own home. I hope that the Church--all of the Church--can one day choose a better history and a better hope and see all God's people as the rightful residents in their own home.


Light My Fire

Meeting a friend at a party recently, I was saying that I wished the whole Church (large "C") would go up in flames so that we could just start over. If Jesus did intend to found the Church--something I strongly doubt--then what we have now is certainly not what he might have had in mind.

However, even with all the weapons of mass destruction that humankind has been able to invent to selectively destroy almost everything else, there probably isn't one that would accomplish what I had in mind. And having given it some more thought after reflecting on worship experiences that have left me feeling singularly unignited, I began thinking of something that Rob Voyle, founder and director of the Clergy Leadership Institute, said in a seminar I took with him. He said that it doesn't accomplish anything to light a fire under people. All that that results in is burnt butts. He said that what we want to do is light the fire that's inside people. Find what sparks them and nurture it into a flame that lights them and the world up.

That's what I yearn to see happen with, in, for, by the Church--to ignite the flame inside people so that we burn to set the world upside down. Poet-theologian Amos Wilder says that going to church should be like "approaching an open volcano where the world is molten and hearts are sifted. The altar is like a third rail that spatters sparks; the sanctuary is like the chamber next to an atomic oven: there are invisible rays and you leave your watch outside."

Second century mystic, Irenaeus said that the glory of God is the human being fully alive. When are we more fully alive than when we're fueled by that atomic oven that is our authentic selves engaged in what we love to do best for the good of all? I believe that falling short of the glory of God is ignoring that core of heat and light and spiritual nuclear fusion that goes on in us that reflects the image and fire of God. Frederick Buechner believes that our ministry is where our great joy and the world's great need meet. Somewhere in this world there's a need that doing what is our great joy will meet. It's a win-win situation.

Like all human institutions--even those which are spiritually motivated and well intentioned--the Church's efforts to be a raging fire of inspiration will vary. But bonding with that authentic soul that each of us has been given by God as a birthright is also an entry into the sanctuary. It's in the hallowed spaces of our soul that we should pray to encounter flying sparks.

Yes, I still wish the whole Church would go up in flames, but perhaps not the flames that destroy but rather light us up so that we ignite the world.

Where can we connect with the process of spiritual nuclear fusion going on inside us--no matter how small--and help change the world?

Catching Fire
by Davna Markova

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not go in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open to me,
to make me less afraid, more accessible,
to loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing, a torch a promise.
I choose to risk my insignificance: To live.
So that which comes to me as seed,
Goes to the next as blossom,
And that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.