Monday, April 28, 2008

Seminary Expectations

Tomorrow I am going off to my 25th seminary reunion. I love going to Cambridge if for no other reason to haunt the endless number of book stores in that epitome of a college town. I do like Cambridge. But walking is not my strong suit anymore and that is a must as there was NO parking to be found in Cambridge even on the best of days in my day. I don’t care to think what it is like now.

J. celebrates her 40th reunion at the same institution. So we will be sharing this get-together. Her class is much more cohesive, in fact two classes will be meeting together—ones that shared Jonathan Daniels’ death. Things like that bring a class together. My group is not that tight. In fact, I really don’t identify much with my own class because I had more classes with the group behind me. I transferred to my seminary in the second year.

What do we expect of class reunions? Is it a mere touch with days past? A visit with lost friends? A refresher to past studies? All of the professors I had are either dead or retired now. My seminary does provide a substantial set of lectures which one may chalk up some continuing education credits. I am looking forward to the challenge to my well-tuned theologies.

Or at a baser level, are class reunion merely a chance to crow about how well one has done in their career? I do hope that is not the direction that this confab will go. The Church has not faired well in the past 10 years. We have all been part of that whether we were ordained or not. Should we accept some of the blame of the schismatic scandal? Certainly EDS has led the wave to include LGBT persons in the Church. Should we continue to wave the banner for newness? Should we be the center of reconciliation at present day or should we continue on the cutting edge as this school has been for at least 50 years.

For that matter, what is the future of seminary education? If we observe what is going on in our diocese, more and more of the clergy are not being trained in seminaries. And I doubt if the powers that be would even allow someone who wants to be on the cutting edge of theology to attend EDS—but then again, I doubt if those who want to be in the vanguard of theology would even be admitted to postulancy in our area. It seems that only those who will feed the status quo are acceptable. I hurt for the Church in our area where the people are fed with milk rather than the full-bodied wine of the faith.

What I hope for this trip to EDS, this touch with the past and this call to the future that only my seminary seem to be doing, is a wakening to the needs of those who are not stuck in the past. But not all expectations get fulfilled. I can live with that. What I can’t live with is a Church that is stuck in the past. My God is not stuck in the past. The God that I have known and served for the past 25 years has always kept me aware of the needs of the future. May it ever be so.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Cult of Personality

As we watch the redevelopment of the Diocese of San Joachin it is refreshing to see the energy among the laity. I believe it was with great wisdom that the Presiding Bishop did not enter into the diocese and impact that diocese until the laity and clergy had risen to the chore. It was finally the laity and some of the clergy who brought that wounded group of people together for healing and reclaiming the vision that Christ gives the Church. Yes, there was help from folks like Bob Moore and finally Bishop Lamb, but Episcopal leadership does not work in a vacuum. That was what John-David Schofield never understood. One cannot be a bishop unless there are laity and clergy willing to work with you. If one becomes “all things to all people” leadership devolves into a cult of personality

All too often in this imperfect Church of ours, we elect people to positions of leadership, rector or bishop, who have “made” it on their personality rather than on their talent or ability. We church-types are often drawn to those personalities that make us feel safe, or whose unction salves our uncertainty rather than those who can challenge us to be more than what we were. Having a protector is fine when we are weak or infirm. Often when a parish is in transition, we love the rector who can come in and heal our wounds. But that “protection” becomes paternalistic when healing has taken place. The same goes for a diocese that has been without a leader. To have someone fill that vacuum at the beginning is quite thrilling. But leadership in the Episcopal Church is a shared leadership. No one order can dominate the other.

The present cult of the personality of the bishop that is often touted these days does a disservice to the role of the bishop. Some of this ideology comes from our Roman Catholic neighbors rather from our Episcopal resources. Some may even come from our Anglican roots. But it is not in keeping with the wisdom of those who formed our Church when we separated from England. And what it creates is a type of dishonesty in the interactions between orders. It raises the role of the leader—bishop or rector-- to some sort of holier-than-other. It sets up expectations of the leader that cannot be met or maintained throughout the whole of one’s life in the church.

One thing that watching the Roman Catholics should do for us in the Episcopal Church is to see that putting anyone on a pedestal can have disastrous results. It means that their decisions and actions cannot be questioned, or their motives held up to scrutiny. Religious leadership cannot be based on one’s being “a nice guy” or “she’s the bishop, she has our best intentions in mind.” Religious leadership needs to be based less in spirituality and more in the ability to work with people of varying positions in the parish or diocese. The parish or the diocese cannot devolve into a cult of personality and still preach the Gospel because too much energy is being used to maintain the image of the leader rather than being about preaching the Gospel. Ultimately the cult of personality is used to perpetuate the myth of the leader rather than connect the congregation or the diocese with the God of Truth. And the efforts of those lay and clergy alike, who enable such myths are left like San Joachin—with dust in their mouths rather than the fruit of the Gospel.

I am grateful to the work of the Spirit that is now being affirmed in San Joachin. I pray that this same kind of faith can be found in Ft. Worth and Pittsburgh. But the problem of the cult of personality is not just a problem in those dioceses that are leaving the Church. They are found in dioceses and parishes through out the Church where “being safe and undisturbed” is more important than living out the Gospel of Christ.

Christian leadership must be about speaking the truth as Christ spoke it. It must be about a kind of transparency that demands our best and yet does not demand that we be holier than others. Leadership in the church does not demand perfection; it demands humility and a willingness to work with all kinds in the community for the furtherance of the Gospel.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Good of the Group

I read Barbara Cawthorne Crafton’s daily emails almost every day. She has a wonderful way of putting things into perspective. Today’s post came as I was doing some spring cleaning and am finding the help of friend important.


Here is a mystery. Several mysteries, actually.

1. Organizing your own closet is a chore. Helping someone else organize hers is fun.

2. It's hard to go to the gym alone, but fun to go with someone else.

3. Centering prayer, an enterprise conducted entirely in silence, is nonetheless easier done in a group.

4. Many people who can't carry a tune in a bucket on their own sing very well in church.

You know of similar mysteries besides these four, I'm sure. It is a fact: people will happily do in groups what you couldn't pay them to do alone, and they will do it better and more efficiently. Afterwards, they will say it was fun.

I guess many of us just like to be on teams, to be part of something larger than ourselves. We like to put forth a mighty effort, focusing on it together, and to feel the might of its spirit when we do so. We multiply ourselves when we work with others, and we savor the power of that.

This is so true of most people that it has created major moral problems, more than once. Rheinhold Neibuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society is about just this: the moral power of the individual to transcend himself for the sake of the whole becomes demonic when the values of the whole are demonic. Neibuhr adduced the figure of "the good German" to illustrate this: a patriot who follows orders and loves his country, carried, by the very fact of his devotion, into a perverse moral universe in which it becomes an act of righteousness to kill innocent people. We wonder, often, how so many ordinary people could have participated in the horror of the Holocaust. How did they get so unmoored from their own sense of good and evil? The question makes us uneasy; our moral sense may be a lot more community-relative than we like to think it is. It's not just ourselves that we must transcend. Sometimes we must transcend our whole world.

Our unease is well-founded. We see the Good German everywhere. He is not always German -- he never has been. He is in the terrible lightheartedness of the snapshots taken at Abu Ghraib. There he is, in a white hood with only his eyes showing, at a Klan meeting. She reads her Bible earnestly, and it proves to her that her gay brother is an abomination -- he must be, because she honors the Bible and it says so, right there in black and white, and her church says so, too, and so she must not go to visit him in the hospital, now that he is ill, because that's his punishment.

An institution quickly adopts its own survival as its highest good. They function on the basis of their own interest. And they reward the individuals who will adopt their highest good as their own, who are willing to sacrifice their own good to it. They read the moral law in such a way as to support that highest good, and turn holy texts to that task as well. Thus, many church pulpits rang with defenses of chattel slavery before our Civil War, and did so on biblical grounds. Thus, there were clergy in Rwanda who participated in the genocide themselves. Thus, many Americans are willing to countenance and to cause devastating climate change in the service of a questionable short-term economic analysis.

We do what we think is right. But we need always to question ourselves, to ask ourselves where we get our moral convictions. Where did they come from? And who is really served by them? Love of country, of tradition, love of church, of family, of scripture, love of any group, can never be an excuse for refusing to think. If I am to sacrifice myself for something, let me at least know for sure that it really merits my devotion.

Comment: Over the past 20 years or so the Episcopal Church has become a place where it is not safe for clerics to express their own opinions. No longer can the rector speak clearly what he/she believes for fear it will contradict the powers that be. I am not speaking specifically of bishops, but the “group think” of a small portion of the clergy who serve at the behest of bishops. Once, the Episcopal clergy were exceptionally independent, well-educated and self-differentiated people who understood their place in the community as the “parson”, the person who could speak the public conscience for a community. That position has been lost.

The dioceses that have threatened to leave the Episcopal Church over the past 8 years are those dioceses where loyalty to the person of bishop has created such a rarified atmosphere that one’s centering in Christ could not be sustained. As the bishops, who listened to their chosen few, began to develop their view of the Church they never got a full understanding of what the Church in their area was or what it could be. These bishops listened to like minds and saw the Church as something that was not real. We need but watch as the Diocese of San Joachin begins to reassemble itself after the deposition of John-David Schofield. The reports out of that diocese remind us that there are always going to be those who think for themselves in the Church. This does not mean that they are always going to stand against the bishops or the loyal klatch. But when there is a vacuum of leadership, there will be those who will step up to the plate. But what the cost has been in those dioceses!

For the good of the Church, it is incumbent on all Christians to speak their mind. For the good of the Church, it cannot be merely a small coterie of clergy who speak the mind of the people in a diocese. For the good of the Church, clergy and lay voices must be heard to help the Church regain and sustain its moral compass. We must all think for ourselves and speak for ourselves if the Church of Jesus Christ is going to be able to claim the kind of loyalty for which we are going to lay down our lives.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What does the Archbishop think he is doing?

Archbishop of Canterbury condemns recent violence against lesbian and gay people
Posted On : April 9, 2008 5:26 PM | Posted By : Webmaster
Related Categories: Lambeth
In response to reports of violence and threats towards Christians involved in the debate on human sexuality, the Archbishop of Canterbury has given the following statement:
“The threats recently made against the leaders of Changing Attitudes are disgraceful. The Anglican Communion has repeatedly, through the Lambeth Conference and the statements from its Primates’ Meetings, unequivocally condemned violence and the threat of violence against gay and lesbian people. I hope that this latest round of unchristian bullying will likewise be universally condemned.”

Comment: It seems incredible to me that the Archbishop of Canterbury does not understand that by denying +Gene Robinson presence at Lambeth, he is being complicit in the violence against LGBT persons throughout the world. When there are exclusions of people who are gay, that IS violence.