Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Five: Words

Jan has come up with an interesting Friday Five:

There is a dramatic and surprising venue for Spiritual Formation/Sunday School classes at my church: Each week a different person teaches about a "word" that expresses his/her passion or interest. The first week someone spoke about "hospitality" with abundant treats on her mother and grandmother's china arrayed on tables. Other words have been "connectivity," "Trinity," "money," and "dreams." No one knows which person will be teaching until the class convenes. I am teaching this Sunday and plan to talk about "stirrings."

For this Friday Five, please list five words that identify your passions, spirituality, and/or life. Describe as much or as little as you wish.

I am wondering if Jan is a Methodist. “Stirring” seems to be such a Wesleyan word. ;-)

1. Integrity: Not only is this the name of an organization I represent, it is perhaps the most important quality that I demand from myself and others. It speaks of honesty and wholeness. I don’t mind if someone is wrong or right. If a person is speaking from their place of wholeness, I can live with what they are saying. It means that what a person says and how a person lives are congruent; they are walking their talk.

2. Hospitality: When I was young, here in the South, a system of “drop in” was a part of life. Often friends would come by. Those friends didn’t mind what the house looked like. They were always welcome. A cup of coffee or a glass of tea was always available. I miss that kind of relaxed hospitality that said ‘we are here for you.’ But now we have cell phones that can announce an arrival but often it is a formal welcome rather than that ‘toys in the middle of the floor or dishes in the sink’ type of welcome of times past.

3. Literary: I love to find well-written articles about my faith. I even enjoy reading 17th century sermons in which the language is sometimes difficult to bring into my own era which describes the Christ-event with a vocabulary different than mine. I also like reading sermons from those who are in different traditions because they use words differently than I do. My life has been about words in preaching, teaching and writing. I am always trying to find a broader way to explain those “stirrings” of the Holy that Jan will preach on.

4. Righteousness: I used to hate this word since it was often linked with ‘self-‘. But as I did a word-study on it, I found that ‘tzedek’ in Hebrew also meant ‘being in-tune, or balanced (as in shalom). Now I seek to be righteous, not by being right, but by being in balance with myself, my community and with God. It has helped me spiritually to be less ‘striving’ and more forgiving, more willing to accept others as they are, and gentler on myself before the Lord.

5. Risible: This is a word I learned doing a crossword. But it is one that I appreciate. Laughter is so much of what it means to be human. Not ‘to laugh at’ but ‘to laugh with’ others or to even laugh by one’s self is so healing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch

Acts 8:26-39

Last night I attended a soiree at the local art museum. J is a member and I got to go along for the ride. They had an exhibition of Salvatore Rosa, a 17th century Italian artist that I have never heard of. As we moved from room to room, I was struck first by the dramatic size of many of the paintings in the exhibition.

But then I came to this painting: The Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch by St. Philip. Now, I am not a connoisseur of art nor have I even really studied it. But this painting not only caught my eye, it transfixed me. I sat on a bench opposite for a good half hour in the midst of the crowd and just soaked it in.

I have always love the story of the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch. It is the story of some of the earliest evangelization in the history of Christianity. Having grown up in the segregated South, I loved the idea that some of the earliest Christian acceptance and hospitality was offered to African people, long before the first Europeans (Lydia).

There is so much going on in this story and in this painting. The people of Ethiopia had been Jewish for over a thousand years--since the time of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. There was no color barrier in ancient Israel. Just as there is no color barrier in Mecca on the Haj. Middle Eastern peoples on the whole do not find the color of one’s skin a matter for exclusion. And it is interesting that the appearance in Rosa’s painting shows a light-skinned man as the eunuch. There is an Nubian looking child in the painting but the eunuch, the nobleman has the same countenance as the other European-visaged individuals in the painting.

But there were things that could keep a person from the altar of God. Leviticus, although originally addressed only to the ‘sons of Aaron’, the priestly class or tribe of Israel, finally became the cause to exclude those were seen as defective from the Temple in Jerusalem. Eunuchs were excluded even though they might be devout and righteous in the face of God. They were considered defective, like lepers, like epileptics, women, boys under the age of 12, the lame and the blind. All those who made people feel icky or uncomfortable were denied access to offering their gifts at the altar of God.

However, before the face of Christ, Philip makes it clear, all were welcome. Like in Isaiah 56:3ff, no longer would those who had no power to change what they were, be denied access to the God who had made them.

Eunuchs in the ancient near eastern world were not necessarily those who were castrated. They were also men who were not attracted to women who were made keepers of the king’s harem. The word in Hebrew cariyc or sares, is used for eunuch or court official. They were important to the running of any middle eastern court. It was the place were gay men were not only welcome, they were necessary for the continuation of the regime. Yet in the Temple in Jesus’ day, people like the Ethiopian eunuch were excluded from offering their gifts even when they were faithful.

This is the image that the Church has taken on in the past few years. It is my contention that the Church, historically, was the place where Gays and Lesbians and Bi-sexual persons could find solace and community. This does not mean that I believe that religious life was rife with perversion or misconduct. Quite the contrary. Religious life was a place where people who were not desirous of having and raising children found a place to live lives worthy of the call of Christ without the constant pressure to reproduce or protect the family lands. Religious life was a place where one was safe from being called into combat or from being a commodity to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The Church was one of the few places in the various societies throughout the Middle East, Greek and then European where the poor had access to education and advancement for both straight and gay persons.

As I sat and took in Rosa’s painting, I felt that I could hear other lgbt persons throughout the centuries rejoicing in this portrayal of the Ethiopian Eunuch. The welcome is there. We are no longer “a dry stick”. We are people whose nurture and gifts are needed in today’s Church. We are those who have the kind of compassion that is needed to embrace those who feel icky or fearful in our presence.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Five: Valentines

Singing Owl has come up with a Valentine’s Friday Five. Since she has a 40th wedding anniversary coming up she has suggested that we share five people we love.

I am in a quandary. I love people with all my fiber. But I chose fairly early on to live a celibate life. This means that I have chosen with one exception to love a multitude of people—to offer to others the love that God heaps on me without regard to family of origin, particularity or personal desires.

The one exception is, of course, J. She has been my companion and roommate for 33 years. We met at the inception of a women’s ministerial group in the mid-70’s. We couldn’t afford to live alone in those days, and can’t afford to live alone today in retirement. Our friendship has grown to a fondness that I don’t think that any marriage could support. J is straight and I am lesbian and our relationship centers not in fulfilling our own needs but in providing others with the kind of love that they need to find Christ. It isn’t always blissful. We get under each other’s skin at times, but somehow we have made it work. We tell each other that we love them every day because it reminds us that we do. But our love is not bound by vows or ritual. It is bound by the mutual respect that comes with 30+ years of trying to live a Christian life.

I do have personal family and I do love them. I have a brother who is 12 years older than I. He had 2 daughters and a son that I love as dearly as if they had been my own although we don’t share some of the things that I love dearly such as the Church. But I have come to enjoy their stories of sailing and horse rearing and oil production and government service that they share at family dinners. I have watched their children grow and one of the “great’s” will be married this year. I am the keeper of the family genealogy so I have assumed some of the matriarchal duties now that my mother is gone.

But how do I name all the loves I have had in my life—5 is not nearly enough! Can I name only a few and leave out others? Not a chance! Do I leave out the woman who was the crucifer at my ordination in favor of another young woman whose mother was a colleague? Do I claim the couple who were my first confirmands in my first parish who have shared their home and their lives with me at various times in my life over the secretary in my last charge who shared my difficulties as I chose to retire? I am unwilling to make those choices. There is the couple who invited us for dinner as we moved into our home on the hottest June day in upstate NY and the couple of musicians whose daily emails make my life more complete. There is my dearest colleague and girly-girl who helps me understand what it means to be a lesbian in today’s world. Then there is a gay guy whose love for the Bible is so deep and so broad that his love takes my breath away. And there was the woman who was my therapist for years who helped me address the evils in my life and triumph over them.

I have many Valentines. I am not sure that I will send valentines to them all. But they sit in my heart and my prayers. And perhaps that is the better part…

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Future of the Anglican Communion

I have just returned from a conference on the Future of Christianity by Diana Butler Bass. She tosses statistics around like a politician, but I am more inclined to believe hers. She shows how the Church has declined radically in the years I have served as an ordained person. But at the same time she shows that perhaps we have “bottomed” out at this point and may be on the rebound. If I was not cognizant of the history of the church in the world, I would crawl in a hole and call myself a failure. But as she said two years ago when I attended another conference she did, history shows that the Church as a whole is experiencing a change along the order of the 16th Century Reformation. Not only has the Church changed over the past 30 years, the Church is changing at a rate that is faster than we can really keep up with.

Then I check my mail and find some interesting writings on the Anglican Covenant and I find the pundits of the CofE still of the Chicken Little School of Theology. There are those who believe that if the Covenant does not get approved, the Anglican Communion will come to an end. Mark Harris of TEC’s Executive Council has said that the Anglican Covenant is a “modern attempt to address a post-modern problem”. And I believe he is right.

As a retired priest, I look back on the past 10 years in TEC as a time when those who want to hang onto a previous manifestation of the Church have cried ‘foul’ when those of us want to claim a church that can address the future have gone on with trying to address the needs of the world in the nameof Christ. Here in the Diocese of Ft. Worth this split is very distinct and clear. But when those who return from the Southern Cone with their buildings, they may find that the investment in those buildings may not be a strong as they once were. The ability to pay for them will be severely constrained. Church may be more outward faced than they have ever known out of necessity. And Necessity allows us to invent all kinds of things to address those needs.

No, the Church is not the same and the Anglican Communion will not be the same after this split. None of us will be the same because the era in which we live is not the same. The once Modern Anglican Communion will gradually take upon itself the diversity of the Post-Modern Church not dependent upon rank and privilege, but become more facile in responding to the needs around the world because we are a “family of churches” rather than a magisterium. The Primate’s meeting in Dublin has made a start.
At the end of her presentation Bass suggested that it was the deep longing for the Holy/God that was still present in the American demographics. The “spiritual but not religious” answer to many of the polls taken says that there are still those who wait to hear the Church catch their attention, who still ache to touch the Holy in their lives. More structure does not do that.

Will the Anglican Communion as we know it be changed? Of course, it will! It should be! We are changing. The people we minister to are changing (some of them) and our youth are already there. Will be as powerful and influential as we once were?--only if the truth of our spirituality can be seen and experienced as true relationship with the Divine. Structure and covenants cannot express the longings of the hearts of those who have known the power of God. May this new generation of Anglicans come to live into that power.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anglican Communion and Missionary Societies

Being a part of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has opened me up to some of the subtleties of our Communion in ways I would have not gotten had I not joined this group. The intricacies of culture and the technicalities of governance have opened my eyes and my heart in ways I could not have imagined a few months ago.

First of all, in my mind I thought of the Church of England as being all of the UK. Of course I know there is an Episcopal Church of Scotland—I wasn’t at all aware that Wales was a separate church. I didn’t think of the Episcopal Church of Ireland at all –that is until the Eames report. I didn’t realize that there were widely varying ideas in all of these churches.

I knew that the Church of Canada was a bit bolder than TEC at times. And of course I have always thought of New Zealand as far and away ahead of TEC because of the second woman bishop and of course, their BCP is so beautiful and inclusive.

I must admit I was outrageously naïve about other places in the Anglican Communion such as Nigeria and Uganda and other locales where the ecclesiology is as tied to family standing as were English bishops in the 12th and 16th centuries.

I was equally unaware of the everlasting protestant/catholic tension in the English church. I knew we had it here in the States, but never saw any part of that while touring about in the UK. Having come to TEC from Rome in 1979, I was really unaware of how important to our church the 79 BCP was in calming the catholic/protestant riff in TEC. While the ‘edges’ continued their flight (and still continue) into self-chosen isolation, the majority of the Church, because of the 1979 BCP still finds their unity in the worship.

Like the US church, though, the CofE has been influenced in places by the charismatic movement which brought a type of reformed theology that I don’t think is really consistent with Anglicanism. I do know that Knoxian presbyterian reform was always present in England. But the Charismatic movement was laced with a type of non-Anglican, American fundamentalism that has been spread throughout the Communion. This type of Christianity has also colored the theology in many places in Africa depending upon what missionary society sent missionaries there, just as Anglo-Catholicism influenced the development of the Church in the US.

The diversity of the Anglican Communion is much greater than I ever imagined. A friend from MO is in a diocese that has a companion relationship with someplace in Africa. She said that the people there do not believe in the real presence of the Eucharist. I thought that was part of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. But not necessarily. The broadness of the Communion then demands a broadness in structure.

I am heartened by the news coming from the meeting of the Primate’s meeting in Dublin last month. Without the Gafcon lot, there was some serious discussion of what was important in the communion. Perhaps divorce in the Communion is a good thing—or perhaps a ‘cooling off period’ is appropriate. I do hope that at some point that our two Anglican entities can find some common ground once again. But as we come together and reclaim our historic roots, it is important that we call ourselves to respect one another. Can we demand of another church to proclaim the Gospel to their people the way we do?

For almost 30 years I have been critical of the kind of missiology we have perpetrated from TEC. Rather than sending our best to do mission work, we often send those with little education and poor training. We do not fund our missions well either. So we send people out, often ones who embrace a Christianity that does not reflect our Church or the kind of education that is being taught in our pews. Sometimes these missionaries are people who have not lived in the US for years and cannot find a place with in American or English society when they retire. They can be ex-patriots or even have an aversion to western culture. So it is not surprising that many of those churches where there has been a high involvement of our missionary societies have problems with western culture.

I served as a missionary early in my career. I wanted to spend my life doing that but I realized that had nothing to teach people who were much more spiritually sophisticated naturally than I was. What they wanted from me was my Americanisms, my American dreams, my understanding of freedom. What they gave back was a way to trust in God that my culture had not taught me.

Christians have only one thing that we can give to others—Christ.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Five: The perks of the job.

Kathrynzj has come up with an interesting Friday Five: What are the ‘perks of ministry’ for you?

1. I got to get up every day and go to work at something I really believed in doing. I had many ups and downs in my career but I never had a moment when I doubted I was called and gifted by God for the work I did. This did not mean that I had all the answers, but I knew that if I remained faithful, those answers would come. I never had that confidence in teaching or being a professional musician.

2. A decent pension. I give thanks everyday that my denomination has a decent pension plan.

3. Flexible schedule. Except for Sundays and funerals, I liked being able to dictate my own schedule. It meant for some creative planning with my secretary, but I always put in more time than was prescribed. And as I grew in the ministry, I was able to find the time to care for myself as well.

4. Intellectual stimulation. I once heard Alec Baldwin say that he went to church every Sunday because he liked to “hear what ‘professional thinkers’ had to say.” I also had a bishop who believed that you preached with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I do not understand how clergy get ‘in a rut.’ Each day holds something different, whether it is someone in the hospital or finding a new way to reach Sunday school kids. This is not a profession in which one get’s bored.

5. The simple joy of meeting God each day and getting paid for it!

6. BONUS:  All the people I have met.  I have met and been touched by famous folks and the homeless, believers and unbelievers.  I would never had the chance to meet all the people in any other profession that called me to integrity and wholeness. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church

Sermon preached at Christ Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

Can you remember back to Christmas? It seems a long time ago, yet it hasn’t even been six weeks. Today we’re remembering the feast of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, which would have taken place 40 days after his birth. It’s an occasion for dedicating the child to God, once enough time has elapsed that one can be reasonably certain the child will survive. Think for a minute about what it must have been like in a world where a third to half of children died in infancy. That’s still pretty much the reality in some parts of the world, like Angola, where nearly 20% of children die before they’re a year old. Compare that to Hong Kong, where the death rate is under 3 per 1000, or Ireland, where it’s 3.5 per 1000 live births. In a context where children die so readily, parents struggle with how much emotional investment they can make in each newborn child – there has to be some real hesitancy for the first days and weeks: is this child going to make it?

There was a human interest piece in the New York Times the day I left on this trip, about a urologic surgeon who spends most of his time treating cancer patients. He decided some years ago that he wanted to be trained as a mohel, the minister who celebrates the bris, and circumcises newborn Jewish boys, usually on the eighth day after birth. Again, the tradition is to wait long enough to be reasonably certain this new son will live. The story was about a very sick newborn, whose bris was delayed. The parents did not want to subject this fragile baby to any more pain or stress. When it became clear that the child would likely die, the parents asked if the bris could be observed after the child died, and the mohel agreed. The child was circumcised, named and prayed for as a part of the family, and then given over into God’s welcoming arms.

Jesus’ bris and naming took place 8 days after his birth – and we celebrate it on 1 January. By the time 6 weeks have passed since the birth, the child should be nursing well and growing, and strong enough to leave the safety of home. That’s what we remember today – Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, his dedication to God. It’s also a time to be explicit about the hopes for this child. In Malachi and the letter to the Hebrews, we heard the great expectations laid on this child Jesus – the hope and dream for a savior of the nation.

What hopes and dreams are laid on new members of our families today? Will this be the child who will achieve more than her parents, the first one to go to university, or will this be the one who emigrates? We hear occasionally about later children whose parents hope they will provide healing for older, sick siblings through the gift of stem cells. This child Jesus is the hoped-for healer of his nation, and indeed, all nations.

We respond to new leaders in the same way. When we elect or install them, we load them up with quite phenomenal expectations. The United States invested amazing hope in our first African-American president – and President Obama bears the desire of generations for healing of prejudice, injustice, and the ancient wounds of slavery. Those hopes went far beyond the United States. At the service in the national cathedral the day after his inauguration, I spoke with people from Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana who had come across the ocean for 36 hours, just to attend the inauguration. Yet when people discover that one human being cannot possibly fulfill those enormous hopes, disillusion follows.

What hopes is this nation laying on its next Taoiseach? Will your next prime minister be expected to solve the entire fiscal crisis in his or her first week in office? That person will take office overloaded with urgent desires for healing and resolving all the ills of this nation and maybe even larger parts of this world.

We already have a savior. Be gentle with your new leaders – but not too gentle. If we’re going to cooperate with God’s ancient vision for a healed and reconciled world, we have to have a sense of urgency. People are dying, including too many newborn children, because we haven’t been urgent enough. Lives are lost through sickness, war, neglect, and murder because we avoid the hard realities. Thirty thousand children die of preventable illness every day. Those deaths wouldn’t happen if there were clean water, effective health care, adequate food, and vaccinations – and another child dies every 3 seconds because we haven’t worked hard enough to prevent it.

We already have a cosmic savior, yet those who share God’s dream are all partners in healing the world. God can’t do it without us. As Desmond Tutu is fond of saying, when God said feed the hungry, he didn’t mean to stand around and wait for pizzas to fall from heaven.

Sometimes the partners in healing end up sharing Jesus’ road to Calvary. An Anglican was murdered in Uganda this week, a man who has been a strong voice for the basic human rights of gay and lesbian people. His voice has been silenced. We can pray that others will continue that work, or be challenged by the brutality of his death into some conversion of heart. Will we challenge the world to respect the dignity of every single human being?

The healing of the world needs the participation and leadership of all parts of the body of Christ. It starts with urgent voices, and changed hearts, our own conversion, and our challenge to systems that perpetuate all kinds of sickness and death around the world.

Saviors and leaders are all around us – in these disciples of Jesus, and in similar communities far beyond this one. When we came to the baptismal font, each one of us was presented and dedicated to God to share Jesus’ healing work. We’ve shown up here today to be fed and encouraged for that ancient work of healing the world.

Those urgent voices continue to show up. More than 30 years ago, one of those leaders was at work in El Salvador. He raised his voice to challenge the oppression and murder going on in that nation in the 1970s. When a reporter asked him if he was afraid, he said, “I have often been threatened with death. I must tell you, as a Christian, I don’t believe in death without resurrection. If I am killed, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.” And indeed, his assassination lent enormous energy to the quest for justice in that land. To this day, when the people of El Salvador gather, they claim his presence by calling his name and answering for him: Oscar Romero, presente. Oscar Romero, present!

Most of us will never confront that kind of death-laced fear. Yet our names are being called all the time. We’re challenged in this very body to “show up,” to present ourselves ready, willing, and able to help heal this broken world. That is what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

Body of Christ, are you here? Will you answer?

Body of Christ?

Comments:  I am so proud of our Presiding Bishop.  She has the guts to preach the Gospel and not just preach platitudes and niceities.  She calls us to live in a way worthy of the calling of Christ every time I hear or read her.  Her presence worries many.  Some of the men will not even sit with her.  It reminds me a bit of Fort Worth diocese back in the 80's when my collar offended the clergy.  ++KJS's mitre offends some and her primacy really bugs those who want a "boyz club".  But the truth of her primacy is not in her mitre or her election, but in her call--the call to live lives worth of the call of Christ.  Her integrity speaks who she is and that is enough.  Those of the heirarchy who have compromised their integrity, who have tried to maintain control through power and might, through demands and argument find themselves unable to be compared with her.  The standards of the world of Principalities and Powers are dulled in the light of integrity and truthfulness.  Presente!  Presente!  Presente!  We are here and we will follow, Bishop Katharine!