Sunday, February 26, 2012


Last night I went to hear Bishop Fred Borsch speak at a diocesan Lenten program. I had met +Fred before many years ago. His vita is impressive just as his reputation as a fine bishop and scholar. It was a delight to hear the vitality of spirit in the man. And as I get older, I find that kind of vitality so appealing, not just because it gets harder to acquire it but because no matter one’s age, that vitality is not something that one can manufacture for one’s self—it is a gift from God.

One of his statements caught my attention, though. Faith during the Enlightenment or during the Reformation became an either/or affair. Because the Reformation became so polarized, a believer was marked by standing on one side or another: Catholic OR Protestant, Calvinist OR Lutheran, conservative OR liberal. And Faith was characterized by the intellectual assent to one set of tenets or the other. But faith characterized in Scripture and as the translation of the Greek word pistou is a matter of faith-in rather than intellectual assent or belief.

For the past 500 years the practice of faith in some traditions has been marked by adhering to certain elements of Belief rather than by a practice of trusting in the One who gives pistou. And if there is anything that is changing in our new age, it is a sense that faith in is a matter of Both/And rather than Either/Or.

As one who has often found solace in the historical developments of the Church, I found that statement welcome and satisfying. From the time I taught in Roman Catholic schools, I have made the distinction between Belief and Faith. Often then we referred to The Faith, meaning the teachings of Roman Catholicism, but I knew then that the faith that Paul spoke of was not a body of knowledge. It was a relationship with Christ. And +Fred’s almost throw away comment that “Truth is always a matter of both/and” brought a “yes” within my soul that helped me deal with this whole conflicted era that we have been experiencing in the Church over the past decade.

For the past year and a half working with the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, I have been in the midst of the battle of saving Anglican Communion from itself. It is time- consuming, reading often over 100 emails daily, arguing over how certain words in English convey different things in the wide and varied Anglican culture that is the Anglican Communion. We have talked about “our side” so often that I am not sure which side that is anymore.

I am by nature one who loves a good fight. I love to debate and try to convince others of the rightness of my position on issues. I too have often characterized my faith in either/or’s. I live now in a diocese that is still so scarred by the division that is present in the Church and we wait on civil courts to mediate who is ‘right or wrong’. So that one statement that “truth is a matter of both/and” called me to a new place in myself—one of balance and righteousness as characterized by the word tzedek in Hebrew.

Years ago I learned that God was Truth, Beauty and Love. I believe that this is a Benedictine expression and it may characterize Anglicanism from before the Reformation;  I don’t know. But it has been playing in my mind that all Truth, all Beauty and all Love is a matter of both/and. Good art of any kind brings balance. This does not mean that the work of art IS balanced, but it creates a way of experiencing the both/and’s of life. Really great pieces of music touch on both the greatest grief and the greatest joy at the same time. The same is with great literature or music. In creation  God brings us to that sense of both/and in those places that are awesome in beauty or as ‘thin places’ where great Other of the Divine comes to touch the great Within and holiness is experienced.

Great spiritual writers such as Dame Julian of Norwich or George Herbert talked of Love as this both/and this way. But so did Martin Buber and Rumi. And I am sure that within all of the religious traditions of the world, I could find followers who have found Faith to be a both/and experience rather than an either/or proposition. It is of the nature of the Holy to blur the lines and to hold them in tension so that they may be balanced and we can know peace.

If there is anything that may mark this Lent for me is that I need to know that balance that is called the Love of God. I have always needed it. The diocese needs it; the Church and the Anglican Communion needs it. All of Creation needs it. And it isn’t just something that I can passively wait for God to give. I must be willing to participate in it for it to become a reality. It will mark my Lent this year. Hopefully it will mark my life forever.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Emptiness Friday Five

Sally has given us an interesting Five on this first Friday of Lent:

I have been pondering this Friday Five over and over in my mind, but I am coming up with nothing, so I am wondering; what do you do when you feel empty of all creativity and unable to make/do anything? This is a completely open question, the only rule is name 5 things that fill/ inspire you:
  1. 1.       Rest:  All too often when I am feeling empty it is because I am too tired to think.  Taking some time for me is very important.  If I was at the office, I might close the door and take a power nap, or go out for a cuppa.  Sometimes just getting outside will help
  2. 2.      Get with people:  I am an extrovert and being around others energizes me.  The words of others spark words in me when I have writer’s block over sermons or articles I am writing.  I remember when I was studying I would often go to a local coffee shop by myself and work on papers because there were other people around.
  3. 3.      Meditation:  When I am feeling especially empty it is time to get really quiet.  I try to place my emptiness before God and just sit there allowing God to do something with my emptiness.  It is funny about emptiness though; it is the hardest thing to place before the Holy One, so sitting with my hands open is very important.  I do not always find God filling my emptiness with Godly Presence at those times, but I do find that my hands are often ‘filled’ when I re-enter.  I allow myself at least an hour for this exercise and discipline myself not to get discouraged.  Often I find that there is some dissatisfaction in my relationship with the Divine that is blocking my creativity and I am convicted to make some changes so that my life with God is restored to its balance.
  1. 4.      Go Fishing:  I used to go fishing when I would get really empty.  There is nothing like God’s creation and standing in the middle of a stream to fill me with God’s blessing.  Now I often write as trout streams are non-existent in Texas.  Or often I just get in the car and drive.  There is something about TX horizons that allow me to ‘breathe’.  The vast expanse of the country is comforting.
  2. 5.      Listen to music:  Usually music lifts my soul and fills it.  If I can sing it is best.  But often just listening to things that remind me of who I am and what I am all about helps.  Because for many years I was a professional French horn player, music with lots of brass like Mahler, Janecek, Brahms, or wonderful lyrics.  Slipping a CD of the Messiah or the Brahms’ Requiem  into the car’s track and singing to my heart’s content where no one else can hear me as I drive out in the country is wondrous salve for my soul.  Just me and the cows and the jackrabbits.  And then I laugh and laugh.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Posted on the Norwich Diocese website are several items preparing members of the diocesan synod for the vote on the Anglican Covenant.  Not the least is a video from the Archbishop of Canterbury but comments from several others:  Alan Strange, Adrian Chatfield, Andrew Davidson and Peter Doll

Once again Peter Doll, Canon Librarian of the Norwich Cathedral, has written a support of the Anglican Covenant supposedly from the perspective of an American in the UK and from the perspective of an academic. And once again I find his opinion of the American religious populace as remarkably monolithic and misleading when the American religious experience is exactly the opposite.

In the UK, I guess one can think monolithically of religious experience when there is an Established Church but after spending some time with UK Methodists and  Scottish Presbyterians, I doubt they would appreciate being swept into the paradigms that Canon Doll seems to define either. The American religious experience or culture is incredibly diverse and fragmented.  If any Englishperson has visited the US, he/she knows that there is a different denomination of church on nearly every street corner.

If there is anything that characterizes the Episcopal Church is that we do not fit the normal “we are all Baptists” mentality that Canon Doll describes.  The Episcopal Church does not even begin to conform to the evangelical, congregational theological and ecclesial norms of the great majority of American Christians these days.  We are clearly a minority church that speaks loudly and has continued to speak loudly throughout the 20th and 21st centuries to issues contrary to the ‘religious norms’ to which Doll points.  The relatively recent co-option of American religion by right-wing political and financial interests is as repugnant to most Episcopalians as it is to most Anglicans. 

In 1988 I was called to serve a parish in suburban Washington, DC.  When I arrived, two thirds of the US Congress, on both sides of the aisle, was, at least nominally, Episcopalian.  When such things as sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid were being discussed it was Archbishop Tutu and Bishop John Walker, then bishop of Washington, who visited with those politicians to work for justice for the people of South Africa.  It was the work of the Church then as it still is, to proclaim and hold before people here in the US and around the world an image of justice that is being ignored by moneyed interests globally.
This was not just a ‘liberal’ church or a ‘progressive’ agenda being floated.  It was the work of people who had touched each other’s lives through the ministry of Jesus Christ that brought the evils of apartheid to the eyes of the world just the same as it was the Church of England who through the Abolitionist movement in the 18th century did in this country.  It was England’s proclamation that slavery was an evil that cannot be tolerated among the faithful that finally took hold in America.  It caused great tribulation for us in the US culminating finally the Civil War and loss of millions of lives so that justice could be done.
Much is made of American individualism.  It is part of our national make-up.  And it is the first cry that goes up when change is made.  But I would suggest that we, Americans, while we value our independence, we also know where and when we must collectivize for the good of the whole probably better than most.  But no matter what Harold Bloom says, we are not Gnostics.  We are a people who believe that everyone has the right to think for themselves and submit ourselves to whatever form of ecclesiology that we must to be a part of the Body of Christ.

I do believe that Andrew Davison does have it right.  We are already part of the Communion—all of us because we are gifted by God with the Communion.  To choose not to be part of a communion may be possible but that does not mean that we are not family.  We are family simply because we come from the same root.

TEC saw that in the way that the Anglican Communion was formed.  We recognized the need of a loosely confederated band of Churches to be established that found our roots in the Anglican Reformation. We found in the development of the Church of England in the 16th century the same need to regularize our Church in the 18th.  But we used the founding principles of our nation rather than the imperial ones of the Constantinople or Rome to build our ecclesiology.  And it has worked for us.  It is part of the character of TEC and cannot be pushed into some sort of ‘divine right’ appointment by fiat.  It would not be in keeping with who we are as a nation or a Church.  I am sorry that Canon Doll has never had an experience of the Episcopal Church so that he might know of the benefits of elected bishops and rectors.

As a former Roman Catholic sister and one who used to teach the Documents of Vatican II in Roman Catholic educational institutions, I am aware of the principles of conciliarity Doll proposes for the Anglican Covenant. He claims that the Councils speak beyond the authority of the popes or prelates.  But I have watched those carefully spoken documents, the work of clerics and laity for the betterment of the whole of the Church overturned point by point by popes and bishops for whom such statements are inconvenient or do not match the power that whatever prelate desires.   

Whenever I find any religious leader saying “It is the ONLY way”, I know it isn’t.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day demanded and all-or-nothing approach to Judaism and Jesus warned them of the 'leaven of the Pharisees.'  The Anglican Covenant is not a covenant.  It is a piece of legislation.  It says how we are going to be governed, but it doesn’t say who is going to decide who is going to govern.  And no matter what the Archbishop of Canterbury says, Sec. 4 is punitive.  It says: “It’s my way or the highway.”  It is a very poorly planned and executed piece of legislation that is not worthy of the Anglican Communion , the Church of England or common law.  And after I have seen the actions of the Archbishop of Canterbury in trying to push this through the diocesan synods of the Church of England, I am clear that I am not willing the Archbishop of Canterbury to be ‘an Instrument of Unity’ in the Church in which I live and move and have my being.

Alan Strange has written “Something must be done—this is something; therefor this it to be done.”  Something does not have to be done.  If there are those who can’t stand the thought of sitting in a House of Bishops with other gay folk, then they need to absent themselves from the gatherings of the Bishops because there are gay folk there—whether honestly or not.  But the split in the Communion NEVER has been a problem about gay folk.  It has always been about power, and the Anglican Covenant is not going to fix that.  There will always be a nation that is the big guy and the nations that are the little guys.  At present it is the US against everyone else.  But there are those of us in the US who do not hold with the bully-boy attitudes of American political or business concerns and many, if not most of us, are part of TEC.  Why lose the allies that you have?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Anglican Covenant: where next?

The Revd. Dr. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Kt.
The Church of England
Professor of the History of the Church, and Fellow of St. Cross College, in the University of Oxford
Patron of the
No Anglican Covenant Coalition
Diarmaid MacCulloch

Twenty years into the reign of that good and pious monarch George III, in 1780, John Dunning MP tabled a motion in the House of Commons that ‘The influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished’.  It was passed, despite much fury from the government of the day (which had just inadvertently created the United States of America by its stupidity).  Dunning’s Motion did not end the efforts of the executive to accrue power and centralise; those efforts are with us still.  Nevertheless, to use a phrase which Dunning would not have recognised, but would have relished, it was a reality check: it reminded royalty and the executive to preserve a delicate balance amid parliamentary politics and not try undue self-assertion.  Although George III was pretty cross at the time, his successor still sits on her throne, while the descendants of many monarchs contemporary with King George look back on the guillotine, the firing-squad or ignominous exile.

A triumphalist whiggish anecdote from British history, yes, but on the weekend of 18 February, a very whiggish event happened in England.  Four Anglican diocesan synods were asked to vote in favour of the Anglican Covenant, with every pressure from the executive (that is, the vast majority of the Bench of Bishops), and all four synods declined to do so.  It was a sign that the incoherence of the arguments in favour of the Covenant was beginning to become clear.  We have been assured that the Covenant is vital for the future of the Anglican Communion, and so not to approve it will lead to break-up and theological incoherence.  Equally, we have been assured that the Covenant has been watered down so much that it won’t change very much really, so it is perfectly safe to vote for it.  Above all, not to vote for it will be very upsetting for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who supports the Covenant.  This argument, widely if a little surreptitiously canvassed, irresistibly reminds me of a MacCulloch family anecdote: my grandfather was taking morning worship in St Columba’s Episcopal Church, Portree, around 1900.  It was a hot day; a party had come to church from one of the great houses on the Isle of Skye, and one of the young ladies said to her hostess in a stage whisper, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to faint’.  The matriarch majestically retorted ‘You will do no such thing.  It would be disrespectful to Almighty God, and distressing for Canon MacCulloch.’  Although the admonition was on that occasion successful, that is no way to do theology.  The future of Anglicanism can’t be decided on whether a momentous theological decision will hurt any one person’s feelings.

The Anglican Covenant is bad theology for many reasons: the most important of which is that it concentrates decision-making at the centre in a way that offends every canon of Anglican history.  It also makes an elementary mistake about discipline in our tradition.  There is no question but that the Covenant originated in a wish on the part of certain primates of the Communion to put the Episcopal Church of the United States in the Naughty Corner.  If anyone tries to deny that, let she or he read a pamphlet from 2002, To mend the net, co-written by Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies (Chairman of the Covenant Design Group, no less) and by Archbishop Maurice Sinclair of the Indian Ocean.  Now it is obvious that every body with a common purpose needs rules which may amount to discipline; but discipline in our Church is exercised against erring individuals, not against entire ecclesial bodies which have in prayer and careful thought about real pastoral situations, have come to their own decision about what is right for their own situation in a God-given place.  It is a nonsense to try to spank an entire Church, although authoritarian-minded folk have often tried it over the centuries of Christian history.  On 18 February, four Anglican dioceses made that point.  So far, ten dioceses in England have voted down the Covenant, and only five have voted for it.  Now, perhaps, those bishops who back this ill-thought-out and potentially disastrous measure should get the message, and let the Covenant quietly subside into the swamp of bad ideas in Anglican history.

Comment:  I remember when I first took a class at Harvard.  I was so intimidated by it being HARVARD that I couldn't even formulate a question.  Then I found that the professors and students weren't any smarter than I; they had just had more opportunity to attend to and become comfortable with academic formula than I.  When Dr. MacCulloch joined NACC I was similarly entranced by his pedigree which is formidable.  But his great knowledge of English history and theology has such a sound foundation that it give as sense of solidity that we are about working for the good of the Church.  I am grateful for his willingness to join the efforts of NACC.  But even more so, I feel privileged to work with such distinguished minds.  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Five: My Way--Hole in the Head

Jan has posted a Friday Five that I can’t play: She is dealing with freedoms because she has finally been freed from her sling after shoulder surgery. Then she offered a caveat to do what we would like.  I am going to do that because freedom is not what I am feeling today.  I had a tooth pulled yesterday and  discomfort fills my brain. I don’t feel too free this morning. So I am going to play Friday Five my way with “Hole in the Head” experiences today until it no longer hurts to smile.

1. Hole in the head: Tooth. I have not had to have too many teeth pulled in my life. Only one other, 30 years ago in my first parish. The oral surgeon’s office was right next door to my rectory so it was easy just to pop over. Evidently I have long wicked roots to my teeth. In both cases, I have given the oral surgeons a workout and consequently my face has swollen, my face and head ache and tomorrow I will have yellow marks looking like I have been in a fight.

2. Hole in the head: Memory. This getting older is a pain in the butt! I am forgetting things with such regularity that I am not sure what day it is—how am I supposed to know when The Good Wife is on? Or for that matter, the Super Bowl? I even forget where I have put my date book.

3. Hole in the head: Loss. I lose things with such great facility that I have to prepare to leave at least 30 minutes before I normally would so that I can find my billfold, my keys, my glasses, my shoes, etc. At present I have lost my phone. I have not seen it in a week. I have tried calling it and ATT tells me it is turned off. A friend has offered to see if we can get my I phone that I dropped in the toilet fixed, but will it work without a Sim card?

4. Hole in the head: Cats. When our beloved Mitzie our 19 year old multi-toed cat died shortly after we moved here, we decided to adopt another shelter kitten. Li’l Bit came to us at about 6-8 weeks. Our 8 year old Tyke was NOT amused! A year and some later, our lives have been absolutely turned up-side-down by a black and white tuxedoed four-legged tornado that can leap tall buildings in a single bound, terrorize the twice-the-size male (he screams like a wuss) and rearrange anything on one’s desk in a second.

5. Hole in the head: landlords. J and I have lived in church own housing most of our careers. It was always difficult to get the vestry to make repairs and we always were a bit hesitant to ask for help. But at least when we really needed help, someone would come over and help. Landlords, while they own the house, somehow feel offended if you ask them to fix anything. Last week the toilet overflowed. I plunged and plunged and nothing seemed to free whatever was obstructing it. I called and called and sent an email to my landlord who owns a considerable number of houses she rents. She didn’t respond until evening when plumbing rates go up. She didn’t tell me they were coming that night. So when I got home from my meeting; I found that the plumbers had come and gone. The next day they came again and found they were going to have to replace the toilet. The landlord said we broke it so we have to pay for the fixing. After the plumber finished, he said I owed them $500+. I said NO. The toilet was original to the house and was over 40 years old and part of the wear and tear of years of tenants. Finally I told the plumber to break up the toilet to see if there were any foreign objects in it that we might have flushed down it to damage it. In the front yard, he broke up the toilet and found 40 years of Texas lime coating the plumbing. I won this time! I think we are going to start looking for another place that has regular maintenance—if there is such a thing.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Healing? What is it? Sermon for Epiphany 6b

 Epiphany 6b 2012

Again today we hear readings that have to do with healings and faith. We have heard these stories of Jesus’ healing throughout Epiphany. They are important stories in Mark because he is trying to address the issue of miracle workers in his time following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Everyone wants a miracle worker when times get bad. We want someone to come in a clean up the mess we are in.

Jesus was a miracle worker, but he was much more than that and that is what Mark was trying to convey. But first we must deal with the story from 2nd Kings for the story in Mark to mean much.

In Jesus’ day, people knew their Bible stories. The miracles of the prophets were as much a part of their lives as football scores or the latest happenings on Survivor for us. And this story of Naaman’s comeuppance was a great story to tell after dinner to remind people of how good it was to be an Israelite. Israel was a small country in the shadow of Aram (now Syria). The king of Israel was a vassal of the king of Aram and Naaman, the Syrian joint chief of staff, comes to the king of Israel to visit Elisha the hot dog prophet in this backwater of a country—this was not a mere run down to the local faith healer. It was a state visit from the big dogs! And what does Naaman want? He wants to be healed of his leprosy—a disease that cannot be healed.

Naaman arrives at Elisha’s house and the prophet doesn’t even come out to meet him. Elisha is not moved by the panoply of Naaman’s retinue. He sends Naaman to wash in the Jordan. Now I can assure you, the river Jordan, as rivers go, is not remarkable. It is about like the Red River last summer.

Naaman is expecting great ceremony to his healing. He is expecting something grand and remarkable and he is told by a servant to go dip himself in the river Jordan 7 times? He is angered with this dismissal of his position. His arrogance is enough to almost forgo the healing. But his servants are those who get him to do what the Holy Man has said. And of course he is healed. (It would be interesting to meditate on the interplay of the great and the small in this passage but that is another sermon)

This story had been told for centuries as a sign that their little country was blessed by God with prophets and holy men and women even when they were not a great nation. They were God’s people. It was their versions of God bless America. It was their way of showing that their God not only the best god in the world, God was the only God. It was NOT the prophet who healed Naaman. It was God, the Holy One of Israel.

When the first century Christians hear the story of Jesus healing the leper, the story of Naaman comes to mind. It is supposed to. But there is much that is different because Mark is trying to show that Jesus is different from Elisha. He is not merely a prophet. The leper comes to Jesus humbly. He kneels before Jesus—the image of a supplicant as one would offer a sacrifice to God. The leper acknowledges Jesus’ ability to heal. And Jesus is moved by the leper’s plight. Jesus heals—a sign of the Messiah. Jesus is not trading on panoply or magic acts like the ubiquitous miracle workers of his day. He is filled with the compassion of the leper’s life.

Mark is telling a different story than Naaman and Elisha. He is trying to show that Jesus is the Messiah, the God-made-man. He is trying to show that with Jesus the world has changed. He is trying to tell a story that it is with Jesus that God is healing even when it doesn’t look like it. It is in their compassion and love for one another. Jesus does not draw attention to himself. He tells the leper to show himself to the priests of the temple so that he can offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and honor the Name of God.

And even though the Temple is gone, even though there is nowhere in Mark’s day to offer to God the sacrifices that once were at the center of Judaic faith, the need for offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving was there in the community of the faithful, in their lives together and the practice of their faith.

We have been studying the Gospel of Mark on Wed. mornings and the discussions we have had are rich. One of our members brought up that the stories of Jesus healing often serve to disappoint and hurt those who are NOT cured by their faith. It is an important observation because I believe that the Church has often implied that if we only pray hard enough or are faithful enough we should be healed and if we aren’t, we are somehow defective.

That is NOT the message of Jesus. And that SHOULDN’T be the message of the Church. We need to be about recognizing what healing is:

Healing is not mere physical wholeness. In the stories about Jesus, Mark makes the healing stories quite visual. Withered hands are fixed, the lame can walk, the schizophrenic is made of right-mind, and the epileptic is given control of his body. For millennia we have seen only physical healing as the sign of God’s goodness. And even today there is still a willingness to see illness or physical disability as curse or of the failure of faith rather than seeing people as differently ‘able’. I had a blind colleague in seminary that had more pastoral ability in his little finger than any of the rest of us simply because his gifts of sensitivity were heightened by his “disability”. On Amy’s and my continuing ed. trip last week, the leader of the program has two autistic children: One who is in a joint PhD. program of MIT and Harvard in Bio-Physics but who can’t find herself around the grocery store and 20 year old son who is non-verbal but is incredibly talented with computers and assists her with running the most sought-out website of interdenominational sermon helps in the English speaking world. And we all know of the wisdom of Helen Keller whose loss of sight and hearing allowed her to think and articulate the joy of compassion for the rest of us.

All too often we do not regard such people as “healed” yet it is in their “disability” they are made proclaimers of the goodness of God. It isn’t in the miracle itself that God is seen. It is in the love and compassion of Jesus’ healing. The word translated ‘pity’ in this passage is a word that really means ‘gut wrenching’. Jesus’ experience of the leper’s pain is what brings forth the healing. It was not just in the spectacular that Jesus was known as the Son of God; it was in his compassion that we know of Jesus’ godliness. And it is in our compassion for one another that we touch the godliness of the Incarnation.

Whoever tells you that Scripture should not be ‘interpreted’ just doesn’t know their Bible or their history. Jesus was a miracle worker, a preacher and a prophet whose purpose was to show people how to live lives worthy of the God of their ancestors. He was a sign of God’s compassionate presence in the world. But Mark used the stories of Jesus’ miracles as ways of reinterpreting the Jesus story to help the people of his day deal with the destruction of the Temple by focusing the ancient faith on the person of Jesus. And it has been the job of people throughout the centuries to re-interpret these stories in the light of what is going on in their lives.

We are called to reinterpret these miracles in this post-9/11 era. We must be willing to hear the compassion that comes from our own experience of loss of security that can create healing for ourselves and those around us rather than becoming anxiety-driven suckers for whatever the world wants to sell us. We can have the grandiose expectations of Naaman or the humble cravings of the Markan leper. All God asks of us is to open to what healing means—it is about knowing God’s love for us no matter our physical or emotional state. Wholeness does not depend upon our physical state—it is a matter of how we walk with the Holy and the peace that it gives. Amen

Virtual Church

I grew up a ‘tomboy’. I lived in a neighborhood of all boys. That didn’t bother me. I didn’t like playing girly things. Dolls had no interest for me. Jacks provided no thrill even if I could do loopty loops and jumping rope was BORING! I loved anything you could play with a ball. I could play Cowboys and Indians and l was ecstatic when I got a double holster and cap pistols for Christmas much to my mother’s disgust. I really didn’t like being a girl at all. The boys’ games were so much more fun. And even through jr. high, we had to play “girl’s rules in Phys. Ed. What a jip!

It wasn’t until high school that I began to see women around me that I respected. A couple of my contemporaries had mothers who I could look up to. I am not saying that my mother was a bad person—not at all! But I could not find in the way that she lived her life anything that I wanted to emulate. From the time I was in my early teens, I knew I did not want to marry. I did not want to mother children. All signs of being a woman...

But when I met the Ursulines as an adult, I began to understand what kind of woman I wanted to be. While I was lesbian, I was not motivated by a desire to change sex; I had just not witnessed women that I admired.

The Order of St. Ursula is a Roman Catholic religious community whose ministry is to teach girls and young women. I met them through a sister who played in the local community symphony that I did. I have commented on them several times because I credit them for introducing me to prayer and community in my mid-twenties. And that longing for community and prayer still is part of my life today.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the convent I entered some 40 years ago. Our cruise for Revgals sailed from New Orleans and I took some of my colleagues to visit the chapel and a couple of sisters that still live there. When I entered there were 50 in the community. There are only 2 there now and none of them still teaching in the Academy. But as I sat down with Sister Carla, it was just like when I was a postulant. The connection, the twice kissed cheek, the twinkle in the eye, the warmth and welcome was still there. And even though I had left the community 37 years ago, we knew we shared something that none of the others did. It wasn’t just a few years as housemates; it was a 500 year old legacy of ministry, teaching and appreciating the God-given talents that we as women shared.

I think that that sense of community is still something that I need to be who I am. I look for it among women colleagues, among groups of women in my parishes and even among online groups where women can share their opinion is safety and respect. I have over the years found that mixed groups of men and women CAN be safe places where men and women can share faith but they are more the exception than the rule. And I treasure those groups as precious places.

One of those mixed groups is the NACC (No Anglican Covenant Coalition). Most of us have never met each other in person. We are a virtual community where the work of defeating the Anglican Covenant has become our cause. Sometimes (fairly often) we get in each other’s face about one topic or another. We are frustratingly exact about how we word documents and press releases. English spoken in Scotland, Canada, England, New Zealand and the US is not the same and we are often offending one another with the way we speak. And yet we keep each other in our prayers. We wrestle with each other about our vision of the Church Universal. We theologize and struggle with each other in a way that makes us want to pull our hair out (or theirs) and yet can still come together to get the work done. It is the stuff of community—important Christian community-- that I believe keeps us reminded of just how hard it is to keep this community called Church together.

While in New Orleans I met one of my NACC colleagues. I have read her blog for years and corresponded with her. She is a lay woman of great grace and charm who speaks the lay voice with dignity and more than a bit of steel magnolia. I am graced by her friendship on line and even more so now that I have met her in person. We have laughed at each other’s posts and grappled with each other’s vagaries but I know that I have someone in Louisiana that I can depend upon if I need prayer, or am up a cypress with an alligator on my tail. She is another one of God’s gift of community to me and I feel so enriched by her presence.

Who says that virtual communities aren’t REAL? Who says that virtual Church isn’t efficacious? If my Ursuline community is still a source of spiritual energy after 40+ years, why is not the community of those I speak to through the computer daily not just as important? The Revgalsblogpals are as much a community of faith as are my colleagues in the diocese who I claim as the ‘college of clergy’ in my area or the parish I attend weekly. They allow me to be myself in ways that I might still be unwilling to be in person. They are willing to let me speak freely and critique me with loving (and sometimes not so loving) kindness so that I can be transformed by their loving. Is that not Church? Is that not what each one of us is about who is serious about living out their Baptismal promises?

It doesn’t look like the white steeple church that is beginning to fail but the effects the same. It is going to be interesting to see what Christ’s Church is going to be in another 100 years. I hope I will be able to watch.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Image and the Incarnation

It has been far too long since I have posted. It has been a bit crazy the past few months. I am teaching a Bible Study in the parish that I really have to prepare for. I am working slowly but surely at trying to get the house in some presentable condition but I have also been plagued with colds and aggravating illnesses that seem to catch more of my attention than I would like AND I have been on a cruise.

I went on the great Revgals Big Event, a continuing education program run by an online group that I have been a part of for many years. This year we sailed from New Orleans—where I entered the convent 40 years ago this summer. We got there a day early and were able to visit the convent and found one sister who I lived with still there. It was great to visit the old school and convent with present day colleagues and friends as it was so foundational to my faith.

The cruise was a joyful event for me too. Some of the women I had met 3 years ago on a similar trip. But the continuing ed. program was just what I needed. Run by the founder and sustainer of one of the foremost sermon-help websites, Jenee Woodard of , it helped me focus on the images of scripture not just the words. It was just the thing I needed to help me move more into a post-modern grasp of the Bible. With a good foundation of historical-critical method under my belt, a serious gathering of the images of God and how God acts deepens and enriches my journey in faith.

Many of the women in our group are already working with screen images for their sermons. Episcopalians are loath to do the big screen illustrations because the liturgy itself is so visual, but what it does for the heart is significant. Life has become so visual for anyone younger than 50 these days that perhaps we may see the visual embrace of Scripture the path that proclamation of the Gospel may take. We have had 500 years with the emphasis being on the Word—the printed and spoken word. Perhaps the future will be in the visual ‘Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us.’

But as is usual with such events, it was the women that I met that enfleshed the Word for me. We were an international bunch with 2 women from Canada and 2 from Scotland. One of the Scots and I connected. She was as clearly Scot as I am told my great grandmother was. She shared her faith and her Church with me and I shared with her. There is so much faith and family that can be revealed while sitting in the sun on a ship’s deck in the tropics in January! It can even be done without rum drinks! Her tales of a Presbyterian parish on the west coast of Scotland were not much different than the stories I have of Episcopal or Lutheran parishes in the US. But there was so much about her that connected me deeply with the Scottish roots of my forbearers. Across time and sea, the stories my grandmother and father told connected with what is happening in small towns in Scotland today.

J. and I were seated at a table with five twenty-somethings who had been priested only a year ago. They have never known a time when women could not be ordained. They knew little of their church’s history during the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s or the women’s ordination movement in the 70’s. At the same time we did not know of their struggles to be ordained or to be called to position. They were exciting and excited for the Church and give us such hope for the future.

Such friendships provide an opening into the mystery of the Incarnation. So often our glimpses of Christ allow us to just see the Holy in those like us and fail to move us beyond our parochial existence. I am so thankful to have had such a vision to loosen me from the tight constraints my day-to-day living provides. It gives me a broader concept of what it means to be a follower of Christ and it also gives me a foretaste of what the realm of God is like.

I may never meet these women again, but I have been changed by them, humbled by them, cheered by them, fed by them and freed by them to know my God more intimately and to walk in the ways of faith.