Saturday, March 28, 2009

Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

Taken from a comment on

I have been centering my Lenten sermons on the baptismal covenant seen through the prism of the Sunday lections. And tomorrow's lessons are a perfect way to culminate this with "strive for justice".

One of the most important aspects of striving for justice is a willingness to take up the life of those caught in injustice--to have compassion--a willingness to 'suffer with' in order to bring to light the injustices that the world is willing to ignore.

Christ's unwillingness to ignore the injustice of the political and religious systems of his day brought him to suffer with all those who were being denied relationship with their God and the community of the faithful because of their race, their lineage, their social class, their lack of cleanliness, their sinfulness, etc. It is in the conflict between good and evil that we understand Christ's love. It is the acceptance of us by God and the Church no matter the condition of our lives that makes the Christian life so liberating. That grace is always free but it was bought with the ultimate price of the Cross.

We as Christians cannot avoid conflict without watering down the promise of the gospel. It is part and parcel of our lives in Christ. But this does not mean that we must be overwhelmed with the conflict.

I am an Episcopalian priest serving as a pastor of a small ELCA parish. I have watched conflict consume my denomination for the past 8 years--not for political or theological reasons, but because of the need for some to have power. The conflict has often so overwhelmed those of us in leadership that we often have had to choose sides rather than to stand beneath the Cross of Christ. But it has been in the light of this conflict that we as a church have gotten clearer on where Christ is leading us. My family home is situated in one of the dioceses that has chosen to leave TEC. What has been spectacular is the kind of energy and hope that the remnants of TEC have in that place. The faith will not die of conflict. It is in the conflict that we find what is really important to us--it is the community of faith in the Christ who gave us the Way.

The conflict to confront the injustice that was imbedded in the power structures of the church has been difficult and painful. But if we had ignored it, our denomination would have become inane, lukewarm and useless. As we have stood at the cross, the grace of God has helped us reorient ourselves to the kind of justice of inclusion, integrity and honesty that the crucified one calls us to. I am beginning to see the kind of resurrection with in my denomination that witnesses to Christ Jesus.

But since violence, which is at the center of all conflict, can taint this kind of confrontation with evil, we must always be mindful of the need to stand HUMBLY beneath the Cross of Christ. Though we stand in solidarity with those who have been mistreated, we may not fall into the arrogance that often marks the victorious. I believe that is what Jeremiah longed for in his words of consolation in Lent 5's reading. It is in the lived-out experience of God's love for us that will proclaim Christ that will shout the promise of our salvation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Once Born and Twice Born

As I learn more of the Emerging Church and its emphasis on the experience or relationship with the Divine I wonder about the importance of this aspect of faith. There is no doubt about it; I am a reborn Christian. I had one of those Road to Damascus events in my life that changed my life. In my early years I am sure I was fairly obnoxious about trying to get everyone to have that same experience. There is a significant temptation to claim a ‘special’ or even a ‘holier’ experience than others who do not have the Pauline encounter

Through the years though, I have met people whose experience of God has been different from the ‘born again’ incident. They are those who have grown up in the Church. They have always known God. Rather than some dramatic sea-change the reformation that happens to those whom I call ‘once-born’ Christians is a gradual and incremental molding of their lives into what Christ would have them be.

‘Twice-born’ Christians know the moment that they first believed. They are brought to their knees and renewal is dramatic. The love that is experienced is overwhelming. It is often a mountain-top type of experience that when one comes into the mundane life in the valleys and plains, the faith then becomes a matter of remembrance rather than omni-present experience that was hoped for. The Christian life for the twice-born is often a search for another mountain-top experience through liturgy, retreat, meditation, etc. The Church becomes the vessel from which the Christ-life is lived out.

For the ‘once-born’ the experience of God is with one that was always present. This does not mean that it is static. Like Helen Keller, relationship with God is more the identification of what has always been known, “So that is who He is.” The love of God is the familiar fount from which one’s life flows. Often the identification of the once-born’s faith is with the Church. It is not only the community of the faithful; it is the place where God’s love is made manifest in word and sacrament.

In some ways there is not much difference in these ‘faith-born’ people. But when they begin to share faith, there is often misunderstanding. The twice-born do not hear the excitement that presaged their experience of God while the once-born find the ‘late-comers’ as too dramatic or superficial. There is a tendency on either side to view the other as suspicious.

I remember quite clearly as a convert in a Roman Catholic convent being viewed awkwardly by the cradle-catholics. I was not trusted because I was not of the sub-culture of those who had grown-up Roman Catholic. I wasn’t one of “them.” It was not intentional or ever mean; it was merely I had not grown up with the same experiences as they. It made it easy for me to leave the community when the time came to follow my vocation to the priesthood. However, I still miss the community.

A few years ago it was calculated that 8 out of 10 Episcopalians were something else before coming to the Episcopal Church. Often those who come to our churches today have no theological or Church background. They have either found us because of a very personal or dramatic conversion to Jesus Christ or they have been supported and come to know the warmth of God’s love by being a part of a loving Christian community in the local parish. Seldom do I find people joining the Church simply because the doctrine.

One thing I have learned is that I must listen carefully to the experience of Christ shared by my fellow church-goer. All too often our churches do not provide places where we may share the faith. It is difficult to share when our experiences are so different. In my experience of parish life, there was almost never a chance to share faith. In my current congregation I can see the love that they have for each other and I point that out. It is the practice of their faith that I see. But it is difficult to get them to describe it.

For the most part, Episcopalians have a difficult time expressing what their faith is. This is a phenomenon not just of the laity. The clergy have incredible difficulty in sharing their faith with their peers. We learn to describe it under duress during the ordination process. We sometimes are put on the spot during the interview process for a call, but we do not tend to share our faith with colleagues. We may set it up as some sort of paradigm in a sermon, but the competitive nature of the calling process roots out any possibility of sharing of faith. Consequently it is difficult for us to model this for the people of our parishes.

Perhaps one of the things that might be made a part of the training of clergy for the future is a venue for the sharing of faith. This cannot be a part of the litmus process which culls out candidates because their faith might be ‘suspect.’ It must be a place where one can practice describing their faith while trying to grow into it. It is a place where one can discuss the doctrines and see if they “fit” our experience of Christ instead of trying to fit our faith into the doctrines of previous centuries.

The future of the faith depends on how well we are able to accept different articulations of the faith. We must be a community who can not only proclaim the love of Jesus Christ, we must be a place where we can easily talk about the relationships we have with the God who is all to all.

Monday, March 2, 2009

CDO: What’s the Point?

Today the CDO (Church Deployment Office) sent me an email to update my CDO file. The CDO is the way that Episcopal clergy put their name in for parishes and make them available to the calling process. The email was appropriate as I have not updated my profile in a number of years. I am very happy with the parish I serve. It is the most Christian group of people I have served in the past 20 years. I am not looking to change.

I have been a priest long enough to remember the CDO process before the internet. We had long application forms and someone in the diocesan office who knew enough to help you know what categories to choose to make your profile pop out of the computer in the kind of parishes that you were looking for. It was a long process to prepare your CDO profile and one that had real ramifications about the churches that called one to interview.

The origin and purpose of the CDO process was to tear down the walls of the “old boy” network that was prevalent throughout the Episcopal Church. It was largely through the efforts of the National Episcopal Clergy Association that saw to the creation of the CDO. It provided for a fair process by which all clergy who were looking could have their gifts presented to a parish. It leveled the playing field. If the CDO had not been in place, women’s ordination would never have gotten off the ground. It also allowed for clergy from different parts of the country to be viable candidates for positions across the country. The CDO tore down much of the provincialism that was common in many dioceses. It brought much needed “fresh air” into dioceses that had become parochial backwaters. It provided for mobility especially for women who often had to follow husbands to new secular jobs to be eligible for church jobs throughout the larger church.

The canons concerning the calling of rectors were much more the purview of the parishes rather than the diocesan office in those days. The CDO officer was less the agent of the bishop who controlled who was to get into the diocese and more the agent of the parishes who were trying to call clergy who would serve the members of the parishes. The position of rector, while not autonomous, was always held with respect by bishops because a rector was the agent of his or her own people. Times have changed.

Nowadays, the purpose of diocesan CDO officers is to insert the bishop’s vision for the diocese rather than the particular needs or visions of the parish. It makes the clergy more agents of the bishop in parishes than pastors to the people they are called to serve.

Historically, that WAS the role of the priest in the Church. In the ancient Roman configuration, the priest was the agent of the bishop. The canons evolved to maintain that role. But the Protestant Reformation confirmed the role of the pastor in the parishes. The pastoral role was to serve the people, to preach and celebrate and proclaim the good news to the people of God. The role of bishop was to maintain the Faith. The catholic formula of power and privilege was rejected by reformers.

In the present reality of the relationship of clergy and bishops, the bishop is no longer the pastor and colleague of clergy. The demands of insurance companies following the sex scandals of the 90’s ended that relationship. The bishops now see themselves as the autonomous power in the local church. Their role has become less the leader and person of vision and more the controller and punisher of perceived misconduct. The penchant for present bishops to control the calling process is a clear indication that the calling process is less about engaging the Holy Spirit and more about manipulating who can come into the diocese. This means that the “old boys’ network” is back in and provincialism reigns in a time when we are looking at global ideals.

The purpose of the national Clergy Deployment Office is called into question. Why do we sustain a large expensive networking agency in NYC if their service is not going to be taken seriously?