Saturday, August 28, 2010

Waking up to Sarah Palin

I caught just a bit of Sarah Palin’s speech from the Lincoln Memorial this morning while I was trying to wake up to NPR news. I heard her claim that the way to return America to greatness was to honor our military personnel. I admit to being only partially awake, but such a statement was enough to wake me. Now, I admit I am not a fan of Sarah Palin. At the same time I am not willing to bash her because she is a woman. But whoever writes her copy missed the boat on this one.

I am of the generation that watched the Vietnam War divide a nation and cripple our self esteem. I had high school classmate killed there, childhood playmates changed by that war and worked with a generation of clergy many of whom dodged the draft by going to seminary. I never once in all those years thought less of those who fought for my country. I have honored them even when I thought the wars that they were fighting were wrong.

 The Vietnam War began the sobering wake-up call to the US that perhaps we were not as righteous a nation that we thought it was. For me, it was a putting away of childish post-WWII triumphalism in regards to our nation’s place in the world. But the Boomer generation often took out its disappointment with Vietnam on those who served there rather than on those who sent them.

I have always honored those who serve in the military. I respect the desire of young people who want to serve their country by putting their lives on the line so I can worship and speak freely. What I do not honor are those who use our youth as cannon fodder for the military-industrial complex or for questionable “American assets.”

 After spending almost 10 years as rector of a parish in the DC area in which 75% of the parish were either military or veterans, I know the good that our military personnel can do and be in society. But to honor them as a way to address the real and present problems in American society is mere foolishness. And I am angry at the men who wrote Sarah Palin’s copy. That kind of American pie rhetoric which is often served up as patriotism pales in her hands. It makes her look like an idiot and I don’t believe she really is.

The financial crisis that Obama is supposed to have straightened out in less than two years in office was the result of decades of financial deregulated mismanagement. It won’t work out in a mere 18 months. And an American populace that cannot understand that cannot understand the real significance of our young people who are serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a significant number of Americans who somehow believe that this nation is above the normal ebb and flow of history—that we don’t deserve to feel the consequences of mismanagement, or poor leadership. We can have rallies on the Mall and make it better rather than buckling down and doing the hard work of figuring out where we have failed in being good neighbors to one another and the world, where we have thrown money at problems that have never ceased, and where we have mocked the US Constitution by claiming that property is more important than our people.

Waking up to Sarah Palin is enough to set my day awry. Now I need to spend some time with Coffee, not tea, and God to get my soul centered.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Will our children have faith?

A friend sent me an email worried about her childhood church that had fallen on hard times. I sent off a response that many, many churches have fallen upon hard times. I would guess that in the past 5 years we have seen the closing of more churches in the main line churches than at any single time in American Church history. We have also seen large and vital churches just 15 years ago fall into the realm of either part-time or what is known “in the business” as “struggling congregations.” Even those huge independent churches with their fire-breathing clergy are beginning to dwindle in attendance.

In the Northeast we would often blame it on the change in demographics. Here in the South we often blame it on the “conservative-liberal” contentiousness that has infected the Church. But like Diana Butler Bass and Phyllis Tickle, I think that there are other forces as work. Tickle in her The Great Emergence ties the decline in mainline churches including the Roman Catholic, as a sign of a sea change that is happening theologically, liturgically and historically. She shows how these changes happen about every 500 years in matters of faith. Although I think she stretches the history a bit; I do believe she has a good case.

What I do see is that belief in most religions of the world is finding it difficult to continue concepts that have kept them alive for millennia. Christianity is no exception. Whether it is because faith is being assaulted with scientific fact that belies the myths of those religions, or whether it is because the world has become tired of the organizations that have supported exclusionary tenets, I am not sure. But I am finding that the two most over-arching faith systems in the world, faith and science, are finally coming to terms with each other and consequently leaving both science and old faith parameters in the dust. It is also why I am so supportive of having a faith-filled marine biologist as presiding bishop of our Church.

Religion is not the opiate of the people; it is the quest for meaning in life. Faith in that which is beyond us is what makes life full and hopeful. Faith is rooted most often in the stories of our lives but is expanded to include all humanity. While I served as a Lutheran pastor, I was made aware of just how important cultural expressions of the holy are. God was perceived as just as organized and collected as German thought processes. It made me think of how I have come to know God in an Anglican form that is equally foreign to my Latino or my Asian friends. In the face of growing globalism, how do I express my faith in the Divine—a sense of the Holy-- to those who have been formed in a technological age?

My knowledge of the Holy-God-the Divine is rooted in a Hebraic experience of faith that was molded by Greek mythology and philosophy, medieval superstition, Reformation rationalism, Enlightenment absolutism and Darwinian evolution. My faith is as orthodox as the BCP 1979 and I believe deeply in the love of Jesus Christ. But I wonder what the future of my faith will be. The hope in the Holy is not JUST for Christians. It is for all humankind. This does not mean that I put my faith in humanism. No, my relationship with the Holy is real and meaningful. It is the continuous call from God to live ‘a life worthy of my calling.’

Faith for the future must be willing to introduce folks to a relationship with that which cannot be expressed. It must be willing to share a faith that not a game of Monopoly where Salvation is a “get out of jail free” card. Church for the future must be willing to share its uncertainty in order for the members to embrace the constant call to holiness. For certainty is a stumbling block to a relationship with a god that cannot be imprisoned by words. And when we must have certainty, we fail in our relationship with God. “ Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

The faith we share is what will call us to Church. That Church will look different from my ethnic-bound Anglican world. There will need to be space in that new Church for those who are ethnically bound, but there will be space for those do not conform to Anglican roots. There will be those who can open their metaphors for the Holy to a technological understandings of hope. That is where the faithful will be. Their music may not be Palestrina or even Foley; their chant may not be four-part harmony. Incense may not be used. But I will know I am in Church because God and the faith-filled will be there.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ursuline memories

Thirty-eight years ago today I entered the convent. Most people who know me look at me and say “YOU were a nun?” Not exactly, I entered and stayed through my noviciate until I realized that the religious life was not my vocation and left. But I am so thankful for those years and those women who helped me to know Christ and God’s love.

I came to know Christ through one of those sisters when religious were just coming out of their enclosures in the ‘60’s. I was teaching in an extremely poor section of Dallas in a junior high school that was deeply involved with the school district’s attempts at integrating Blacks, Hispanic and Whites. If there was anything that radicalized me, it was those years in that school.

I was also a professional musician. I supplemented my income with playing with a civic symphony in the area. At the beginning of a new season, a nun with full habit and carrying a French horn showed up at rehearsal. We became good friends. Often I provided transportation to rehearsals and it was not uncommon to have a drink together afterwards. Of course conversation turned to religion and faith. I was not an unbeliever, but I had never met someone for whom faith was so clear. As problems in my own teaching situation began to rise, I asked her to pray for me. She asked me if I prayed. I said,” no, that was her job.” She made sure that I knew that wasn’t how it worked and helped me begin to pray.

That introduction to prayer and the gradual invitation to prayer with the community was the beginning of a relationship with the Holy that has guided my life ever since. I entered three years later on the Feast of the Assumption.

The community that I joined was a well-established teaching order whose Postulancy was in New Orleans. It was an incredible culture change from my less that 7% Catholic environment in Ft. Worth. New Orleans was intensely Roman Catholic with the same kind of ethnic diversity of many of the major cities in the Midwest. I was unfamiliar with the kind of “Irish parish”, “Italian parish”, “French parish” mentality that permeated Roman Catholic society. Ursuline, my community, was deeply established as old French in a city that traded on old French for its identity. Such institutions as Mardi Gras, even many of the religious practices were centered in our convent. For the first time in my life, I belonged among some of the shakers and movers of society who did the shaking and moving by praying. It was humbling.

I was also learning about solitude. For such an extrovert as I, this was a totally new experience. The Ursulines guaranteed their sisters at least an hour for mental prayer a day. They also expected you to be a part of the liturgical day, praying the daily Morning, Evening and Night as a community. There is something about a whole chapel of women singing the psalms that eases the loneliness of life. Community life was not difficult for me. I loved having meals with these well-educated women whose table talk concerned the events of the day, theology, liturgy, things that I was interested in. I am sure that there were many of the sisters who found ME difficult because I was an awkward colt and a “pushy broad” to boot. But I was always treated with respect.

We were moved from New Orleans to outside of St. Louis for our novitiate. There I learned to rely on Christ alone. We were on the banks of the Mississippi seemingly cut off from everything and everyone. As I delved deeper into my own vocation I was quite undetermined about what God was calling me to. I knew that my life was to be centered in the Church. My life had been turned over to the Holy much earlier before I entered. But HOW was I supposed to the serve the Church was still vague. Then the first women’s ordinations in the Episcopal Church were publicized and my world shifted. It wasn’t immediate and it wasn’t clear for some time. But I knew that there was a possibility that priesthood was where it led.

My three years in the convent are still dear to me. I have lost some contact with that community of women but there are still individuals I contact when I have the chance. Following Katrina, I visited my novice mistress while they were decamped in Dallas. She had been in the hospital at the time the levees broke and had harrowing tales of being carried out on a stretcher. Her community didn’t know where she was for some days, I think. The influence that these women, women who had gone against society’s convention of marriage, women who were educated and could think for themselves were far more important to my formation as a woman than the feminists I met in Cambridge or Berkeley. They were women who deeply understood God in their lives. Not all thought the way I did. Not all lived out their vows the way I did. I learned to live and love them because they were my sisters even though some of them were not always “nice.” It was a microcosm of what life today has become. It was a microcosm of what life in the Church is.

And so today I give thanks to God for the Order of St. Ursula of the Roman Union. May they continue to share their lives with those who have no knowledge of God. I pray that God will prosper their witness to the world and among the lives of women who will lead and shape tomorrow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You

I am off to the Believing Out Loud conference in Austin this afternoon with Integrity, the LGBT organization in TEC. I have never really considered myself a part of “The Movement” because I have never really seen myself as part “The Life.” (Whatever that means.)

Having people sort you out as to what you are sexually is so tiresome. Like so many people my age, that part of my life has been gone so long that it seems weird that people get so exercised because I am lesbian. I have never been a girly-girl. I do take great pride of being the best half-back in my all –boy neighborhood when I was growing up. I do prefer watching the Cowboys play to Better Homes and Gardens channel. And as I told my bishop “I don’t pass for straight well.”

All that said. I would say that sex—that is, the act of having sexual excitement/pleasure, occupies such a miniscule particle of my life that to find that as a reason why I am allowed or not allowed to do things in the name of Jesus is ludicrous. And for the most of my life this has been true. Granted, at one point when I was young, I was as hormonally determined as any youth, but as an adult….? Get real!

So what does it mean for me to go to an Integrity conference? It does mean being with other LGBT folk. It means being with others who think like I do about the issue of full-inclusion in Christ’s Church. But most of them live their lives quite differently from me. It means seeing friends I have known throughout my career and it means meeting friends I have met only on-line.

It also means that I still have faith in this crazy Church of ours that we can be about sharing Christ with others who seem different or odd or “queer”, to coin a phrase. It says that the God I have faith in calls me each day to expanding my horizons and pushing this mortal envelope to wonderful and even outrageous dimensions. And I thank God everyday that God does that. It keeps me from becoming stagnant or dried up and one of those seniors who complains all the time.

I still do not know where the Church is going. And that disturbs me. This Emergent Age is leaving me without the normal signposts of familiarity. But as long as there are people who are willing to share their love for God, I want to be there. I can be about the vocation that God has called me to---to confirm the joy that God makes present in one another. How that is going to be configured, remains to be seen. So I go to new things, experience stuff I have never experienced (no bungy-jumping or hang-gliding, thank you)  to open me to new loves and prepare to learn to walk all over again. Alleluia, he is risen!