Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Elephant and the Ant

I have been watching how the discussion of the Anglican Covenant has been progressing through the various dioceses of the Church of England. It is not quite a done-deal in the UK. One diocese (Litchfield) has voted to reject the Covenant for several reasons:

1. That it is unnecessary

2. That it would harm the relationships in other parts of the Communion and those churches in the Scandinavian countries

There are two other dioceses; however that have voted for the Covenant because they believe that the American church needs to pay for being naughty and doing something that does not conform to the social norms of the CofE. This ‘spank the yank’ attitude doesn’t seem to extend to the Church of Canada even though they are participating in many of the same issues that TEC is. They have not consecrated gay/lesbian folk to the episcopate; therefore their sin is not as egregious. Cummon! They are blessing same-sex unions because they are the law of the land. And it will not be long before the CofE has to do the same.  If the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks he is going to dodge that bullet in his own Church, he isn't dealing with a full deck!

Back in 2005 or so, Bishop Bruce Cameron, then primus of Scotland, said to me that the whole issue of the consecration of gays and lesbians was an American problem. That what was going on in Africa was a problem created by Americans who were using the Anglican Communion as the playground for their own political agenda. There was some truth to that. It would not be until later that we would find out that right-wing elements within the US, not necessarily Episcopalian, were using vast amounts of money and incredibley right-wing theologies to enflame the various churches in Africa and other nations that are threatened by Muslim encroachment.   It was also a way, they thought, to control the mainline Protestants from continuing to address the national issues with a 'liberal political agenda.' 

We as Americans often get rather cavalier about the way we interact with other nations. Our foreign policies tend to disregard other national interests. I remember Bishop Leo Frade, then the Bishop of Honduras, using the analogy of the ant and the elephant in bed together. And how does the ant sleep at night? “Very carefully,” he said. This is one of the problems with being the elephant nation. Whatever we do impacts other places in the world. And I was wondering just how much America has been culpable in the Communion-wide split that has created a perceived need for a Covenant in some parts of the Communion.

As one who is neither small nor noiseless, I know that can threaten people without any intention. I have been called a bully even when I have never intended or wanted to assert myself in a given situation. But because I am big and articulate, this is scary to some. But their fear cannot be the determining factor in how I lead my life. I know that my intention is not to hurt or threaten, so I have to choose the best way to live my life in accordance with what I am called to be by God.

I believe that is what TEC has done. I believe that is what Canada is doing. It is what the Church of Sweden has already done. And when Spain, that most Catholic of countries can recognize same-sex unions, there is a change that is happening that we must address as Church . I believe that is what many are doing throughout the world.  But because we are the elephant country, we get blamed for being precipitous and insensitive.

Great Britain used to be the top dog in the world in the 18th and 19th centuries. They ruled the waves and bullied their way through their suzerainty. We had a War of 1812 to remind us. They too had to learn through the hard knocks of loss of colonies that to be in bed with the ant would produce stings. And I believe that TEC too has learned that we have been a bit too na├»ve in the way that we have moved on major issues in the Communion. BUT this does not mean that the attempt to reach out to the LGBT community, women clergy and bishops and the need to right the wrongs of bad theology, poor Scriptural interpretation, scape-goating, continuing smear campaigns against a group of people who just want to be God’s own can be put on hold until a generation has gotten over their fear.

The fear of the ant cannot keep the elephant from breathing or living into the reality of the call of Christ.

Punishment for following Christ is certainly not unique in the annals of Christian History. And Christians have often fought with each other in the name of Christ. If the CofE feels that TEC needs to be punished for responding to the despised and the rejected they will vote for the Anglican Covenant. If other churches feel that we are trying to address a new world with the words and love of Christ, they are going to have to look beyond our size and our power and wealth and find that we too believe deeply in a God that can heal all wounds, and can bless all relationships.  The smaller churches know of our generosity and care.

For the churches to take upon themselves to punish other churches belies the mandate of Christ to love one another. It goes far beyond what our Communion has always thought itself to be, a ‘community of independent churches’. It continues a type of colonialism that has caused these problems in the first place.

The Anglican Covenant is a poor substitute for the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral that has served us for over a century. It is an attempt to control that which cannot be controlled—the Holy Spirit as it blows in the churches that make up our Communion.

If the CofE still needs to ‘spank the yank’, then it also needs to know that the bed is small. “Relational consequences” do exist. The ant may sting, but the elephant remembers.

Friday, March 18, 2011

FF: Spring Forward

Jan has posted this week Friday Five. 

Whether we liked it or not, we all "sprang forward" with the change to daylight savings time in the USA this past Sunday. There is lightness and brightness slipping in as spring approaches, so let us consider what is springing forth in our lives right now.

Name 5 things that are springing forth, possibly including :

• what you hope for

I hope for our diocese to get through the legal problem with the schismatics so that we can get our property and our funds back and find some normalcy. I would like to have a part-time parish and know that the bishop wants to give me one when we get the parishes back. I know that I need a job. I need something to really focus on. I like the idea of being able to sleep late and read or surf all day, but God isn’t finished with me yet.

• what you dread

All of the above and the problems that will crop up when it happens. When the parishes return to us, there will still be disgruntled parishioners so the hard work will be to find a way to discuss the very painful issues that cause the split in the first place. For me it will be personal. I am EVERYTHING that they have been taught to fear as evil—female, lesbian and a faithful Christian.

• what you observe

The world has moved on in the area of LGBT issues. It is very interesting how much has happened in the US re. LGBT rights just in the past year. The loss of so many young people to suicide raised the consciousness of many as well as so many people in visible places coming out to claim that life gets better. I have even been asked to do sensitivity training with the local fire and police personel.  Go figure!

• what is concrete

I have never thought of life as being concrete. Very little in my life is not flexible and changeable. And I think that as one who has been sent, that is how my life should be. The only thing that I see as something that is a constant is my faith. Everything else revolves around that. Somewhere I made that ‘carry no knapsack’ image of faith an important part of who I am. I just wish my roommate felt the same. 8>D

• what is intangible

The root word of ‘intangible’ is ‘touch’. This morning I am looking out on a day that is supposed to be in the 80’s. The Texas wind is blowing the poplars in my neighbor’s yard with abandon. The warmth that we longed for before we moved here is making itself known. The morning doves hoot so loud here that it can be annoying and the cats run around chasing leaves. I cannot grasp my life here—it is intangible. But I am ‘touched’ by it. I am touched by a diocese that has been ‘rent asunder’ which is vital and faithful. I am touched also by the warmth of acceptance I have received since I returned to my hometown that I fled so long ago. I am touched by waves of nostalgia that come as recall events of my childhood and teen years. And while my life is not concrete—it is not intangible. God has touched me, and that is all that is important.

I will be away this weekend, and so I promise to check in with you all on Sunday evening!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Theology of Disaster

Great disasters always want to be understood. When I went to the aid of the people of the Gulf Coast following Katrina I was humbled by the sight of the destruction. It was so much more than what the news could show. It took my breath away. I feel the same way about what has happened in Japan.

Of course my heart aches for the lives that have been lost, the lives that have been shattered by this tragedy. My prayers are for all who have been affected: the people of Japan and all the relief workers who will rush to Northern Japan just as I did to the Gulf Coast. But I refuse to be a part of the questioning that implies that God did this. Theologies of the sort that must hang on God the kind of anthropomorphic motives that God created this disaster belie first, any kind of modern view of science and then attach to God human spite or anger.

It is easy to blame God for such happenings that are rooted in the earth’s core. It is easy to find reasons in our own proclivities for anger, or outrage. But in reality, God has little to do with earthquakes, little to do with tsunamis, and nothing to do with nuclear disasters of reactors save in the building blocks of Creation.

Theologies that entertain such causes for natural disasters are rooted in a pre-modern sense of magic rather than even modernist science. They are rooted in the kind of idealism that came from the Reform theologies of the Swiss who understood that humanity was predestined to certain ends. Now many of the reformed traditions eschew double predestination, but they still cling to an idea that ‘God has a plan’ for you, the Church, the nation, and the world. This kind of theology falters in the light of such disasters unless you are part of the Chicken Little School of Theology who are predicting the end of the world.

The ancients have seen this kind of disaster long before our time. We even have accounts of such upheaval in Hebrew Scripture. What else are the psalms saying when they speak of “hills that skip like lambs” or that the mountains “clap their hands?” They are speaking of the awe that such movements of the earth’s crust produces.

When I looked at the destruction of Katrina, I was in awe of the power of a mere hurricane. Those who experienced the Indian Ocean tsunami were overwhelmed with the suddenness of such power. And those who experienced the earthquakes in Haiti or Christchurch or now in Japan are overwhelmed with the human pain and loss. But none of them can again believe in the security of human existence.

Life is dangerous. Sometimes we can fool ourselves in to kinds of false security. We can think that we have built our houses where hurricanes don’t happen, or there is no fault line. We can believe that some social contracts (i.e. governments or insurance companies) will keep us safe. But in reality, nothing is safe.

There is only one constant: God’s love. To those who have lost much in natural disasters may turn to blame God, but it will be God’s love from those who will help them pick up their lives following these disasters that will make a difference whether they ‘survive’ to live in joy and gratitude again. If possible they will stand in the total mystery of the nature and the awe of its power and be humbled to recognize that there is little or no control that humanity has in the face of such forces. The only saving thing is the incarnate love for humanity that such disasters produce in us who know God’s love. It is this love that brings the outpouring of human goodness that allows people to reach beyond disaster.

The people of Japan have been damaged by earthquakes and tsunamis over and over in their history. The people of the Gulf coast have recovered from hurricanes before. The folks in Haiti have known the poverty and disruption of their nations over and over. The people of Christchurch have known hardship too. What will show God’s real power in the world is whether we who have seen the damage can reach out with assistance and renewal. This is not a glib—‘everything is going to be alright’. It is a real faith in God’s love that spreads out when we are humbled by that which is so far beyond us.

It is not for us to determine what God’s purpose is. It is for us to claim the high calling to embrace those who have been harmed by the forces of nature. It is not for us to name God’s ‘feelings’; it is the Christian’s job to find in the need a way to proclaim God’s hope.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday, March 11, 2011Friday Five: All About Cars!

Singing Owl must finally be digging out from under the snow and thinking of her automobile:

Maybe it's just me, but I often remember how long ago something occurred or something about it by recalling the car we had at the time. For today's Friday Five, tell us about the cars in your life. Maybe we can even tempt some of the guys of the ring to join us. Specifically, tell us about:

1. The earliest recollection you have of a family car

Oh, Lordy. When we moved to TX in 1949, we didn’t have a car. Cars were hard to come by after WWII. We had moved from a small town in IL and we walked everywhere there. We took the bus most places. I think the first car we got was a 47 Ford in 1951.

2. The first car you drove when you could (legally) get behind the wheel yourself.

I learned to drive in a 1957 Mercury

3. A memorable road trip

In 1985, J and I borrowed my brother’s camper van and drove from Ft. Worth to LA for the General Convention of our church. We traveled and camped through much of the Southwest visiting the Grand Canyon, Chalma, NM, Taos, Albuquerque and Tucson as well as King’s Canyon in CA.

4. The car you drive now. Love it? Hate it?

I just bought a 2008 Dodge Caliber. It is good since it is 4cly and does not use as much gas as my 2001 Jeep Cherokee Classic that had 186K miles on it. I left that with a friend in upstate NY who needed the 4 wheel drive for the snow. My Dodge isn’t as much fun to drive, but it is serviceable for one who does not have to drive long distances.

5. An interesting story that involves you and a vehicle. (No, I do not have a dirty mind!)

My first car was a 1954 Chevy coop which I bought for $400 when I was in college. I didn’t have much money in those days and I had to do what repairs I could on my own. The water pump failed and I had to replace it myself. I didn’t know how to do it but it was a simple enough machine in those days, that I carefully took it apart so I could put it back in. The guy at the parts store and my brother on the telephone helped me through it. Now, I couldn’t climb under the car to do it. There was no lift available.

Bonus: What's your idea of good "car music?" All cars must have a good radio and now a CD because I listen to classical music. For a while I had Sirius on one of my cars but I now have a great local station that provides most of my needs. And on a long trip I borrow books on tapes from the library to listen to a whodunit to keep me awake.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wed.

Sometimes I blog in reaction to what others have blogged, and today’s thoughts have been precipitated by my friend Elizabeth Kaeton. I have just come home from having ‘taken ashes to the people.’ I serve as a part-time chaplain to UTA (Univ. of TX—Arlington) . Knowing that we could not have a Eucharistic liturgy on campus, we got permission to distribute ashes on the patio outside of the student union. And I found it a wonderful experience.

Young people from the liturgical traditions smiled and came forward as we asked if they would like to receive ashes. Many said: “Oh, I had forgotten it was Ash Wed.” or “Thank you, I wasn’t going to be able to get to church because of classes.” One young man said, “Please pray for me. I am trying to quit smoking.”

Of course we had just as many who asked about the tradition. This is very Baptist country and many were unfamiliar with the tradition. It was a chance to explain the tradition to those who had wondered why their friends went around with dirty foreheads. I was able to chat with a young woman from Bangladesh about our time of fasting and reconciliation. A Jewish student was interested too. It was a place where we could begin the conversations that our pluralist society needs to discuss. Why do we do such things?

My sister, Elizabeth, asks the important question why. And I think it is the mere act of placing ashes on our foreheads that we begin to understand that while we are not to be hypocrites by flaunting our faith, we ARE claiming a faith that requires of us transformation. It is something that we hold in common with other faith traditions. The call to transformation says that we claim a God who invites us to be more than we were yesterday.

The example of Tamar is an interesting one. (2 Samuel 13) Tamar puts the ashes upon herself because of the rape, but she BECOMES the ashes for Amnon who puts Tamar away. He does not accept the ashes of repentance, but Tamar IS the sign of his dishonor.

Ashes are a sign of repentance and renewal for many historic traditions. They carry meaning for us today. Certainly in the liturgical setting, we can explain what WE mean. But cannot the ashes imposed at the railway station or on the front steps of our churches speak just as loud? Today one young woman came and then said she has spent the summer in Nepal. Smudges on the forehead were a sign of welcome and remembrance there. Are the signs of the Church only to denote a single meaning? Or do the symbols of faith reach deeper to the encounter with God that is universal? Personally I am willing to share those signs of faith as a way of sharing with others that profound witness to all that is Holy.

Friday, March 4, 2011

FF: Quadrigessima

Katherynjz is just back from the Revgal cruise and is facing Lent. So she prepared this FF for us:

What are some things you appreciate about the season of Lent? Perhaps you would share 5 of them with us. And for your bonus question feel free to share one thing you could do without.

There is part of me that could say that  I could do without  Lent… But I will play according to the rules since I did not get to feel the sea breeze with my sisters.

1. Purple—I love the church when it is clothed in purple. It is as if church is a bit more serious, a bit more elegantly solemn. It isn’t sad or overtly penitential. Episcopalians aren’t too sure there is sin so penitence isn’t as heavy as it was in the RCC. But when the cross is draped in purple and the vestments are deeply rich with color there is less chattering, and a quiet expectation in the building even when there is no service going on. 

2. Ashes---placing ashes on my friends foreheads is a powerful ritual for me. While it does remind me and them “that you are dust and to dust you will return”, there is always someone who I mark who will be dust by next year. Embracing my mortality and my friends’ mortality is part of Lent. Last night I got a call from a childhood friend. In a matter of two weeks both of her parents had died. I had buried her husband’s mother in December. So in a matter of two months they had lost 3 parents. I spent some time on the phone just listening to her grief. I am thankful I can do that for folks—especially those friends from my childhood. It is a type of bonding that crosses years.

3. Intensity of the season—both Advent and Lent are intense when one is a pastor of a parish. People bring harder issues to you during the season. There is a tendency to want to avoid them, but I have always appreciated their trust to use me as a sounding board or even as a ‘dumping station’. I am noticing that even though I don’t have a parish now, there are those who seek me out to enter their lives of faith in a more intense way. I am glad to do that and I also seek others who can do that for me.

4. Educationally stimulating—Lent is when we have more educational opportunities in our denomination. In my denomination, adult education is often lax, but folks are willing to attend programs during Lent. I am teaching a course in one parish and am assisting on another topic in another parish. It forces me to study and prepare and I come into contact with other opinions than my own. It calls me to change.

5. Reforming—it is the time when I do consciously take myself to task about my own failings. I generally take on one and ask for help to reform or redeem it. That is the reason I love the reading of the Transfiguration just before Lent.

Bonus  What do I NOT like in the season?  Blustery weather, people who give up chocolate, some times the lectionary becomes redundant, too many meetings--I have never understood why there are so many meetings during Lent when it is one of the busiest seasons for clergy.  We are even having clergy conference during Lent!  Blag!