Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Five: Faith and Culture

Terri has been working with a local inter-faith project and poses these questions (perhaps not five, she says) as they relate to interfaith studies:

So, in honor of a week of interfaith study and celebration:

1. Have you ever had an experience of a religion other than your own? And, if so, what was it like for you to experience something different? If you haven't, what religion might you like to study, experience, and learn more about?

I have had only minimal inter-faith experience. I have had friends who were rabbis and studied Torah with them. At one lectionary study, a conservative rabbi often came and we were able to enter the Hebrew scripture with much more depth. I have taken my parishes to services at local synagogues at the invitation of the rabbi and attended local interfaith services. I have also done inter-faith weddings and funerals with Jewish colleagues. But I am still woefully ignorant of other traditions.

2. Have you ever studied, travelled, or explored other cultures? What and where, and when?

I have traveled in Europe and Latin America so I have not had to confront the full experience of a majority experience of a faith other than Christianity. But each one of those countries had a different way of addressing Christianity that was interesting. Even the differences within my own Episcopal/Anglican tradition: the difference between the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church of Mexico or Honduras, the West Indies and the U. S. is radically different. It is my opinion that the lived-out culture carries faith more readily than any other thing. And even the different regions in our own nation carry faith differently than others. (i.e. the difference between the New England vs. the South or the experience of California in comparison to the Mid-Atlantic states) Even the way that people approach Christianity is different.

3. Any stories you wish to share about a person (author, teacher, etc), or a friend or colleague, from another culture or religion, who has impacted you in some capacity?

While I was working along the MS coast following Katrina we had volunteers from many different traditions who came to work in the Lutheran/Episcopal Disaster relief efforts. One doctor who came to assist in the tent clinic was Hindu. He would come each evening to the prayer service that was usually done from the Book of Common Prayer (the only prayer books that were available following the storm). At dinner we engaged in some interesting conversations about how he was able to worship with us and how he understood his own faith in the light of the disaster of Katrina. We also had Muslims and Jews who worked with us that fall and we all worshipped together. It was one of the most gratifying faith experiences I have ever had.

4. My last parish before I retired was a small Lutheran (ELCA) congregation in upstate NY. That experience really informed me of how insular we become as Christians in our own denominations. Theologically I AM NOT a Lutheran. Most of Lutheran theology leaves me cold and I was never able to adopt the “Law and Gospel” thing that so characterizes Lutheran preaching. But the experience helped me really understand how much national culture has to do with how we how we understand our faith. The 2nd and 3rd generation Germans, Swedes, Norwegians and Danes I had in my congregation all had different takes on Lutheranism. Those whose families who came from Prussia and those whose roots were in Bavaria had different slants on how God was to be worshipped. I got them talking about it at coffee hour one morning because I was fascinated and it helped me serve them better. It also helped them understand why they were having difficulties among themselves and made it possible for them to develop a bit more cohesiveness as a congregation.

Within my own tradition, I have worked most of my career on the interface between White/Anglo culture and the African-American and Latino cultures. To experience Christ in those cultures requires an openness that I would not have had if I hadn’t been willing to enter into another culture to share in their faith. It has broadened my faith and allowed me understand people more deeply.

5. I am presently working on an inter-communion effort within the Anglican Communion. For the past 9 months I have been on a list serve with people from all over the world, all English-speaking Anglicans but who have widely-differing understandings of worship, theology and even the English language. Churchill used to say of Britain and the US:” two countries separated by a common language.” This is VERY true. When we have tried to publish anything in the name of the group, we find that what is very understandable in one country is not necessarily understandable in another.

When I was in CA, we started a Spanish-speaking mission from our parish. But how was I going to pass on what was uniquely Anglican rather than Roman Catholic in the Spanish language? This conundrum cannot be taken lightly. Translation requires a different mindset. And that finally helped me break through many of the problems I had reading the Bible in translation. Although Hindus, Muslims and Jews read their scriptures in their original language, the language of faith is rooted in a language that is no longer used: Sanskrit, early Arabic and Biblical Hebrew. This is not so true for those who read their scripture in translation. Language carries culture. And faith is carried by culture. T’is a puzzlement.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Texas Wind

 This has been my first spring in Texas for almost 40 years. Spring in Texas real begins in March with its wet chilly sun. But by Pentecost in June it has gotten hot. My friends in NY are still wearing their longjohns and we are sweltering in at the 101 mark. But this spring has been windier than I ever remember.

I am sure that some environmentalist could tell how the winds are rooted in western culture’s failure to be attentive to the earth. There is blame enough all over. But I don’t recall the kind of wind that we have had.

The pecan trees in our backyard dance and rustle the whole of the day and even through the night. As a child I remember sitting on the front steps of our family home in the quiet heat of summer and the call of the cicadas beginning in one tree and growing to deafening and then subsiding and then starting up in another neighbor’s tree becoming a chorus of pulsating commentary on the day. And on still days now, I hear this chatter. But the wind keeps the cicada quiet. The nights are instead of their usual dewy respite from the days’ desiccant, continue to rob what moisture there is from the land.

We have had awe-filled storms this spring. Green skies, the tornado laden clouds, have invaded our attention on many occasions. Wild fires have run rampant over our drought dried flora west of town. Folks have lost their homes and some have lost their lives. And the wind continues to blow.

I grow tomatoes in pots. I have 5 plants arranged throughout the back yard. I can move them into the shade so they don’t just wither as the temperatures rise. I know that tomatoes love sun but they can’t take too much. Each morning while it is still comparatively cool, I water them and talk to them as if they were my children. I admire their fruit and cuss at the mockingbirds who rob them of their fruit before I can have them in my salad. Each day I have to right some part of our patio accoutrements: a chair here, a pot there. But still the wind blows them over. It scatters their fruit before it has a chance to ripen or even the bird get to feast.

In Texas the wind has always been a fact of life. But it seems so much more as am reacquainted with this southern weather. It makes me restless and anxious. It isn’t a light breeze that cools; it comes with blast furnace force. I know of one woman who while riding her bicycle was blown off a viaduct and into on-coming traffic. The wind is not to be trusted…

And yet we recall Pentecost when the wind blew in the Church. It was a violent wind too. It was not a simple breeze. It blew the complacency out of the Church. And perhaps it is a Texas wind that teaches us of what the Holy Spirit is about.

I am struck still with EM Kaeton’s story of the Shekinah of God. All too often we think of the Holy Spirit as some benign force that rustles our complacency. But the Holy Spirt that blows in our Church today is a Texas wind that blows hard. There is no “murmuring of the dove song” about the Holy Spirit in times like these. The Spirit dries our juices and demands our strength. It blows us off our bikes requiring attention and respect. It sometimes comes with tornados or hail. It dents our shiny constitutions and marks us as surely as baptismal oil. The Pentecostal wind that blows in the Church today is one that silences the choruses of meaningless chatter that all too often marks our preaching and teaching. It is a wind that moves us from the comfort of our albatross buildings into the ugliness of financial responsibility. It rattles the stained glass windows that keep out the world. It dries our moisture so that we are thirsty again for the living water of relationship with the Holy One.

We now begin the season of Pentecost—we celebrate this season with no feasts and no penitence. In some traditions this is called ‘Ordinary’ time. But it is the time of a spirit- wind that blows fiercely. We will not know where it comes from; it will blow where it wills. But it will clear and renew the face of the earth.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Five: Stairway to Surprise

Jan has given us a new Friday Five:

I am currently reading a book entitled Stairway of Surprise: Six Steps to a Creative Life by Michael Lipson. His premise is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "I shall mount to paradise by the stairway of surprise." Lipson's book is about practicing or developing six inner functions--thinking, doing, feeling, loving, opening, and thanking.

So these categories of attention are a jumping off point for today's Friday Five:

Pick five of the six actions and write about how you are practicing them today or recently. For a bonus, write about the sixth one you originally didn't choose!

What or how are you

1. thinking?  I am thinking that today's 'win/lose' dynamic is going to kill us as Church, nation or even human race.  We must find a middle ground. 

2. doing?  Sitting on my butt and doing nothing and herein lies the problem!  I just resigned from an organization that I thought I would enjoy but found that I have nothing to offer them at present.  What they need, I cannot give.  I just don't have it within me to give it.  It is very disappointing.

3. feeling?  Depressed and angry.  I have been feeling this for the past month.  Guess it is time to find a counselor.

4. loving?  I am loving having a house on one floor, a yard to look at that I don't have to mow and the time to enjoy it.

5. opening?  I guess I have been stymied by the fact that I thought I would have a parish by now.  The continued legal hassels in the diocese preclude this.  With J's illness, it has been hard to start anything new.  Even cooking has become a problem. 

6. thanking?  This IS the problem and I am not thankful at present.  Oh, I am thankful for all my friends, their prayers and support.  Depression makes thankfulness difficult.

Monday, June 13, 2011

...And Old Women will dream dreams.

Oscar Romero said …this

It helps, now and then, to step back

and take the long view.

The kingdom [of God] is not only beyond our efforts,

it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of

the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.

Nothing we do is complete,

which is another way of saying

that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No programme accomplishes the church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:

We plant seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything

and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.

This enables us to do something,

and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,

an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,

but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders,

ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

A friend and colleague from the UK sent me this. She had been given this poem at her 75th birthday party. It is a wonderful way to look at what it is we are and do as ministers of the Gospel. I don’t think that there is anything that puts life into perspective—at least the perspective of God. We long to have that view but it is not ours on this side of the chasm.

Birthdays and anniversaries give us time to reflect. I celebrated a mere 28 years as an ordained person this past Saturday. And today I had lunch with the new deacon of our diocese. She asked important questions about the tensions between the older women and the young. She had experienced some of that at a gathering of women clergy she had attended. I appreciated her questions and challenge because it has made me reflect on what has happened in my lifetime in the ordained ministry. It has also helped me reflect on my own ministry at the beginnings of women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church.

Like St. Oscar Romero has said: We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.

And as impatient as I am to see the Kingdom come with regards to women’s ministry and the acceptance of LGBT people, I know that what I have been a part of is a great river of the Spirit as it went out of its banks. I will never know how fertile the delta will become because of that flood. But I am so glad I was able to be in the boat.

The first wave of women in the Episcopal Church who were able to poke a hole in the dike was those who were ordained in 1974 and 75. They were women who could no longer wait for the Church to catch up. They were ordained by ‘non-juroring bishops’ and broke all the ‘rules’ so that women could be a part of the rule-making. But they paid greatly for their brashness. Only a few of those women really got to serve in parishes. They were often marginalized long after the ordination of women was legitimized. Some taught, or were chaplains. None got to be rectors of large parishes or major voices in the structure of the Church. But that was not what God had called them to be. God called them to be those door-kickers or the boat rockers that got the church off its collective duff to be about justice, and more importantly, about the wholeness of humanity that the Gospel is really about.

The second wave was those who were the ‘good girls’ who observed all the rules. We jumped through momentously sexist hoops, we learned to how to play by ‘boys rules’, the rules that had always been played. We wore our dog collars and our blacks and tried to fit in. If we became rectors of parishes we tried very hard to maintain the ministry just as if a male priest was doing it. Oh, yes there were some attempts to institute ‘inclusive language’ but for the most part, it fell on deaf ears. We were just grateful that we were given a place at the table. Some of the second wave saw that their job was done. They had gotten their foot in the door and felt that was enough. They did not have a vision that God was calling the Church to something radically new. They wanted equality and parity. They were about just having a job, even if the ceiling was low. Or if there were one’s who were able through perfecting the male model and were especially capable at that role, often played into the hierarchical competition that so marked male privilege in the Church.

The second wave did not show the real changes that women’s ordination really herald. Women were still rare on seminary faculties. Feminist and womanist theologies were only beginning to be developed, and they certainly had not gotten into the DNA of the way that the Church was run. Slowly the men of the clergy began to understand that there were women who were just as talented and just as spiritually adept as they. And begrudgingly they realized that the Church was better off with their presence. Hesitantly they allowed themselves to work WITH women rather than against us.

I am part of that second wave of women who were ordained in the church. I naively enjoyed being a novelty. I smiled and answered “what do we call you? questions. I glibly thought that ‘inclusive language’ was not necessary because I was the sign and symbol of inclusion. Horse puckey!

There are women who are being ordained now who are as equally naive as I who enter the ordained ministry thinking “we have arrived!” And they maintain that second wave by thinking that all they are going to do is what the “good fathers” have been doing for generations. But there is another group that is coming into the ministry who realize that the job of women in the Church is to go beyond “we have always done it this way before’. They see in the gifts that women bring naturally a way to change the Church radically for the future. They see at the centre of their call to minister in the Church in a remarkably communal way. They see domination as wholly contrary to the Gospel. Their goal is to change ‘boys rules’ into something that is much more homogenized.

I love to see these younger women begin to claim their power. I am energized by their willingness to try new things and absolutely exult in the freshness of their approach. At the same time I hurt for their naïveté, for I know that they will be battered and torn in their lives as they run into the patriarchy that still freezes the Church in its failure to proclaim the Gospel.

They can envision a Church that is not based on the ‘family model’ with ‘father/mother knows best’ continuing top-down leadership. They are a bold group that can take up post-modern issues facing Scripture, the stories of our faith, and remind us that Christ still lives within us and more importantly pointing out the moving of Spirit in our midst.

It is at times like these that Romero’s voice speaks so clearly: “We are prophets of a future not our own.”

I have moved from one who sees visions to one who ‘dreams dreams.’ And I give thanks for that. Perhaps my dreams will be able to plant a seed that some young one can nurture. And one day the patriarchy will not dictate the Gospel and no one will wonder what to call me.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Five: Moments of Insight

Share with us today about five memorable moments of insight, discovery, awareness--from childhood or later, something you experienced or something you shared with someone else

Dorcas shared a story of her granddaughter going to hear the Mozart Requiem and then asked us to share. Many of my memorable moments have to do with music too.

1. I remember very clearly hearing the L’Arlesienne Suite on the radio when I was about 7 or so. The ‘Bells’ movement has a repeating French horn theme throughout the piece. It was that night I decided that I wanted to play that instrument. And I did. I went on to study music as an undergrad and played professionally until the “Baby Boomers” got out of college and began to ‘flood the market’. By that time I had 'gotten religion' and moved out of my Local.

2. I remember also my first opera. Madam Butterfly. I was about 8. I was caught up with the whole experience of the orchestra. By that time I was playing trumpet but my eyes were still centered on the French horn players. I wasn’t paying much attention to the singers; I was fascinated by the folks playing in the pit. Music became my refuge and the way that I way I could make sense out of the world.

3. On Christmas Eve 1969 I was asked by a nun who was also a French horn player to play for Midnight Mass. That night performance became ‘gift’ and service. It changed my life. And while I still find satisfaction in music and it is the most available channel to the Holy in my life, I have found other avenues to know the greatness of God and the universe.

4. When I was in my twenties I was teaching in a small Roman Catholic parish in So. Texas. The daughters of Gene Krantz, the head comptroller of the NASA Apollo Project were in my classes. I was visiting in their home and I think I made a then PC remark that I didn’t understand the space program when that money could go to the poor. Gene took out a book of space photos that showed infrared images of the Texas-Mexico border. There was a distinct line showing the border and I asked him about that. How could you see the border from space? He told me that it had to do with irrigation. He said that we could provide advice to nations all over the globe to help them with their agriculture and other things to better our world. I became a NASA ‘junkie’ after that. I also became very interested in how our nation as a public entity participated in one of the most advanced form of research and development that has been known. I am sorry that ‘big business’ has taken over this portion of our government because I believe that what developed from NASA’s R & D served the whole nation, not just specific companies. It contributed to the real boom of the 70’s and 80’s. Now NASA is a mere shell. But the photos from space and into space by the Hubble telescope still serve to thrill me and remind me of the awesome power of God. They continue to humble me ( no small feat for this Texas gal) and remind me of my place in Creation.

5. I didn’t grow up enjoying reading. I did not read well as a child. I now know I that I am a bit dyslexic. But I hated reading class because I was slow. I read the all the horse books that girl could find but that was about it. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that J. introduced me to the English mystery writers Dorothy Parker and Josephine Tey and I was hooked! I still read slowly. J can read a book in a night. It takes me 3 weeks. But I do remember that somewhere in my late 20’s I found that because I read slowly, I was a good lector. People could understand what I read out loud. It became important to convey to others by what I read the meaning of the Word. And it became a passion in my life just as music had done in my youth. It was the sharing of the holy—the ineffable—that image of something so beyond me—that I couldn’t contain it.