Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Priest is like Mary Poppins

A priest is like Mary Poppins’

Well worth reading.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Corporate Christianity and a New Monasticism

I am reading Diana Butler Bass’ new Christianity After Religion.  It takes me a long time to read a book.  First of all because I am a bit learning disabled and it has seemed to worsen as I have gotten older.  The other reason is because I like to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’.  I read a bit and then I think about what is said.  Now that read on my Kindle, I don’t mark because my version doesn’t have that capacity.  So I am likely to blog about what I have read.

I have followed Bass’ career; she is an Episcopalian, after all.  But she also used to teach at the seminary where I used to train seminarians.  And I have been interested in her understanding of the history of the Church coming as she does from a very evangelical, charismatic experience of faith.  I tend to see things through the lens of my catholic foundations so hers is a remarkable contrast to my own. Her critique is one that I can understand and even support.  While we are both historians, she is as much a sociologist as she is historian.  She supports her work with statistics that I have never followed.  And her attention to modern Church History is broad while mine is only because I have lived through it in my own particular world.

She makes a point about the corporate model and how this rather modern model for the American Church took root only in the 19th Century.  It was modeled first by the Presbyterians and then all denominations took it on.  It is one of the manifestations of Americanism that we have exported throughout the world.  Even Roman Catholicism was not the ‘big business’ that it is today prior to Vatican I in the mid-1800.  It was to ape the modern world that churches styled themselves in the corporate way of management.  It was a model that people understood and it was quite successful.

Somehow, my personal experience of faith was not molded by this business model.  I came to know of Christ through the influence of Roman Catholic religious who lived lives of quiet community.  It is there that I found richness of an intensely personal experience of God as well as a unique respect for how my faith intertwined with not only how I lived but with whom I lived.  Faith and community cannot be separated for me so I have become a Christian for whom being an Episcopalian is an important piece of my identity.  Can I worship in other brands?  Of course!  Do I worship with other communities?  Sure.  But I have thrown my lot with TEC and find it important that it is that community of faith I serve. 

But even in its heyday, this corporate model was foreign to me.  I accepted it, but it was not where my relationship with God ‘hit the road.’   The very personal but not private relationship with the Holy was something that could only be lived in a small community.  Perhaps this is the reason that I often chose small town ministry as the place where most of my parish ministry took place.  It wasn’t so much of being the 'big fish in a small pond' as it was that ministry was intensely personal, intimate and local.  I did not attempt to manhandle large groups in order to ‘spread the Gospel.’ 

Most of my classmates in seminary in the early ‘80’s were from large churches, were upper-middle class and very familiar with this corporate experience of faith.  They were also mainly Baby Boomers whose lives had been deeply affected by the educational efforts of over-whelmed school systems and ‘hurry-up and wait’ mentalities that accompanied Boomers wherever they went.  I was a war baby and did not have the same need to climb over the next guy that Boomers exhibited. I realized that how I understood faith was significantly different from my classmates but that did not seem to matter.  Most of us understood the call of God to serve and that was what was the important thing then.   

Over the past 10 to 15 years so much has happened in the Church that it is hard to find the same Church for which I was ordained.  I find some of it here in FTW because FTW has been kept from growing for the past 30 years under bishops who refused to allow the Church to change.  Their dogmatism soured people on the Church so the people who are now in the pews are people who have been released from captivity.  And there is a temptation for us to go back to a church before the dogmatic and the control-seekers took over.  There is a temptation to reinstate a type of clerical leadership that is based in those worn corporate models that are past their time.

If Christianity is going to survive this ‘crisis’ of membership that is presently present in all religious groups in the US, we are going to have to approach ministry in a much more personal way.  We are now post-Boomer.  We no longer can depend on the Boomer population to hike our numbers unless we are going to do some significant work among seniors. (That wouldn’t be a bad idea, either)  Clergy are going to have to be more hands on.  We are going to have to be more available and we are going to be less word and sacrament people and more guides and pointers to the Holy.  We are going to have to offer less big and magnificent liturgies and offer more meditative, spiritually moving opportunities.  We are going to have to be more involved in local community activities as the sign of our community of faith, not merely figureheads but as real people concerned about the community we live in.  Clergy are going to have to return to be the Parson—the local Person of faith in the community to whom a seeker might go to find the holy within themselves and get connected to a community of faith. ( Ir is interesting that Google Images cannot seem to even understand the role of the parson. The only pictures are of terriers.  There are no images of that hands-on person in a community that provides guidance and counsel in matters spiritual.) 

Parsons are going to have to build community among those who have found the Holy.  These faith communities will regrow because the Christian life needs a community in which to practice its concepts and theology.  They need to work out their faith in 'fear and trembling.' and it is there that new models for our lives together can evolve.  Will our morals change? Most likely because we be able to contexturalize our faith better in the smaller lived-in communities. 

Bass’ book makes me think that the failure of the big business model for the Church goes right along with the failure of the big business model for businesses.  Just as GM or American Airlines must restructure, so must we as Church.  It is painful.  But if we go back to the ‘small is beautiful’ model of a community-based faith then our dependence on bishops as THE minister of the diocese and the sole arbiter of TRUTH will fall away.  The truth of the Gospel will be lived out in the small communities of faith that speak of spirituality and relationship with the Holy.  We may be on the verge of a whole new form of monasticism—or communal living as a sign of a living Holy faith.  But I can predict that the greatest stumbling block toward restructure will come from the Boomers.  It is this group that is so invested in the corporate model because that is all that has ever worked for them.  

Rather than call this new spirituality that is developing Post-Modern, I would be more inclined to call it Post-Boomer.  I do not find the call to a more spiritual expression of Christian Community especially post-modern.  I find that many of the practices are quite old and pre-Enlightenment.  I find meditation, chanting, communal living, music, spiritual reading, prayerful walking in the woods, all ancient practices embraced by various faiths.  The Holy has always made itself known and will continue to do so.  The importance for those who are awed by this Holy One is that we find a way to share this awe and live in ways that the peace the Holy imparts can be live fully.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Doin’ the Anglican Rant

With apologies to Tom Lehrer, I do not have a jazzy or ragtime tune to support my rant.  (Sorry, I can't get the youtube to upload.)

I have spent the past two years working to save the Anglican Communion from itself on the No Anglican Covenant Coalition.  I have waded through often well over 100 emails a day, spent inordinate amounts of time crafting statements that can be read, learned and inwardly digested by English speakers everywhere and learned in ever more deepening ways of how remarkably diverse we Anglican Communioners are.  
I have come to have an even broader respect for the greatness of our Communion  I value the Anglican response to the 16th Century Reformation, the ways that each province or nation has lived out the theologies that have come to be known as Anglicanism and I celebrate our English/Scottish heritage with great fervor.  

But just as I think we can breathe a bit easier about the Anglican Communion with the failure of the CofE dioceses to accept the idiocy of the  Anglican Covenant and with the hope of a new Archbishop of Canterbury,  the Bishops of the Church of England have once more put forth one of the most backward pieces of legislation to the General Synod that could be drawn up.  After voting for Women Bishops by diocese with a 42 to 2 majority of clergy and laity, the House of Bishops has now added such constraints to the legislation that it will necessitate the voting down of the whole issue.  

This action by the bishops of the CofE just goes to show just how the hierarchy of the CofE are out of touch with the Church of their own province but also how really unaware they are of the Anglican Communion as a whole.  They are trying to pander to naysayers at the edges of both the Catholic and the Evangelical spectrum and forgetting that wonderful center called The Via Media which is a characteristic of what it means to be Anglican.  They are fearful of schism.  

The American version of Anglicanism had its problems when it tried to pass women in the episcopacy--or women's ordination too.  We made accommodations in the 70's too, but the Church was a different place then.  The American House of Bishops came up with a 'conscience clause' which was never law and had nothing to do with anyone's conscience.  It was a 'gentleman's agreement' that you wouldn't be forced to have women bishops if you believed it was wrong.  It was pandering to those who are discriminatory.  And if there is any one thing that has contributed to the unholy schism of the past 10 years in TEC, it has been that agreement.  Those who could not abide women in the episcopacy finally separated from the Episcopal Church during this past decade and have tried to bankrupt the Church by continuing to inhabit churches that do not belong to them.

But there is a difference in what the CofE is doing that makes this act of their bishops so appalling.  First of all, the Mother Church has the benefit of TEC's mistakes.  That in itself should show the British bishops that 'do overs' do not change the out come.  But the other is the clear commentary on the quality of gene pool that will provide the leadership of the Anglican Communion for the next 10 to 15 years.  They are also the body from whence the next Archbishop of Canterbury will come.  And these deal-breaking additions to the legislation will make all Anglicans who understand the place of women's ministry in the life of their provinces and in the Communion as a whole will taint all sense of unity for the future work in mission together.

The Church of England is not engaging its own people in the message of faith.  And the if the pundits of religious studies are to be believed ( Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle, et. al.) , we who live in the United States need to be wary of things that cling to 1950's images of Church.  If we are not to become totally irrelevant, we as proclaimers of a Gospel of peace, a Gospel of equality, a Gospel of Jesus the Christ, need to be wary of tying ourselves to those who would avoid the realities of our day by throwing the Church not just under the bus, but down the rabbit hole to boot.

I truly support that the CofE bishops should minister to the people of their province.  That is one of the charisms of Anglicanism.  But it also makes the CofE quite vulnerable too.  The rest of the Communion still looks to England even when their roots may really shoot from Scotland.  And this is where they are most vulnerable:  their unwillingness to do justice within their own ranks will be shown to the rest of the world as a church based in the fear of losing instead of a church ready 'lay down its life for their friends.'  It will bring even more fissures of doubt to a populace that no longer looks to the Church for their ethics, their ability to minister to the community or to discuss the major themes of the day.

Here endeth the rant!

RevGalBlogPals: Inspirations Friday Five.

RevGalBlogPals: Inspirations Friday Five.

Friday Five: Inspiration

  Sally has provided a short and sweet Friday Five on what motivates us.  I have been wondering about that too this morning as I found it hard to get out of bed, not because I was especially sleepy, but because I have been reading and engaging book.  I am  interpreting Sally's queries as what is happening today, right now rather than what has moved me in times past or on a long-term basis.

1.. What has encouraged you?

This week I have been encouraged by some colleagues:  the younger priest in my parish who is in her first year of priestly ministry, by the even younger rector of J's parish who has helped me rethink some things, a woman in the ordination process of our diocese, and the Holy One who has been good enough to let me fail so that I could learn some more about what it means to be Wholly.

2. What has inspired you?

I have been reading Diana Butler Bass's latest, Christianity after Religion.  There is a part of me that says--this isn't right, but I know deep within me that she is.  She has inspired me to do a couple of rants--still in my head but coming.  She is also giving me hope to continue to turn over in my head what is happening in the Church, what is happening in my parish and what is happening in my life and how to address them.  It is easy at my age to see the decline of Church as somehow MY fault--that somehow my generation has failed to communicate what is vital to a new generation.  But Diana's book provides another viewpoint and allows me to be a part of the whole conversation for the future especially in my diocese.

3. What has challenged you?

Inspiration and challenge are often the same thing for me.  At the same time I am being challenged by some personal issues of growing older that demand integration into my faith in the Holy One.  which I have written about below.

4. What has made you smile?

The plaintive meow of our younger kitty who wants in.  Her pitiful cry can motivate me faster than any telephone bell, knock at the door, or internet snipe.   She can get me out of my chair better than even the smell of peanut butter and jelly.

5. What has brought a lump to your throat or a tear to you eye in a good way?

The love I have for J.  She is scheduled for major surgery in a matter of weeks.  Her friendship has meant more than  anything in my life, save my faith in God.  And I find her presence in my life the one thing that makes it all worth while.  She is what inspires me in a very existential way--she has been a witness to 'one person CAN and DOES make a difference in the world' for the last 35 years and I give thanks for her even when I am cross with her.  Because of her connection to Jonathan Daniels, I refer to her as a First-Class Relic, but J. is her own brand of saint--a quiet witness to the message that God means for us to know the hope to which we are called and the joy of living lives based fully in the liberation of the soul. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Growing Old, Wisdom and Canon Law

What does it mean for us to grow old?  I am not really sure as I have not really given it much thought.  I think that when you have children, it is easier to pay attention to age, to eras.  But when there are not visible reminders in children and grandchildren, it is not so easy.  The thought that I could have great grandchildren at my age stuns me.  And when I talk to young people of the passions of my youth, I realize that I am listening to my grandmother talk of things that were ancient history. 
It is important to reminisce as one gets older. It is important to put one’s life into perspective.  However, it cannot remain there.  I am not stuck in my high school class that is now 50 years away from our youthful idiocy.   I am not stuck even in my first parish even though I still claim good friends from that time.  But I am informed by those eras and experiences.  And consequently I am valuable to generations that were not influenced by parents who had lived through the Great Depression or the privations of WWII, or a Church that was the center of local society.
At the same time, I have to recognize that I can’t do what I have been doing for the past 50 years or so.  I don’t have the energy, the memory or the skill to do some things.  I can’t prepare a room for a meeting, moving chairs and tables as I once could.  I can still RUN a meeting; I just can’t set up for it—a necessity in some places.  And no matter how many devices and calendars I have, I forget what day it is and forget events I am supposed to attend.  It is exasperating.  I am beginning to understand why some elders ‘check out’ at a certain place in life.  It is easier to live in the past. But I am not willing to do that.  God isn’t finished with me yet and I am not finished living out loud either.
Evaluating what we can do as a community of faith is also difficult.  J and I have generally been careful to separate our service to the Church so that we could free to serve small congregations or parishes that were trying to do different things.  For the first part of our ministry it was having a woman rector.  As women in the priesthood became more common, we tried to serve congregations that were trying to serve minority communities and then toward the end of our careers we served in small congregations that could not afford ‘full-time’ clergy.  Living in community made it possible for us to do this.
But now living in community is difficult.  We no longer have rectories that are maintained by the parish.  We both still serve churches but as retired, adjunct priests living on our pensions.  We have altars at which we can continue the priestly ministry that is in us.  And we have voice and vote in our diocesan convention.  And the passion of serving Christ is still as important to us as it was when we were ordained, but ‘wim, wigor and witality’ of our younger days are past.
I am somewhat grateful for the diminishment of energy.  I don’t ‘stick my foot into it’ as often as in my youth; my faux pas are diminished, or take a different character.  I am easier on others and myself as I grow older.  I like to think it is because I have become more compassionate, but at times it is just because I know that ‘this too shall pass.’
 Perspective is a wonderful asset of growing older.  Often older folks are considered wise—I’ll not abuse this opinion.  But I think some of our wisdom comes from just having had more experience of how things work in the incarnate world.  I would never say that our ideals are any less, but elders know, if we have been observant at all, that perfection is a crock.  We know how important it is to have goals and the passion to strive for them, but we also know that life, being what it is, never stays the same and our goals and passions are all subject to change.
I have been having an on-going friendly argument with a friend about canon law regarding who may receive the sacraments.  I understand that Elizabeth is responding to a conversation in the larger church in preparation for General Convention.  I want nothing to inhibit a priest from making the decision to offer Holy Communion to anyone who presents themselves for the sacrament.  I understand the need for the Church to regulate how the sacraments are distributed.  But I don’t want to see a priest’s livelihood threatened because an unbaptized child reaches out for the Bread and Wine either.  I want us to act in a way that is consistent with the actions of Jesus.  I don’t want the Church to be a membership club—but a place where all are welcome.  Does this come from wisdom or just years in parishes where people come at the invitation of the Holy Spirit?
Somehow the canons must become advisory not punitive.  Are our canons devised to promote the ideal or the infrastructure?  We are not clear about that and in the haste to ‘regulate’ we as Church are binding ourselves into an oblivion that does not serve the needs of those in the parishes.  We have allowed the ‘big business’ model dictate how those of us who work in the heart of the Church, at the edge of pastoral care, in small congregations who merely try to be Christian communities of radical hospitality.  No wonder the young find us irrelevant.  I will choose to follow the pastoral need every time.  Does that come from the grace of being older?  Does that come from experience?  Or is it wisdom or foolishness?  I don’t know. 
I like the softness of being older.  I like the grace of experience.  I am not too crazy about the fact that I can’t do all I want.  I am angry that my joints won’t allow me to genuflect or kneel, but I am joyful about being blessed with the memory of encounters with the Holy that keep me telling the story of God’s love.  It makes give me the passion to live into my future rather than surround me with my past.  There is a future, I am part of it and I am making it for generations yet to know what it means.  They too will come to this place in their lives and ask “What’s it all about?”  

Monday, May 21, 2012

West Texas Eclipse

Katie Sherrod posted this photo this morning.  It is an awesome shot from the oil fields of West Texas.  Ever since I saw my first Eclipse in 1991 in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico I have been amazed at the beauty God holds out to us in just little things like the moon passing between earth and the sun.  We couldn't see the eclipse from our house but the flatness of West Texas is the place where you can see such scenes.  I am thankful that Katie shared.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ascension Sunday

"Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
I think this is one of the funniest statements in the Bible.  The disciples have just seen their beloved Teacher lifted up in to heaven and then there are guys in white who ask them “why are you looking up toward heaven?”  Cummon!  Who wouldn’t be staring up trying to get a glimpse of where he had gone!
But these words which Luke puts into the mouths of the men in white are important to our faith.  They are important to how we are to live out the teachings of Jesus in our lives.  All too often throughout history Christianity has been distorted by those who look heaven-ward rather than go out and live out the life in God that Jesus taught.
The Ascension is one of the more important feasts we have in the Church calendar.  It used to be a ‘day of obligation’ in some traditions.  But all of our feasts that don’t fall on Sunday save Christmas which has been captured by Madison Ave. have all been thrown under the bus.  So we have translated this feast from the 40th day after Easter where it is belongs to celebrated to the Sunday before Pentecost—or wherever we can fit it in.  But all too often Ascension is celebrated as a day of Christ’s triumph over the grave, like Easter rather than the real handing over the message of God’s love for the world and expectations of how humanity can live together in peace to humanity.
Yes, we are promised a Christ who will return and Luke is quick to point out that we are not to know when that will be.  But the mission of living out the message of Christ has been bestowed upon us in the Ascension.  We can’t just wait until Christ’s return to live out his message.
 Ascension marks the day when saving the world becomes the work of us.  Jesus came to proclaim the saving work of God by living lives that are worthy of the Gospel, by treating one another with respect, by living on this earth with gentleness and regard and knowing that everything we have comes from God.  He taught us the liberating message that through love and care for one another we can live lives of peace and that when we turn to greed or power over others that we distort the gift that God has given in Creation.
If Christ had not ascended, we would still be demanding that Christ clean up the world.  That was what so many wanted of the Messiah in Jesus’ day.  They wanted a Messiah to come down with God’s wrath and clean up the mess they had made.  And I daresay that is what many of our Christian denominations still teach. 
In today’s Acts reading the disciples ask Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"  To the last, the disciples haven’t gotten it.  It is not until Pentecost that they get it.  They are still waiting for Jesus to straighten out this unholy mess that is enveloping their country where Rome is in charge and the Herodians rule the roost and the poor have no Mosaic law to turn to.  Jesus’ disciples still want Jesus to be the one who will straighten out the mess their country is in.  The economy was out of whack, the Mosaic laws had been superseded by Roman dictates and God, the lover of the people of Israel was being replaced by Rome demi-gods.  Everyone knew something was going to give.  Isn’t this the time that Jesus should be here? 
But Jesus did not come to be King of Israel.  He did not come to return a nation to its ‘rightful’ place.  No, Jesus did not come to be king.  Jesus came to ‘show us the Father.’  Jesus came to witness to a loving God who assured us of love and acceptance so that we would not crave domination, greed or power.  Jesus came to teach us how to live with one another so that we could live peacefully with one another rather than fall in to the fears of loss that humanity so often exhibits. 
If Christ hadn’t ascended, we humans would have never understood that we are responsible for living out the salvation that has already been worked out for us in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  If Christ had stayed with the world, we would still be slaves of the “let another guy do it” mentality that often pervades our culture.   
In many ways the Christian message has been distorted over the millennia to say that when Jesus returns it will all be well.  And so there are those who just sit and wait for Jesus’ return.  But that isn’t what Christian living is about.  Christian living is about calling from ourselves ethics that demand a respect for all humanity.  It calls us to address the issues of our complex lives honoring the diversity of God’s creation.  It calls us to respect the earth and all that lives on it. 
The Ascension is as important today as it was in the early church, but for different reasons.  Then they were still looking into the sky.  Today we must find the ascension in our own selves—the raising up of our own eyes from ourselves to the others that inhabit this planet.  The Ascension is about how are we going to carry that message of God’s love to those who need to hear it—to our neighbor who might be in foreclosure, to the kid in next desk at school who is perhaps abused, to the spouse who is overwhelmed with debt, the politician who is being tempted by big money to do the wrong thing.  We need to think locally about how we can carry the message that Christ is always visible to us in the Break of the Bread, is always available to us in the hearts of those who follow him.  How do we get people’s fascination with Armageddon off the Jesus who comes on a white horse to save the world, to the Christ that had the faith in us to leave us?  AMEN 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Five: Pests

Jan has posted one of those FF's that can either be literal or allegorical.  This can be the plagues of Pharaoh or it can be local infestations.  I reserve the right or rite to attend to these questions using Biblical literalism or the typical Muthahish+ snark as I see fit. 

After lots of rain and high temperatures, the flea population has mushroomed in Corpus Christi, TX, more specifically in our home! We have three dogs and one indoor cat, who have had their monthly flea treatments to no avail. Unfortunately, my female body is the one the fleas love to bite. So as you are reading this FF, our pets and ourselves will be gone from the house for 3-4 hours, after a pest company sprays all the floors.

With fleas on my mind and on my body, here is an insect-ious Friday Five:

1.What kinds of pests are in your neighborhood or area?

We have had an infestation of flies this spring.  We had a smaller attack of them last spring when we came to FTW.  But this year the flies in the kitchen were so bad that a whole can of Raid and the bug man didn't help.  When we finally got them dead, there must have been a thousand of them.  

2. Is there a time of year or day that increases their activity? Weather affects their activity or not?

Evidently they come during April-May just at the time that people open their doors and windows to the Spring weather.  I am convinced that they are endemic to this rental house which the landlord will not admit.

3. Is there any pest that was new to you when you moved to a new location? 

Texas is known for its critters.  J. was not acquainted with Chiggers before we moved here.  She no longer sits in the grass for hours.  When I lived here as a child, there were no Fire Ants or Recluse Spiders, both which are nasty beasts. So far I have not seen any scorpions, TBTG.  But I will take all Texas' biting insects over NY Black Flies!  Those are from the Devil I don't believe in.

4. How do you treat insect bites? Are you allergic to any?

Aloe Vera is one of the most all encompassing treatment for me.  Recluse Spiders need a doctor's care.   Some use nail polish on Chiggers, but I just ignore them.  They just go away.  

5. Anything else you want to write about connected with insects/pests.

In the Church we have been plagued with a two-legged mosquito called neo-orthodoxis parasitis.  We have had over a decade of infestation in TEC and while we have tried every form of 'green' remedy, I think it is time for more drastic measures.  Here in Fort Worth we have defrocked the quean of the hive and for the most part the good members of the Church have been able to know what it is like to live in peace and tranquility without the ominousness of the Doxies' infestations, I am concerned about that the plague is spreading to other churches.  If the reports are true, the UMC got a good dose of them this summer and I am sure that they are going to turn up with the Presbyterians and TEC this summer.  

I used to think that just good and holy Christian living would be the antidote for the Doxies infestation but it seems to feed on such loving kindness without learning how to live it.  So far the Doxies are not enough to take over but they can throw a spanner into any gathering of the Church.  I am afraid that isolation is the only manner to be rid of their toxin.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Open Communion?

OK, Elizabeth Kaeton has thrown down the gauntlet.  She who a year ago was bemoaning the taking of Ash Wednesday out into the highways and on to the platforms of train stations now wants open communion to everyone.  No baptismal requirement.  No denominational requirement.  At least that is what I read here.

Since both of us come from the rather anal approach of the Roman tradition to membership in the Church, we can both claim a catholic heritage and ecclesiology.  The rules that demand membership, baptism or shriveness come not from God but from those who are pledged to guard those sacraments from profanity.  They are warned by their office that they are to make sure that the faith is handed down in a particular way.  It matters not what denomination or tradition.  Each group wants to preserve a particular way of administering the signs of God’s presence in the life of the Church.  The Church demands of its ministers: lay, bishops, priests and deacons, to administer the signs of faith in ways that further the teachings of Christ and the Church. 

In the third and fourth century Church one could not even attend the Eucharistic portion of the service if one was not baptized.  Only those who were shriven or confessed of their sins and were in a ‘state of grace’ could receive Holy Communion.  Only those who had been immersed fully and cleansed by running water were accounted as baptized.  And even in the earliest churches (Ebionites) after Jesus, circumcision was still demanded to be considered part of the faithful. (cf. Galatians)  The Church demanded some commonality of religious experience as normative for membership and consequently for reception of the Sacraments.

Now we all know that who determines what is normative has control.  Of course, the clergy have been those who have been ‘in control’ of who comes to the table for millennia.  We are taught that we ‘safe guard’ the sacred symbols so that they do not become a mockery or ‘common’ (which is what profane means).   And so we end up being ‘religious cops’ rather than those who host and include.
Early in our sacramental lives we tend to like the role of having control of the sacraments.  We clergy have a noble cause to make the sacraments ‘available’ to the faithful who present themselves for our Good Housekeeping seals of approval.  But if we are truthful, we are no more arbiters of what is holy or what is profane than the next guy.  We find that what is holy and sacred is something far more complex and far more interior than we were taught.  And if we allow ourselves to observe how such things as the communion with Christ interacts with those who receive it, all we can do is stand in awe.  That foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet is so much more than we can ask or imagine that there is no way that it can be limited.
Today, I am unwilling to hold ANYONE from the sacraments unless there is a bold attempt at mockery.  If someone presents themselves to receive Holy Communion, I give it to them.  I do not know where that person is on their journey of faith and I am unwilling to stand in their way.   I don’t care what denomination they are from, whether they are baptized or not, because I believe that God is the one that is acting in that person’s life at that moment.  I have communed those who did not claim themselves as Christian but came to the Altar moved by something beyond them.  Even if they did not understand it the way I would like, they will ponder it and eventually ask.  There is a reason why the bread is called the Host.  It is Christ who invites, not the mere cleric.

I cannot ask other denominations to do as I do.  They may understand Holy Communion differently than I.  And if I am in my clericals I do not present myself to receive communion in those traditions that do not recognize my faith or office. I try not to put another cleric in a difficult position.  He/she is in a system which is different from mine.  If I am in mufti, I might, depending on where I am in my desire to be a part of that community of Christ.  At a wedding or a funeral, I generally will to be in solidarity with families and friends. 

If I understand the era in which we find ourselves at present, I see a great ‘un-alignment’ with Church going on as the various denominations realign themselves.  When the various churches begin to realign I think that there will a fairly clear line between those who have open communion and those who do not.  I find that in the higher liturgical traditions,( Lutherans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholic and Orthodox)we will see a shifting of allegiances by how we interpret scripture and how we administer the signs of the faith.  It will be there that there will have been considerable discussion the meaning of the signs of faith.  There will be a gradual redefinition of what it means to administer those signs and symbols.  And perhaps a whole different schema of those signs and symbols much as Trent did in the 16th century. 

In the meantime, I will give communion to anyone who puts out their hands.  I will baptize anyone who comes.  I will marry and bury those who wish Christ’s blessing on their lives.  I will follow my bishop’s guidelines because I am a priest of the diocese.  But I will be more inclined to ask ‘for forgiveness’ than ‘permission’  because I want to be an invitation to the Christian life rather than a guard dog.  

Conflicting Emotion: Pride in the President, Shame at the Response of Many Church Leaders

I saw this on + Jack Spong's blog.  He speaks much of what I think about President Obama's support of Gay Marriage.  

When the President of the United States, announced his support for gay marriage, the political landscape began to roil and I was filled with two quite opposite sets of emotions.
First, there were the positive feelings.  There was enormous joy when I thought of what this would mean to close friends of mine who have worked so hard, waited so patiently and risked so much to help bring this day about.  I could hear their names and see their faces parading through my mind:  Elizabeth and Barbara, Louie and Ernest, Melissa and Fran, James and Mark, Cynthia and Rebecca, Michael and William, just to name a few.  They dared to confront both their church and society by living out their love with an integrity that was awe-inspiring.  I am thankful they could see this day and grateful for their witness that moved me and others beyond our cultural homophobia into a new sense of what humanity means.

My second positive emotion was an intense sense of pride both in my nation and its elected chief executive.  Here was a man who had known the lash of prejudice in his childhood and who still had decided that he could work within the system, not outside it, to bring about change.  He held high the dream and the promise of America as a land in which people are to be judged neither by the color of their skin nor their sexual orientation, but by the quality of their character.  In a nation politically divided and dealing with vast levels of fear and negativity it was a risky decision. Yet, President Obama chose to risk his presidency on this issue.  He did not come to his decision quickly or easily.  Many elements and many people pushed him in both directions, but he made the decision positively without equivocation and he shared elements of his personal decision making processes, and something of the pain that leaders face when leadership is required. To duck or waffle is easy; to have resolute courage is hard.

My next positive emotion was amusement as I watched the pundits spin the story to justify their points of view.  The liberals were full of praise, but many of them could not resist the exhibitionism that seems to mark those who have never stood where the President stands and who will pay no price for his decision.  They chided the President for taking so long to reach his conclusion, barely concealing that congratulatory self-righteousness of the especially enlightened.  Righteousness is sometimes hard to tolerate gracefully in public places. The conservatives on the other hand were revelatory more than anything else.  Sean Hannity and many of his friends at Fox News dismissed this decision as “pure politics.”  It would loosen the coffers of Hollywood money, they said, and bring new young voters into the political process.  The revealing thing here was that the conservatives interpreted this decision as a political plus.  Having used homosexuality as a wedge issue in the campaigns of 2000 and 2004 to their advantage, they now seem to be admitting that the majority is no longer on their side.

More amusement came from those commentators who appear to identify marriage only with sex.  Senator Mitch McConnell falls into this category, but Bill O’Reilly, again of Fox News, was the star of this point of view.  He likened the President’s decision to “legalizing sex with turtles.”  It was a cruelly inappropriate analogy.  To put it crudely, if Mr. O’Reilly wants to have sex with a turtle there is no law that would prohibit him from doing so.  Sex and marriage do indeed overlap, but they are certainly not identical.  Marriage is a relationship of love, trust and caring, a relationship in which at best both partners are assisted into wholeness, making each other more capable of living, loving and being.  Sex is a function of the human body that can be practiced outside of a loving relationship, but when it is no life is expanded, no love and worth are communicated and no one becomes more whole.  Perhaps Mr. O’Reilly has not noticed that this fight has not been about turtles, but about human beings who want their love for another human being to be lived out in a relationship of exclusiveness and ultimate commitment.

My amusement is heightened when I listen to the irrationality of those whose arguments are designed to keep their prejudices from looking silly.  When gay and lesbian people seek to be included inside the experience and legal protection of marriage, how is it possible to claim that this will destroy marriage?  Abuse, infidelity and divorce destroy marriage, loving gay couples do not.  When people are justifying a dying prejudice, however, we probably should not expect rational arguments, for prejudice is sustained only in irrationality.

There was, however, another set of emotions that enveloped me as this historic announcement was made. “Shame” is the word that best describes this side of the equation.  My sense of shame was directed primarily toward those religious voices, predominantly Christian, that rushed into public with negative responses.  First, there was Billy Graham, a noble man in many ways, who is now in his 90’s and not well.  He was followed by his son, Franklin, whose only claim to fame is that he is Billy’s son.  Both issued statements that this decision by the President was in “direct opposition to the Bible.”  That is a tired, threadbare argument.  It was used to support the divine right of kings and to oppose the adoption of Magna Carta in 1215.  It was used against freeing America’s slave population and later against the dismantling of segregation.  It was used against the movement for equality for women.  It is now used against justice for homosexuals.  How arrogant to use the Bible to place God on the side of one’s prejudice!  No one, not even the fundamentalists, really takes the Bible literally.  If they did they would seek to pass laws that would make being homosexual a capital offense for which execution would be required.  That is biblical.  Execution is also called for in the Bible for willfully disobedient children, for those who worship a false god and for those who commit adultery. With that standard we could keep the electric chairs working overtime. Before one seeks to impose a literal Bible on our society one might actually want to read this sacred text.

Roman Catholic leaders in New York and Milwaukee trotted out their “homosexuals are deviant” argument and reasserted that monogamous marriage between one man and one woman was a “God-given pattern.” They appear not to know about the polygamy so prevalent in the Bible nor its patriarchal abuse. A Texas Baptist preacher was shown on a late night comedy talk show claiming that the President’s decision went against the teachings of Jesus.  Perhaps someone should tell this preacher that there is not one word about homosexuality in any of the four gospels.  No one ever recorded Jesus mentioning the subject.  Next, an African-American bishop appeared on a cable news network to perfume his homophobia with a wealth of words about his “deep concern” for children.  He feared that their educations and values would be altered and that future generations would be adversely affected.  He seemed not to realize that each of these arguments was once used to sustain segregation.  How quickly yesterday’s victims can become tomorrow’s victimizers.  Probably the most embarrassing misuse of Christianity came from Tony Perkins, a graduate of Jerry Falwell’s College, who is now president of the Family Research Center, an offshoot of James Dodson’ Focus on the Family movement.  Perkins, being interviewed by Chris Matthews on MSNBC, made statements designed to show that good parents can keep their children from becoming gay, as he claimed that he and his wife had done, a point of view that is not held by any reputable scientific or medical authority.  When his obvious ignorance was challenged he kept modifying his words in an effort to remove the offense.  It cannot, however, be removed.  Ignorance is ignorance.  Homosexuality cannot be created by improper parenting, nor can it be changed or “cured” by prayer and therapy and all those organizations identified with fundamentalist Christian bodies, that claim to do so, are fraudulent and should be prosecuted for attempting to practice medicine without a license.  The attitude of uninformed Christian people on this subject and the unwillingness of the Christian Church and most of its leaders to stand up for justice and against the oppression of gay people has been and remains the source of my deepest shame as a Christian.  It was a political leader, we need to note, not the Pope nor an Archbishop nor a spiritual leader who took the proper stand on this great moral issue of our time.

Friday, May 11, 2012

“but I have called you friends…”

I have to admit it.  I am on a bit of a nostalgia kick this week.  A couple of weeks ago I attended my 50th high school reunion and I am still amazed at how much fun it was.  Then the following day I went to a conference in St. Louis where I lived after I left the convent.  That Sunday evening a group of 5 of us gathered to break bread:  2 former roommates and 2 women with whom I worked, after 40 years of absence.  It was great fun reminiscing and catching up.  Then this past Sunday my former mentor when I was deaconed 29 years ago and his wife had dinner with J and me.  They have just moved to TX.  We haven’t seen each other in years either.

Friendship is an awesome thing.  I have always had friends, but had not realized just how I have been formed by them.  I don’t have many friends at any one time, but the ones that I have had have allowed me to grow and change.  They have allowed me to be who I am without too much criticism.  But I have been molded by all of them.  They draw me away from the very human tendency toward self-centeredness and drag me into that wonderful place where I can see so much more of life than when I am stuck in myself.  It is friendship that is the antidote to what some call ‘original sin.’ 

This week one of those friends sent me one of those chain letters (which I loathe) that asked if I had a dinner party with the 8 most important women in my life, who would they be?  I didn’t respond to the chain letter, but I did develop a list of the people who have been signatory in my life.  The only problem is that they aren’t all women and the table is a bit larger.  They all aren’t all single either.  Some are coupled and it has been their ‘coupled-ness’ that has shown me what it means to live out my own vocation as a single person in community.

While writing this sermon I just had to phone one of those friends who was instrumental in bringing me to faith.  She was a friend who got me to open to God’s grace and God did the rest.  She didn’t tell me how to love God.  She didn’t tell me what I needed to believe.  She just said, “Pray.”  She knew that God would do the rest.  And God did. 

Friendship is like that.  Friendship is the kind of relationship that bids us to be ourselves and yet encourages us to be more.  It is the kind of relationship that is different from family whose intimacy is by virtue of birth, adoption or marriage.  Friendship is that relationship of give and take that allows you to be an individual yet never quite leaves you there.  Friendship invites one to be interdependent, but is quite comfortable with allowing you to lean on the relationship when it is needed.

In the Gospel of John while at the Last Supper before his death, Jesus calls his disciples—his students or followers-- ‘friends’ for the first time.  He brought the relationship from a hierarchical one into a communal one.  Jesus did not stand on the pretense of domination that is at the center of all hierarchical models.  Jesus was different from those whom he called to follow him, not because he was God but because he was trying to teach his followers that there is a better way to live.  A teacher is always “above” or “beyond” his/her students.  But at the last, Jesus was no longer asking them to learn, but to live into the kind of love that calls forth their own individuality, their own well-formed personhood in order to spread the word that God is love. He empowered them to become peers with him.  That is what friendship does.  The relationship of friend is one that calls us to go forth, to share the love and caring that has been well-honed in the friendship.  True friendship is never afraid of losing or being lost because no matter how long you are apart, it is always possible to pick up the friendship again.

This is why I am adverse to titles for clergy.  I think that the role of the priest or pastor is less the Imago Christi and more that Christian who as friend shares that walk of faith with those he/she pastors. I sometimes wish we could just call each other ‘Friend’, like the old Quakers did.  But that title too, became a way to avoid the crucible of intimacy to which Christ’s love draws us. Titles keep us from the intimacy of friendship. Any time we avoid the difficulty of entering into the dialogue, or sharing of what it means to be human, we miss the incarnated love that Christ has for us.  The disciples, as usual, didn’t quite get it.  They called him ‘Lord’ rather than step into the life-changing and life-sharing intimacy of friendship.

 Jesus calls us to be friends just as surely as he did his disciples.  He calls us to that peer relationship that models peace with one another.  Friends don’t have to be ‘right’ with one another.  We don’t have to have a ‘leg up’ on the other.  We are invited to enter the holiness that comes from the love that signals the power of equality in friendship.  And it is that in-fleshed equality that speaks the freedom that we recognize as “Salvation”, “Redemption,” or “Righteousness.” [And if I really want to reference what it means to be “Mother”, it is this kind of intimacy that sends me out to live out and share the love God has loved me with.]

I am trying to contact my friends this week just to touch base, just to remind myself of how blessed I have been to have them as friends.  I don’t have to go into why I am calling them; I am just giving thanks in my own way for those who have fashioned me into the woman I have become.  It isn’t maudlin nostalgia; it is that crystal clearness of a meditation on what Jesus did when he moved God’s love into friendship. 

Friendship is the paradigm of Christian relationship.  And it bothers me that I have over 500 ‘friends’ on Facebook. I can’t possibly be ‘friends’ with so many. But I also know that there are those who follow me online who count me as friends because they have allowed what I have said or written to impact them in their relationship with God.  I don’t even know who they are—some of them.  But I don’t think that matters.  God will do with what has been said between us to be used to love others. 
The threat of a virtual Church does not bother me.  But there comes a time when friendship does have to become real.  The Christian life cannot be lived solely on the internet.  Christian living is how we deal with one another in the Incarnated love of one human being to another. 

Sometimes a ‘friend’ from miles away can call me to be a better community member to my very real roommate, or a better aunt or sister to my family or a better pastor to my flock.   Those ‘virtual friends’ can often help me to go beyond the laptop in my love for humanity to be a better neighbor or a kinder person before coffee.  But those ‘far-off friendships’ demand a touch with reality, even if it is nothing more than a telephone call. 

The intimacy of the Incarnation demands that we know each other in reality because human intimacy has consequence.  It requires struggle to work out the boundaries --the give and take that polishes the relationship. Christianity is lived in real time.  It is an incarnated—an in-fleshed faith.  It is not for nothing that the people who were of the children of Abraham took the name of Jacob after he had wrestled with God—Israel, means one who has struggled with God.  A faith based in the friendship with the Holy One is patterned after the necessary struggle that comes of being imperfect beings working out in ‘fear and trembling’ the salvific friendship with the Holy. 

The friendships of my life all have the mark of the Holy about them. We have all wrestled with one another. And like Jacob we too are all marked by that wrestling.  Sometimes I have limped and sometimes I have been able to click my heels. 

 But to all those who call me Friend, I say thank you.