Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Five: Transformations

Mary Beth has posted a toughie.  

I'm looking forward to a good husband feels well, I am taking on some new challenges, I have a new church home, and overall I feel like I am moving in some new directions. When I saw this picture, I felt a kinship with this woman (though I cannot to a lotus pose like that...not yet, anyway). 

Sculpture is called "Expansion" by Paige Bradley. 
You can read more about it and its creation here.

For today's Friday Five, share five occasions or events in your life that have been turning points...when you have felt like a new thing was being born. You can refer to the birth of children, career, your kitchen garden, or whatever moves you.  

1.  First of all, transformation is an every day occurrence for me.  Some days are more transforming than others... but all in all, it is being aware that life is constantly changing no matter how much I want it to stay the same.  That said, I have been remembering the events that brought me to conversion the past few days simply because the person who brought me to the place of prayer was in town.  It was so good to see her after almost 25 years apart  The conversation picked up where we left off.   Conversion--or transformation-- is the work of God working through humans.  Incarnation at its finest.  Then it was all about ideas.  Now it is all about being present to the humans.

2.  The transformation into a priest:  I have been trying to verbalize lately what it means to be a priest without it sounding like I am in a different plain than others.  I am well aware that priesthood is just the Church's Good Housekeeping seal of approval that I can celebrate and absolve in the name of the
organization.  BUT there is something much more about it to me.  I don't know if this is true for lay folks understanding the priesthood of all believers or not, but I do know that this priestly ministry is the most important thing in the world for me because it has allowed me to put Christ first.  And I have been transformed by this ministry to be a much better and healthier person because I am unwilling to just stand in the stream of life and let the waters flow around me.  And while I do not quite stand on the 'ontological change' that catholic traditions have always touted, I do believe that I have grown into the priesthood that I bear.  It did not come with the laying on of hands, but slowly in the privacy of my own prayer closet.  Please God I can live it with the respect that comes with it.

3.  Transformation into a celibate LTGB person:  For most of my life I tried to ignore my sexual identity by just saying I was celibate, as if there was a third alternative to sexual identity.  I have always been fairly masculine in the way I present myself.  Since the convent I couldn't be bothered with make up and the like.  But finally when +Gene Robinson, the first gay bishop in our tradition was consecrated, I finally realized I could be 'out'  and honest for the first time in my life.  I came out and of course, lost my parish and had to experience the reality of all my fears.  I went through a very angry time.  I have never been part of the 'l-g' world.  I have been in the Church all that time, for God's sake!  So I neither fit in the lgbt community nor the Church for a while.  Then I found in another denomination a bishop who would work with me.  It was a personal transformation of easing out of the anger and back into loving a little ELCA congregation to remind me who and Whose I was.  Painful, but good.

4.Transformation into a retired person:  The idea of retirement always looms rosy when you are up to your a** in alligators.  And I don't know what cleric is NOT up to their a** in alligators while in full-time ministry.  But to just quit being in that terribly quixotic environment of parish ministry is not really easy.  And this transformation is still going on.  When one stops doing parish ministry full-time, one's whole life is thrown into confusion.  Where does one go for worship?  How does one who has grown into priesthood find a way to celebrate that priesthood without an altar?  etc.  I am not sure that I have completed this transformation.  I am still in the middle of the river.  I do enjoy having the time to gather all the ideas that I have had to put on a shelf because I was too busy to think about them.  But no one wants to hear them now.  How do I speak of the experience of faith with integrity to a people who do not value thought-over experience?  And of course, the problem of anyone who is growing older:  Was there anything of value that I did in my life-time that is not being thrown over or ignored by the next generation?  

5.  Transformation into a mellower person:  This is also an 'in the process'
transformation.  I have always been a challenging person.  Life has always been something to be confronted, challenged and overcome.  It is a very active way to live.  And there is nothing wrong about that.  It has made me a good advocate for those who do not have a voice.  It has always made me a good teacher.  But I am tired.  I don't have the energy for this kind of activism any more.  I finally had to quit LGBT activism because after Black/White civil rights, Women's civil rights and Latino civil rights, and liberal Christianity supporter, I am pooped.  In addition I am finding that it is important less to 'stand for something' to learning how to listen to those who are different.  Slowly I am trying to listen to what we have in common rather than what is wrong with the other side.  This does not mean that I have changed my opinion about most things.  It does mean that I am more concerned that I can have a loving relationship with others no matter what they believe.  That is what Christ's message is about.       

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Caught Faith

I spent yesterday driving to OK with an old friend that I haven't seen in over 20 years.  She is a RC religious who has seen the change of religious life over the past 30 years.  L. was significant in my coming to faith and was certainly a part of how I ended up catholic and entering the Ursulines back in my twenties.  We talked about family and faith, vocation and ministry, psychology and the human condition, Christ and the love of God and the present tendency to regard the faith of other than Christians with respect and embrace.  But most of all it was the bonding of two old friendship and a remembrance of respect and love that is over 40 years old.

I think we were both a bit apprehensive about meeting again, afraid that our vocational choices might have built walls that could not be surmounted.  But it was far from the reality.  Now in her 80's she still talks about going fishing, playing french horn and greeting the newness in the world as both a challenge and with excitement.  All the same qualities that made for good friendship back then are still the same today.

It is always good to meet again someone who knew you when you were young.  It is always good to hear about their impressions of you, or remind you of your dreams at the beginning of your life.  It allows you to recapture some of the energy of one's youth, to evaluate the reality of how you have lived your life in relation to your youthful dreams.  There are things that I would have done differently, perhaps.  But on the whole I am grateful for those I have known along the journey that have introduced me to the Holy One and goodness.  L. is one of those.  And I am thankful for her influence and the influence that she has had on those who too want to know of the love of God.  It is always good for me to tell those who have influenced my life for the better.  Often we never know how some act of kindness changed our lives.

I have always thought that faith was not something that was learned.  It is something that is "caught."  It is the influence of those who also have faith that teach us.  It isn't the doctrine, the history, the Scripture, that excites me to want to be more for the sake of my God.  It is the witness--the personal living out of God's love by another human being that helps me respond to the call of the Holy to engage in goodness.  When I can experience the love of another who has been touched by that LOVE that is the Holy, I can see how to incarnate that in my life.  It is a type of kenesthetic learning--the kind of learning by doing that is not merely watching someone else live.  It is being invited by the loved one into the kind of loving that the Holy One is.

I am appalled with the way that the Roman Catholic hierarchy has treated the women that have served God
so well.  For those of us outside of the RC church it is clear that the RC hierarchy is afraid of the nuns who have served the Church for so long.  First of all, they are women who have generations of experience of thinking for themselves.  Their training and education generally outstrip the educations of the diocesan priesthood and those who are often 'kicked up stairs' to the Curia.  In dealing with many RC priest in ecumenical efforts over the years I have been embarrassed by  poor quality of priestly training and ability over the years.  It is not surprising that the women religious can dance circles around the priests that try to control the church with might.

It is the women who have gone into the trenches and worked with the poor that are keep there by the conservative majority that the priestly class supports.  Hopefully a new pope who comes from an experience of religious life as a Jesuit will be able to resist this crisis that has befallen the nuns and sisters of the American RC Church.  It isn't just a matter of the liberal/conservative fight.  It is a matter of whether or not the hierarchy is going to recognize that the corruption among them has come from fear.  Arrogance is not a Christian value and cannot be used with impunity in the Church or the World.  The women religious of the world--Roman Catholic or whatever denomination cannot be ignored any longer.  Expediency can no longer carry the passion for loving through poverty, chastity and obedience.  It is time for the Church as a whole pay attention to the grace that God has given the women of the Church throughout history.

The on-going "investigation" of the US religious by the Vatican smacks of the various partisan political "investigations" of congress.  It is part of the corruption of fearful men.

Being back in touch with my religious life roots reminds me it isn't just about women's rights.  It is about the goodness that the ministry of women brings to the world.  Carol Gillian, years ago, in her studies of young women found that it was through the communal understanding of what was good was important to the health of the whole of humanity.  If we lose the voice of women --that voice that comes from the heart of a humanity that is centered in community or family. Without it, we have lost something that is essentially human.  We have lost a touch with the
Incarnation of God who is both male and female.  We are made in God's image and we need that intensity of living together, that intimacy that is part of both religious life and family that diocesan RC clergy never know.  The future of Church--no matter what denomination--needs that voice, needs that experience to embrace the God who is LOVE.  We cannot jettison it because it is uncomfortable or has become elderly.

The catching of faith is still a monumental task and we need those with the passion for teaching, or nursing, or organizing, or whatever mission calls from us, is still and always before us.  I am thankful for my friend whose witness allowed me to choose a faith-filled life.  I am deeply indebted to her but more I am deeply indebted to a life that was formed by those sisters that gave purpose to the mundane and gave dignity to the obscure.  It allowed me to know of a faith that is centered in the gifts that God gives and goes forth from the Holy One.  It allows one to see one's self as a conduit for the love that was shared over a generation ago as the most precious gift that we can give.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Five: Beasties

Jan has given us a 'beastie' Friday Five:

In my experience in the United States, people are either "Dog People" or "Cat People." As the graph above illustrates, not everyone is limited to those types of animals. So I am wondering about pets and experiences with them.

1. Are you a DOG or a CAT person? Or OTHER?

I am a cat person.  I have always been a cat person.  Both of us are cat persons.  J even more than I.  She will stop by the SPCK just to get a 'kitty fix'.  
2. Who were the pets of your childhood and what were they like?

When I was quite small (before 4) I wanted to adopt a stray dog but he bit me. I still have the scar. That ended the 'dog desire' for me as a child.  I like dogs now but we never had a fenced yard when I was growing up so that we could never have dogs.  My first cat was named Sparkle after the Dick Tracy character.  Her brother was a black tabby called BO Plenty after the other character.  They were outdoor kitties at a time when most pets were outdoor beasties.  Then I had a yellow tabby.  He was rather indecisive about going out the door and we wondered "Will he or Won't he?"  He was named Willhe.

3. What pets do you have now?  

We presently have Tyke, a 9 year old grey tabby and Little Bit, who is a tuxedo.  All of our beasties have
been rescue beasts.  Most of them have been strays that have been dumped at the churches we have served.  But these two were formally adopted from the local SPCK.

4. Have you ever had any unusual pets in your household or visit your home?

Not really.  I have'beast-sat' for birds and horses.  I have blessed many different animals but I have only had cats.

5. What have you learned from your pets? Give one recent example, if possible.

I have learned that cats seem disinterested but are far from it.  They know your mood and if you are ill they come and stay close.  They are quite miffed if you leave them for days on end even when they are fed and watered, they miss YOU.  Each of the cats I have had were different, with amazingly different personalities.  They have different ways that they want to be petted or cared for.  Tyke, for instance, is all boy.  When he was little he would go out and stomp in puddles like a little boy.  Little Bit was named for her diminutive state as a kitten but now that she is grown she is called Bit because she does.  Not hard but she wants to play with her teeth.  So we have had to come up with "NO TEETH" command to help her learn.  She also loves to claw the furniture.  We have learned that we can either have cats or furniture.  We have chosen cats... 

BONUS: Pictures or anything else related to animals you love.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Priesthood: Religious leadership and clericalism

In the 1970’s, following Vatican II, there was a study done among religious orders, especially men’s orders that did not ordain their members, on the importance of the priesthood.  I was teaching in a combined Ursuline and Christian Brothers school in Galveston.  I remember reading the document and it raised many questions about the efficacy of priestly orders and was interested that priestly orders were considered really non-essential to the communities of men who embraced celibacy.  Except for liturgical duties, priests among the community were seen as a detriment to the community life of the brothers. The status of ‘priest’ was considered an impediment to the common life. 

When I attended the Kellogg lectures at EDS last week, this conversation was being reprised.  The issue of clericalism is a big one in the Church these days.  It is my contention that the schism that we have been experiencing over the past 15 years is a clerical one.  It concerns not the people in the pew, but it concerns the clergy and bishops of a minority in the Anglican Communion.  It has much to do with control and order, not theology or even basic faith.  And after what I have seen here in Fort Worth following the split of the diocese, clericalism is alive and flourishing in this part of the Church militant.

The discussion at EDS was clearly on the side of abolishing the priesthood.  But the
panelists were all NOT ordained.  They were professors or academics who do not celebrate the Eucharist or absolve sins.  Now, I know some of the members of that panel and some of them have their own ax to grind, BUT I do know what they are trying to get at.  They are trying to address the excruciatingly difficult problem of clericalism that faces, I believe, all churches with the exception of the Quakers.  And while I know that the Methodists, Presbyterians and the Reformed churches do not have priests, they still have clerical leadership that have power that can subject others to their will. 

Here in Texas we have a preponderance of independent non-denominational churches
since the break-up of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Many of those Baptist churches claim themselves as non-denominational these days but they still carry on Baptist theology and ethos.   Some of the churches try to hide their Baptist affiliation by renaming themselves Gateway, or Heartland, or Harvest rather than being ____Ave. Baptist.  But when you attend them even though they have screens and guitars, they are still Baptist.  And the pastor still ‘knows best’.

Religious leadership is difficult at best.  When your primary role model is Jesus who
spoke of the Good Shepherd, it is so easy to fall into the habit of thinking that the people you are called to serve are sheep to be pushed around.  The bishop carries a big stick to drag the sheep back into the fold.  And yet the reality is much different.  As a priest one is called upon to represent Christ (as any baptized person should) but also act as an agent of the institution of church.  I have always understood that priestly orders give me the Good Housekeeping seal of approval of the Church to speak of God AND the organization.  It is why we make vows to obey our bishops in matters of faith and morals. But it IS a crazy-making position.  Those who lead are mortal and fallible.  We have feet of clay and make huge blunders in our efforts to lead the people of God in the way of faith.  And those of us who are priests--the ‘middle management’ often do not get to advocate for our flocks as we would like because the ‘shepherds’ who are in charge think of us as sheep as well.

It is na├»ve, I believe, to think that doing away with the priesthood would do away with clericalism.  Luther and Calvin tried to do that only to create their own forms of clerical leadership that fell into the same mote that the Eastern and Western clergy had done:  creating a caste of the chosen few who control the Church. 

Over the past decade or so, the underbelly of the Roman Catholic Church has been shown to the world.  If there is any organization that has allowed it to be unresponsive to the Church at large, it is the Vatican.  And the tendency of the populace to speak of The Church as some amalgam of Romanism and severe Reformed versions of Christianity makes it difficult to provide any coherent leadership for those who wish to affiliate with others who have come to a mature faith.  I am thankful for my own denomination simply because it is a form of Christianity that does allow for question, allows for diversity of theological discussion and even allows us to discuss the need for priests. 

As a priest and one who is each day confounded by the mystery of this vocation, it is difficult to explain the uniqueness of the calling.  I am at once humbled by this affirmation of Church and God and exalted by the privilege of serving the Church and God in this way.  But the issue of clericalism is still with me.  I must continually be willing to confront the temptation to use my priesthood to further empower a specific class in the faith.  I am there to empower others with the power of God.  I am there to help liberate those who find themselves disenfranchised by sin to step into that place of wholeness that the Incarnation proclaims.  It makes for a very unwieldy social context because freedom in Christ creates its own havoc.  It is for that reason that the Church instituted the orders of Bishop, priest and deacon in the first place. 

I guess I am of the opinion that if the position of priest was abolished, there would be a
form of religious leadership that would evolve would descend into clericalism just as surely as do some priests do today.  Clericalism is ever with us.  But what we do need is an image of priesthood that is NOT imbued with all the arrogance and exclusivity that we see in so many priests.  I remember writing a paper in seminary using George Hebert’s Memoirs of a Country Parson as a paradigm for priesthood.  It served me well.  But all too often what we see of many priests is the outward desire to be seen as God’s representative and little of the true humility of living out the life of Christ. 

The vocation of priest is hard to live because so many have different images of priesthood.  To live the calling means that one needs to be constantly in relationship with the Holy One so that the Voice that calls also reminds one of their failings.  There are too many who are willing to demand an image of priesthood that is not in keeping with God’s call to us.  I have had people of my parishes want me to be their parent, their ruler, and their step-n-fetchit and at the same time fight me at every turn all in the name of the peace of Christ.   

Being willing to be out of step with society is a constant for those called to be priest.  I can never use the greater society as the pattern for my life.  For those who are introverts it is a bit easier than it is for extroverts because the interior voice is a bit louder but discerning which voice, God’s or self, is still difficult. 

To face the issues of power in our lives is the same for anyone.  But religious power has its own particular evil attached.  To use power of any kind is for the Christian is always a trial because power can be so easily used for ill.  In the early church Power was seen as a manifestation of Evil.  It was referred to as ‘Principalities and Powers’ and was something that was understood as demonic in nature.  I do not believe that power in and of itself is evil.  But it is so easy to blindly use power for ill, thinking that one is using it for good. So
the power in religious leadership constantly has to be raised up to scrutiny so that the image of Christ as the humble itinerant rabbi can be seen and the message that he taught can show forth the Holy One of Israel.   Learning how to do that IS part of the work of the seminary.  It is part of the work of the Commissions on Ordained Ministry in our dioceses.  But it is the work of the individuals who have been called to this unique and mysterious vocation of religious leadership.  It is this constant review and the practice of it that truly creates the ‘priest’ rather than the laying on of hands of the Apostolic Succession.  It is what keeps the Church a living and creative presence of God in the world.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What a difference 1,500 miles make: Cambridge and FTW

What a difference 1,500 miles make!  I would have truly enjoyed my being back in the haunts of Cambridge, MA if some bug from the airless flight hadn’t caught up with me.  Cambridge was in TOTAL bloom this past week.  When we arrived it was still a little cool but the flowering trees were all out.  Redbuds and forsythia as well as tulip trees, pears were a riot of color everywhere our shuttle or taxis went.  For a bit, we couldn’t tell if it was raining or it was the fluttering of cherry blossoms.

When I was in seminary there, I didn’t take shuttles or taxis.  And as a Harvard grad, J is an inveterate T traveler.  You don’t see flowering trees on the subway!  But there is a difference in spring there and spring in DFW.  Yankee spring is short, wet and often chilly.  The flowers absolutely shout through the clouds as if to say:  “Damnit!  Summer is coming!” And they bloom all at one time.  In TX we have long springs with several weeks of color and often a month of pleasant temps before the summer comes.  This spring has been quite lovely in TX too.

Cambridge has about as much ‘Old World’ charm as you are going to get in the U.S., I think.  The tweediness of Cambridge makes it feel a bit more British than the rest of the U.S.  It is reserved as most academic worlds are, but Cambridge likes to be a bit more.  Speaking with a college-bound young Texas woman who could have gone anywhere she wanted, she  found Cambridge ‘cold’ emotionally and unwelcoming.  That is the way that most Southerners find the Yankee demeanor.  You don’t just start up a conversation with people at the bus stop as you do here in TX (that is if you can find a bus stop in TX!).  But I know Yankees to be anything but cold and uninviting. You need but go to a BoSox game or watch the Bruins in the playoffs.   They are as passionate as anyone else.   Their friendliness take a different turn:  it gives the introvert enough respect to think through things and allows the extroverts to make fools of themselves.  It is all tolerated rather than judged.  It is different than in TX where all is met with ‘niceness’ that is often rather phony or judgmental. 

The number of bicycles on the roads and at T stops is awesome.  The ‘green’ considerations are greater.
  And the progressive understanding of medical issues was certainly a relief from the money politics of TX.  I have missed that environment:  one in which the public welfare comes before all else while still giving outstanding care.  And this was only weeks after the bombings.  There was security but not officiousness and that was a relief.

Cambridge is a mecca for every language and nation.  You can’t get comfortable with YOUR way.  There are just too many people there who have other experiences for you to demand that your way is the majority.  Cambridge forces one to consider others in ways that one has never had to in the South.  And if there is any answer to world peace, it may just originate in those locales like Cambridge where a world-view is the only option one has.

There is nothing like being back in an environment like that!  It stirs up one’s thinking.  Even one day back in the ‘grade school’ of your theological training gets those old juices going.  And even while I was feeling so lousy, new ideas would come to me that I wanted to explore, to write about, and to preach about.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do love living in TX once more around my friends and family, comfortable with the customs and the ways of being.  But Cambridge does rattle my thinking cage.  It does not let me be too comfortable. 

I am so thankful for my Episcopal Divinity School training, too.  All of our Episcopal seminaries have a unique quality to them.  EDS has always been a place for scholarship, but it is scholarship with a decided world view.  We learned with a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ which really meant “don’t believe everything that you read” or “t’ain’t necessarily so.”  It forced us to base what we learned and what we later taught and preached to be rooted as much in good scholarship as it was rooted in our faith experience. 

Parish ministry can make a priest rather theologically lazy.  Working 70 hours a week precluded much
scholarship while I was in active ministry.  That is why most seminaries have lectures or continuing education programs for their graduates.  The seminaries gain from the experience of returning people in active parish ministry and who can stay current with what is being taught.  It has been too long an absence from Cambridge for me.  J and I need to go back more often not only to remind us of our salad days, but also prepare for what is yet to come. 

EDS has always been willing to stand on the edge both of education as well as theology. For a while EDS was considered too radical and some bishops refused to send seminarians there.   But if the Church is going into decline which many pundits are expounding, I am thankful for that training that valued standing on the edge of society to proclaim the gospel of Jesus, the itinerent rabbi from the Galilee who also stood on the edge to remind Israel of the call of the Holy One.