Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Five: Advent Traditions.

 Mary Beth has posted

Today’s Friday Five, is Advent Confidential. What are your favorite traditions, observances, hymns, or memories of Advent? Is there something you remember from childhood that you’d like to do again? A funny story you can share about the time the Advent wreath got a little over-lit? We are here and listening!

1. Hmmmm.  We don't decorate for Christmas, Easter, or whatever at the house. We have never had the time. We have a hard time just getting the house neat so that one can find a place to sit down when they drop by. But we always have eggnog in the house for those who do.

2.  We also have had cats from the beginning.  Feline beasties are inclined to have way too much fun with decorations so any decorations ended up shredded before we could ever get them up.

3.  In my family, tree trimming always created the biggest fights of the year.  Years ago I decided that it was better to be Adventual than Christmasy.  So I tend to wear purple and finess the rest.  The
bishops didn't like it much but now my white hair wins out.

4. I always allowed the decorating in the parish be done by the members of the parish.  Christmas decorations always went up on the afternoon of Advent IV except with Christmas Eve was Advent IV.  Then we would put the wreaths and the week before but not add the red ribbons.

5. Now that we are retired, we are beginning to decorate a bit more.  Today I will check out the outdoor lights.  I use white lights and put an wreath with purple ribbons.  In TX if you don't decorate your house, people think you are Muslim.  I don't remember what our Vietnamese neighbors do.  They are not Christian, but they don't speak English either.  The other side neighbors are Catholic but have enough of the endemic Baptist that comes in the water to already have their snowman (plastic) up.

My favorite Advent Hymn is Of the Father's Love Begotten.  Evermore and evermore.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christ the King? A new image for Christian leadership

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Canticle 4 or 16, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

Today is the feast of Christ the King.  You can also call it the Feast of the Reign of Christ. It is also the end of the Christian calendar and next week we begin Advent. But I wonder if we know what kingship really means and whether it models the kind of relationship we have with Christ or God.

This feast is quite recent as far as Christian feasts go.  It was instituted only in 1925 by Pope Pius the XI after the end of WWI.  This was when the papacy was losing its temporal power.  It was when Vatican City was set up as an independent nation in the center of a
unified Italy. In the long run, the feast was developed to celebrate the Pope’s last gasp at what monarchy was supposed to be.  And for the first time in a thousand years that the papacy had been reduced to a mere plebiscite. 

In the Church we continue today to celebrate Christ as King without knowing what the feast was about. Ultimately we are trying to find a way to describe what kind of leadership that Christ has for our lives. Most of us have no experience of what kingship means.  

 If we use the constitutional monarchy as our model for Christian leadership, it is rather insipid.  If we use the absolute monarchy as our example of faith leadership, it doesn’t really describe the relationship that Christ has with us.  It may have been a model that Pius XI wanted western Christianity to adopt.  But the whole issue of democracy began to permeate the majority of western society by the early 20th century.

Today’s feast is really about what is Christian leadership for the 21st century.  Do we look to Christ to provide the need for panoply, the need for hierarchy in the human soul?  Have we not built our idea of Christian leadership around an inappropriate image because of the need for order rather than developed a
form of leadership that is in keeping with the model we have been given in Jesus himself?

I recall that when the Israelites wanted a king, Samuel was loath to give the people a king because they were failing to acknowledge God.  But the people wanted Saul and then Saul led them astray.  The people of God were supposed to allow God to be the judge among them.  They were supposed to be able to govern themselves.  But they called for a king.

And Jesus’ image of Christian leadership is found in Mt 20: 26 “But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave;  even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." 

The reading of Jeremiah is a description of life under the kings of Israel who had lost the sense of the commonweal that Mosaic Law demanded of the people of God.  It is a
description of what happened in this diocese.  But today’s Gospel is the image of the kind of ministry that Christian leadership is supposed to be—laying down one’s life for the sheep.

Years ago when I was in the Diocese of Washington, we had a clergy association that wanted to step up to the plate and take charge of its profession in the same way that the legal profession had done by setting up a way to regulate its own profession.  For too long, we, as clergy had expected the bishop to be the sole arbiter of the lives of clergy.  What we found was that that ancient feudal system of bishop/clergy tended to infantilize the clergy and consequently infantilized the laity in the parishes they served.  It was the wrong paradigm to embrace the responsibilities that clergy had to their bishops and their parishioners.  What we needed was a healthy way to approach the relationships that develop among us as Church.  And bishops, clergy and laity endeavored to make that happen.

You, here at St. Francis are about to enter a new phase of your life as a Christian community.  You are going to have to figure out how you are going to be faithful to Christ as a congregation without the leadership of your own priest.  Yes, you will have some of us ‘ringers’ come to celebrate the Holy Mysteries.  But Christian leadership will have to be exercised by all.  Now, I know some of you and I know that you have been doing this for a while. But what I am describing is the kind of sacrificial leadership that Christ gave us in the cross.  It is the laying down one’s life for friends.

And if we are building a new Church in this part of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church as I believe us to be doing, St. Francis is posed to be the most exciting place in the Episcopal Church.  But that is only if you are willing to re-evaluate the meaning of Christian community and Christian leadership.  We cannot continue the top-down model if we are going to be about servant leadership.  “Father (or Mother) knows best” cannot be the way that we go about proclaiming the Gospel for this new Church that we are about making.  Christian leadership is not the sole possession of the clergy or even bishop.  Christian leadership has to do with us recognizing the gifts of our separate vocations to work together to serve Christ.
You will need to raise up among yourselves those lay folk who can proclaim the Gospel.  This does not mean that they need to be ordained.  But you already know who among you knows God.  You will need to figure out what excites you about your parish and proclaim it among the people in Parker County.  You will have to quit thinking of yourselves as ‘pore little us’ and start proclaiming the Gospel that you had the temerity to proclaim when you quit following the false shepherds of the last
regime.  You will have to find a way to serve this community without your own digs so that people will know of your commitment and your courage.  You will have to devise new ways to describe who you are to attract more membership because people who want to know of faith will want to know how you celebrate it.  You will need to be creative as you have never been to find ways to explain who you are to a Texas world that is craving intimacy with God but have been sold a bill of goods by popular religion.  You will have to study your faith to know what the Episcopal Church is and what is not.   It sounds fatiguing, and it is.  But as one who has spent my life doing this, I can tell you that it is the most rewarding thing that you can do for yourselves, others and God.  I have yet to know of a parish that has pulled itself up by its bootstraps that hasn’t found it the most profound experience of their lives.

And you are not alone.  The churches of the Northeast are right where you are—remaking themselves to serve Christ and the people of God in their communities.  Small towns all over are recognizing that it is only by reconfiguring themselves and reclaiming a quasi-colonial model of the church that served when there was no hierarchy to speak of in the American Church. Yes, you are remaking the Church and how you choose to remake it will definitely be affected by the kind of clergy you call to serve you in the future.  Not just priests, but bishops also. 
The kind of image you have of Christ and his mission in the world will be reflected in the way you develop this new image of Church.  It will be reflected in the kind of infrastructure that you set up in your congregations and the diocese.  It will be
reflected in the way that you call people from your parish to serve as clergy.  It will be reflected in the ways that you relate to your clergy as well as how you call your clergy to relate to you.  

Christ made it clear that it was the people around him that was his family—his community of faith.  That is image we have of the earliest church in the book of Acts—a family that cared for one another.  You know how to do that—don’t allow yourselves to be constrained by the canons to love one another.  Do not allow hierarchical or monarchical conventions keep you from laying down your lives for one another.  Because there is no more attractive image that people are drawn to than “see how they love one another.”  

On this final Sunday of the Christian year, I would invite you to contemplate upon what image of Christian leadership do you want for you future?  And then next Sunday, I want you to discuss that image with one another at coffee hour.  I know that Episcopalians are not good about sharing faith.  But the folk I know from this parish are not shy about sharing their thoughts.  Talk about the image of Christian leadership that might get you to follow the King of your life?  What about that man Jesus wants you to share his life with others?  In other words, what has God done for you lately?  And how are you going to go about laying your life down for those here that you have chosen to worship Christ with?  That is the task we have signed up for in our Baptism.  It is the herculean work that God calls from each of us and can only be done with God at the center.  AMEN

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Five: Thanksgiving (food) edition

Friday Five: The Thanksgiving (food) edition

Last year's Thanksgiving service altar
Last year’s altar for the Thanksgiving service

This week’s Friday Five is because of my preparations for our Thanksgiving dinner celebration, which here in the US will be next Thursday, November 28th. I hope our RevGals and Pals who are not in the US will play along, particularly as it relates to menus and food!
Be sure to link us to YOUR blog post by pasting your link into the comments. :)

1. Turkey: love it? hate it? self-basted? fry it or roast it? Tofu-turkey? Tell me more. (I’ve only had one roasted turkey come out totally delish so I’m fishing for your tips!)

Love it!  I will often roast a turkey when I am having folks over on days that are not feasts.  More than the dinner, I love turkey sandwiches and the sliced stuff you get from the deli doesn't cut it for me.   I am not hosting T'giving and probably never will because our house isn't big enough for the whole clan.  But for a small turkey of about 8lbs, I put a herbed butter underneath the skin of my bird--usually thyme or parsley.  Whatever I have left in the garden. And add either a lemon and onion, carrot and celery to the cavity.   I have been known to brine my turkey so that it stays moist. Turkey is one of the easiest things to roast.  I generally put it in a very hot oven (400F) for about 15 mins. and then lower the temp to 325 for the rest of the time.  I have also smoked turkeys on the grill.  They only take about an hour if you do it right.  Mmmm, smoked turkey is awesome.

2. Stuffing: bagged? homemade? sage? sausage? cornbread? oysters? nuts? Got any inspiration for

Of course.  I love white bread stuffing.  I usually get Pepperage Farm herbed dressing and add celery, onion, slivered almonds, parsley, sometimes sliced water chestnuts, apple and a bit of wine, melted butter and chicken stock and make it pretty spongy so that it cooks nicely.  I go back and forth between stuffing the bird and not.  It depends upon how much time I have.  But I have found that my birds tend to come out dry when I stuff them because it take so much longer to cook a stuffed bird. 

 3. Cranberries: When we celebrated Thanksgiving in Europe one year, our French friends thought we were nuts to choose a very sour berry and then load it with sugar. (Let alone the stuff that comes out of a can in a blob of gelatinous ooze!) What do you do with cranberries?

I like Cranberries.  J loves jellied cranberry sauce.  I make a gelatine sauce with black cherry jello, cranberries that I have cooked for a bit in wine sugar, celery, and walnuts.  But I can't seem to sell the family on it.  Doesn't bother me--I love the left-overs!  I saw an awesome cranberry salsa that I want to try with whole berry cranberry sauce, cilantro,  onion, a bit of pepper ( I use poblanos because we are wusses at our house)
4. Potatoes: (Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew…) What’s your pleasure?

If I have enough dressing, I don't need potatoes.  But the family seems to have to have them.  I like mashed with sour cream and a bit of cream cheese with some chives from the garden.  I have often wanted to do a potato gratin but have never gotten to it.

5. Pie: I’m married to the Pie Man. Anything but coconut pie floats his boat. What do you make? (or buy?) Pumpkin? Pecan? Apple?

J. makes a mean Pumpkin Chiffon pie that is perfect after a heavy meal.  I prefer Pecan with Bourbon sauce.  I have never made a decent crust but I love to make pies.  I am going to work on my crust this weekend so that I can try out my new mixer on it.  Prayers appreciated. ;>}

Bonus:  Bourbon Pecan Pie

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
3 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 to 2 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons good-quality bourbon
1 (9-inch) deep-dish pie shell, unbaked

This is Paula Deen's recipe but mine is pretty much the same.  I sometimes add a drop of molasses.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Women Bishops--the Church of England finally woke up!

This morning I hear that the Synod of Church of England (CoE) finally voted to pass women bishops.  It was good news for the sisterhood in the UK.  There have been some really good women passed over for the past 15 years.  The process to become a bishop in the CoE is still pretty arcane but there will be women who are appointed bishop none the less.  It would be nice if the CoE could be more elective in their process, but that will not come to be in an established church.

The first woman in the Anglican Communion to be consecrated bishop was Barbara Harris, suffragan (assistant) bishop of Massachusetts and the first woman who was elected ordinary (in charge of a diocese) was Penny Jamieson in 1989 in Dunedin, New Zealand.  The third was Jane Holmes Dixon, as suffragan in Washington, DC.  I had the privilege of voting in that election and serving with Jane.  She brought a wonderful sense of steel magnolia to that position.  She was a great pastor and most of all a good friend. We had been among a very small group of women rectors when I was called to the Diocese of Washington and would have lunch frequently to shore each other up. I remember her saying to me:  "they tell me that once
you become a bishop that people never tell you the truth.  Will you always tell me the truth?"  And I vowed then to always tell her what I saw and how I understood situations.  There were always things that I didn't understand about the role of bishop, but I did know that +Jane always knew the truth I held.  What she did with that was what the role of the bishop demanded of her.

The CoE has been much slower to grasp the need for women clergy and now bishops.  Brits, on the whole, tend to be more conservative on social issues--and yet they led the US on so many things---slavery is first to come to mind.  And socially they are far ahead of the US on the acceptance of LGBTQ issues.  But the CoE has been slower to come around on that issue than the government.

Two weeks ago I sat in a coffee hour at the first English-speaking non-Roman Catholic church in Mexico City.  It was Remembrance (Armistice) Day and the British Ambassador was part of the services.  With me at the table were the parents of a young man who was part of the embassy contingent.  We spoke with him for a bit and a young Mexican man.  Mom and dad were appropriately proud of their son.  We went on to discuss church matters in Mexico with a local cleric which included the situation of LGBTQ folk.  As the group broke up, the father leaned over to me and nodded at his son, "Legal union, those two. We are very proud of them."  And followed his son and husband out.

In some ways the Brits lead us.  And at times we lead them.  The British government has got it right;
the CoE hasn't yet.  But that is what makes the Anglican Communion strong.  We do not have to get to the same place at the same time.

The CoE has gotten to women bishops now.  And it is now that we are going to start seeing just how women's ministry can fulfill its promise:  to bring another dimension to the hierarchy.  If women are allowed to bring to their unique talent of being woman with all that entails to the upper echelons of the CoE then the Church will change. And the Anglican Communion will too.

The retired Archbishop of Canterbury Carey has said that the Church will die in another generation.  Now, I have never been a fan of Lord Carey, but the Church that he has been a part of will die in another generation.  It always does.  But the Church of the future will be different and hopefully will be different because the women bishops who will be consecrated to embrace something other than the inflexible Church of now. 

This is part of the reason I am so concerned about the young priests that are presenting themselves for ordination today.  Are they looking to merely preserve what they have known or are they willing to envision a new world, a new Church?  I have no idea what that might mean because I do not have the grace of youth, but it must be founded upon the love of God and an abiding love for God and human kind.

The women of CoE have the possibility of stepping forward in a new way.  May they be given the grace to lead the CoE into an new age of faith.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Five: In the Middle

November 15 is the middle of the month and also the day for our Friday Five. Think about the term “middle” which indicates various ways of looking at things: middle of a project; middle of an argument; midpoint as the golden mean; middle of a dilemma (of which its spelling is indecisive); middle of a family; middle of the state; middle of the street; and on and on and on.

For today’s Friday Five, write about five experiences you have had being in the middle. It will be interesting to see how many different ways we see the middle in our lives.

1.   The Via Media is the way that the Episcopal Church likes to think of itself.  And for many years I really appreciated that sense of standing between the Catholic and the Protestant as a way to describe my faith.  But over the past 10 years or so I have watched both the Catholic and the Protestant extremes get more and more bizarre in how they describe their relationship with the Divine.  Living in the middle of that tension has become harder and harder to live in.  Last week I attended an Anglican church in Mexico city where it was by far more English than it was Mexican -- it WAS Remembrance Day  (Armistice Day) and the British Ambassador to Mexico was in attendance.  But I don't think my faith is dependent on British forms of worship to be valid.  It just felt that it was trying to make Brits feel good about being British.  I wonder if that is what we are doing in the States.  Is much of our effort mainly to make Americans feel good about their faith?  

2.  I am in the middle of a fight in which my Church has made wide-sweeping statements about LGBTQ persons but in this place
seems to want to wiggle out of them.  The leadership and many of the followers would rather 'look' correct rather than 'be' correct about living them out.  Now, I feel I am being called to put the mirror to my local diocese; however, I am tired and worn out by having had to do this on all kinds of issues for my whole career.  I am tired of having had to fight to combat racism, sexism, justice for all and now when I desperately need the help for myself, I can find no one to take my side.

3.  The middle is not a comfortable place.  For all who sit on fences, it is an exercise in maintaining a type of balance that I am not sure is especially healthy.  It is more of an exercise in being torn apart than peace.  I wonder if that is the reason why so much of the world insists on being on the end of an issue rather than being somewhere in the middle.  It is harder to maintain the middle than to live on the edge.

4.  We have two cats who do not like each other.  The senior male, Tyke, is a pretty sanguine fellow
but Little Bit, a three year old female is the Alpha cat.  She has been since she came in the door as a kitten.  She jumps Tyke whenever she take the fancy.  She eats his food.  I am in the middle.  But I have the water spritzer!  The only time they can abide to be together is when I am in bed and they are on either side of me.  

5.  I am in the middle of a dilemma of whether to finally kick over the idea of church and leave my denomination, leave the Church altogether.  I have spent more than 50 years being a church woman but what I see of the Church today makes me sad, sick and angry.  I feel like all that we worked for in the ordination of women was for naught--the women have turned out to be just as phoney as the men.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men...

[I tried to post this on Monday but trying to post in Spanish was a bit daunting.]

Well, the 'best laid plans of mice and men....'  Yesterday we decided we had enough of Mexico´s pre-colombian history so we went off to see some of the colonial history.  What I had forgotten was that museums are generally closed on Mondays here.  One place we had not gone was to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  That is always open!

I had been there back in the early 70´s.  The new basilica was open then but it reminded me of a Mexican bus station.  The "new" basilica was built sometime in the 1960s because the baroque chapel was too small and was sinking into the ever-present underground lake upon which most of Mexico City is grounded.  But yesterday the "new" basilica had been well-appointed over the past 40 years and one papal visit later.

Understanding the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a necessary componant if one is to understand Mexico or her people. It doesn´t matter if you have devotion to La Guadalupe or not.  It has to do with the soul of a people who were enslaved by the fairer Spanish people.  The Blessed One showed herself to an Indian in the visage of an Indian and reminded him that he was good and beloved by God.

J and I wandered all over the whole complex and saw very few (maybe one?) European faces.  While standing in the back of the basilica (Mass was being celebrated) we saw a woman cleaning with a dust mop. The basilica is always open, therefore cleaning goes on all of the time too.  I asked her quietly how we could get closer to the image of the Virgin because it was above the altar.  She told me:  one can go under the back of the altar on a moving sidewalk).  We stayed for a few moments longer as the consecration of the mass was happening and two priests are loath to move around in church at that time.

The woman returned with her mop and said to me:  "I have a gift for you." I was surprised.  she
pulled our of her pocket two small photos of La Guadalupe.  "They were blessed by John Paul II" she said.  He was there in 2005.  I don't know if they were or not; it was the face of the woman that caught my interest.  Her look was radiant and open.  In Spanish she would be called "sencillo", we don´t have a word for it in English.  But it is a face that I have seen before--it was the face of someone who was sharing the joy of faith.

Later I realized that this may have been one of the Guadalupanas, nuns whose main vocation is to
serve the Virgin of Guadalupe and remind the world of why she appeared to the people of the Western Hemisphere.  Most of the nuns here do not wear habits, but they can be readily identified by their short hair and no earrings.  But the small gift isn't what impressed me--it was that open, welcoming face.  I have seen that look on others over the years.  I identify it with those who have been touched or have reached out to the Divine.  They are invariably those who know they are stretched between the profane and the sacred.  I admire it no matter what faith the person holds and am humbled by it.

And while I do not have a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, I now carry a small picture of her in
my pocket because of a small woman with whom I shared faith for a short moment.  It is moments like these that keep me faithful, that remind me of the faith God has blessed me with and how far-reaching faith can be.

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints: What does it mean?

I am presently in Mexico and it is All Saints Day.  It is a day when we remember those who were great ones who went before us in the faith.  It is a nice day and on Sunday we will remember those who have died in the past year.  But what does it mean here?

All Saints is merely the prelude to tomorrow-- the Day of the Dead--All Soul's day on some calendars.  But it is so much more as I wander through the streets.  Last night there were children with costumes roaming about but many of them with skull make-up on.  The princesses were in black, there were little pumpkins, but overwhelmingly there were skull faces on children and a preponderance of marigolds.  Christianity and deeper and more profound theological issues show in this Dia del Muertos.

Earlier in the week we had attended the great Anthropological Museum in Mexico City.  It is truly one of the great museums of the world.  From the earliest times, Mexican people have had this fascination with the dead.  It is deeply imbedded in the culture.  Before the Aztecs, the Toltecs, the Mayan have been objects d'arte with skeletons and skulls that have been prized by these people.  And while it is all around me and while I have asked many, I am still bewildered by the symbolism of this day.

Tomorrow we will go with friends of friends to the grave yards to have a picnic and to take food for those who are buried there.  It is a way of connecting with those who have gone before.  The marigolds are often stripped of their blossoms and the bright gold color are signs for the dead to return.  Each company in town have their own displays and altars on the streets of the city.  And in Mexico City there is a huge display in the National Mall (Zocalo).  It also is a holiday when people return to their home towns and their families.  It is like a huge one day memorial day but a lot more fun.

This all brings me back to that first question:  What does it mean when we memorialize those who have died--those who we think are saints and those we don't?  How DO we remember?  Is it with some sober mass or with some costumes or with a real understanding that there is a small line between the living and the dead?

Do you have visits from those who have 'passed over'?  Do the memories of those who are no longer with us paralyze us with fear or melt into wonderful memories?  Have we in the US become so adept at avoiding Death that we don't ever think about it and consequently never really understand our relationship with the Holy?  It is clear that the Mexican people have grappled with the issues for eons.  And they celebrate Death just as fully as they celebrate life:  with noise, music, family, food and fun.  And as far as I am concerned, it is a helluva way to live.

[The photograph is by one of my companions here, Libby Hedrick]