Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Today was a busy day, made more busy by a communications failure with Saint Middle School's mother church. As I've mentioned before, the priests from that church rotate through to celebrate the Eucharist with us on Sundays, since, as a deacon, I cannot consecrate or bless. We knew a few weeks in advance that none of them would be available last Sunday, so we did Morning Prayer.
What we didn't know, and what we discovered this morning (after the bulletin was finished) was that they cannot support us in this way for three more weeks. Gack!
A shift to Morning Prayer wouldn't be so problematic if we knew in advance. Our bulletins contain every word of our services, since we meet in, well, a Middle School, and using the Prayer Book is not possible in that venue. So changing bulletins on the fly is not graceful.
So I scrounged around and found a supply priest to help out for the coming weeks. If this puts a fly in the ointment of convincing our bishop to let us do Deacon's Masses, so be it. It's more important to find a way to get the sacrament to the people.
Given that a search committee is coming to see me on Sunday, I hope it all goes well.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
We seem to be in the midst of our own version of it, life-sized, with all the commentary flying through the blogosphere re the Archbishop of Canterbury's response to the actions of General Convention (see yesterday's post)..perhaps, though, it should be called Angliclue, since much gnashing of teeth is going on predicting the demise of the Anglican Communion (Colonel Williams in the cathedral with a candlestick? Mrs. Schori in the convention center with a pipe?).
Enough. God moves as God chooses to move. I like what GC did this year and will be interested in seeing how it plays out in terms of real actions, rather than words, in the various dioceses around the country. I would suspect many folks could tell me right now how that will develop in their diocese.
In the meantime, whether there are covenants or communions or blessings or bonds of questionable affection, the work of Christ calls us.
A group of adults and teens from Saint Middle School spent a very hot and sweaty week in West Virginia, working on homes that needed much work in a community with great need and not much money.
That's the work to which we are called.
Another group of folks from our mother church are headed to Africa in a few weeks to work on, and at, an elementary school. They are packing great big boxes of supplies for the children there as I type this.
That's the work to which we are called.
Yet another group of friends from another church are headed out to work on Habitat for Humanity on an Indian reservation. Hot work, in August.
That's the work to which we are called.
Meanwhile, Christian Ed teams everywhere are starting to think about the programs for Sunday School for the coming autumn, and preachers are planning sermons, and folks are making lunch for homeless people, and other folks are advocating for health insurance for those without it...
That's the work to which we are called. Perhaps it is time to turn away from the hand-wringing about the Powers That Be (and yes, I do love being part of the Anglican Communion whether we all agree or not) and let the Spirit sort it out. Conflict is built into the DNA of Christianity. It will not all be sorted out into Who's Right and Who's Wrong in this life.
I think I'd much rather love my neighbors and do the work. The real work.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Turns out I am one of three persons on their shortlist. They want me to fly out to The Windy City and have a face-to-face interview.
I am also one of three persons on the shortlist of a wonderful parish a couple hours north of here, and they are sending four people from their search committee down here on Sunday to see me preside and hear me preach and teach, as they discern whether they want me to be their rector.
Whew Part Deux.
In the meantime, The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a statement in reaction to what the Episcopal Church has done at its recent General Convention. He applauds our deep desire to remain as part of the Anglican Communion, then suggests that our actions at GC have deepened the rift with some parts of that Communion. He then seems to endorse or predict a two-level reorganization of the Communion, with Episcopalians in a sort of "separate but equal" category. He is trying to hold the Communion together, poor man, but this sort of document seems to endorse a split based on differing interpretations of Scripture vis-a-vis LGBT people and their ability to participate fully in the life of the church. This statement from the ABC simply does not seem helpful to the conversation, but I may be missing something here. He puts forth the case that a) marriage is not available to folks in same sex relationships because the church's historical understanding of what Scripture says about marriage excludes these relationships (never mind that at one point or another the church's historical understanding of what Scripture says about slavery, or about the ordination of women, has evolved...no such evolution seems welcome in this discussion); b) ordained persons in committed same sex relationships do not meet the standard of living a Godly life because they are not married (but wait...they want to be married...but we are not allowing them to live fully into who they are as God made them?); c) thus, they can't become bishops...
Augustine of Hippo talked about the problem of Scriptural interpretation,and St Thomas Aquinas reiterated the position some 800 years later, that reading Scripture without using our rational faculties to incorporate the scientific knowledge (Augustine would have called it looking at the Book of Nature) known at the current time is ignorance. And Anglicans have traditionally believed that it is at the intersection of Holy Writ, tradition, and reason that we find God.
The ABC's argument ends up being predicated on the now-discredited position (at least in the DSM-IV) that homosexuality is fundamentally disordered, and homosexual practice is a sinful expression of that disorder. You can't talk about being loving and nondiscriminatory toward LGBT folk in one breath and then, in the next, say that they can't be in a relationship blessed by their church because we haven't done it before, and then take the long leap toward the position that they can't be ordained as bishops because they are in sinful relationships (or at least unsanctified ones). Augustine is weeping in his grave. For that matter, my Logic 101 professor from college is spinning like a top.
And those of us who know a bit about family systems remember that when we sacrifice one member of the family for no more fighting in the rest of the family, when one person becomes the Judas goat, there is no real peace. Sacrificing the LGBT folks who are called to ordained ministry to keep the Anglican Communion together will end up helping neither.
And after all, as the hymn goes "the peace of God, it is no peace, but strife sown in the sod."
All of this rant about the statement reminds me of the two "whews" above. If I forget what I preached about on Sunday, about what Jesus is expecting of us, I'm not fulfilling the call.
Nobody ever said it would be easy.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
I suspect it’s because I feel that I have a whole lot of goat-like moments, not the least of which was when PH and I were trying to get out of the Wolf Trap parking lot on Thursday night in the thunderstorm, and a great big SUV smartly cut us off. I said some rather rude things about the driver’s appearance, his environmentally unfriendly vehicle, and his driving skills, and I finished off my little rant with “His momma didn’t raise him right.” HE was the goat, and I was the sheep, at least in my eyes.
And that pinpoints part of the challenge of this particular lesson: it’s not a good thing to judge. There is someone who alone has the right to judge, and it sure isn’t me. But that’s gotten me thinking about what it’s like to be a goat, how we know we are being goats rather than sheep, and why Jesus tells this story. We all have our little goat moments, like my complaint at Wolf Trap the other night.
But the real goat – what does that look like? Does he look like James von Brunn, the white supremacist who took a gun into the Holocaust museum and shot a guard? Does she look like Banita Jacks, who is accused of killing her daughters and letting their poor decomposing bodies lie in her house, unmourned and denied a proper resting place? We can wonder what event happened in these two people’s lives that caused them to enter into the belief that their actions were justified. We may never know what caused them to break, and we most certainly cannot know how God will judge them at the last day. But it is so tempting to judge them, as if we know them, to name them as the goats and us as the lovely sheep, under the Shepherd’s arm, blessed, saved, protected. But we don’t really know them, do we? We have no relationship with them, despite all we’ve read in the newspapers or all we’ve heard on television. And relationship is key. How can we know? Only God does.
It is no surprise that this parable appears in this part of the Gospel of Matthew.
Let’s digress for a minute and think about the time and place that Matthew was writing this Gospel account: most scholars think it likely that it was written around 80 CE in the city of Antioch, in Syria. The great temple in Jerusalem has fallen, and the Jews, including the Jewish Christians, are scattered in a great diaspora throughout the Roman empire. Rome rules even more harshly than in Jesus’ time. Unlike when the Apostle Paul was writing, a couple of decades earlier, the Christians in Antioch realize that the end times are not going to happen immediately…Jesus will not return right away in triumph. Matthew has emphasized that no one knows the date of the second coming in the prior chapter. So these Christians in Antioch are hunkering down for a long wait, and in the meantime, they have to learn how to be a church, how to live in relationship with one another, and with other Christ-followers in the area. This gospel is intended to give them encouragement and guidance as they figure this out. So we get a series of parables, all of chapter 25, including the parable of the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom and that of the ten talents…the focus is on watchful waiting, wisdom, faithfulness, and now, in this final story, on how to care for each other, even “the least of these,” in the meantime. It wouldn’t be a surprise if these embattled Christians also did a bit of judging themselves, seeing discussion of the goats and the bad thing that happens to them as somewhat comforting. After all, if you are oppressed, and you hear of the possibility that justice will finally be meted out against those who oppress you at a later point in time, it helps you get through, doesn’t it?
In the midst of the hunkering down, they have been given instructions for survival…and the heart of those instructions is to care for each other. And to care for each other, and for the larger world, requires that there is a relationship, however brief. Whether the relationship engenders the care we show to someone or whether the care we show engenders relationship is irrelevant – either route works if it gets us to what Jesus is expecting of us. At the heart of it is the question of relationship, and that is really what this end-times parable has to tell us. Jesus is all about relationship, whether it is the tenderness that the shepherd shows to his sheep, or the kindness a disciple shows to a stranger. And the quality that condemns someone to identification as a goat is a lack of relationship, or a spurning of relationship. That absence is the key.
That kind of intimacy in relationship with each other mirrors the intimacy of our relationship with God, who knows us completely. And that guidance, to feed the hungry, give something to drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison – a direct quote from the prophet Isaiah – is all about relationship. Even more important, it is about connecting not only with those whom we find easy to help, but with “the least of these,” those who are not so easy, those who rub us the wrong way, those who we think are lazy, those who we are uncomfortable with because they are different, or old, or angry.
And it is the absence of relationship, in this picture, that becomes the outward expression of evil.
Karl Barth, a German theologian of the early to mid 20th Century, comes up with an interesting way of describing evil. He names it Nothingness. It is the absence of goodness, the absence of relationship. When people lose their relationship with their God, they are subject to the gravitational pull of that Nothingness, a cosmic black hole that sucks out all the goodness and leaves nothing but negativity, despair.
Barth says: [God] knows the Nothingness. He knows that which he did not elect or will as the creator. He knows Chaos and its terror. He knows its advantage over his creature. He knows how inevitably it imperils his creature. Yet he is Lord over that which imperils his creature. Against him, the Nothingness has no power of its own. And he has sworn faithfulness to his threatened creature.... He intervenes in the struggle between Nothingness and the creature as if he were not God but himself a weak and threatened and vulnerable creature…. This is how God himself comes on the scene. —Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/3, 358
God dispels that evil, that nothingness…he reaches out to rebuild relationship, to change goats into sheep of the fold, because he loves us all and longs for that relationship. We may fight our way back to good relationship with God, with difficulty, because of our imperfect nature. But we fight back to reach God, as God reaches out for us, because relationship with God is something that we hunger for.
Martin of Tours, a 4th Century monk and bishop, describes this deep desire for relationship:
People naturally do not shout it out, least of all into the ears of us ministers; but let us not be deceived by their silence. Blood and tears, deepest despair and highest hope, a passionate longing to lay hold of ... Him who overcomes the world because He is its Creator and Redeemer, its beginning and ending and lord -- a passionate longing to have the word spoken, the word which promises grace in judgment, life in death, and the beyond in the here and now, God's word -- this it is that animates our church-goers.
Martin describes that hunger for relationship, to dispel the nothingness, in passionate terms, perhaps because he himself was so desirous of relationship, and of living into that relationship with God by serving in relationship with others. One of the most famous legends about Martin was before he was baptized a Christian. On a cold day, the teenaged soldier met a scantily dressed beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me."
It was a brief moment of relationship, of caring for the least of these. And after that dream, he was baptized, and left the army to serve God.
Martin’s relationship with God began with a moment of relationship, a moment of caring for another. He dispelled the nothingness that meant that a poor beggar would freeze on a cold night, and opened a door to understanding God.
We want to be sheep, not goats. We want to ally ourselves with the power of our Creator, not with the darkness of nothingness. We understand that relationship with God is our goal, but it seems like something so beyond our comprehension. That is what Jesus’ instructions are all about: we take a giant step toward relationship with God by taking the small step of building relationship with others who need us, by seeing God in those brothers and sisters who are members of the great family of man, by loving them as we ourselves are loved. Then we have nothing to fear on the day of judgment. We are recognized by our shepherd as sheep of his flock. The darkness is in abeyance. All is light.
Friday, July 24, 2009
So I'm wondering, all you clergy folks out there, would you preside at a wedding that began like this?
If it was inside your church?
If it was on a beach or in some other setting?
We Episcopalians tend to be a bit more conservative than most, and I know I'm an old poop, but it seems this joyful and sexy dance belongs at the reception, not at the ceremony. My fear is that now this video has gone viral, every couple who wants to get married will want to do this down the aisle of the church.
Or maybe I just need to lighten up?
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
It was a good weekend. The memorial service went well. The family was grateful for the support of their church family and their son's friends, the eulogist was brief and moving, the homily was well-received, and I committed no major liturgical gaffes. It was interesting thing: since I have been doing much of the tasks that deacons are allowed to do for many months, this service (the first time I led such a liturgy as an ordained person) felt like I was finally, really a clergywoman in God's church. Thanks be to God!
The sermon on Sunday, which edged into challenging territory for some folks, also went well. People who are happy with D025 loved it, but there were a few unhappy faces in spots (folks who are somewhat more conservative in their theological leanings)...no one said anything afterwards, since the sermon was crafted to make the case for theological humility, but I know not everyone agreed. So be it. We will have an Adult Forum on the key resolutions (D025 and C056) in a few weeks, when we know more what the impact of the resolutions will be.
PH and I went to see the new Harry Potter on Sunday evening - an utter delight - and came home to a quiet supper and conversation.
StrongOpinions is adoring Paris (I was afraid of that!) but is running through her spending money a bit faster than she should. We had an e-talk about that today and it was good. Now we'll see if she really will modify her behavior as is necessary.
The tasks for the week ahead?
- getting the new health insurance untangled, including get the scrip refilled for my MS meds, which are verrrrrry expensive indeed, but keep me fully functional.
- cleaning the house, or at least approximating cleaning the house.
- being with a parishioner who is having surgery early tomorrow morning.
- making a few phone calls to set up appointments for the week, and doing some work on the research project.
- starting to think about the sermon for the coming Sunday's Morning Prayer service (we are without a priest this week).
- continuing to keep on the diet and to keep on the exercise regimen. I've lost 5 pounds thus far, and would like the trend to continue.
- trying not to stress out about the permanent job situation; the exercise and prayer are helping on that front.
What's up for you this week?
Saturday, July 18, 2009
That’s comforting and frightening at the same time. We would like our God to be a fixed point in a confusing world. We would like our God to be manageable, understandable. We would like to be able to use the Bible to define the height, depth, width and volume of our God, so we could fit God into a God-shaped box. It’s easier that way, having all the dimensions measured out, knowing what we need to know to have a relationship with God.
But God doesn’t really work that way. God is bigger than us in every way. God doesn’t fit neatly into a little box that we can tuck away in a corner and forget about until Sunday. God has something new to say to us every day.
So King David found out in today’s Old Testament passage. Remember last week? The ark being carried into the city of David and the king dancing wildly for joy, and the great celebration with everyone going home well-fed?
You know about parties…there is always a morning after, and here we are in the morning after, and David has an idea. After all, he is king. He is settled into his house now, his enemies have been vanquished, and the ark is here. So he asks Nathan, the prophet, about an idea he has: the king lives in a nice house – a house made of cedar – makes you think of the Pacific Northwest, doesn’t it? – but the ark, that wonderful symbol of the relationship between God and his people, is in a tent. Just some poles and some cloth. Certainly not fit for such a wonderful thing as the ark…so why not build a nice house for the ark? Nathan says, “Sounds good to me. You’re God’s beloved one. Go for it.”
And David goes to sleep that night with blueprints dancing in his head, drawings of the marvelous temple he wants to build for the ark, for God. Nathan goes to sleep, too, but his sleep is not as untroubled as David’s – God comes to him in a dream, and has some rather harsh words that he wants Nathan to pass along to David: “You’re not the one to figure out whether I need a temple. I’ve been traveling alongside my people in an ark and a tent since I took you all out of Egypt. At any time, have I said ‘I want a house of cedar?’ No, you boys are missing the point. YOU don’t get to say when and where I need a house. I am the one who decides about the house thing….and this is what I have to say about it: I’ve got it under control. I made you king, and I will give my people Israel a land of their own, and I will build a house…but it won’t be a house made of cedar. It will be a house made of the generations of those who follow you. I’ll take care of David’s people and defend them against their enemies. That’s the house that will be built.”
So Nathan has to get up the next morning and tell all this to David, and David is shocked, and has to go in to pray before the ark and talk to God for a while, to get his head around what God has promised….what scholars call the Davidic covenant, this promise to David and to the generations out of David’s line yet to come. God has said something new to David; God has the right to do that, being God.
God has something new to say to us every day. God takes what we think we understand, and sets it on its ear…God reveals more about himself, and we learn, slowly.
At the heart of this is the question of how we know God. It’s an ancient question. I like what St. Thomas Aquinas had to say about it: in the Summa Theologica, his book that outlined what he believed was his whole theological understanding, he talked about the various ways we might know God, but he put in a big caveat: we cannot know God completely, not in this life. We can get hints of who God is, through the magnificence of creation, but that is an imperfect and incomplete understanding. As Augustine said “If you have comprehended, what you have comprehended is not God.” There is always more to learn as we try to understand in our weak human way who God is.
God has something new to say to us every day. There is something more for us to learn every day.
That puts us in an uncomfortable place, because we want our God to be tame and well-defined, a God for whom we can build a temple in which to keep God locked away. But our God is not a tame god. “I am who I am” cannot be easily fit into a box.
And yet people try. We have seen this in people who have tried to use God’s words as a weapon, as if there is only one understanding, as if there is no fresh knowledge for us to pursue as we, as faithful people, try to understand God better. They rightly state that God is unchangeable, that God is fixed. But while God is fixed, our understanding of God cannot be. We are supposed to keep trying to understand God more, and better. We Episcopalians believe that it is not only Scripture and our traditions that guide our understanding but also the use of our brains, our ability to reason…and we struggle to faithfully understand God’s will. The result of that is that sometimes we disagree. Remember, we cannot fully understand God in this life, so we’re bound to these challenges. That’s nothing new in the church – the apostles Peter and Paul fought mightily over whether Gentile Christians were to be held to different standards than Jewish Christians, and the church fathers in Nicea fought for almost 60 years before the final version of the Nicene Creed was agreed upon. There was the Reformation, both the German version and the English version, and don’t get me started on the subject of women’s ordination! The church debates, and sometimes fights, as it struggles to understand God’s purpose.
This is the position in which we have found ourselves in recent years, on the subject of the inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church.
It came to a head, of course, with the election of Gene Robinson in 2003 as Bishop of New Hampshire. A gay man, living in a committed relationship with his partner of more than two decades, elected a bishop? A scandal to some, righteous justice to others.
The sequence of events that followed Bishop Robinson’s election is well-known: some conservative folks have left the church, allying themselves with other provinces in Africa and South America that believe as they do. Some within the Anglican Communion were greatly disturbed by what they viewed as the Episcopal Church’s radical acts. In response to the tumult, the 2006 General Convention passed a resolution promising a moratorium on the ordination of Bishops whose “manner of life” would cause problems for others in the communion…this was widely read to mean a moratorium on electing any more gay bishops; the resolution also included language blocking the blessing of same-sex relationships. For many gay and lesbian persons, that resolution had the feeling of exclusion, of being unwelcome if they chose to be fully themselves.
But God has something new to say to us every day, and we are bound to try and hear God’s voice. So this past week, at General Convention, a resolution was passed that affirmed our desire to continue to be a part of the Anglican Communion and also affirmed that the Episcopal Church believes that gay and lesbian persons should be able to live out their call to any of the orders of ordained ministry – either deacon, priest, or bishop. Some folks view this new resolution, which passed in both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies by 2 to 1, as a repudiation of the moratorium. Others interpret it as a clarification, and that it is a matter of choice on the part of different dioceses how this will play out in their location. In point of fact, it has always been a matter of choice on the part of a diocese as to how they would react to resolutions, which is why there were several dioceses who wouldn’t ordain women as recently as a year ago, and others who have always approved blessings of same-sex unions…it is part of the DNA of the Episcopal Church that we can hold ourselves in the tension of differing interpretations.
I believe that God has something new to say to us every day. I don’t always understand all the details, but I pray that we all can listen faithfully, and be willing to reshape or even discard the box that we try to put God in, and know that we will finally understand it at the last day. In the meantime, a little theological humility as we try to seek God’s will is a good thing.
I am comforted by the words of the great Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marques, who was asked about the secret to his marriage of many decades…he said, “I know her so well now, after all these years, that I know that I know nothing about her.”
God is a mystery, but we don’t get a pass on trying to understand at least a little bit about the Divine Mystery. We may feel at moments of change that we know nothing about God, but our sure knowledge that God is love, and that God bids us to love one another, goes a long way toward getting us started.
I will be presiding at a memorial service (my first as an ordained clergywoman) this afternoon. I pray that it goes smoothly, and will be a comfort to the family.
There was supposed to be a contingent from a search committee coming to see me tomorrow, but they just called up and asked to postpone a week. Sigh. PH is off bicycling 100 miles (A Roll-Your-Own Century) with some of his buddies, and will be too pooped to go to Harry Potter tonight, so maybe we'll go tomorrow. I need something fun to do to kick off another busy week.
Off to drop prescriptions at the pharmacy. The list never gets shorter...
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Then I got word that the local church that was considering me for a job decided to go with a layperson instead of an ordained person, so I was out of the running. There's more to the story than that, but talking about it would be unproductive. Ah, well, it is behind me.
The good parts of the day were a relatively uneventful Costco trip - got in and out in 30 minutes - and a wonderful lunch with a dear friend who let me squawk a bit about the job thing and then gracefully helped me move past it. I also had a great meeting with the senior warden of the church where I am currently serving...covered a lot of material efficiently, were in agreement about most everything. This is how this stuff should work!
I'm straightening up in anticipation of an interview with a research subject, and looking forward to a quiet evening with PH after that. May it be so! I think a nice glass of wine will be in order.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
They were right.
So the sermon this Sunday (on David wanting to build God a house) will, among other things, address resolution D025, referenced in the post below. I'll be talking about God having new things to say to us every day, and how our understanding of God's will evolves, since we can't know God completely on this mortal coil. And how sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we get it wrong (No, I don't need a house for the ark.) And how fights in the church on matters of theological and scriptural interpretation have dated back to Peter and Paul, and will not end anytime soon. And that's okay.
The complicating factor in all this, of course, is that this is the Sunday that some folks are coming to hear me preach. They're looking for a new rector, and thus far they like me a lot. Still, a sermon like this, which is so much what my parishioners need to hear (I think), is a high-risk proposition to put out before a visiting search committee.
In its early draft phase right now, I think I'm managing to offer some information, some good theology to chew on, and hope no matter where one is on the theolical spectrum. Still, it's a risk.
But if this is what is necessary in this time and this place, the Search Committee will either roll with it or hate it. If they hate it, I suspect that is not the place for me.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
You may say, "Gee, I thought there already were gay and lesbian folks who are ordained in the Episcopal Church, and there's one bishop who is a partnered gay man- isn't that what caused all this argy-bargy?"
Well, there have been gay priests since...well, since the beginning of it all, I'd suspect, and until recent times they stayed closeted. Some dioceses in recent years have ordained gay and lesbian folk who pledged to remain celibate (the argument being that the poor things can't help the way they're made, but they do need to stay away from acting on it) and a very few have ordained gay folk who are partnered. But Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was the first out, partnered, gay person who was elected bishop.
And then all the hand-wringing began, from those folks in the US who thought it was just awful that this gifted priest in a long-time committed relationship should become a bishop.Many of these angry people are the same ones who were unhappy about women getting ordained (some still are). So a bunch of them left the Episcopal Church, saying we were apostates. Some affiliated with overseas dioceses who shared their conservative interpretation of the key passages in Scripture, and now some are trying to form a new province here in the US. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the primus inter pares among the church leaders, has been trying to hold the Anglican Communion together by hook or by crozier. He had hoped the Episcopal Church would do nothing that would cause further rifts in the Communion.
The fact of the matter is, no matter how many prefatory remarks there are in D025 about wanting to remain in the Anglican Communion and remaining in dialogue with those with whom we differ, the passage of this resolution will not comfort those who oppose the ordination of gay and lesbian persons.
But sometimes, as painful as it may be, it is important to do what is difficult and right rather than to strive for unity at all costs. The church has survived battles over everything from the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed to which way the altar faces to women's ordination. God and God's work survives our human struggles to understand what God wants us to do. This resolution, at this time and in this place, is necessary. All faithful Christians, be they straight or gay, should be fully included in all aspects fo the life of this church.
It is not intended to be easy. It is intended to be a faithful hard slog through the trenches until we figure it out.
Pray for those who rejoice at this resolution, for those who struggle with it, for those who minister to those on both sides of the issue. Veni, Creator Spiritus.
Monday, July 13, 2009
I got the homily written for the memorial service that is scheduled for Saturday. I have some rough ideas for Sunday's sermon, but nothing close to coherence yet. I'm preaching on David wanting to make a house for the ark...I may do something on "what makes a home?" I should do some cleaning and organizing in the basement, since I've pledged to PH that I'll look at a box a day and see what can be discarded before our next move, which will either be local or long-distance, depending on where I'm called. In either case, moves are easier when you throw out the extraneous stuff BEFORE you move rather than after. I learned that lesson the hard way.
The diet is started (for the thousandth time). I've been walking regularly, and have transitioned back to a low-carb approach at the recommendation of my doctor. Two pounds thus far. Quite a few more to go. I am working at keeping the tempting foods out of the house (shortbread, Milano cookies, ice cream). If they're not there, I don't eat them. Simple as that. I was proud of my willpower yesterday - I drove right by that Wendy's on the way home from church without succumbing to the siren song of the Frosty and the Bacon Cheeseburger. I thought for a nanosecond about getting a large diet Coke, but it would have been way too tempting to get something to go with it. And diet soda is not very good for us, after all.
There are some folks I should call to set up appointments for the research project, some clothing I should iron, some straightening up I should do around the living room...but I think for it to be a Sabbath, I will turn away from "should" and look forward to the "could."
Sunday, July 12, 2009
For those of us who are a little (ahem) curvy, it glides over the curves most gracefully and makes one's derriere much less noticeable. It actually looks much nicer than this picture would suggest. I found mine on sale at a local branch of Smokesbury (it was a floor sample). I do not wear a cincture with it. Even on sale, it wasn't cheap, but I count it the best investment in clergywear I've made lately.
The sermon was well-received, as was the Adult Forum (1st of a 3-part series on King David). The two little guys who were serving as junior acolytes - brothers - didn't wiggle too much, and since I didn't have a senior acolyte, I coached them through helping me set the table. They did very well indeed. Yay, A & D!
We are planning a memorial service for the son of one of our parishioners who died tragically at age 44 just a few weeks ago...what a privilege to get to preside at this, and what a challenge. As usual, the St Middle School folks stepped up, ready in a heartbeat to volunteer to do readings, to do music. They really are a marvelous parish, and our mother church, where we will do the service, is being helpful and supportive in many ways as well. It makes this newbie more confident that all will go well.
It's an interesting in-between time. I am hoping to hear whether or not I will be called by a nearby parish for a permanent position - I had thought I'd hear by Friday, but it didn't happen. In the meantime, another more distant church is sending a delegation to see me in action next Sunday (they are interested in me for a rectorship). Complicated. We'll see what the Spirit has in mind. Thank God PH is such a wonderfully supportive guy who will roll with the punches no matter what happens.
I've been busy with research work - interviews, transcriptions, that sort of thing. Difficult to plan out what the week is going to be like, what with various and sundry meetings, prep for the homily for the memorial service as well as the sermon and adult Forum for Sunday, vestry cookout and meeting Friday night. I'm glad to be busy, and glad to be earning something again. I've got to figure out how to organize the moving parts, particularly on a busy week like this.
Somewhere in here, I'd better find some Sabbath time other than the early morning perambulation.
Not just Herod’s beautiful teenaged step-daughter.
Not just King David, ecstatic at the arrival of the ark of the covenant.
We all dance, in many different ways.
My friend Theresa, who has devoted her life to the difficult work of reconciliation between blacks and whites in post-apartheid South Africa, says it like this:
“All of us are caught up in an unfolding dance of trying to make sense of ourselves and our world. We all dance between fragility, courage, fear, and a loving creative vulnerability.”
And the dance we do is shaped by so many different things: how we dance, why we dance, with whom we dance.
Think of the wild joyful dance of David, and what is going on around him. He is happy that the ark has arrived in the city of David. He’s put on a grand party – he’s sacrificed animals in thanksgiving. He’s put on his party clothes. The musicians are going to town, playing songs of praise and joy that the ark is where it belongs, and everyone is happy, and David dances.
He doesn’t just dance.
He dances with all his might. Wild, exuberant, beyond controlling his movements into something polite. He dances so wildly that his wife Michal, daughter of Saul, gets angry with him. “It is unseemly, the way you are dancing,” she says to herself. Some rabbis believe that Michal is unhappy because David is dancing so wildly that his garment is flapping up and down, showing the people more than they need to know about their King. But I think she is just a very unhappy woman in an arranged marriage she didn’t want, one of several wives of David, well aware that her father is despised as a failure by the people while David is lionized. Whatever David does she is going to find annoying. But David ignores her sour face.
He makes a thanksgiving sacrifice to the Lord and sets out a banquet for his people. Every single person gets bread, meat and some raisin cake. Every person of Israel. That’s quite some banquet – the equal of quite some dancing - and everyone heads for home amazed and well-fed and happy. Not a chicken in every pot, but bread and meat and raisin cake in every stomach. This is a leader who knows how to care for his people.
His is a dance of joy, celebrating an accomplishment that he thinks will please God.
Contrast it, then, with the dance of Herod’s step-daughter. Just to clarify, this is the young woman we know as Salome. Her mother is named Herodias. We don’t know why Mark refers to the daughter by the same name, but for our purposes, let’s call her Salome, to avoid confusion. She is not dancing in response to something, as David did. No, she is dancing under her mother’s orders, for an audience of one. One powerful man. Herod, the king. In a perverse and calculated way, her own mother is bidding Salome to seduce Herod with her dance, to get revenge.
Revenge on whom? John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, who has said that Herod’s marriage is an abomination. Herodias was the wife of Herod’s brother Philip, and Herod wanted to marry her. She was divorced from Philip. Herod took her daughter into his household as well. John said it was wrong for Herod to marry Herodias, and that made both Herod and Herodias furious. So Herodias, knowing her husband’s eye for beauty and her teenaged daughter’s gifts of youth and dancing skill, bade her dance for her stepfather at his birthday celebration. And what a dance it must have been! The opera composer Richard Strauss built a whole opera around Salome’s dance – the dance of the seven veils – and portrayed it as a strip tease, a seduction, and Salome as a sorceress weaving her web around Herod. Whether we think it was as erotic as that, or whether Herod saw more in the dance than the girl intended, the result was the same: he was enchanted, and promised her anything. Herod did precisely what Herodias predicted and hoped for: he made a promise that she would use. When he made that promise to the girl, she went out of the room and asked her mother “what should I do?” Herodias’ answer was swift: “Ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” A vile dish to request at this birthday banquet…but the girl did as she was told, and Herod was horrified. He had no love for John, whom he viewed as a political activist, a troublemaker, who was rousing the people against him. Still, a head on a platter was particularly awful, even to Herod. But he had no choice but to comply – he had promised, after all, in front of all the guests at the banquet – and he went to the prison where John was being held, beheaded him, and brought back that which the girl had requested. He gave it to Salome. She gave it to her mother. And John’s disciples came and fetched the body to bury him properly.
An ugly story. An ugly dance, no matter how beautiful, how sensuous, how intriguing.
If we take Theresa’s description to heart - “we dance to make sense of ourselves and our world” – what do we make of this dance? What sense is made of the world with the dance and its aftermath? That we use each other to get what we want, or to exact revenge, or to control someone? Did Salome gain any greater knowledge of herself from the dance? Perhaps she learned she had the power to bewitch men…we know little about what happens to her after this dance…but that’s a short-lived lesson, isn’t it? Perhaps she learned that her mother was not to be crossed. An ugly dance. Ugly lessons. An ugly view of the world. If you dance for revenge, there is no real beauty. If you dance to gain power, you learn that power is ephemeral. If you dance for your own benefit, what you get may not be worth it.
But David’s dance – there’s a different thing altogether, isn’t it?
David dances with exuberance at the recognition that the ark, that critically important symbol of the relationship between God and God’s people, is now safely in the city of David. He dances in celebration of that relationship. He dances because this is something that is not just good for him personally, but for all of God’s people. His dance informs those around him that this is a communal celebration (except for Michal, who has her own reasons to be unhappy). It is larger than the King. It is larger than Israel. It is unbridled joy at the God who said “I am who I am.” David’s dance is one that helps make sense of the relationship and affirms the importance of it.
The dance we do in our everyday lives may be a metaphorical one. After all, rocking down on the Metro is frowned upon, particularly during rush hour. But it may be an actual dance as well….how many of us have danced our little babies around in our arms, crooning to them in sheer pleasure? It may have been that first dance at a wedding, or the moment in your ballet recital when you realized that what you were doing was conveying a story to those who watched. It may have been the raucous joy of a line dance at Shrinemont, or the waltz of a daddy with his little girl standing on his shoes. Each of these dancing moments are expressions of what Theresa said: We all dance between fragility, courage, fear, and a loving creative vulnerability.
We understand who we are and how we live in the world through all our dances, the real ones and the metaphorical ones.
So, too, we dance in our worship. We make our relationship with God explicit in our music and in our movement. We sing about it. We stand, we sit, we kneel. We come forward and walk back. Sitting down and absorbing the message, processing to join ourselves with our Lord in the receiving of Holy Communion.
The thing that makes this dance a sacrament is really three things – we do like things in threes in Christianity, after all – how we dance, why we dance, and most importantly, with whom we dance.
We dance with unselfconscious exuberance. We are not (as Tina Turner would sing) a seductive “Private Dancer” with a private agenda.
We dance not for ourselves only, but for celebration in the larger community, for greater understanding, in love.
We dance not using the dance as a solitary weapon. We invite others into something we don’t need to keep hidden.
Our relationship with God is, in a sense, a dance, a back and forth as we try to understand the One who is beyond our comprehension. We try something. God applauds our trying. We try something else. God gently shakes his head and says “try again.”
There is no more loving partner in the dance than our God who made us. And there is no better way to live than to embrace God in that dance.
Friday, July 10, 2009
"I just got back from an 8 mile bike ride down the beach boardwalk near our home, and was struck with the number of people out enjoying physical activity. Runners, other cyclists, surfers, swimmers, dogwalkers, little kids on scooters....It's easy to lose track of my physical self-care in the midst of flurried preparation for a final on-campus interview Monday for a college teaching position in the Midwest (prayers welcome!) and the family move that would accompany it. But each day that I do make time to walk or ride my bike it is such a stress reliever that it is well worth the time invested!
So how about you and your beautiful temple of the Holy Spirit?"
1. What was your favorite sport or outdoor activity as a child?
Reading in a lounge chair under a tree in my backyard. I was the least athletic child on earth. Now I'm the least athletic grownup on earth.
2. P.E. class--heaven or the other place?
More like Purgatory. I was trim then, and could do things like calisthenics with aplomb, but was awful at ball games and team sports.
3. What is your favorite form of exercise now?
Walking. We have a lovely nature trail near our house, and there is no pleasure like going along the trail in the early morning, seeing the mist on the creek and various birds and such.
4. Do you like to work out solo or with a partner?
Generally, alone with my iPod. I usually start with the podcast Morning Prayer, then some music or a lighter poscast. Occasionally I walk with PH, which is a joy, but I suspect it's not much of a workout for him, since he's a real diehard exerciser.
5. Inside or outside?
If the weather cooperates, outside. Otherwise, the NordicTrack or the weights inside.
Bonus: Post a poem, scripture passage, quotation, song, etc. regarding the body or exercise.
From our 2 Samuel reading this Sunday: David danced before the LORD with all his might! That's some kind of exercise!
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Still waiting on word about a permanent call; hopefully I will hear something tomorrow. Prospective employers work on their own timetable, and my being anxious about it won't speed things up one whit, so I'll just chill out.
We've had a good friend as a houseguest for the past couple of days. She's staying in StrongOpinion's room; she made the terrible error of opening SO's closet...miraculous that she wasn't crushed by falling detritus. Good thing she's tough, and the mother of a college student herself. She understands, thank goodness.
SO is leaving for Paris in a week. I'm more than a little terrified, but she's visiting a friend who is fluent and has already been there for a couple of weeks and knows her way around. They don't teach about this stuff in Mother School. All of the madness of getting her passport renewed at the last minute worked out (for a fee) and she now has a lovely new passport that should last her for the next ten years.
I'm looking forward to dinner with our friends Pierre and Sophie on Friday night, icon-writing on Saturday, finishing my sermon and the adult ed class for this Sunday, and (most of all) sleeping. G'night, all!
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
I managed to utterly frustrate myself trying to work with a video recording of some of the research work I've been doing - the tape was on the fritz. After a consult with my boss, we decided to use our written documents to construct the timeline. Sometime technology is not my friend. I recovered by eating a fabulous tomato and fresh mozzarella salad for lunch while watching about 15 minutes of the Michael Jackson memorial service. C'mon folks, let's call it what it was - a bad tribute concert. There was little in the way of true religious sentiment and much in the way of melodramatic tears. 15 minutes was just about my limit. Let the poor, troubled man rest in peace, in his gold-plated casket (the cost of it would have fed many of the children of whom he sang in "We Are The World," but let's not mention that), and please let his three children be kept from the media circus until they're, say, 30 or so.
Then off to the wonderful Lucien, for a French-accented haircut - the man is a genius with the scissors and a wit as well.
And then...and then. To the dermatologist to deal with a rash on my face and scalp that has been worsening for a couple of weeks. And what was this bit of nastiness? The Heartbreak of Psoriasis! Lovely! So now I've got some new meds ($57 in co-pays - heaven only knows what they cost for those without insurance) and a new regimen to work into my busy life. The good news was that the dermatologist took care of some other little odds and ends while I was there and I am otherwise the owner of pretty darned good skin for someone my age.
Can't complain. On the whole, it was a good day. A good haircut always outweighs technology dramas, and good medical insurance outweighs yet another little medical problem. And tea with my friend made the whole day a joy.
Life is, above all, a great gift, for which I thank God every day.
Monday, July 06, 2009
Sunday, July 05, 2009
It’s good to be back with you all, and it’s especially good to be back on this 4th of July weekend. There are many in this place who have served this country, either in civilian service, in the military, or as contractors. Those of us who have done so know the importance of this holiday, when we remember the first brave souls – a small band – who gathered together to create a new country, a new way of living together, based on principles of equality, freedom, hard work. We honor the effort it took to earn our democracy and to keep it, and those who expended that effort...and who continue to do so.
One of my favorite quotes from the time of the creation of the United States comes from Ben Franklin, who said as the delegates struggled to craft a declaration of independence: “Let us all hang together, for if we do not, we will surely hang separately.” Brave men, taking risks for a greater good, arguing, writing, engaging in the hard work of those days…they needed to work together to make this new thing happen.
It’s interesting that the gospel today talks of a similar effort…the early days of Jesus’ work, which met with mixed success and some suspicion, and his initial commissioning of the disciples, with some ground rules for surviving on the road.
The operant principles – both in the founding of our nation and in the founding of what would become Christianity - are rather similar:
Support and respect each other.
Keep the message simple and keep your eye on the goal.
Travel light and live simply.
Don’t get stressed out about what doesn’t work.
When you’ve embarked on difficult work, whether it is trying to make a new nation or make a new covenant, you’ve got to adhere to certain principles to make it happen.
Jesus certainly knew this. His ministry, as Mark describes it, started out in a way that seemed promising. He had healed some sick people. His preaching was getting positive notices. But now he was back in his home area, and after an initially warm reception, he is disrespected by those who know him best: “Isn’t this Mary’s son, the carpenter?” By identifying him as Mary’s son, rather than Joseph’s, they are once again raising the question that many in his home town had whispered about for thirty years: was he really Joseph’s, or what? And that has implications for whether or not they would respect him, not only because of the question of whether he was illegitimate, but because the Davidic line, which would be necessary to establish him as one who might be the Messiah, came through Joseph, not Mary. So it’s a double insult. And he’s just a carpenter, a tektōn, not a scholar, not a rabbi. Just a craftsman, working wood. Maybe they saw his words as delusions of grandeur, maybe they were jealous that it wasn’t their son who was doing this teaching….whatever the reason, they reject him, and Jesus feels it bitterly, quoting a very familiar aphorism from the Greco-Roman world of that time: "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And he was so distracted by his anger and their disbelief that no more teaching, no more healings were done by him there.
What to do? We might turn around and go back into the woodshop, and not come out again. But he knew there was work to do, and he knew that the disciples would have to learn how to do it, so he sent them out.
Now when we talk about the disciples in the Gospel of Mark, you’ve got to remember that this gospel is not kind to the disciples. Time and time again, they ask stupid questions, they get their assignments wrong, they become cowardly…and Jesus often uses harsh words with them. But in this reading, Jesus simply gives them their charge: they are to go out two by two and anoint and heal. He knows that he has the ability to do this himself: he’s done it before and he knows he has authority from his heavenly Father. But he delegates the authority to this small band of wayward, uneducated men, and gives them some guidance. Basic principles.
Go out in pairs, both for protection and for mutual building up.
Live simply: Stay in the first place you come to – don’t look for the finest house to stay in.
Stay until you’ve done what you’ve come to do.
If they don’t listen, don’t worry – just move on.
These disciples were a small group, and they knew that what they were doing was a high-risk proposition. The prevailing powers didn’t much like people who questioned their authority, who disagreed with their interpretation of the law, who argued that that interpretation hurt the common people, the ones who were farmers, small craftsmen, fishermen. So a small group like this was taking a risk in making themselves and their cause visible. They needed to adhere to those core principles if they were going to succeed.
What was the result?
They preached repentance, and cast out many demons, and anointed and cured many. You follow simple principles, you get results.
Seventeen hundred fifty years later, the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence also followed those core principles, and got results. They got a new nation. The work of securing that nation was not easy. Fierce battles continued for several years…but the end result was the nation we call our own today.
In the same way, the disciples were successful in their first attempts to go out and do the work Jesus commanded them to do, but this was not complete success. The work continued. They struggled. They erred. They forgot those core principles, arguing among themselves, losing courage, losing focus. We still fight to keep to Jesus’ core principles, to live out the new covenant, and we still often fail. But the value of the principles remains.
It is instructive to talk of another story of core principles that binds these two events together in a remarkable way, to understand how sticking to those principles can make us one with Christ…
Reform movements, be they political or theological, don’t always go smoothly. Just ask Martin Luther, who regularly was threatened with death because of his work. The Church went after him. The Holy Roman Emperor went after him. Various other religious reformers thought he didn’t go far enough, so they went after him. All because he thought the Church had gone astray. Just ask William Tyndale, who was condemned to death in 1536 for the heresy of translating the Bible into English. Just ask John Calvin, who was chased out of France to Switzerland for his work of reformation of the church.
When the political and theological mesh, it’s going to be a hard road.
So it was when the Episcopal Church was founded here in the United States.
We know that members of the Church of England came to America, and the first parish was established at the Jamestown Settlement, more than 400 years ago. We also know that there were people who came to America because they were being persecuted in England for their religious beliefs, such as Puritans and Quakers. In some of the early colonies, the Church of England became the established church – the official church as sanctioned by the state. Virginia, lower New York, Georgia, Maryland and the Carolinas all made the Church of England the state church…people had to pay taxes that funded the church. With the advent of the movement for independence from Great Britain, however, came a problem: all Church of England clergy were expected to pledge their allegiance in their ordination vows to the monarch, who was the head of the Church of England. Further, they were required to use the liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer, which included prayers for the monarch and for parliament. Thus, supporting their parishioners who wanted their freedom would mean they were guilty of treason. And some 3/4s of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were at least nominally Anglicans. How could they provide pastoral support without compromising their oaths?
The problem was also financial. In the north, where the Anglican Church was supported by missionary societies in England, the clergy struggled. When war broke out, these clergy looked to England for both their paycheck and their direction. In the south, where the Church of England was the state church and was supported by local taxes, there was less loyalty to England.
Of the approximately three hundred clergy in the Church of England in America between 1776 and 1783, over eighty per cent in New England, New York, and New Jersey were loyal to the crown. This is in contrast to the less than twenty-three percent loyalist clergy in the four southern colonies. Revolutionaries saw their clergy as Tories or redcoats. Hard to pastor under those circumstances!
So what happened? We’re no longer called the Church of England – that’s a big clue. The second clue is to look at the core principles we talked about earlier:
Support and respect each other.
Keep the message simple and keep your eye on the goal.
Travel light and live simply.
Don’t get stressed out about what doesn’t work.
In a newborn nation where principles of equality and liberty prevailed, an official state church was anathema. So in the interest of supporting these principles, the Church of England was disestablished in America. No more official state church. But the people still wanted to worship as they had always worshipped. So shortly after the war, in 1789, the Episcopal Church was established in America. We were the first province of the Church of England outside of the British Isles. A revised version of the Book of Common Prayer was written. The church was no longer aligned with the power of the secular leadership. It was simply good people, working together, trying to live faithfully. They were in this together, in this new world that they had fought for, and the work was ahead of them, just as the disciples were in it together, doing their best to do what Jesus had instructed them to do, spreading the word.
These stories have great resonance for the people of Saint Middle School at this point in our lives. The phrase “in it together” is particularly apt: we rely on each other, in prayer and worship and in the everyday tasks that make prayer and worship possible. That’s why there is an altar set up and ready on Sunday morning. That’s why meals are provided for those going through a rough patch. That’s why there are volunteers and teachers for Children’s Chapel, and for the Adult Forum. That’s why there is a search committee, and why there is coffee waiting for us after church.
At this time in our life as a community of faith, the core principles still apply:
Support and respect each other.
Keep the message simple and keep your eye on the goal.
Travel light and live simply.
Don’t get stressed out about what doesn’t work.
So say a prayer for your neighbor sitting in the row alongside you. Remember that what we do isn’t about a building, it’s about Christ. Don’t worry about what we don’t have; focus on using what we do have – our gifts from God – in a way that honors God. If something doesn’t work, don’t be worried, just be creative, and come up with another better way.
As Jesus was with the disciples in the story this morning, as a Godly sense of purpose informed the work of our founding Fathers, as Jesus’ core principles shaped the creation of the Episcopal Church in America, so too we know that we are not alone in our work in this place. Many have done this kind of work before. All have struggled, but they were never alone. Let us be comforted by that, and embrace the work ahead of us.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
One of the out-of-state search committees sent me an email indicating that they would very much like to continue in the process with me, and hoped I felt the same way, too. That was a bit of a surprise - I thought they might not be interested because I am "only" a transitional deacon. Mibi is once again wrong. Big surprise there, eh?
Sure, I'll talk. Until I get a firm offer of call in a place that really feels like it is Spirit-led, I'll talk to anybody. At some point, I'll know. Right now, I'm just trying to get the sermon for Sunday written.