Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?...Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?Perhaps it is not God who is asleep but we who worship God, lulled into receiving God as a normal, regular, benign part of life who would not dare disrupt our carefully planned lives. I wonder what God could do with us if we woke up?
The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.
—Annie Dillard, (1945 - ) from her book Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters
Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
1) The transformational power of faith in Jesus Christ.We'll see how all of this goes. I'm mindful that most people break New Year's resolutions before the end of January. Hopefully by my birthday at the end of February, I'll still be plugging along!
Perhaps it is my own grounding in the evangelical flavor of Christianity, but my own belief is that if the church is not standing up and proclaiming that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not just a nice thing to do, a trendy (or counter-trendy) lifestyle, or even something that changes your world-view but something that fundamentally transforms one's life in both real and mysterious ways, I'm not sure what exactly we're here for. If you want to serve, there are plenty of service clubs around. If you want to learn, there are many blogs, podcasts, video courses, and even classroom-based opportunities for learning. If you want to socialize, there are likewise plenty of social clubs (including social networking web sites) in which you can join. Heck, even worship of God is something that one can do alone with an iPod, at least to some extent!
I am at once frustrated with my own tendency to 'put God on hold' amidst the pressures and demands of life and ministry and frustrated with the tendency of the church to be so self-absorbed with similar demands that there is little time given for exploring our relationship with God in Christ. So little, in fact, that many people in the pews have no idea what I'm talking about when I mention such a relationship! For 2008, I want to 'go deeper with God' and invite members of the congregation I serve to go there as well.
2) Being grounded in traditional Christianity and yet drawn to fresh expressions of the church through the emerging church and missional movements.
I'm an anomoly--a Generation Xer who grew up in a very traditional, middle-of-the-road Episcopal church in Silicon Valley with parents that are still together to this day. I didn't suffer from a broken home, a broken faith, or a broken church. We had major players from Silicon Valley companies in our congregation, but no one would have dared suggest that we incorporate the least bit of technology into our services. At the same time, the rest of my life was saturated with cutting-edge technology as well as cutting-edge ideas. I married that very traditional liturgical church upbringing with an evangelical fervor caught in high school and fanned into flame during my college years at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Humboldt State University. Even so, I am drawn to fresh expressions of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. These are often expressed in the emerging church and missional church movements.
All that is to say that while I'm grounded in traditional expressions of Christianity, I'm searching for ways to live out my calling as an Episcopal priest in the very exciting world of the emerging church without losing that traditional base and evangelical fervor. I suspect that exploration will continue in 2008, primarily through the addition of a new evening 'alternative service' to the very traditional service currently at the church I serve.
3) Love of technology as a tool for ministry.
I'll admit it--I love technology with a passion. Raised in Silicon Valley and in high school at the beginning of the technology wave, I'm as fully plugged in as my time and money allow. I obviously blog regularly, check my e-mail constantly, monitor a variety of blogs, and essentially live on the Internet, with only one exception--my ordained ministry. Sure, I use the Internet to get ideas, illustrations, and examples for sermons, but the church I serve has no real value for technology as a tool for ministry. This is not limited to my current congregation. There have been plenty of folks over the years who wonder why I'm on the computer 'so much' and exactly what I'm doing there. I will readily admit that occasionally the lure of technology overwhelms my call to on-the-ground ministry.
So, in 2008 I'm resolving to explore ways to unite my love of the church with my love of technology, all under the umbrella of being a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and a more effective priest of the church. Viewing technology as a tool for ministry rather than simply a toy for entertainment means being more focused in my use of technology and my learning about how best to integrate it into my ministry. It also means making sure that I do not neglect face-to-face ministry in favor of 'screen-to-screen' ministry.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
In my opinion, both of these articles point to a difficulty we face in this conflict. We face a cultural chasm in which most Western cultures have been in conversation regarding issues of sexuality for decades, while in some African and Asian countries such discussions cannot even begin due to cultural taboos. Even beyond that, the foundational point in the modernist/postmodernist divide--the conflict between the "either/or" way of seeing things and the "both/and" way of seeing things--means that the clash between the "one truth" aspect of thinking (i.e., the "plain truth of scripture") wars with what former Presiding Bishop Griswold has referred to as "pluriform truths." I also note that, at least in my experience in the Episcopal Church, such a tolerance for paradox is less likely to occur in the Baby Boomer generation than it is in postmodern generations (Generation X and Millennials).
Add to this conflict in both culture and ways of thinking the fact that, at least according to this article in Ekklesia, most of us have both very short memories and very little tolerance for long explanations. The author also makes a point related to my last post, that is that:
Hard work will be needed if the gulf which has opened up is to be bridged. Moves towards increasing the power of senior clergy, and their unaccountability to those they supposedly serve, will not help. Why should laypeople used to taking responsibility in other areas of life, and having to argue their case if they are to persuade others to take their views on board, passively accept the pronouncements of bishops who have not done their homework, especially if this undermines local mission and ministry?In other words, while I would assert that bishops do have a charism and responsibility for teaching and for 'guarding the unity of the church," they also have an obligation to study and consult widely as they consider their positions. As well, we are well past the time when anyone can be said to have the final word on anything, much less an aspect of a two-thousand year old faith tradition.
I'm not sure just where this leaves us, except that we need to be in a lot less of a hurry to resolve the situation and a lot more willing to deeply consider possible solutions, including the possibility that this particular issue may remain unresolved for a long time to come. Perhaps we just need to live with that fact.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I'm also interested in +++Rowan's thoughts regarding bishops:
A somewhat complicating factor in the New Orleans statement has been the provision that any kind of moratorium is in place until General Convention provides otherwise. Since the matters at issue are those in which the bishops have a decisive voice as a House of Bishops in General Convention, puzzlement has been expressed as to why the House should apparently bind itself to future direction from the Convention. If that is indeed what this means, it is in itself a decision of some significance. It raises a major ecclesiological issue, not about some sort of autocratic episcopal privilege but about the understanding in The Episcopal Church of the distinctive charism of bishops as an order and their responsibility for sustaining doctrinal standards. Once again, there seems to be a gap between what some in The Episcopal Church understand about the ministry of bishops and what is held elsewhere in the Communion, and this needs to be addressed.Having just had my own bishop call for the election of his successor, and having seen from afar some of the issues with which he has been forced to deal, the question of what we in the Episcopal Church think is, to use the Archbishop's words, the "distinctive charism of bishops as an order." Do we think of the episcopate, or even the priesthood and/or diaconate, as simply jobs or positions? Do we believe in the "Bishop as CEO, Priest as Caregiver, and Deacon as Social Worker" model or do we believe that there is, in fact, some special gift of the Spirit that is conveyed or recognized at ordination? What do we think God does when we ask God to "make" someone a bishop, priest, or deacon in God's church?
More than sexuality, it appears that here is where the real divide between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion lies. We like to dress our bishops up like everyone else, parade them around, and have them make speeches and wax theological, but God help them if they actually exercise any power! Ever since the first colonists came over and established a settlement at Jamestown 400 years ago, we have been uncomfortable with the role of bishops. I would submit that we often have far more in common with the Lutherans, for whom I believe that bishop is a role or job, not an permanently ordained ministry, then we are truly catholic in our ecclesiology. I keep seeing other bloggers wondering why we should give the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference so much weight and seeing the most representative body, the Anglican Consultative Council, as having the only true and legitimate authority in the Communion. Don't even get them started on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates! Why? Why do we see democracy as having the highest authority? I would say that says more about our culture than it says about out theology. While we certainly shouldn't give bishops more authority than they are due, it may well be a part of what Dan Martins refers to as our "impoverished ecclesiology" (though that blog entry was written before the Archbishop's letter and referring to the unpleasantness in the Diocese of San Joaquin) that we give them so little authority.
In any case, I would love to see a discussion on what we believe ordination is and what we believe the ministry of a bishop is. As the Archbishop says, "this needs to be addressed."
Saturday, November 24, 2007
As I've remarked before in this blog, anxiety is a difficult state from which to make good decisions. In such a state we tend to devolve to the "fight or flight" response to just about everything. I'm a lurker on the House of Deputies/Bishops email list and even (perhaps especially!) there, it seems that every comment, even a seemingly innocuous one, provokes a flurry of responses, many critical. It would be nice to simply declare a "time out" from all of this, take a deep breath (or several!) and simply wait for what God will do. In other words, what we apparently need is a season like...Advent!
I doubt the first "Advent" (weeks prior to the birth of Christ) was any less tense and anxiety-ridden as this current time. There were factions in the Temple, the country was occupied by a hostile foreign power, and God had not spoken to God's people in hundreds of years. Into this time comes Immanuel, God with us. God breaks in to an anxious world as the Prince of Peace. I hope and pray that these Advent weeks will be a time of deep breathing, expectation, and peaceful prayer as we wait not only for Jesus' coming again, but for all that God will do in, through, and sometimes in spite of the Episcopal Church.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Thanksgiving for a Season of MinistryThough there had been rumors, I can say confidently that this call for the election of Bishop Itty's successor stunned the Convention, including the clergy with whom I sat during the service. In the days since then, I have been asked the big question: "Why?" I currently have no real answer to that question, and decline to speculate. It suffices to say that this particular transition comes at a pivotal point in the history of the Diocese of Oregon, where we have discerned a Strategic Plan and will begin its implementation in 2008. I personally will be sad to see Bishop Itty go and will miss his passionate call to mission. May God guide the Diocese of Oregon in the choosing of his successor.
As a people of God we are always called to new opportunities for discernment and invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us into new directions. Thanks to God, as a diocese, amid all the challenges of our time and circumstance, during these past years we have made considerable progress in charting a new future. Thanks to God, many of our congregations are getting healthier, stronger, and more financially secure, although the rising costs do not always keep pace with available income. By God’s grace, our spiritual and financial house is in relatively healthy order and we have made some difficult yet prudent decisions about how best to further our mission and ministry in the wake of competing demands on our limited resources. By the grace of Almighty God, I feel confident that we are doing fairly well, although in the Lord’s vineyard there is always much more work to do. In this regard, I personally feel thankful that the tasks to which I have been called to tend to have been realized in some significant ways. There is much more to be done, however, I think we are in very good place to discern how we as a diocese need to be moving forward.
All of our ministries are part of a much broader continuum of service in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. Each season of ministry has its own rewards, challenges, and opportunities. It has been a blessing to serve as your bishop and to preside over this fifth convention with you. The Lord has been faithful and good and I feel that we have laid the foundation for a new direction and focus in missional thinking, reflection, and ministry. After some time of prayerful discernment, in recognition of personal, professional, and family needs, I feel that now would be the appropriate time to share news of my desire to begin the important work of electing my successor, the tenth Bishop of Oregon. I have shared this news with the Standing Committee and some key persons within our diocese so we can together work on bringing about a smooth and grace-filled transition in the future. There are so many of you here and throughout the diocese with whom I would have wished to share this news personally, however, given time, distance, and other limitations, this would have been most difficult to accomplish. Hence, I am using this time to share some of these thoughts with you as members of our diocesan family. In the months to come I ask that we prayerfully begin to think about our future and the needs and demands of a different season of leadership. Early next year I will be inviting the Office of Pastoral Development of the House of Bishops, to come and speak with the officers and Standing Committee of the Diocese about a process of transition. The details of this process will be clearer later, however, I am sharing this news with all of you now out of deep love, respect, and thanksgiving for our witness together in this vineyard of our Lord Jesus Christ. The process to call my successor, as I remain your bishop, will take some time; however, I am simply sharing this news in advance so we will not be overly surprised or alarmed when the transition happens, but know that we will be working together to continue to strengthen the wonderful ministries that are offered in Christ’s name.
Monday, November 05, 2007
As I think of these decisions and discussions, I am also conscious of having prayed last Sunday for the Diocese of Pittsburgh (where I was baptized and where my godfather still attends church) and the Diocese of Pennsylvania (where I was priested and spent the first two years of my ordained ministry). At their convention, the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted for a resolution that, if approved next year, would effectively sever ties between the diocese and the rest of the Episcopal Church. The diocese of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia area), on the other hand, was dealing with the recent inhibition of their bishop (elected and ordained just before I left the diocese). So, I continue to think about what it means to be part of a diocese.
Unlike laity, who belong to a congregation (parish or mission), clergy belong to (are "canonically resident" in) a diocese. The diocese is, in effect, our "congregation" with our bishop as our Pastor. Because of that, we live in a sort of in-between world in which (to misquote a scripture passage) we are "in the congregation but not of it." Our name never appears in the Parish Register as a communicant yet we are called to lead a portion of the members of the diocese who have congregated together as a church, sometimes decades prior to our arrival. For that reason, Diocesan Convention has a greater effect on me than I think it has on the lay delegates and certainly those who we leave back within our parishes. It is a much more immediate thing for me, composed of friends and colleagues and led by a bishop who I respect. For members of my congregation, I suspect, it is just another reason Fr. Tom has to be out of town.
As all of that swirls around my mind, I am always mindful of the drama being played out in the wider Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Bishop Pierre Whalon, Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, wrote an essay for Anglicans Online in which he states, among other things, that:
There remains among Anglicans worldwide, however, a large area of agreement, and this is crucial: the basic doctrines (or dogmas) of Christianity are not in question. Anglicans all respect the so-called “Lambeth Quadrilateral” as essential to our identity everywhere: the Scriptures as God’s Word, “containing all things necessary for salvation,” as the formula goes; the Creeds as the foundational interpretation of the message of the Bible; the two sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist as essential to Christian living; and the “historic episcopate” of bishops, “locally adapted.”His point, with which I agree, is that what we are really talking about is not theology (view of God) but ecclesiology (view of the church). More specifically, the pattern of all of the colonial churches running home to Mother Church (and Father Archbishop of Canterbury) no longer works in a post-colonial world where the vast majority of developing countries have native "locally adapted" expressions of the Anglican faith that sometimes bear little resemblance to the Church of England, much less one another. The challenge is not what to do about homosexuality, the challenge is what to do about any controversy that has international implications and who makes those decisions.
In any case, as I think about how we make decisions on a parish, diocesan, national, and international level, I am struck both by how tightly we are bound together and how sometimes that binding is a blessing and sometimes it chafes! Perhaps a little ecclesiastical baby powder in the tender spots...
Saturday, October 27, 2007
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You are Orthodox, worshiping the mystery of the Holy Trinity in the great liturgy whereby Jesus is present through the Spirit in a real yet mysterious way, a meal that is also a sacrifice.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Second, for my Church Development Institute program, I am reading How Your Church Family Works: Congregations as Emotional Systems, by Peter Steinke. He writes:
"Anxiety diminishes clarity and objectivity. It interferes with our capacity to think creatively. We cannot stand outside of the vague dread and observe it. We do not know what we are afraid of, what terrifies us. In contrast to fear, anxiety is undifferentiated. It has no definite focus."To me, this sounds very much like what appears to be happening in many churches today. Even when sexuality is the focus, we are repeatedly told that it isn't "the issue." Perhaps the issue, rather than the authority of scripture, is simply anxiety that periodically finds a place within us or gravitates to hot-button issues and triggers our instinct to protect against what is different or not understood. I have often seen otherwise perfectly rational discussions degenerate when the topic of sexuality, money, or even evangelism arises--an almost instinctual reaction against dealing with the reality of what is going on in the world and the church in any way but defensively.
I join that thought with my continued consideration of the Gospel passage for this coming Sunday (tomorrow!) where Jesus says to the leper "your faith has made you well." I wonder, what made the lepers who did not return to thank Jesus well? Was it their faith also, or simply the unrecognized (or at least unacknowledged) power of God?
As I was walking back home from the park this afternoon, a perfect Fall day in the northwest, the famous words of St. Julian of Norwich came to mind:
"All shall be wellIt occurs to me that we do not need to have a disfiguring, incurable, or terminal illness to need healing and certainly do not need such a thing for us to need faith that "all manner of things shall be well." That sense of peace in the midst of anxiety is perhaps the greatest healing possible--the comfort of placing our lives (once again!) in God's hands, trusting that God is in control and that we need not pretend to be in control.
and all shall be well
and all manner of things shall be well."
Saturday, September 29, 2007
There is an interesting time-line shaping up here. If the Anglican Consultative Council follows the pattern they have established of meeting every three years, then they will meet in 2008, the same year as the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference. One or more Primates Meetings, of course, may be held at any point in time. Following both of those meetings, the Episcopal Church will meet in General Convention in 2009. By that time, the overall direction of the Anglican Communion should be pretty clear, meaning that GC2009 will probably be dealing with the results of such meetings (possibly redrawing diocesan boundaries, etc...) rather than replying to yet another set of inquiries.
Friday, September 28, 2007
By making this concessionary statement, allying themselves to the Windsor process, and inviting further debate, the Episcopalian Bishops have placed themselves firmly in the Anglican mainstream, however others prefer to define that word. There is nothing to stop the US conservatives’ continuing to combine with provinces in the Global South, but such moves will take them away from the centre.I think that the author has it exactly right: the House of Bishops said what they could reasonably say, given the constraints of polity and power under which they operate. They served notice that they expect other provinces to actually engage in the "listening process" called for in Lambeth 1.10 (acknowledging how difficult that process might be in certain cultures), and staking out a middle ground that isolates the more conservative folks (who left early anyway) as they seek to cast an image of the Episcopal Church as radically liberal. I hope and pray that most provinces aren't buying it.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Certainly many eyes are on the recently concluded meeting of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Their statement seems to at least move the conversation forward without giving up to much in the way of at least perceived progress. Everyone acknowledges that the issue of homosexuality is not going away any time soon. The fact that both folks on the conservative and liberal end of the spectrum seem to be less than enthusiastic about the statement seems to be to be a good indication that it strikes a moderate tone.
That's pretty much all I'm going to say on that. Others have written on their first impressions and the statement (and responses) will no doubt continue to be discussed. For me, things like our upcoming Fall Pledge Campaign, participation in the diocesan strategic planning process, and the myriad of housekeeping (churchkeeping?) items are more at the front of my mind these days.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
I'm unlikely to post another blog entry before the end of my Sabbatical and my first Sunday back behind pulpit and altar, so consider this my closing Sabbatical blog! See you on the other side.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Normally I attempt to stay somewhat out of the current wrangling in the church regarding sexual ethics. As a centrist, I try to steer a balanced, middle course. However, every time I'm tempted to veer a little towards the conservative end of the spectrum, a conservative cleric comes along and gives me something that either causes me to veer the other way or, occasionally, just makes my jaw drop. Such was a quote by the Anglican Bishop of Uyo (in Nigeria). A recent article quoted him as follows:
"Homosexuality and lesbianism are inhuman. Those who practice them are insane, satanic and are not fit to live because they are rebels to God's purpose for man,'' the Bishop said."I cannot believe that a man of God, someone who professes to be a Christian, would seriously say that anyone is "insane, satanic, and...not fit to live." Such rhetoric, far from being helpful, appears to indicate, at least to me, that the "listening process" mandated by the much-referred-to Lambeth resolution has had next to no effect in parts of the Anglican Communion.
In any case, as the September 30 "deadline" looms, it may be well to recall that some of the "orthodox" harbor the above view. Many do not, but there is a strain of folks in the seperatist movement who regard homosexuality as utterly evil and those who "practice" homosexuality as people who should be cast into the darkness or the fires of hell. Hard to see a via media (middle way) here...
Monday, September 03, 2007
As I contemplate my own ministry, I ran across this article in Episcopal Cafe regarding Mother Teresa's ministry in the slums of Calcutta. I have blogged earlier about how troubling it is for me that she labored so hard and so long while in spiritual darkness. However, the article gives a rather different take on it from someone who has actually worked in that ministry. After reading the article, I've somewhat changed my mind about the things I wrote in my earlier blog post. While it is always best to serve out of a conviction of purpose and relationship, I think that there is something to be said for simply living what you believe, serving Christ even in the absence of reassurance. After all, what relationship is perfect? How many marriages end simply because one or both partners don't "feel the love" strongly enough for their own comfort? Certainly, in both marriage and ministry, sometimes one must simply put one foot in front of the other and walk the path that has been set before us and make the journey to which we have committed ourselves.
Interesting thoughts for a Labor Day. Sometimes, the labor of love is truly labor, even if done in love.
Friday, August 31, 2007
So, two weeks and counting until the end of my Sabbatical. I'm already having pre-return anxiety about some of the issues at work when I left in June. I have to keep telling myself two things: First, that I really need to give the anxiety-producing stuff to God and let God handle it. Second, I am not back for two more weeks and I hardly need to return mentally before I've returned physically! So, I am looking forward to a week at home and then a week in Southern California attending Percept's VISTA training program and dropping in at Saddleback Church (of Pastor Rick Warren fame) the previous Sunday. Both should be instructive and will "spin up" my mind so that I can return to St. Alban's both fully rested and fully ready to step into the pulpit and behind the altar.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I have three initial reactions to the article.
First, I am struck by how much we rely on surface clues about a person's wellbeing and how tortured and spiritually lost even those we think of as godly, even holy, are. If that is the case, how many wounds does your average person-in-the-pew (or in the pulpit!) hide, gloss over, or simply ignore? I shudder to think how many walking wounded are in our midst including, if truth be told, myself. That sense of one being taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world as the bread of the Eucharist is, seems a more powerful metaphor than I previously grasped. Perhaps that is what Jesus knew when he commanded us to pray for our enemies: that they were broken and wounded and needed our prayers perhaps even more than our friends!
Second, with all of the correspondence with confessors and others in the church, why, literally for God's sake, didn't someone see this spiritual desolation and seek to help alleviate it? What an irony that a woman who brought hope to the world and to so many who were hopeless was herself spiritually adrift! I can't tell much from the article, but it appears that while some reassurances were given her, Mother Teresa worked tirelessly for a Savior whose touch she had not felt in her soul for over five decades while the church stood by watching. Was her work so valuable that piercing that veil of holiness and sacrificial love was deemed too great a cost? I ask myself, is she a saint because she persevered in service without a "sign" from God or is she an example of someone who gives themselves so much to others that she can't bear to receive consolation and solace from others? I don't know. What I do know is that God wrapped her in God's arms a decade ago and said "well done, good and faithful servant." Of that I am sure.
Finally, I am confronted with the stark reality that even someone like Mother Teresa, by all accounts a model of servant ministry if ever there was one, had neither an easy nor secure relationship with God. Oddly enough, it gives me some comfort that if others can serve God effectively with such impediments, my own humble attempts at a stable and fruitful spiritual life may at least suffice.
Be that as it may, as I count down the weeks remaining of my Sabbatical, I am struck anew by how much difference a strong spiritual foundation makes in one's ministry. More specifically, I am struck by how the strength of my own spiritual foundation relates directly to both my effectiveness and endurance in ministry. Making sure that foundation is strong and that my self-worth is rooted in God's love for me rather than the perceived day-to-day success or failure of my own efforts to faithfully shepherd the flock of St. Alban's will be a primary goal upon my return.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Generally, when I make the above assertion to a conservative-leaning crowd, I am greeted with stares and responses of disbelief that such a thing is even possible. It seems that one's views on sexuality are the de facto litmus test on both one's orthodoxy and one's view of scripture as authoritative. I do not think that should be the case. Now, I have online proof that the orthodox theology and progressive views of sexuality can co-exist! Fr. Jake, in his blog, has a posting on Christians in a Pluralistic World which is well worth reading and pretty thoroughly orthodox, especially regarding evangelism and the unique revelation of God in Christ. Have a read, add to the more than 150 comments if you like, but note that Fr. Jake does in fact hold strong views of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the impetus for evangelism. He's revealing what he calls his "inner Baptist."
So it is possible. Given that, might we hypothesize that there are thousands, perhaps millions of people who can affirm the Nicene and Apostles Creeds without reservation, see scripture as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and yet still affirm same-sex blessings and homosexual ordination? If there are folks for whom that is true, then if the real issue is the authority of scripture, then let us dispense with questions of sexuality, affirm the creeds, core doctrines, and witness of scripture, and we're done! That just leaves those who have some particular axe to grind with the issue of same-sex blessings and homosexual ordination, but since that isn't the real issue, the rest of us in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion should be able to move on.
Gee, I solved the problem with more than a month to go before September 30! Hmmm....
Friday, August 17, 2007
I have yet to meet any “leader” who does not treat with the utmost respect and indeed reverence the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. I have heard no one in this crisis deny the fundamental tenets of the faith as Anglicans have received them. Yet I have heard believing Christians attack other Christians for not believing precisely as they themselves believe. Equally, I have heard believing Christians attack other Christians for not attaching the weight they themselves attach to this biblical text compared with that.
This is not the way of Christ; it is the way of fallen humanity. It is a boulder of our own creation and I do not know who will help us to roll it away.
So before either side continues to stack up blocks in walls to protect the church from either rampant heresy or homophobia, it might be wise to remember that the people of both sides (and the vast majority in the middle) are faithful, sincere, believing Christians, not raving lunatics or heretics bent on destroying the church.
Every time my commitment to remaining within the Episcopal Church wavers, generally because I'm simply tired of the fight, statements like those of Archbishop Harper shore up my resolve to do so. We are always better together than we are when we are apart, no matter who else is at the table. After all, the table isn't ours, it belongs to Jesus and Jesus can (and does) invite anyone and everyone!
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Now one can argue theology (study of God) or ecclesiology (study of the church), debate and discuss what this or that bishop thinks about this or that theological concept, or a host of other items making the rounds of blogs across the church and newspapers around the world. I can spend long afternoons surfing from blog to blog in the nice comfy living room in the house of the person I'm house-sitting for in Hawaii. I have that luxury. The folks who sent the postcards above do not have that luxury. I suspect many of them stagger through life trying to put enough of the pieces together to get through each day. Many, if not most, have absolutely no idea that there even is a God, much less that God loves them and desires the closest of relationships with them. Some of the later postcards begin to express hope and a sense of being valued, even loved. Such transformation is what everyone, including those of us who pretend we have it all together, longs for.
In my decades of experience in the institutional church, I've rarely seen that sort of radical transformation, or even much in the way of minor transformation. I suspect that some of that is just that we are uncomfortable when speaking of God's action, and so such action in the lives of others remains hidden to most of us, whether clergy or laity. I think that we also are challenged in that we don't often expect God to work in even moderately miraculous ways, so either miss that action or are unavailable for God's blessings.
One example of the "lostness" that I mentioned above occurred even within the most luxurious of locations. We went down to the Hilton Hawaiian tonight for ice cream. My wife mentioned the rather sullen and bored teenager she noticed who was getting ice cream, alone, at 9:30 p.m., and charging it to her room. We wondered if her parents just told her "go find something to do." We were reminded that even those who can afford to spend a week or two at a fine luxury resort in Hawaii aren't necessarily doing so with the idea of spending "quality time" with their family. Perhaps we were reading more into that scene then was warranted, but with so much opulence (including the on-site wedding chapel) around us, it was hard not to look on that with a slightly jaundiced eye.
So the next time I get wrapped up in the trials and tribulations of the church, perhaps stepping outside my office and heading down to the local homeless shelter, or even to Starbucks or the local country club and doing a little people-watching might bring a little perspective. We are called to be the light of the world, for people sunk in darkness, not to fight about the light fixture...
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
So, I'm wondering how, in the Christian sense, we might align our will with God's will and use this whole situation for good while not perpetuating the problem by remaining in Iraq one second longer than our presence is beneficial. I don't have the answer to that question, and probably don't have even a tenth of the information to even speculate, but I haven't heard the question posed by any of the candidates running for President. I would think that such a holistic departure plan, with or without a time-line, would seem prudent given the current political environment.
So, in other words, the question is: How would Jesus leave? How would Jesus have us leave?
Monday, August 13, 2007
That step is to claim that since the Presiding Bishop has made a statement that the writer objects to, the millions of people who belong to the Episcopal Church are also therefore heretics and/or apostates who have materially repudiated Jesus.Read the entire post here. The author, an Episcopal Priest for many years, makes an excellent point. Rather than assume that a handful of bishops, or even the Presiding Bishop, speaks for everyone in the Episcopal Church, might we assume a diversity of opinion on any given subject exists within the church? If that is so, then simply saying that The Episcopal Church is heretical, or apostate, makes little sense.
As I begin to wind down my Sabbatical (one month to go!), I am more and more attempting to cultivate that non-anxious presence that I blogged about earlier. This would seem to apply not only to parish life, but to diocesan, national, and international life as well. In a post-Christian society and a time of transition in the church, I see a huge amount of reactivity and tension in the church. Many people are reacting to it with statements and actions that may or may not be completely thought out or prayerfully considered. Discerning God's will takes time. In a world where we pace in front of the microwave, get our news in two or three minute segments, and are hyper-aware of thirty-second sound bytes, such discernment may seem to take a lifetime in comparison. Given that, perhaps a longer time-frame might be wise before making any final decisions.
Of course, it may be too late for the for some folks...but there is always repentance and restoration!
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
On a somewhat different topic, the "fun" continues with Fr. David Anderson reacting to the following quote from the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu:
…I haven’t found that in Ecusa (sic) or in Canada, where I was recently, they have any doubts in their understanding of God which is very different from anybody. What they have quarrelled about is the nature of sexual ethics.Fr. Anderson's response is that Dr. Sentamu just hasn't been looking hard enough. Citing Bishops Jefferts Schori (Presiding), Spong (Newark, retired), Bruno (Los Angeles), Bennison (Pennsylvania), and Borsch (Los Angeles, retired) he says that the real battle is over core doctrines, not sexuality.
The Diocese of York published a response a couple of days later, which essentially says that such citations are from the fringe of the Episcopal Church, not its center, and restates the Archbishop of York's orthodox credentials.
I would certainly agree with Fr. Anderson that there are several instances in which The Episcopal Church (TEC) has refused to discipline those who actively refute core doctrines of the Christian faith (Bishop Spong) and that many, many congregations practice "open communion" in violation of the canons. However, the Diocese of York's response is good, particularly the following:
By using such a broad brush to attack the Episcopal Church as a whole, Canon Anderson conveniently whitewashes the testimony daily offered up by all those faithfully reciting the creeds and liturgy that bear evidence to those doctrines which he alleges have been abandoned. The orthodox voice of the multitude is drowned out and ignored in Anderson’s analysis in favour of selective quotation from the fringe.I have several difficulties with this entire argument. The first is that we have not, to my knowledge, had a prolonged and exhaustive discussion of the core doctrines of Christianity, nor do I believe that there has been a wholesale abandonment of such doctrines by significant portions of the Episcopal Church. I simply haven't seen that. Second, as much as folks talk about how sexuality isn't the real issue, it appears to be the pressing issue of the day. Archbishop Akinola is not debating the doctrines of the Incarnation, Resurrection, etc... with Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori or other bishops in the Episcopal Church, he is focusing on the issue of homosexuality. If that is not the issue, then why does it keep coming up? Last, why does Fr. Anderson simply quote a string of bishops? I know many, many priests and laity who are far more theologically grounded than many bishops (I was taught at Virginia Seminary by some of them). In simply rattling off a string of quotes from bishops, even prominent ones, Fr. Anderson seems to fall into the trap of thinking (or asking the wider Anglican Communion to think) that TEC is run and controlled exclusively by bishops.
As I look at the wrangling currently at work, I find myself reflecting on the Episcopal Church and our core Anglican identity and liturgy. My stint at the Church Development Institute in Seattle earlier in my Sabbatical has given me a new respect and appreciation for that identity and liturgy. As I also read Diana Butler Bass' book Christianity for the Rest of Us, I am struck by the rush to claim the Anglican moniker. As institutions and denominations matter less and less in many congregations, liturgical and theological heritage becomes increasingly more important. Perhaps rather than wrestling and wrangling about who gets to stick a shield or a compass-rose on their sign, we might more profitably go more deeply into what uniquely makes us Anglicans and do so on a congregation by congregation basis. Perhaps in knowing and valuing our own identity, we might more easily claim that identity.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
...the majority of parishioners, by far, are moderate people who hate the headlines and worship faithfully in their parish churches, don't much bother about the diocese, don't read Borg or Wright and distrust the National Church on principle, whether that principle is informed or not.I'm very pleased that someone else is writing what I have been saying for what seems like years -- that, for good or ill, the average person-in-the-pew is primarily concerned about the goings on in his or her own parish, has perhaps a passing interest in the diocese (though there is often a "don't bother is, we won't bother you" sense), and care little or nothing for national church, much less international church (Anglican Communion) goings on.
I have repeatedly told the congregation I serve that regardless of General Convention resolutions, statements from various gatherings, press releases, or anything else we will still gather for worship on Sunday morning, hear Holy Scripture read and preached upon, and celebrate and receive the Eucharist. We will also continue to worry about money, gather for fellowship in coffee hour and at other times, and generally be the Body of Christ of the Episcopal flavor in Albany, Oregon. I say this not to minimize the challenges before the larger church, but to remind everyone (including me!) that the church has often been beset by controversies, disagreements, even schism. Yet, at our best, we are grounded in Word and Sacrament and it in the daily and weekly devotion in the local church that Christ is most directly encountered.
So we pray for the church, but hopefully don't allow ourselves to be caught up in the distractions of the larger body.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
With the stock market having just plunged over 500 points in two days, doesn't it make sense to make an investment where not only you get all the money back you loaned, but make a difference in someone's life? I think it does, and that's why I've become a lender. Care to join me? Just click on the link to the left.
Friday, July 27, 2007
That Sabbath lasted about a week.
There are two reasons that I decided to re-engage with the news events of the church. Initially it was because, frankly, I couldn't help myself. I hated being out of the information loop. However, in the wake of my experience at CDI-Seattle, my second reason (far better) was that simply running away, even for a time, from the conflicts raging around the church (or even the inevitable conflicts within my own congregation) increasingly seemed to be to be bowing to fear and a spirit of worry and anxiety. This is in sharp contrast to being what the late Edwin Freeman, in his book Generation to Generation, referred to as being a "non-anxious presence" in any given situation. As I see statements and counter-statements rage across blogs, church newspapers, and even the secular press, it strikes me that there is often precious little reason (the third leg of the Anglican three-legged stool) associated with them, and a substantial dose of either fear or anger. My newly-accepted challenge for my life and ministry is to remain present in the midst of national, diocesan, and congregational conflicts while not being overly anxious about those conflicts and discerning where God may be speaking through them.
In that spirit, I ran across the following blog entry on The Episcopal Majority blog. The author, The Reverend Matthew Dutton-Gillett, remarks on the recent essay by the Most Reverend Henry Luke Orambi, Archbishop of Uganda. on the topic "What is Anglicanism?" Fr. Dutton-Gilbert writes, in part,
"Debate about sexuality, or more precisely, homosexuality, is not really the issue; it is, rather, a very significant symptom. The real issue is this divide about how the Bible is to be interpreted and understood, and its place in the life of the church."That is, in my opinion, indeed true. However, you rarely, if ever, see any sort of debate on that issue. Couple that with the current manifestation of the debate regarding homosexuality, with all the strong feelings and cultural issues that brings up, and you have a very challenging situation.
He also quotes what he takes to be Archbishop Orambi's central point:
"In the Church of Uganda, Anglicanism has been built on three pillars: martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate. Yet each of these refers back to the Word of God, the ground on which all is built: The faith of the martyrs was maintained by the Word of God, the East African revival brought to the people the Word of God, and the historic ordering of ministry was designed to advance the Word of God."Thus the entire Church of Uganda apparently stands or falls solely on scripture, and thus the "correct" interpretation of scripture. It is little wonder, therefore, that differing interpretations of scripture would have far more significance for them than for us in the Episcopal Church.
Contrast those pillars with the fourfold pillars of Scripture, Creed, Episcopate, and Sacraments in the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral and you begin to see from whence the divide emerges. Arguably, we in the Episcopal Church have been marked by only one of the three "pillars of Anglicanism" at work in Uganda: the historic episcopate. Our martyrs are few and far between, revival has occasionally quickened the church but not often had a lasting impact, and we do not operate in nearly the sort of adversarial environment that the Church of Uganda does. Similarly, they do not operate in the sort of pluralistic, individual rights-based environment that we do. In the past, that was fine--without instant communication via the Internet, we could pretty much live out our faith in relative isolation. With the rise of globalization, that is no longer possible. So, how then do we live together?
For me, and I suspect for a great number of others, it comes down to what is essential to our Christian faith as opposed to what is important, but non-essential. Doctrines such as the Incarnation, Resurrection, and the Trinity as well as Holy Scripture as "the Word of God [containing] all things necessary to salvation" (Oath of Conformity, BCP, p. 526) seem like basic foundations on which most Anglicans and Episcopalians can agree. Even if that is not the case, all we can really do that is productive at this point is take a deep breath, pray, pray again, and then be as faithful to our own call from God as congregations and individuals as possible.
So, I will, with God's help, continue to be present to congregational, diocesan, and national church concerns, hopefully without giving in to the temptation to be anxious in the midst of inevitable conflict. After all, God is still in charge and it is God's church, not mine.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
|You scored as Remus Lupin, You are a wise and caring wizard and a good,|
loyal friend to boot. However sometimes in an effort to be liked by others
you can let things slide by, which ordinarily you would protest about.
Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with QuizFarm.com
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Being here for almost seven weeks does not exactly make me a resident newcomer, but it certainly places me well beyond the time-frame of a typical tourist. For one thing, if I spent as much money per week as a tourist typically does, I'd be broke very soon! However, as someone on sabbatical rather than vacation, this trip helps me to contemplate what it is like to be a pilgrim, a wandering newcomer who is neither a seasoned resident living life day-to-day nor a pressed-for-time tourist trying to cram as much as possible into a short span of time.
As someone who has grown up in the church, I've always been a resident, rarely a pilgrim, and never a tourist. Experiencing what it is to be such a pilgrim may well alter how I do ministry, and certainly how I respond to those God brings to St. Alban's on their pilgrimage. Coupled with the renewed appreciation for the riches of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition gained from my time at CDI, I'm beginning to think about how the next chapter of my ordained ministry will unfold. I suspect one hallmark of my ministry will be a sense of peace and lack of hurry. After all, most pilgrims have plenty of time!
Monday, July 16, 2007
Saturday, July 14, 2007
One of the many reasons I like the above agreement is that it separates sexuality issues from the more core issues and doctrines like the Incarnation, Resurrection, Trinity, etc... which I think should be rigorously defended as they are core pieces of the Nicene and Apostles' creeds and therefore most definitely should be labeled "core doctrine."
See what you think, and comment as you wish.
P.S. Aloha from Hawaii!
Friday, July 06, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
All of this is a long and sort of quirky way of saying that my first two weeks of the Church Development Institute in Seattle (CDI-Seattle) are completed. Now begins a year of study and work around church development, including readings and two church development projects. This year is essentially a time in which CDI-Seattle class members are committed deepening our learning as well as beginning to apply what we have learned in a parish context. My first project will likely be centered around Benedictine Spirituality and its three-fold disciplines of stability, obedience, and conversion of life. This is also the part of the Rule for the Order of the Ascension, a group affiliated with CDI and committed to church development. Most of us will return to Seattle at this time next year to complete our four-week course of study.
It has been a long, at times frustrating, but very worthwhile experience for me to be here. While I miss my family, I have gained many skills and much knowledge that will hopefully help me be a better parish priest. I anticipate that the learning will continue.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
I think my biggest learning from this week is summarized in the words of The Rev. Melissa Skelton, Rector of St. Paul's. When referring to several items in the parish's worship space, she talked about "loving it, and wanting more." As we talked in CDI about the fact that it is nearly impossible to change the culture of a parish, it became quite clear to me that whatever my Congregational Development Project is for St. Alban's, it will need to first involve loving what already is good about the parish, and only then wanting more. My enthusiasm often makes me want to push for immediate solutions or changes. I am learning that such solutions or changes, even if needed, take years rather than months.
A bonus to this weekend was that I was able to visit Church of the Apostles (COTA), an emergent church in Seattle led by Pastor Karen Ward, who I met many years ago. I attended the service with both some folks from my CDI program and some old and new friends in town for a college chaplains conference. Turns out it was one of COTA's "alt" services, an alternative service format that in this case focused around the theme of process or journey being more important than product or destination. The elements of the of the service were prayer, Eucharist, "open space" (where we were invited to visit several stations for prayer, walking the labyrinth taped on the floor or other creative efforts), songs, and stories. They were done in a completely random order which illustrated the process theme. I loved the songs, and enjoyed the experience, though it is not overall something that would regularly feed me spiritually.
Now, onto another week. We'll continue to debrief our parish visits analyze the cultures of the various parishes we visited, then go on to lay the groundwork for an eventual Congregational Development Project. It will be interesting to see how that dovetails with the Mission Plan that has already been put in place and is in the process of being implemented at St. Alban's.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
So, it is now Sunday morning, the service at the church I pastor has likely just ended, and folks are probably wandering around the social hall wondering how Fr. Tom is doing and what exactly I'm doing this morning. Well, oddly enough, I've been watching some of Fr. Matthew's YouTube creations, perhaps a 21st century twist on television evangelists! The place I'm staying has wireless Internet access, so I'm rejoicing in being set free from my normal dial-up existence. For today, I have some reading to do, a little exploring, and getting ready for my first real foray into the study of congregational development tomorrow.
While I won't promise daily blogs, I hope to post periodic reflections on my learnings during my sabbatical, if for no other reason than to remind myself what I actually learned when I'm back to the daily challenges of church life. Until the next entry, then...
Monday, May 28, 2007
Now I'm not planning on sparking a conversation about who should and should not receive the Eucharist (unless someone would like to do so). However, the tension this brings up in me is that I am, by personality, a rule-keeper. I don't generally break the rules and am acutely uncomfortable in the current ecclesiastical environment where some people and congregations seem to think they can do their own thing in a whole variety of areas (ecclesiastical, theological, liturgical, etc...) and yet remain part of the Body of Christ. On the other hand, I'm living, preaching, and pastoring in a church with many, many rules and lots of people who seem to like the letter of the law far better than the spirit of Christ. I guess the question for me is, how can we maintain some sort of identity, some sort of boundaries, and yet make those boundaries porous enough that they don't become high walls that close people out?
I want the church to be a place of conversation. I want the Eucharist to be an instrument of conversion. I also want Baptism to matter and the basic creeds and formularies of our faith to mean something and not just be window dressing or frosting on the cake. Perhaps I'm both too ancient and too future and uncomfortable with both!
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Now, I'm not a child of divorced parents, but the above seems to mirror the experience of a vast majority of my generation--two parents, who are equally loved, wrangling about who gets the house (read: church buildings) and who gets the children (read: title of "true Anglican") while the aforementioned children simply watch their world disintegrate. I know I should be concerned about the state of gay rights in Nigeria. I know I should be concerned about Bishop Robinson not being invited to Lambeth 2008. I know I should be concerned about a lot of things. Right now, though, all I am is tired of the fight.
It has gotten so bad that I am routinely NOT visiting various blogs and informational web sites because I'm simply tired of seeing the same old people post the same old things and the same old reactions to them. I'm due to go on Sabbatical for three months less than a month from now. Though it will be difficult, I am going to try very hard to impose a "news sabbath" on myself and disconnect from news of the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion for the time I am away. I'm sure I'll miss many items of news. I'm also sure that my blood pressure and general state of mental and physical health will be the better for it. So, this will be the last post to reference such things. In the coming weeks I hope to post about Sabbatical preparations and then will post periodically about what I am learning and doing (or not doing) on my sabbatical time. Stay tuned!
Sunday, May 06, 2007
My particular favorite quote of all of this is from Archbishop Akinola himself: "'The Church of Nigeria itself has almost nothing to offer,' he said, although the church is the largest in the global communion. 'We are doing this on behalf of the Communion. If we had not done this many of you would be lost to other churches, maybe to nothing at all.'" That would be well and good if not for the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the aforementioned Anglican Communion "on behalf" of which this act was done, specifically told Archbishop Akinola not to do this. The word "lost," especially in regards to other churches sounds like a very fundamentalist, narrow, and decidedly un-Anglican version of Christianity. Heck, if people can find life in Christ in the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, or other Christian church, more power to them! The point is life in Christ, not which color your jersey is!
Archbishop Akinola, in presuming to speak and act for the Anglican Communion, is setting himself up as an alternative to Archbishop Rowan Williams as head of the Communion. What, now are we going to have the Abuja Conference rather than the Lambeth Conference? In any case, it appears that the die is cast and that some disaffected members of The Episcopal Church will now move to the new "missionary diocese" and attempt to take their church buildings, documents, and names with them. Let the games begin (wait, they already have...)! Now I'm waiting for someone from the Episcopal Church to found a missionary diocese in Nigeria...
Seriously, folks, I need to remind myself constantly that all of this affects but a tiny percentage of churches, most of which are quietly, without fanfare, doing what God has called them to do, as our Presiding Bishop pointed out recently. I still plan to visit the homebound this week, preach on Sunday, and administer communion, regardless of convulsions of the wider church. Christ is STILL risen!