Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The True Meaning of Christmas

As I was working on my sermon for tomorrow night, I was reminded of Linus' retelling of the Christmas story that was taken from the Gospel of Luke, and specifically the Revised Common Lectionary reading for Christmas I.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Warren Consternation

The church and the nation are abuzz with reactions to the announcement that President-elect Barack Obama has asked Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama's inaguration. The bulk of the reaction is negative, which is understandable given Warren's support for California's Proposition 8 and his (in my opinion) unwise statements regarding whether the United States should "take out" foreign leaders. However, Geoffrey Garrin makes a progressive case for Rick Warren in his recent Washington Post article.

I'm personally conflicted over Obama's choice of Pastor Warren. On the one hand, he has said many things with which I vehemently disagree--his support of Proposition 8 and likening gay marriage to pedophilia and polygamy (after saying that divorce was a far greater threat to the institution of marriage)--is one glaring example. Another is his backing of assassination of foreign leaders. Both positions bear a striking resemblance to the more extreme positions of the extreme religious right. I don't think either align with Jesus teachings. I also happen to know several gay couples who I believe are indeed examples of fidelity and holiness and who are likely at the very least hurt, and at the most grievously wounded over the fact that PRop 8 passed, with Warren's support.

On the other hand, there seems to be a large number of people equating Obama's invitation of Warren with a betrayal of gay rights or some sort of wholesale endorsement of Warren's views. It seems like the symbolism has completely overshadowed the potential reality. President-elect Obama hasn't even taken the oath of office yet and there are already people feeling supremely disappointed and somehow betrayed that he has made this choice. While I would likely feel differently if I were gay, our culture's obsession with symbolism over substance in general seems a disturbing trend.

A month from today, the new President Obama will take office. How about we let him make some policy decisions and then we can criticize them? Until then, give the guy a break.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stirring the Pot

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent)

In the Episcopal Church, today is often observed as "Stir-up Sunday," a day in which we specifically focus on our desire that God "stir up" God's power among us as we seek to do God's will in our lives. The traditionally Anglican Stir-up Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent, now mostly observed as Christ the King Sunday. In any case, wherever it falls in the church year, it is an opportunity for Christians to do one of the most dangerous things possible--invite and encourage God to act in our lives. Certainly that was a version of the prayer that many in ancient Israel prayed, and God sent a most unlikely answer in the person of John the Baptist, who we read about in today's Gospel. No one could figure John out. He did not fit into any neat category (not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet). That drove the authorities of the time nearly crazy but also drove many people out into the desert to see, hear, and be baptized by this "voice crying in the wilderness."

As I noted in my sermon this morning, perhaps the best thing we can do during times of war and economic uncertainty such as we have is to be open to, and expecting of, God's work in the world. Perhaps we should eschew a desire for stability and calm in favor of a desire that God would work though the chaos and uncertainty. The best advice may be that of St. Paul to the members of the church in Thessalonica, the Epistle lesson for today:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
-- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
The Spirit of God is notoriously untidy and unpredictable, though not inconsistent. For those of us, especially Episcopalian folks, who like things done "decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40) it is worth knowing that God can and does still surprise us. The biggest thing for us to remember is that God is all about healing and restoration, even if a little surgery and demolition is required in the process. Perhaps in such a time as this, a time of chaos and uncertainty, we might well be more open to God's working in our midst. Perhaps even in the form of a little baby in a manger?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Home of the Temporary

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness."
-- 2 Peter 3:11-13 (Reading for Advent 2, Year B, RCL)

December 7, 1941 -- Attack on Pearl Harbor
January 28, 1986 -- Challenger Disaster
September 11, 2001 - Terrorist Attacks
October 1, 2008 - Beginning of Stock Market Decline

These dates are perhaps some of the more notable ones in the last several decades. They each were memorable and, in most cases, pivotal events for a generation. Certainly other events,. many of them tragic, could be added to the list. The point is not the events themselves, but our reaction to them as human beings. I would submit that many of those reactions include elements of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). The events have measurable effects on our lives. However, the question might well be asked: How does our faith as Christians affect our view of such events and our reaction to them?

This is not a hypothetical question, especially during these times of economic uncertainty and terrorism. We live in a very, very fearful time. There are many churches either in decline or just hanging on. There are many people just hanging on as well. It is quite likely that at least the next two years, and perhaps many more years beyond that, will be years in which things which were formerly thought stable and permanent give way to things that are obviously transitional. This has been happening in many ways in the church already--the emergent church movement being a prime example. We also have that occurring in the political arena--after 16 years of Baby Boomer presidencies (Clinton and Bush II) we will shortly be inaugurating a Generation Xer. At the same time, the banking and automotive industries, arguably the backbone of our economy, are in serious transition and this last election gave a glimpse into the multi-ethnic and multicultural world in which we live. Nothing is permanent. In other words, we have boarded the ship and left the dock.

In the midst of all of this transition, it would be well for us to remember the above passage and others like it. They remind us that the only think that is permanent is God and God's love for us. Nothing else will last. In fact, the world was specifically designed not to last! Kind of a cosmic planned obsolescence. That doesn't mean we should hurry it along with unwise environmental, economic, and political choices. What it does mean is that we should keep in mind that this is not our home and that it is not permanent. We cannot do anything about the transient nature of life. What we can do is live "holy and godly lives" while we are here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

We're on a Mission from God

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. – Ephesians 1:14-21

The above is the Epistle reading for tomorrow, Christ the King Sunday. It occurs to me that in the midst of two wars, a major economic crisis, a change in Presidents, substantial downturns in charitable donations, and skyrocketing anxiety and need, the church is very much in need of recapturing its sense of missio dei--the mission of God. The challenge for the church today, I would assert, is that we have a huge crisis of confidence. Church budgets are being cut, including the one at Washington National Cathedral, and there is a great amount of scarcity and survival thinking going around. Just at the time that the church has the most to say, we're afraid to say anything!

Christ the King Sunday is perhaps well placed to remind us that we work for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Creator of the Universe. The church is not simply another charity, another desperate institution clamoring for a disappearing financial pie--we are outposts or embassies of the Kingdom of God and we have the words of eternal life. Now we just have to act like it... By the power of God.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Christian Martyrs Sold Seperately?

OK, here's a new low in children's toys: the Playmobil Roman Arena. Yes, it includes lions. Exactly how lacking in knowledge of history does one have to be to recall that Christians were routinely cast into the arena where they could do battle with lions for the entertainment of the masses? Though there are only armored people (plus the Emperor or herald at the top) and the lion pictured, I can't help wondering if there is a nice accessory kit complete with unarmed or lightly armed Christian martyrs just for entertainment's sake. Sheesh...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Postmodern President

As I write this, the pundits and commentators are waxing eloquent about the historical significance of Barack Obama's election as the forty-forth President of the United States. What struck me most, however, was President-elect Obama's call for healing and unity in a very difficult and trying time and Senator McCain's promise to work with him to address the problems that confront us. Tom Brokaw called Obama the "first post-modern President."

To my mind what that means is that I and many of my fellow GenXers long to move beyond the conflicts of the past four decades and into a time in which we move beyond them and forge a unity that depends on the strength of our relationships rather than on the number of issues on which we agree. As I see Obama moving in that direction, I hope that the Episcopal Church can also move beyond our divisions and forge a similar unity through personal relationships.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hybrid Mission and Ministry

Through a long and somewhat trying series of events, I am now the proud owner of a 2002 Toyota Prius and thus a new member of the club of hybrid car drivers. Hybrids, for those unaware, use both an electric motor (that often functions as a generator) and a gasoline motor to provide power to get one down the road. The interesting thing is that when going downhill, slowing down, or turning, the kinetic energy that ordinarily would be lost to heat through the breaks or otherwise discarded is instead routed to the motor/generator to recharge the battery. What that means is that the car never really coasts since it is constantly either drawing power from motion or contibuting power to it. After driving it for almost a week, my initial thought was "Why don't all cars work this way?" Given that most of the kinetic energy of a car, much less the heat from internal combustion, is exhausted or otherwise wasted, it would seem a total no-brainer that this is the future of automobiles.

At the same time, as a part of the aforementioned series of events, I had occasion to speak with one of my colleagues about the current state of affairs in both our diocese and the wider church. It seemed to both of us that we were entering what, upon later reflection, I would call a "hybrid" time of mission and minsitry in the institutional church. No longer were the structures that had been built up during the last forty years (coincidentially my current age!) sufficiant to facilitate the mission and minsitry in the current environment. In fact, some of those same structures that were built to protect the institution were instead choking the life out of it! Mission and minsitry today is done much more through a network of often local relationships than it is done through I tightly controlled program or a hierarchical system. While there is a need for accountability, there is also the need for flexibility.

Yesterday I caught an episode of Fresh Air that talked about the way in which the government has rewarded farm consolidation and articficially supported the growing of crops that virtually required fossil-fuel based pesticides and long distance transportation (obviously using fossil fuels). Again, this system had developed over the last 40 years. The guest advocated the "solarization of food" in which farmers once again grow a variety of crops, practice crop rotation, and that supply lines by shortened so that crops were eaten closer to where they are grown. One example he gave was that chickens from the United States are shipped to China to be processed, then shipped back to the United States for sale! This is because it is cheaper to ship them there for processing and ship them back than it is to pay labor costs in the United States. That is proving to be less and less the case as fuel prices increase.

I have often thought of the church as a battleship--hard to turn but very strong, occasionally intimidating if you are on the outside but very safe if you are on the inside. However, we live in a world that is much more geared to smaller, more agile craft like speedboats or patrol boats. There is a reason that the Navy no longer makes battleships--they have outlived their usefulness. In the same way, perhaps we need to look hard at our structures, our canons, and even our assumptions about how the institutional church should function (and often does, in spite of the official rules) and what modifications we could make in the structures to accomodate and encourage a less hierarchical, more localized, and less travel-centered. I don't really have any specific proposals for this, but I'm wondering if there is a "Why don't all churches work this way?" question to be asked.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Peace that Passes Understanding

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -- Philippians 4:4-6

This was one of the lessons appointed for this morning, in addition to the story of the golden calf and the wedding feast. In my sermon, I pointed out that Paul's letter to the church at Philippi was written from his own prison cell to a church that was both low on financial resources and in the midst of a land that was occupied by Roman legions. It is hardly a call to "find a happy place" and disengage from the world about them. Rather, it is a promise that if we rejoice in God's grace in our lives and pray for that which we need, God's peace will guard our hearts and minds. In other words, the Philippian Prescription is Praise + Prayers = Peace.

With the stock market in free-fall, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an utter lack of confidence in either congress or the current occupant of the White House, and a political campaign climate steeped in fear, the need for "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" can hardly be denied. Yet as flawed, sinful human beings, we more often than not succumb to the temptation to shrink back, to protect ourselves, and to rely on and protect our own resources and forget about the grace and peace of God that has been with us in the past. We choose the golden calf over the Godly celebration to which we have been invited. We're often too busy saving ourselves to hear the voice of our Savior calling to us.

As conflict and fear rage around us, it would be well for all of us to recall that it is in such an environment that God continues to call us to the wedding feast, the great heavenly banquet in which God is the host. We are reminded of that invitation at the Eucharist each week. May we recall who we are and Whose we are as Children of God and rest in the peace which passes understanding.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Are you a Liberal or a Conservative?

I recently ran across the following that was submitted to the last newsletter of the Church of the Good Samaritan in Corvallis, Oregon. Written by The Very Rev. George Back, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oklahoma City, OK, it was originally published in The Anglican Digest in Lent 1991. It casts a new light on the so-called “conservative/liberal split” and is well worth reading. It also expresses my viewpoint far better than I could.

I have heard rumors that conflicts between conservatives and liberals are tearing the church apart. Don’t believe it.

Few of these people exist. I have had letters and phone calls from some who claim to be one or the other. As far as I can tell, they are imposters. Of course, I can only judge from their behavior.

If the church had many conservatives, the buildings would be packed on Sundays as they keep the Sabbath holy. Our Church would have money since they would tithe 10 percent of their income. Our Church life would be glorious as they would undertake all the traditional Sunday School, retreat, and holy day obligations. An authentic personal morality would be exemplified in their holy lifestyles

If the Church had many liberals, they would be enthusiastically including people all the time. The Church would grow as they reached out to the poor and isolated in various ministries. Our service ministries would be overwhelmed with volunteers and resources. An authentic social conscience would be exemplified in the compassionate lifestyles.

Judging only by behavior, the Church has too few religious conservatives and religious liberals. God bless the ones we have, they are doing wonderful work.

Then where is the problem? There are numerous anti-conservatives and anti-liberals. These are people who compare their particular theology with other’s actual behavior. Their convenient posture enables them to be both righteous and removed and the same time. Both know that others need to change their bad habits. The sins, failures, hypocrisy, and mediocrity of these others provide a good reason not to attend worship and not to give money and not to serve energetically and not to love affectionately in the Lord’s name.

Religion is behavior, not theory. To worship God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength is not an idea, it is a practice. To love one’s neighbor as in “idea” is an illusion. Love must take up space and time; it costs lots of money and much energy. Church is a place for religious behavior, where one worships God and serves God’s children. It is large enough to include true religious conservatives and true religious liberals, since they only emphasize one or the other aspect of true religion.

The Church will never be at peace until the commitment to God and the Gospel of our Lord take priority over any personal warp to some left or right ideas. People who have a primary commitment to their own opinions and a secondary interest in religion always threaten to destroy the church. What good reason and right opinion do you have to excuse yourself from the costly practice of true religion?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

MDGs, Outreach, and Evangelism

As any readers of this blog know, I have written in this blog about my reservations regarding using the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a primary task of the Episcopal Church. This is primarily because I am just evangelical enough to think that the Great Commission should be the primary task of the church and am having a hard time seeing how that relates to the MDGs.

Having said that, today is the "MDG blogging day" and I've been thinking a bit on this. I think that the falacy that we as Episcopalians operate under is that at least some of those whom we serve in Christ's name as clients and recipients of various charitable endeavors during the week will find their way into our churches on Sunday morning and become members of our congregation. In other words, our outreach is our evangelism! However, in my experience, that rarely happens. So, rather than kidding ourselves that we are doing evangelism when what we are really doing is social service, let's just say "yes, we're serving the poor because that is what Jesus did and would do in our place and we are serving Jesus as we do so." Nothing else should be necessary. Part of our call as Christians is to reach out to others with the love of Christ, and supporting the MDGs (whether locally, nationally, or internationally) is a way of proclaiming the Kingdom of God even if we never use Jesus' name in that proclamation.

So, support the MDGs through Kiva, Episcopal Relief and Development, or via supporting Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation--just don't forget to do a little evangelism, too!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Thoughtful Thinking and Parish Ministry

As I perused my friend Nathan Humphrey's excellent proposal to unite the alphabet soup of "continuing Anglican" churches and halt the disintegration of the Anglican Communion and, to a lessor extent, the Episcopal Church, I took note of the fact that it has been far, far too long since I really dug into any sort of in-depth study of an intellectual discipline besides the basic discipline of writing a sermon every week. Perhaps that is because one doesn't get many "points" in parish ministry for such intellectual pursuits, perhaps it is because such things also do not pay the bills, perhaps it is that the demands of life simply crowd out such things. Most likely it is a combination of the three.

Ironically, it is my observation that we need more, not less, of such intellectual forays in the church. This is especially true considering the highly politically charged atmosphere in today's church and society. The Episcopal Church has a reputation as a thinking-person's church, although I cringe when I see that asserted as a unique attribute since it seems to assume that members of other churches are not thinking people. In any case, Episcopal clergy continue to be required to acquire a Masters level degree or equivalent and so there is some justification for the premise that both our clergy and laity are, in many ways, supposed to have more than a couple of marbles running around upstairs.

At the same time, such intellectual pursuits appear to be losing their perceived value. Several seminaries are either scaling back or combining with other institutions, fewer and fewer parishes can afford a full-time seminary-trained priest (and even fewer place "spiritual development" or "teaching" above pastoral care as priorities), and most laity are far too busy in their own daily lives to take advantage of seminars, quiet days, or other learning opportunities that such a seminary-trained priest can offer. The result, it seems to me, is a much more frantic, politically charged, and increasingly panic-stricken church culture with little time or inclination for reflection or thoughtful contemplation.

I'm not sure what the solution to this is, except for the church to stand up and affirm the value of a theologically deep, intellectually rich, and deliberately thoughtful Christianity in opposition to a world that is often philosophically shallow, intellectually bankrupt, and frantically busy. I find myself constantly having to take a deep breath, think things through, and resist the temptation to "fast track" programs or ideas in my own ministry. Perhaps the emerging "slow church" movement might have something to teach us here. That sense of slow, deliberate, and thoughtful spirituality might well be the key that ultimately saves both the Episcopal Church and its members.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Counting the Cost in an Instant Society

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'" -- Luke 14:28-30

It has been several weeks since I last posted and I've been observing and thinking about where we are in both our political and ecclesiastical discourse. Today is Labor Day in the United States, a day once dedicated to "a street parade to exhibit to the public 'the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,' followed by a festival for the workers and their families." Not unlike the church, such labor organizations today often find themselves sidelined in the public discourse and American workers often feel increasingly on their own in a Darwinian labor market. Today, Labor Day essentially marks the end of Summer and the beginning of both the academic year in schools and the program year in churches.

There has been a great deal written and spoken in the last few years about the times we live in. In my opinion, and that of others, the twenty-first century has seen a substantial rise in the inablity of people to sacrifice now for a brighter future or even to discuss the possibility. What large sacrifice was asked of us in the wake of September 11? Was it to tighten our belts, divert domestic productivity into a wartime footing, and make other sacrifices reminiscent of World War II? No. Rather than being told to sacrifice, we were urged to shop. Shop. Shop. Shop.

We've managed to shoulder that sort of burden quite well. When we clamor for an increase in the minimum wage are we willing to pay extra so those who make those products, stock those shelves, and fill those orders can be paid more? Are we willing to buy more expensive American-made goods when we can so that companies will not be under financial pressure to ship those jobs oversees? Generally, the answer is no, we want the best thing for the least money.

More generally, do we see issues such as energy independence and sagging infrastructure as equal in gravity to World War II? Are we willing to invest both private and public funds in sources of renewable energy? Are we willing to permanently divest ourselves of huge SUVs and mammoth recreational vehicles, walk, bike, or take mass transit to our jobs, and seriously alter our lifestyle in order to wean ourselves off oil additiction? Generally the answer is no, we either want the government to do it for us, mandate it, or leave us alone. As our infrastructure crumbles, do we have it in us to make the investment of the billions of dollars it will take to repair and replace roads, bridges, and water and electrical systems our parents and grandparents built but have been neglected in the last few decades. Generally, again, the answer is no.

As we celebrate Labor Day and give thanks for the millions of hours of labor that have made this country what it is, and with just over two months until Election Day, it would be well for us all to ask ourselves whether we want to pay now, or have our children or grandchildren pay later. If our parents had been proactive when faced with gas shortages in the 1970s, perhaps we would not be where we are today with gas prices. Are we willing to look into the future and act now?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

When Church Inhibits Community

As the Lambeth Conference fades into history and as clergy and laity enjoy the waining weeks of summer and gear up for the beginning of the program year, I am thinking of how often the institutional policies and processes that are designed to define and defend the Christian community from outside threats sometimes end up choking the life out of precisely what they are designed to protect. I've often likened the church to an aircraft carrier--incredibly tough, durable, and very difficult to sink but has a very difficult time turning and has an incredible amount of momentum. Like the United States during the Cold War, the church has built up defenses over the centuries to large scale threats to its institutional life. However, in this post-Cold War (and post-Christian) world, there is more call for speedboats than for aircraft carriers. In other words, things like the emergent church movement and other ways of deconstructing the institutional church and replacing it with a more agile form of Christian community seem to be more effective in the 21st century ministry context.

I say that because I was very interested to read Andrew Gerns's reflections on Lambeth in 'The Lead' section of the Episcopal Cafe, where he begins by writing:
In many ways the Lambeth Conference had dual personalities. There was the listening, engaging personality of the Indaba groups, along with the Bible Studies, the worship. Then there was the organizational side where the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Communion Office and the Bishops attempted to find a structure by which the Communion could hold together.
I would assert that what emerged from the Lambeth Conference was a highly relational understanding of church, with bishops engaging one another face-to-face and, in many cases, finding that while their official institutional churches were on opposite sides of the sexuality debate and other issues, they personally got on well together. It was when they attempted to find a structure to reflect and protect those relationships that they seem to have reverted to previous win/lose and us/them institutional polarizations.

As I see this on the international scene, I'm also preparing for a church board program planning retreat this coming Saturday and reflecting on the interrelationship between people and programs. My hope and prayer is that, partially as a result of this retreat, we come to a fresh appreciation of our identity as brothers and sisters in Christ and members of Christ's body, the church. There is a great temptation to resist taking risks, leaps of faith, in order to protect the institution from failure. Yet if the church (locally, nationally, or internationally) simply sees itself in a defensive way--as an defense against "the world, the flesh, and the devil" and not as a network of care for those both within and outside its walls then we will simply rot from the inside and all that will be left will be the walls and stained glass windows protecting a "faithful remnant" inside.

I hope that as the Anglican Covenant process unfolds in the next year that it will find a way to support and uphold the face-to-face relationships that are, after all, the true foundation of the Anglican Communion.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Relationships, Rules, and a Reflective Covenant

As I have attempted to follow the sometimes convoluted reports of the discussions happening at the Lambeth Conference, it occurs to me that there is a reality that transcends the hierarchy and the official statements made or not made. That reality is that these bishops value their relationships with one another, regardless of their stance on issues of sexuality. Even after the Archbishop of Sudan suggested that if he were Bishop Robinson he would resign for the good of the church, many TEC bishops and bishops from Sudan stressed their desire to continue to work together and forge stronger bonds of friendship and mission.

If the reality of relationships is accurate, then perhaps rather than an Anglican Covenant of rules and regulations (which is actually more like a contract) there should be an Anglican Covenant that reflects this reality of relationships over issues. The reality is that Christianity is a profoundly incarnational faith and thus requires human contact. That sort of contact, between flawed, sinful human beings, is bound to be messy, imperfect, and full of miscommunication and hurt as well as understanding and healing. From what I've read from various bishop's blogs, those relationships have been what have been the most valuable aspect of the conference, as they are with all good conferences that I've been to.

An Anglican Covenant that is reflective of the vital relationships that currently exist within the Communion and that seeks to strengthen those relationships in spite of theological differences rather than attempting to either gloss over them or legislate them out of existance would seem to the most helpful document for our ongoing life together.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

From Across the Pond: Bishop Nick

Through the Gathering the Next Generation (GTNG) clergy email list, I've recently been put in touch with a great blog from Bishop Nick Baines of Croydon (Diocese of Southwark). Hosted by Fulcrum, his blog makes interesting reading, relatively free from either the distress or the enthusiasm of some of the bishops from The Episcopal Church. I was particularly interested in this part of one of his posts:
When I asked a Zimbabwean bishop last year why they don't write their own indigenous liturgies and why they follow only the BCP (17th century vernacular English), I was told that this is what the missionaries brought with them. Christianity was synonymous with the trappings: BCP language and liturgy, English Victorian hymns, English vestments and robes, etc. To ditch (or 'move on from') any of these would be synonymous with changing the faith itself or moving on from (or 'changing') the Gospel itself.
I find that I have two reactions to this. First, it is increasingly clear to me that one of the largest challenges we have is that the Gospel message that was communicated via English missionaries (interwoven with the English culture of the time) has been so locked into place as the one and only unchanging Gospel that it is clearly difficult, if not impossible, for there to be any "new revelation" or "new interpretation" even considered. It would be like dishonoring your father or your mother. Second, I know that that we have some of the same things at work here in The Episcopal Church. How many people left the church when "the new prayer book" (i.e., Book of Common Prayer 1979) was adopted because they were so used to the forms of th 1928 BCP that they couldn't imagine worshiping God in any other way?

For me, I find that I need to be both compassionate and discerning in my response to this. Clearly, God is timeless and so is the Gospel. Yet, to the extent that we serve an incarnational God in Jesus Christ, someone rooted in a place and time, our expressions of worship will necessarily reflect our own place and time. More likely, they will reflect the place and time in which we were raised. Short of a cataclysmic "Damascus Road" experience, it is extremely difficult to transcend our own cultural upbringing and inheritance and embrace something new without a substantial spiritual grounding. Perhaps as we lament what we consider the limited wordview of our Anglican brothers and sisters in the developing world, we should realize that our view, too, is limited, just in different ways.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Anglicanism: Catholic, Protestant, neither, or both?

More than a week ago I ran across the Open Letter to the Bishops Gathering at Lambeth in which Dr. Ephraim Radner more or less begs those attending the Lamebeth Conference to "decide, resolutely, that those bishops from these churches who are in agreement to press forward in ways the Communion has now clearly and consistently repudiated [that is, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada] no longer partake in your common councils." Additionally, he states that "If the Lambeth Conference cannot take it upon itself to act with clarity and evangelical coherence in the face of the threats to our common life, you abandon us."

I must confess to being extremely conflicted about this letter and its assumption that the bishops are somehow the sole arbiter of truth and discipline in the Anglican Communion. It is much the same sense in which the gathering of the Primates has assumed legislative, judicial, and executive powers far beyond what any council or synod has had before. Were we the Roman Catholic Church, we might well be used to doctrine being sent down to the masses (no pun intended...) from on high (either Pope or Council of Bishops) but there is enough of a Protestant strain in our makeup that we naturally recoil from any such seemingly autocratic rule.

On the other hand, Archbishop Rowan Williams has noted that bishops have what he refers to as a "unique charism" both implicit in their office and explicit in their ordination vows. As has been said repeatedly, the church is not inherently a democratic establishment. To the extent that it is, it inherited that character from the secular world, not from biblical mandate or church tradition. After all, the successor to Judas was selected by lot, not by vote. I don't think that it is an accident that there bishop, priest, and deacon are all nouns with no verb connotations (as opposed to Pastor, Minister, etc...). When clergy in the Episcopal Church are ordained, the bishop asks the Holy Spirit to "make" that person a bishop, priest, or deacon. Being a Episcopal deacon or priest (and, presumably, bishop) is not simply a job, it is a way of being. That sort of idea, that one's very "ontological status" is changed at ordination, is very catholic and not very protestant.

I hope that as the Lambeth Conference moves on, the bishops there can see their "unique charism" not so much as enforcers but as teachers, communicators of the experiences of God as told by a spectrum of the wider Anglican Communion. While this sort of result may not make the news, and will certainly frustrate conservatives, liberals, and those who would like to place people in such neat categories, it might well enable us to transcend issues and really talk about how we can proclaim the redemptive power of Jesus Christ in our own missional context.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Fr. Tom, Bishop Tom, and the Anglican Communion

Through various blogs, I was recently directed to an article by The Rt. Rev. N.T. (Tom) Wright, Bishop of Durham on GAFCON, his initial reactions to it, and the continuing discussions. One of the interesting things I find in his essay is the assertion that, to quote, "...there are huge problems in America, and they are of course reflected here and there in the C of E, but we are NOT AT ALL in the same situation." In the article, he describes the persecution of clergy by so-called "liberal" bishops for teaching traditional Christian doctrine, noting that "I continue to stand where I have always stood, that is, shoulder to shoulder with those in the USA who have suffered much for the sake of their allegiance to this same gospel and standard of behaviour [sic]." What he is saying, in effect, is that while there are isolated incidents of liberalism making inroads into the Church of England, apparently we are much farther gone in the United States.

As a professed centrist with evangelical leanings as well as a priest who passionately loves both God in Jesus Christ as well as the Episcopal Church which nurtured my faith in Christ and as someone in agreement with the so-called 'core doctrines' of the faith as expressed in the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, the implication that clergy with precisely the same centrist outlook as mine are being actively persecuted by their bishops and colleagues for teaching core orthodox Christian doctrines is profoundly troubling to me and verges on the frightening. If he is not overstating the case, and there are truly clergy being persecuted for their teaching (not simply disciplined for schismatic activity) then I would like to know about that and it needs to be addressed immediately.

Bishop Wright goes on to state the following:
"As I look around not only my own diocese but also the larger Church of England, I see many clergy and laity who are not from an ‘evangelical‘ stable but who are cheerfully preaching the gospel, working for God’s kingdom, saying their prayers and living lives of faithful holiness."
As I read that quote, I thought to myself: "I can affirm that here, too!" I interact with clergy in my own diocese and in the Episcopal Church though Gathering the Next Generation (GTNG) and the Church Development Institute (CDI)) and see people "cheerfully preaching the gospel, working for God's kingdom, saying their prayers and living lives of faithful holiness." I think it is a huge mistake to think otherwise based upon news reports, blog entries, or strident statements from official or quasi-official sources.

Not to be too (literally!) parochial, but most of us clergy, I suspect, have enough difficulties dealing with the challenges of leading a congregation in this twenty-first century post-Christian context. We spend our days dealing with anemic parish budgets, both delightful and difficult people, wide-ranging demands on our time and attention, and the myriad of other pastoral care issues and administrivia that fill our days. We do all of this while attempting to see to our spiritual health, keep our families healthy, happy, and not hating or resenting the church for taking up so much of our time, and just generally getting on with the business of living lives as faithful to our Baptismal Covenant and our marriage and ordination vows as possible. Most of us have neither the time nor the energy to pay much attention to the controversies raging across the Anglican Communion. Not only that, but it is often detrimental to our spiritual health to do so!

Finally, I think a myth really needs debunking here. The myth that one cannot be a faithful Christian or priest in a diocese in which the bishop and/or a majority of the clergy hold so-called "heterodox" or "liberal" views is, quite simply, wrong. Having been raised in the Diocese of California, served my early years of ordained ministry in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and now serving in the Diocese of Oregon, I can confidently say that as a priest I have never, ever, had a conversation with my bishop or other diocesan authority about my theological views, what I preach and teach, or anything remotely resembling what Bishop Wright appears to be saying is happening. While I would characterize my current diocese as decidedly middle-of-the-road, both California and Pennsylvania are hardly bastions of conservatism!

I'm not sure what to expect from the upcoming Lambeth Conference. I am just optimistic enough that I hope that a statement affirming the primacy of relationships over issues or doctrines might emerge. We are unlikely to have a resolution to the questions surrounding homosexuality anytime soon, perhaps not even in my lifetime. Yet if we are to share the love of Jesus Christ we need to discern a way forward though the current strife that honors God and each other.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day, Interdependence, and Lordship

In the wake of the recent conclusion of GAFCON, the responses arising from it, and the anticipation (or lack thereof) of the upcoming Lambeth Conference, it is a tad ironic that today the United States celebrates Independence Day. Given that what we celebrate is our country's independence from Great Britain, the Episcopal Church (as a daughter church of the Church of England) was at the center of the birth of our nation. Fast forward 232 years and the world is a very different place. It is a post-colonial, post-Christian, and post-modern world in which nearly everything we thought was stable and solid has either cracked and fallen away or is being radically reshaped. The era where "the sun never sets on the British Empire" is long gone and one of the core foundations of the Anglican Communion--our common ancestry in the Church of England--no longer seems sufficient to unite an increasingly culturally, economically, and theologically diverse union of national churches. In many ways, we are the most "independent" we have ever been--set free from state, church, and the bonds of tradition and history.

As politicians, pundits, and poets wax eloquent about the glories of freedom and independence, our economy is in shambles, fuel prices are at record levels, and across the world many of those former British colonies are in the mids of strife and starvation. Doesn't look like freedom and independence is all it is cracked up to be, does it? And yet there are the beginnings a realization that as much as Americans revere the self-made man or the rugged individualist, events across the globe can rapidly impact our lives in both subtle and profound ways. The emergence of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is an example of our increasing awareness of the global issues that transcend both nationality and church membership. Morally and economically, we can no longer afford to either ignore or assume we can control the world. The current travails in the Anglican Communion, it seems to me, are as much about this renegotiation of power and influence as they are about anything else.

Ever since my Sabbatical a year ago, and my accompanying journey through the program of the Church Development Institute (CDI), I have been re-introduced to the liturgical and theological riches that support and strengthen both Anglican theology and Anglican ecclesiology. One of those areas of strength is the Benedictine rule of life which values stability, obedience, and conversion of life. My good friend and colleague Fr. Nathan Humphrey has written an excellent essay on Independence and Interdependence in which he links Independence Day (July 4) and the Feast of St. Benedict (July 11). It is well worth a read.

Just to add to my mental ruminations, the Gospel lesson appointed for this coming Sunday, July 6 include Jesus' famous words:
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30)
Perhaps the best way to honor those who have come before us, who have blazed the way to independence from temporal authority, who have often paid for our freedoms in the price of their blood, is to freely surrender that independence not to a temporal power nor a set of rigid precepts, but to God in Jesus Christ with whom we have an ongoing and dynamic relationship. There is great reticence to using the word "Lord" in many versions of our liturgy, but what is Christianity but a voluntary submission to the Lordship of Christ and the communion brought about by Christ's work as our Savior?

Rather than chafing against all restrictions, what would it look like if we truly yoked ourselves to Jesus, went where Jesus leads us, depended on Jesus to help us, and realized that the yoke we bear is easy precisely because God is yoked right there alongside us, both leading us and helping us? That is a question with far more implications and ramifications than can be dealt with in a single blog entry, but is worth thinking on as we watch our contemporary "rockets' red glare."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

What would a Postmodern Anglicanism look like?

In the wake of the recent statement from GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference), Canon Neal Mitchell writes that the statement reflects that many at GAFCON
..are responding in non-Modern ways, embracing certain aspects of Christendom in the Anglican Communion while dismissing other Christendom aspects of the Communion—which is a very Postmodern thing to do.
Canon Mitchell seems to rejoice in the Anglican Communion being set free from the hierarchical ecclesiology of a dead Christendom paradigm and seems also to advocate strongly that the prospect of overlapping jurisdictions formed by relationship rather than geography is not only inevitable, but a good thing.

At the same time, Bishop Pierre Whalon (Bishop of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe) attempts in a recent essay to define exactly what Anglican ecclesiology is. After describing the difficulties of such a definition, Bishop Whalon proceeds to identify some features of Anglicanism that relate specifically to how we structure ourselves and what that has to say about how we view God and the Church. He also looks beyond Lambeth 2008 to see what will continue to be issues facing the Anglican Communion.

Where these two essays meet for me is the question: What should the Anglican Communion look like in a post-Christian age such that it is both faithful to our own traditions and yet responsive to the contemporary world? In other words, what does a Postmodern Anglican Communion look like?

I don't know, and I suspect few others do either. However, it will be quite interesting to find out. I'm wondering if there is any structure, agreement, or statement that can take us beyond the present conflict and help us to get on with mission and ministry while addressing some of the underlying tensions. We'll see...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Winding Down and Wondering

As I wind down my time here in Seattle and my time at the Church Development Institute (CDI), I find myself with thoughts that are turning to the Episcopal Church and my own diocese and congregation. At the same time, I find myself with an inordinate amount of time and a high-speed Internet connection with which to surf the web for various and sundry tidbits about what is going on these days. While doing so, I came across a great blog entry from Fr. Tony Clavier which, among other things, includes this wonderment:
But have the losses [in membership in the Episcopal Church] we have sustained been largely the fault of "The 1960s Religious Establishment" or of our own lack of enthusiasm?
As someone who was born in 1968 I was largely a child of "The 1960s Religious Establishment." The only real memory I have of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is that of removing it from the pews so that the "new" prayer book could take its place. Perhaps the fact that this is the world I have lived in my entire life predisposes me to a more liberal-leaning worldview. On the other hand, I find myself theologically conservative on many issues. As both a centrist and a self-styled Evangelical, I wonder if Fr. Clavier has a point there: What if the numerical decline of the Episcopal Church is not due to theology but to our lack of enthusiasm for our faith?

I submit that if we as the members of the church cannot articulate why their faith makes a difference in their lives, why we come to church, and what is worth sharing about the Episcopal version of being Christian we should not be surprised when people don't beat down the red church doors clamoring to join us. Perhaps what Episcopalians need much more than a cohesive theological statement is both a competence and a comfort in articulating our own individual faith stories and an enthusiasm for what Jesus Christ means to us and what is means to be a Christian of the Episcopal flavor. If such an identity means nothing to us, we should not be surprised that it means nothing to anyone else, either. Perhaps the question might be asked of each of us: "What's your story?"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wine, Wi-Fi, and Seattle

Having no other journal with me but this blog, I just wanted to say that I'm sitting in front of the window of the hostel where I'm staying this week just a block from Pike Place Market, the sun is streaming in, it is about 68 degrees outside, I have a glass of good red wine in my hand to go with my dinner (OK, Budget Gourmet, but...), am catching up on my email and surfing the 'net on the hostel's wireless network, and am contemplating wandering down to the Market and grabbing a cup of coffee from the first (original) Starbucks. Life doesn't get much better than that... Reality will hit when I return to Albany on Friday, but for now, life is good!

P.S. I did in fact grab a cup of coffee at Starbucks later and sat out overlooking the harbor reading and drinking my cup of "Pike Place Roast." Not bad at all!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Semi-Sleepless in Seattle

I've spent the last week in Seattle, Washington completing the course of study at the Church Development Institute (CDI) that I started last summer at the beginning of my Sabbatical. It has been great being back here, seeing both new faces and those who, like me, started this journey last year. I'm also moving from the thought of "wow, I could use bits and pieces of this to tweak things we already do" to "wow, I could use a ton of this to radically reshape the parish I serve. Given that the Bishop's Advisory Committee (Vestry/church board) and I will be having a Program Planning Retreat on August 16, I'm in the process of thinking about how I might use the knowledge and expertise I've gained here at that particularly critical time in our congregation's life. We'll see what God has in mind, and if I'm listening clearly enough to understand God's will.

One unexpected blessing of being here is that there is little to no excuse to tune in on the news from around the Anglican Communion, which is generally depressingly more of the same anyway. I'm staying in the Greet Tortoise Hostel here and being with twenty-somethings from around the world who have no connection whatsoever with the church, much less the Episcopal Church, makes me realize just how insulated I can easily become as I serve God in both St. Alban's and the Diocese of Oregon. How much less earth-shattering the regular stream of local, national, and international news of the Anglican and Episcopal world means in this setting!

Anyway, I'm headed back to Albany on Friday and will be catching up on things and preaching and celebrating on Sunday, when we celebrate St. Alban's Day, our patronal feast. I will hopefully return with both new skills and a new perspective!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Evangelism, Conversion, and Mission

I just ran across the Episcopal News Service (ENS) story on the "Everyone, Everywhere" missions conference currently happening in Maryland. While I'm pleased that the Episcopal Church is talking about mission, I don't notice much about evangelism. Even when conversion is discussed in the article, it is done so only in the context of the "perils of conversion" mentioned by The Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, Episcopal missionary and author and the conference's June 6 plenary speaker.

It seems to me that the Episcopal Church in the 21st century appears to think of mission exclusively in terms of social service, relief of suffering, and development. Episcopal Relief and Development, a wonderful agency, thus seems to be our primary "evangelism" tool. In a church that is losing members daily, I find it somewhat disquieting that evangelism is number three on the list of the Episcopal Church's five budget priorities.

As much as I applaud an emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals, I'm wondering if we're simply substituting something that the Episcopal Church has generally been unable to do well--evanglism--with something with which we have had more success--social service. While I don't think this is an either/or proposition, I do think that we have perhaps had the pendulum swing too far over from the evangelism side to the social service side. A balanced approach would seem to be needed. Perhaps we need to be less linear and more circular in our thinking. Rather than simply implicitly saying "My faith compels me to be of direct physical service to Christ in all people" and letting it stop there, might we also then say "My service to Christ in all people is part of the story of my faith that is worth sharing"?

If a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ is the goal, and the mission of the church is to "restore all people to unity with God an each other in Christ" (BCP, p. 855) then how will that be accomplished without at least a mention of that transforming relationship and the unique role of Jesus Christ in our unity with God? Inquiring minds want to know...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Relationaships and Resources

I just returned from a meeting of our Convocation (Deanery) at which we spent more than an hour going through and discussing the diocesan budget draft. About as enjoyable as root canal surgery but without the numbing drugs. I have had similarly long and less-than-pleasant discussions at our Bishop's Advisory Committee (Vestry) meetings. There always seems to be a sense in which we are running around plugging leaks in a boat and there are more leaks than we have hands or other means of plugging them. That culture of scarcity, that sense that there is never enough, it pervasive throughout the modern church, at least in my experience.

As I thought about those conversations, I reflected that really what these conversations are about is not our resources (time, money, energy, etc...) but our relationships. Budget problems are a symptom, not the disease. The disease is a breakdown of relationship. In the case of a diocesan budget, it is the relationship between the diocese as a whole and its individual missions and parishes. In the case of a congregation, it is a breadown in relationship between the members of the congregation and their church, pastor, or even God.

The solution to this breach in relationship is the Christian solution: reconciliation. It is a combination of a responsiveness of the wider organization as well as transparency and clear communication on the one hand and a recognition that the church does not operate on a fee-for-service basis but on the basis of free gifts with no strings attached. We ar not a retail establishment, providing sacred products for a specified fee. However, there is no biblical mandate for most of the programs and business practices of a congregation or a diocese. For that reason, as well as the biblical mandate for transparency, there must be responsiveness to the mission of the church as discerned through the members of that church or diocese.

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, but it just seems to me that as an anxious church in a very anxious and transitional time, finances dominate our attention and I'm not at all sure how to go about getting out of that cycle without a wholesale rethinking of who we are and how we function as a church surrounded by a consumer culture.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Andy wins! Another GenX Bishop!

Thirteen years ago, I graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary (Class of 1995) along with dozens of other folks who aspired to serve God in lay or ordained ministry. One of the fun games we used to play is "Who is going to be the first bishop from our class?" Well, looks like we have a winner! Our class president, C. Andrew Doyle ("Andy" to us) was just elected as Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Texas. Though not quite as fresh-faced as we all were those many years ago, Andy is nevertheless to be the second-youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church (behind Sean Rowe, of Northwest Pennsylvania, also a VTS grad). That makes him one of only a handful of Generation X bishops.

Congratulations, Andy!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ordinary Time

There is great anticipation here in Oregon, and across the country, of this coming Memorial Day Weekend, the official start of Summer. Summer brings to mind images of rest, relaxation, warm days and (in Oregon, at least) cooler nights. In the church there is the inevitable Summer slowdown as people take off for vacation, or sometimes just take a vacation from church!

Liturgically, we have just finished the season of Pentecost, dipped briefly into Trinity Sunday, and have now embarked on the long time period known as "Ordinary Time." I just ran across a great devotional piece on Episcopal Cafe, a portion of which reads:
Ordinary Time [the Seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost] is the time of the Church, of the daily life of every Christian community, and of each one of us. It is the time not of a brief effort during which one hurries or even runs in order to progress on the way, but the time when one goes at a measured pace in order to cover a long distance.

As a rule, it is not the time for great conversations, for decisive choices made at one time or another in one's life. But it is the time for a painstaking, though at times wavering, faithfulness; the time for an obscure faith that sustains daily life; the time for a self-effacing hope that holds us steadfast and keeps us from stopping at the first difficulty; the time for charity writ small.

At St. Alban's, the months of June and July will be a time of prayer and discernment leading up to our Program Planning Retreat in August. Perhaps for everyone, though, the arrival of Summer is a reminder that so-called "ordinary time" can be an extraordinary time to relax, re-focus, and re-create. As I mentioned in my sermon of last Sunday, the church is the ultimate re-creational vehicle!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Obama Reaches Albany

This won't be long, but I did want to note that presidential candidate Barack Obama stopped off in my little town of Albany, Oregon today and I was fortunate to be one of 2,500 people in a town-hall style meeting at the Linn County Fairgrounds. I was also fortunate to be one of the many to shake his hand as he entered the speaker's area. I didn't hear too much that was new, but it was a thrill to be there and to be in contact, literally, with someone who has an excellent chance of becoming President of the United States.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

It's all about Jesus

There is a great deal of material to be found across the web, in blog after blog, about the trials and travails of the Episcopal Church. People have dug into canonical processes, hierarchical charts, and accusations and counter-accusations. It sometimes seems as if this particular part of the Body of Christ is at war with itself. As I thought about that, a passage from St. Paul's letter to the Romans came to mind:
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)
I certainly find this at work in my own life--even when I want to do good, even when my "inner being" delights in God's law, there is sometimes the sense of spiritual lethargy that sneaks up on me and the battle is joined between good and evil, right there in the choices I make each day. Might I submit that the same is true in the church? Certainly, as the Body of Christ, we do not have the same essence as the corporate, political, or social structures. The Body of Christ, like Christ himself, does not have a "sinful nature." Yet, to the extent that the Body of Christ is made up of flawed, human, and sinful "members," we do not function to our fullest or in perfect harmony. We are always subject to dis-ease, that is, anxiety and lack of focus and vision.

The only solution to this, it would seem to me, is the solution that St. Paul offers: God through Jesus Christ. After all, it really is all about Jesus. I ran across a great sermon by The Rev. Frank Logue, Rector of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Georgia, referenced in his blog regarding the scriptures appointed for tomorrow. The point of the sermon, and of the illustration contained within it, is that the members of the church are the only "plan" to spread the Gospel, the good news of God's plan of salvation. There isn't a Plan B. For that reason, it is all the more important for the church to focus on that message.

After all of the lawsuits, the accusations, the counter-accusations, the charges of heresy, apostasy, all of the name-calling and labeling, what really matters is our relationship with Christ. What really matters is Jesus. We are in a world that is changing every minute and that does not appear to be getting better in the changing. Nothing is solid, nothing stable. This is not unlike the first century church, where there was massive upheaval. Into that maelstrom of persecution, dis-ease, and anxiety, what does St. Peter say in tomorrow's Epistle?
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:6-8)
It strikes me that the biggest temptation we face as a church in today's world is not the temptation to commit blatant sin, to rebel against God, or even to go off on our own and neglect our relationship with God. The greatest threat to the contemporary church may be the temptation towards complacency, despair, or lethargy. How many new ministries are we raising up? How many churches are we planting? How many disciples are we making? From all accounts, not nearly enough. We still have a death grip on what has gone before, on what we used to have, on what the world was like. We are often so afraid of losing what we have, we are not open enough to what God may yet have for us. That is the true danger--that, like the disciples, we are still looking up and waiting for God to save us rather than knowing that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for mission and ministry.

If we use the analogy of the lion, the church's greatest difficulty is that we are not alert for the danger of that roaring lion, we are simply milling around, often oblivious, and sometimes disinclined to run anymore. If we keep our focus on the Lion of Judah, that is, Jesus, and a wary eye on that other lion, perhaps we will be a little less likely to mope around, whine, and complain, and more likely to get on with mission and ministry in the world. After all, the lion is still out there.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Remembering and Reflection

All my life's a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
Moon rolls thru the nighttime;
Till the daybreak comes around.

All my life's a circle;
But I can't tell you why;
Season's spinning round again;
The years keep rollin' by.
Harry Chapin

A couple of days ago, I received the sad news that The Rev. Churchill Gibson, Jr., Chaplain Emeritus of Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), had died. The funeral service for him was Saturday. Not quite a year ago, we lost another VTS luminary, Professor Jim Ross. I am coming to realize several things more and more as we begin to hear of deaths of faculty members that I had while I was a student. First, that I am rapidly approaching fifteen years since I left the Holy Hill. Second, that my class (Class of 1995) was, in many ways, one of the linchpins, or transitional, classes at VTS. We were one of the last classes to have class in Aspinwall Hall, were the first class to have the new (now former) Dean Martha Horne as our dean, and were essentially the last class to have an entire roster of professors that had been there many years, sometimes decades!

I recall first hearing the lyrics to the above song at Boy Scout camp, specifically Camp Oljato near Fresno, California. The camp was one of the formative experiences of my life, and the song spoke of years behind and years to come. More than two decades later, it is interesting to me that the song lyrics have stayed with me. Perhaps it is the just-past-40-years-old reflective part of me, but seeing seminary professors move on and then, eventually, die, has put me in a much more reflective mood of late. That sense of the web of relationships that I've formed over the decades, and my knowledge that I've kept in touch with fewer and fewer people from my past, is really causing me to pause and take stock. Not sure where this will lead, but God surely has something in mind!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

4,000 and Counting...

The news just came across the CNN web site and television that we have reached the grim milestone of 4,000 soldiers killed in Iraq. Of course, this does not count the tens of thousands of soldiers wounded nor any Iraqi casualties. Ironically, we reached that milestone mere hours after millions of Americans celebrated the Festival of the Resurrection, or Easter Day. Mere hours after I spoke of the hope that we have in being resurrection people in the face of the state-sponsored execution of Jesus, yet more death was visited upon us.

As someone who has just turned 40 years old, is engaged in a vocation of hope, but has also seen war, economic downturn, and increasing despair in the last few years, I believe that it will be important to seek out the places and people within which God is working out God's purpose and bringing the fruition God's kingdom in the world. In an excellent article posted on Episcopal Cafe, The Rev. Donald Schell writes about faith and fear in a post 9/11 age. May I be open to seeking, finding, and acting on God's will in my own life.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

This man can speak!

Having come home from a day of interviewing Superintendent candidates for our school district and then, on the way home, briefly checking in at the church, I arrived and flipped on the TV to hear that there was a great amount of reaction to a speech given today by Presidential candidate Barack Obama on race and politics. I was not able to watch the speech when it was given. I didn't even know he was giving it. However, after returning from Evening Prayer at my church, I sat down and watched it on the Obama web site via a YouTube video, specifically this one:

I am a preacher, someone who has grown up as a white heterosexual man, and have just completed anti-racism training where so much of the history and so many of the problems Obama addressed were highlighted. I served a (largely white) church just outside of Philadelphia when I was a Curate just out of seminary. I just spent today interviewing two finalists for a Superintendent position, a white woman and a black woman, who both spoke of issues of diversity in mostly (90%) white Albany, Oregon. With all those experiences, and as a member of Obama's generation, Generation X, I was more than impressed by his speech, I was stunned and struck speechless.

All I could think of when I finished listening to the speech was "Wow. I wish there was a bishop in our church who could speak as clearly to the legacy of colonialism in the Anglican Communion, the fears and frustrations of GLBT people in our church, the despair of an increasingly marginalized mainline church, and the hopes, dreams, and experiences of liberal and conservative alike, in such a way that the polarization of the church that so much mirrors the polarization in the political arena could begin to be healed." What most impressed me about Barack Obama's speech, was that he talked about the fact that "perfecting our union" was not a zero-sum game where one person's dreams come at the expense of another person's dreams, but a way of binding ourselves together in a common purpose that allows everyone to work against the injustices, inequities, and systemic problems in the world. I'm flat out impressed.

I don't really know what else to say, so I won't say anything else, but I'm already thinking of sermon material...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Palm Sunday and Passion

It is the afternoon of Palm Sunday, so Holy Week has officially begun. I suspect I won't be blogging this week. I spent the bulk of Lent not blogging, either, which seems more than fine, considering that Lent is a time of self-examination, not proclamation. However, once Eastertide commences I will endeavor to post more regularly, as befits the season of proclamation.

I will say this--it is amazing to me how selective our memory is regarding traditions. This morning I had to remind several people that it was Palm Sunday and that we were to gather in the Parish Hall before the procession to the church! Yet there was also some strong opinions about whether to have an Easter egg hunt next Sunday or not. Sometimes it seems like our local traditions overwhelm or supersede Biblical or liturgical tradition. Perhaps a excellent spiritual discipline during this Holy Week would be to get back in touch with our identity as pilgrim people, as people on a spiritual journey, and so to enter fully into the life, suffering, and death of Christ so that we may enter fully into Christ's resurrection.

A blessed Holy Week to all.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Whose conflict is this?

For at least several months now, I've been an avid reader of Dan Martins' blog "Confessions of a Carioca." Formerly a priest in the Diocese of San Joaquin, having left before the culmination of the current unpleasantness, and leaning towards the conservative side, he nonetheless has some interesting things to say about the current conflict (or "slow train wreck", as he calls it) raging in the Anglican Communion. In a recent post he writes, among other things:
I am angry with my own Baby Boomer generation, now pretty much running the Episcopal Church. That we are also running the country is also true, but too scary to contemplate--we are a generation of Peter Pans. We walk and talk like adults but we have never laid aside the self-indulgence of youth, and the mantra that we learned just as we were starting school in the 1950s, that we are special because there are so damn many of us. In the Church, our dominance is seen in the hyper-individualism by which we apprehend the Faith, and the complete sentimentalization of its content.
As a Generation Xer, who grew up seeing the families of his friends disintegrate around them, I've often thought about how similar the current strife is to a divorce and wondering whether this has as much to do with the generation "running" the church as it has to do with the issues in play. It short, I'm wondering whether, thirty years from now, we (those of us who are left) will look back and wonder why there was such a huge fight, much like we do when we look back on the fight over the "new" prayer book (now nearly thirty years old).

I'm also avidly watching the political scene, with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain, and it is looking like a serious generational choice is facing the country. As far as I can tell, Obama is a GenXer, Clinton a Boomer, and McCain a Silent/Builder. It will be interesting to see who ends up in the White House, after two successive Boomers (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush). So, perhaps both church and state divides can be attributed, to generational views, at least somewhat.

Something to think about...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Heaven and Earth

I must confess that when I read the headline "Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop" my first thought was "Oh, no! Another Episcopal bishop providing fodder for the conservatives to claim that the Episcopal Church has degenerated into some sort of pagan cult." To my surprise, and no doubt to the surprise of many others, it is none other than Bishop N.T. (Tom) Wright, Bishop of Durham, and hardly a card-carrying liberal! His point is that the current popular view of heaven, as a place in the clouds with harps and angels where God takes us if we're good enough, has little basis in the Bible. Instead, Wright notes that:
Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I've called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus' resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will "awake," be embodied and participate in the renewal.
Wright point out that the sense that our bodies don't matter has more to do with Plato and the Greek view of creation as "shabby and misshapen and full of lies" than it does with the Jewish, and thus more authentically Christian, view in the Bible that "the world of space and time and matter is messed up, but remains basically good, and God will eventually sort it out and put it right again." In other words, the Biblical view of heaven is an antidote to the well-worn criticism that some Christians are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good.

Bishop Wright talks about a sort of holding area or holding pattern in which we will be placed until the final resurrection. While that may be Biblical, it also fails to emphasize that at that point we will be outside of normal space and time. In other words, we could be "there" (wherever "there" is) for a thousand years and it might seem like a single day. The Bible does say that God's view of time is not ours.

For me, this article emphasizes a core truth during this Lenten season--that 99% of our lives as Christians have to do with what we do here, now, as people who serve as Christ's hands and feet in the world. If we're simply waiting on God to "do something" we're as useless to both God and the world as if we were sitting on a mountain top waiting for the end of the world. There is a bumper sticker that says "Jesus is coming. Look busy." Perhaps this Lent that could be modified to read "Jesus is coming. Get busy."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Covenant and Discipline

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day on which, among other things, the church invites us to "the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word." Perhaps providentially, today is also the day on which the second draft of the Proposed Anglican Covenant was released. Finally, it is the day after "Super Tuesday" and the media is abuzz with reflections and prognostications about what it all means for our future. It also happens to be just over a month since I last put fingers to keyboard and posted anything on this blog.

As I prepare to say and hear the words "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" today it strikes me how such words put into perspective all of the issues and conflicts that seem to loom so large in the church and in the world. A century from now, no one now living, except for perhaps a few of the smallest children, will be anything but dust. All of the parties wrangling over church property, all of the political candidates vying for their party's nomination, and all of the bloggers (including me!) with their voluminous writings on this or that--all will be dust. Unless Jesus has returned, there will no doubt be new controversies to replace the old (just as the current controversies are replacing the old ones), new political candidates addressing new problems, and new bloggers (or whatever follows blogs) opining about the issues of the day.

For me, this Lent offers me an opportunity and a challenge not to give up paying attention to such issues, candidates, and opinions, but to place them in the context of a more disciplined life of prayer, study, and action. It is a time when we are all invited to examine our own lives even more minutely than we examine the lives of others, to engage in the time-honored activities of prayer, bodily discipline (fasting), and what might be called "life discipline" (self-denial), and to study the scriptures not as an academic exercise, but with an eye towards deepening our relationship with Christ and seeking out God's will for us as people living and working in the world.
Let the Lent begin!