Tuesday, April 28, 2009

B033 - An Idea Whose Time has Come and Gone

Okay, just a bit of a warning for any non-Anglicans reading out there. I'm about to give you a history lesson on the Episcopal Church. If we sometimes seem confusing, this may clear up a few points. Or it make it all seems even scarier than your could ever have believed.

Here is the short version. In 2003, the Episcopal Church, having received a majority vote in the House of Bishops, consecrated Gene Robinson to be the Bishop of New Hampshire. The rest of the church went into apoplectic fits because Bp. Robinson is not only gay but living in a committed relationship. Everyone knew this at the time, so there was no deception going on here. Well, there was a lot of self deception from people who refused to see that this was going to happen sooner or later, but that's about it.

Skip ahead three years to 2006 General Convention (GC). By this time, the rest of the Anglican world (except Canada) had told us what bad people we were, demanded an apology and a promise that we would not do it again, and threw us off the playground. Mind you, our polity maintains that each Province of the Anglican Communion is separate and it really was none of their business what we did; but some other places felt there might be guilt by association.

Anyway, the 2006 GC was asked to make a promise to hold off on any more such consecrations. Initially, we rejected that demand. Then we did something else shocking. We elected a woman, Katherine Jefferts Schori, to be the Presiding Bishop of the USA. Not only was she (gasp!) female, but she was supportive of gays and lesbians in the church. However, she had a dilemma. There was no way she could participate in international Anglican events without some kind of a promise from the Episcopal Church not to make any more gay bishops, (or, at least, openly gay bishops).

So, on the last day of that GC, she brought forth a resolution numbered B033 which said we would not consecrate any bishops whose manner of life might strain the bonds of affection between the Episcopal Church (USA) and other parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Everyone knew that this language was targeted at one group only, but implied that there might be other manners of life (voting Republican?) that people would find offensive. The plea was made to do this for a 'season'.

Now here's the problem. GC meets again this summer and B033 will come up again, mostly in resolutions to repeal it. Here's why. In the three ensuing years, several dioceses have attempted to leave the Episcopal Church. Most are learning that they don't get to keep the money or the property, but that is a long slow legal process. The Presiding Bishop has been snubbed by a number of bishops around the world who refuse to go to meetings where she is present or to shake her hand. Bishops in other parts of the world have been interfering in American dioceses, sending so called missioners and appointing new bishops where there are already existing bishops. Not only is all of this redundant, but it goes explicitly against the other part of the agreement that was requested around the world. In the meantime, the Episcopal Church has not gone back on its word.

The final straw (in my opinion) was the refusal of some bishops to go to last year's Lambeth Conference. Lambeth takes place every ten years and is intended as a time of discussion, reflection, and education for bishops around the world. Some bishops have decided that they will not even listen to the thinking process that has preceded our decisions in this country, preferring instead to bury their heads in the sand.

An interesting thing that happened out of Lambeth last summer is that a number of foreign bishops, taken out of the spotlight (the press is kept out of these meetings), had the chance to talk with American bishops and discover that there really is some theology taking place behind our actions, not just some cultural abdication of the Bible as they were led to believe. A growing collegiality has begun to develop, but not, of course, with those who refused to attend.

So we are left asking this question: Given that we got virtually nothing we wanted from B033, no dialogue, no retention of conservative dioceses, and no ending of the interfering by foreign bishops, why should we continue B033?

It was a bad compromise when it first happened, but I can easily see how people voted for it. I might actually have been one of them, had I been present. The newly elected Presiding Bishop was asking for something that she thought would allow the dialogue to continue. Instead, other forces decided they were done talking, that the body of Christ was irretrievably broken once again.

Worse than that, we sacrificed other people for our comfort. It is one thing for Christians to sacrifice themselves; our faith is rather based on that idea wouldn't you say? But it is another thing to sacrifice someone else. I don't see the biblical model for that.

So the only question, as far as I am concerned is whether we repeal B033 or confess our shame in having passed it in the first place. I, for one, am tired of putting the institution above human beings. To put it bluntly, B033 stank from the beginning, and it has gotten any better with age.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Few More 'Lesser' Saints

April 27 - Christina Rosetti, Poet 1894 - A rare find! She wrote the poem "In the Bleak Midwinter", which was later set to music and is now a Christmas Carol. But (for all us Geeks), she also wrote "Goblin Market" part of which appears in the episode titled "Midnight" in the sci-fi show Doctor Who!

April 29 - Catherine of Siena, 1380 - The youngest of 25 children, Catherine began having visions at the age of six. Despite her families best efforts, she pursued her mystic vocation as a Dominican. An interesting woman to read about.

April 30 Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, Editor and Prophetic Witness, 1879. An early advocate of the back to Africa movement to return slaves to Liberia, Ms. Hale is best known for two other accomplishments, the children's poem "Mary Had a Little lamb", and the nationalization of the Thanksgiving Holiday. Editor of Goday's Ladies Book for forty years, she was also a tireless advocate for women's education, and the production of American literature.

May 2 Athansius, Bishop of Alexandria, 373 - Nowadays, he is a pillar of orthodoxy. Of course, he had to go into exile 5 times because the odds were stacked against him. What was the reason? In a word, homoousios. It means "of one being (with the Father)." The full divinity of Christ was the major debate at the time.

May 4 - Monnica, Mother of Augustine of Hippo, 387 - Monnica prayed for years that her son would convert to Christianity. She won. You might want to check out whatever your mother is praying for!

May 7 - Harriet Starr Cannon, Religious, 1896 - The founder of the Community of St. Mary, the Episcopal Church's first monastic order for Women. On September 9, the order is remembered for the martyrs of Memphis, when several members of the order died nursing victims of Yellow Fever in Tennessee.

May 8 - Dame Julian of Norwich, c. 1417 - One of the great medieval mystics. "All is well."

May 9 - Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople, 389 - Known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory championed the Trinity at a time when the church was just beginning to work out that theology. A beloved bishop and good preacher.

May 10 - Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Prophetic Witness, 1760 - Zinzendorf can be attributed with creating the Moravian Church, which is odd since he was not exactly the type who wanted to create another organization. A somewhat maverick Lutheran, he simply could not conform and saw the idea of free churches developing along family lines, becoming structured only when necessary. We can all see some attraction in that! He also had some interesting ideas about sexuality and transcendance.

That's enough for now!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gotta Love Them Saints

Actually, one of the fun things coming before General Convention is a complete revision of our Lesser Feasts and Fasts, the book that identifies, among other things, the Christian people we remember on our calendar. In Anglican lingo, the term Saint (capital 'S') is only officially applied to New Testament witnesses to the early events of Christianity. Other Christians are referred to saint the way that Paul calls the entire community saints. And certain exemplars of the faith are commemorated for what they have done in a book now entitled Lesser Feasts and Fasts. So, for example, Timothy is Saint Timothy but Francis of Assisi is not (and yes, the common useage of the term does not always match this formula). Timothy's feast day is included in the Book of Common Prayer Calendar, while Francis remains in the Lesser Feasts group.

One other difference between us and Roman Catholic practice: In Anglicanism, it is not common practice to pray to Saints for intercession. We believe one can pray to God (in any part of the Trinity) directly. Yes, I am hedging here because as with much of Anglicanism, there are not prohibitions against praying to saints. You just won't see much of it, and lots of people will tell why the believe it is unnecessary.

Anyway, back to my point. The revision has a new title: Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints. And yes, you can tell one of the differences is an attempt to include more women. And more non-European or North American folk. And more post-Reformation non-Anglicans. So here is what is upcoming on the new calendar. Hopefully, I will remember to do this a few times for you:

April 15 - Damien, Priest and Leper 1889, and Marianne, Religious 1918 of Molokai
God of compassion, we bless your Name for the ministries of Damien and Marianne, who ministered to the lepers abandoned on Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands. Help us, following their examples, to be bold and loving in confronting the incurable plagues of our time, that your people may live in health and hope; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

April 16 Mary (Molly) Brant (Konwatsijayenni), Witness to the Faith among the Mohawks, 1796
Maker and lover of all creation, you endued Molly Brant with the gifts of justice and loyalty, and made her a wise and prudent clan mother in the household of the Mohawk nation: Draw us also toward the goal of our faith, that we may at last attain the full dignity of our nature in our true native land, where with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

April 19 - Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Martyr, 1012
O loving God, your martyr bishop Alphege of Canterbury suffered violent death when he refused to permit a ransom to be extorted from his people: Grant that all pastors of your flock may pattern themselves on the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep; and who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

April 21 - Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1109
Almighty God, you raised up your servant Anselm to teach the Church of his day to understand its faith in your eternal Being, perfect justice, and saving mercy: Provide your Church in every age with devout and learned scholars and teachers, that we may be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

April 22 - John Muir, Naturalist and Writer, 1914, and Hudson Stuck, Priest and Environmentalist, 1920
Blessed Creator of the earth and all that inhabits it: We thank you for your prophets John Muir and Hudson Stuck, who rejoiced in your beauty made known in the natural world; and we pray that, inspired by their love of your creation, we may be wise and faithful stewards of the world you have created, that generations to come may also lie down to rest among the pines and rise refreshed for their work; in the Name of the one through whom you make all things new, Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Hey, we get to remember John Muir liturgically by reading from the Song of the Three Jews!

On to Anaheim, Round One

As some of you know, I am a deputy to the 2009 meeting of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which takes place in July in Anaheim California (Sorry, but the term "Mickey Mouse Convention" has already been taken!). This is that time every three years when the Episcopal church is in the news several times in a row, after which we are largely forgotten by the news media.

As part of my deputy duties, I am going to a pre-convention meeting of deputies of color this weekend.

I must admit, I am going with a bit of trepidation. It looks like this meeting is being run by the same folk who were in charge of these things when I finished seminary 25 years ago. Put another way, we appear to have Jesse Jackson leadership in a Barack Obama world. I hope I am wrong and will be pleasantly surprised.

I wouldn't really care except I think younger deputies of color have different battles they want to fight. I don't claim to represent them (I am, after all, older than President Obama), but I do get to listen to folk their age a lot as a college chaplain. Is this a time for the passing of the torch?

And I really wonder if that torch is gonna get passed right over my head to those younger than me. If so, I'll be happy to stand with the younger group, especially if they decide to try something other than the old identity politics that, quite frankly, now bore me to tears.

One thing I do know is that I will have to take a walk if we continue the old practice of people of color decrying discrimination and then turning around and refusing to support gays and lesbians in their struggles against the same thing. For me to sign on to that would be, among other things, a betrayal of the folks who are part of my ministry.

I guess what I am really doing as I write this is gathering the courage to face a potential adversary. Pray I have the strength, if needed. Fortunately, my ministry is not really tied to these folks liking me.

More on this as it develops....

Monday, April 6, 2009

Vocation as Vocation

Here is an edited version of the quiet day meditation I gave last week at our clergy quiet day.

Every Facebook user knows about the proliferation of quizzes right now. Here was the result of one I took recently:
“Kevin took the ‘What is your ministry calling?’ quiz and the result is Grounds Keeper and Fence Mender. You are your own boss. Although you believe in the church, you do not want to deal with the hypocrisy of church. You are willing to show up during the week to do odd jobs. You appreciate being called when there is a special need. You may clean the sanctuary during the week or put together the video technology for Sunday. You may teach a Sunday school class occasionally. You will drive the church van or paint the social hall but you are not called to attend staff meetings or put up with the politics of church.”
I write this as an entry into discussion about where we are going with our vocations. What I love is they way my job got described in a manner that had nothing to do with my ordination. I know lots of clergy who have spent a lot of time as grounds keepers and fence menders without picking up a rake or a hammer. Priesthood is a part of who we are, but the living out of our priesthood comes in many forms.
There are two errors that get repeated when clergy talk about vocations. Neither of these should be particularly enlightening to clergy, but they bear repeating.
The first is this: Vocation is something that clergy have.
As a campus minister, I talk about ordination with people a lot. At the moment, I am talking about ordination with seven different people. Some of them are not even members of my ministry, just people who wanted to talk about it. It is a regular part of my work.
But I also get to talk with a lot of other people. Like the student who suffers from PTSD and anxiety issues and has to consider that when he looks at possible careers and jobs. Or the one who graduated, moved away to become a teacher and is now back after discovering that he really hated it. Or the student who may have to leave school if she is not granted in-state status, even though she doesn’t live anywhere but North Carolina. Or the returnee who started a career in journalism—we all know what that’s like now.
In the midst of all their challenges are the same questions: Where is God in all this, and where is God calling me? And out of a ministry that in many ways is almost always about vocations, I am forced to conclude that there really is no difference between the vocational challenges of the clergy and those of the laity. Our struggles are their struggles. The struggles are just as deep, just as powerful, just as meaningful on both sides of the collar.
Which means, of course, that the questions we ask the laity to reflect upon are the same questions we need to be asking ourselves.
This is the second error clergy make: Vocation is something that you have settled once you become ordained.
In my work history after ordination I have been an assistant in a parish, then in a cathedral (where I later became priest in charge for awhile) a member of the bishop’s staff, a vicar of an inner city mission, a PhD student, a writing instructor, a freelance writer, an interim (twice), and now, for the third time, a college chaplain. And truthfully, if I had it to do over, I would only leave out one of those experiences.
I mention this to illustrate a point. One of the biggest mistakes clergy make is to think we have settled the vocation question by being ordained, or by becoming a rector, bishop, dean, or some other position. And while we all know better, too often we act on this false belief. And we find ourselves in vocational difficulty because we lose sight of something that we so readily can see when talking to other people.
I love the stories of the first deacons as told by Acts. Here they are, a group of guys set apart essentially to wait tables. After the apostles lay hands on them, the next part of the story is all about how they go on to be really good waiters.
Oh, wait. That part isn’t there. The next thing we here is not about them fulfilling the diaconal duties of service. It is the story of Stephen going out into the street and preaching until he is stoned to death for upsetting the status quo. And his story gets followed by Philip teaching and baptizing. Apparently, their calls to ministry did not settle much of anything for them. Nor did they seem to have a problem with moving past the tasks originally assigned to them.
So, then, what is the vocational quest really about? For Christians (and certainly for Christian clergy), it is first and foremost our struggle to shape our lives in a fashion that lives out our baptismal covenant. Put another way, it is about aligning our lives with Christ’s vision of the kingdom. In that sense, it is not primarily about happiness or fulfillment, though both of those are very important to our ability to function.
No, it is about a Christological view of our world and our lives. It is about building a seamless bridge from Sunday to the rest of our week, rather than seeing them as forever separated. We know that vocation is a spiritual matter. But it is also an incarnational one. How do we live our lives in a way that Christ is made real in the world? And then how do we help the people we find ourselves in the midst of do the same thing? Vocation is about making Christ incarnate.
Which leads me to one inescapable question. Is the clergy vocation primarily about helping everyone else to find their Christian vocation? For most of history there were very few people other than the wealthy who had much choice about their vocation. Poorer folk were apprenticed to a trade if they were in a city, a farmer if they were in the country, and a wife if they were female.
In that system a vocational crisis occurred when you were injured and could not do your job, not when you felt angst about wanting to move on to something else. Priestly counsel about vocation was to help people accept the life they had been dealt.
Now we live with the belief that we can grow up to be anything we want. Has it become the role of clergy to help frame vocation spiritually and practically and sacramentally for people? If so, what does that mean about how we fulfill the ministries to which we each have been called? Does this, for example change anything about how we worship? How might it affect premarital counseling or youth group or the mid-week Bible Study, the Outreach Committee, or the men’s group, or your EFM class, or—dare I say it—the Vestry Meetings? Or, for that matter, does it affect the budget?
So let me leave this not as a question but as an assertion. Our vocation is all about vocation. It should rarely be away from our minds as we plan our activities as clergy.
Now I have to admit that I am still playing with the implications of this; I had never verbalized it or put it on paper until now. So now it is an offering to you along with this one last consideration on which I invite you to reflect. We know that vocations do not live in isolation from God, but they do not live in isolation from other people’s vocations either. How then is your vocation tied to others?