Friday, July 27, 2012

Tolerating Intolerence?

I just finished reading John Irving's thirteenth novel, In One Person. Irving's website says this is the most political of his novels since A Prayer for Owen Meany or The Cider House Rules but for my money it's not even close to being as good. In fact, I definitely enjoyed The World According To Garp, A Widow for One Year, A Son of the Circus, and Last Night in Twisted River much more than this one. Even so, a mediocre Irving novel is never a waste of time, in my estimation.

I'm left pondering a conversation between the narrator, a bisexual man named Bill, and his stepfather, Richard. Richard is commenting on Bill's third novel and says, "...the same old themes, but better done - the pleas for tolerance never grow tiresome, Bill. Of course, everyone is intolerant of something or someone. You know what you're intolerant of, Bill?"  Richard asked me.

"What would that be, Richard?"

"You're intolerant of intolerance - aren't you, Bill?"

"Isn't that a good thing to be intolerant of?" I asked him.

"And you are proud of your intolerance, too, Bill!" Richard cried.

(pages 309-310)

I am probably guilty of the same intolerance of intolerance. But as a pastoral leader, I think about it often. What are the limits of inclusion in a Christian community, or any community? Is it possible to tolerate, and even welcome and love, the intolerant, the uninformed, the bigoted ones who would limit God's goodness and God's grace?

If radical hospitality is our goal, than how do we make space at the table even for the intolerant ones?  And if we don't, then how are we any different?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

All Creatures of Our God and King

Many good rebuttals have already been written in response to the vitriolic op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal following the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis. Links to several very good responses can be found on The Episcopal Cafe. I also commend to you Bishop Wolfe of Kansas and Winnie Varghese's piece, "The Glorious Episcopal Church" on the Huffington Post blog.

I don't need to repeat here what has already been said, other than to reiterate that while Jay Akasie is entitled to his opinions about The Episcopal Church, he isn't entitled to his own facts. I was there, and yet somehow missed out on the "sheer ostentation and carnival atmosphere." I was invited to one seminary gathering which was quite nice, and the company was great. But it was hardly a "lavish cocktail party"- unless one considers Woodbridge Chardonnay and a cheese platter "lavish." And for the record, our Bishop didn't use a dime of diocesan funds to order us any wine; fine or otherwise.

So as far as I can tell, Jay Akasie is just making stuff up. (I believer there is a commandment against that if I'm not mistaken, and since Akasie claims in the by-line to be an Episcopalian he really would do well to review page 350 of the Book of Common Prayer, in particular the part about "not being a false witness.")

But in addition to so many outright falsehoods, Akasie writes these (callous) words: "[the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops] discussed such weighty topics as whether to develop funeral rites for dogs and cats..."

In fact, we did do that. A link to a PDF of the precise resolution can be found here; A054, from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. We did in fact authorize rites and prayers for the care of beloved animals, including these prayers:
God, your blessed Son, Jesus, told us that not even one, tiny sparrow is forgotten in your sight. Strengthen our confidence in your love for all your creatures; in your goodness...
Blessed Creator, hear our prayer.

Loving God, you brought this beloved animal into the life of N. [and N.] to share kindness, joy, and faithful companionship: Receive our thanks and praise for the community between your animals and your people, and all the ways in which we
bless each others lives; in your goodness,
Blessed Creator, hear our prayer.

Gracious God, you have given us the blessing and responsibility of caring for animals: If in any way we have failed in that responsibility, we ask for your pardon and trust in your mercy; in your goodness,
Blessed Creator, hear our prayer.
Now I happen to be allergic to animals, and so I've never had a pet. I am a pastor, however, and for the past fifteen years have served a congregation that takes its name from Francis of Assisi. Each October, on his feast day, we offer a Blessing of the Animals Service in our community. Always there are people who come from other congregations and people who come who are without a church home. Sometimes they bring a puppy or kitten new to their family. Sometimes they bring an old animal, knowing that their friend is not long for this world. I see how important these pets are to the families that love them.

When a child loses a pet, it is very often the first time that she or he confronts death. They really do want to know if "all dogs go to heaven." I often tell parishioners who are grieving that grief is cumulative. Each new grief opens up all past griefs. So sometimes a person will lose a job, a marriage, and a parent in quick succession and they somehow manage to hold it all together. And then the cat dies. And they break down. I can appreciate how that happens even if I am not exactly an animal lover. As a pastor, I respond to people's needs and concerns and as an Episcopalian that always includes liturgical prayer.

So yes, Mr. Akasie, we did discuss such "weighty topics" at General Convention. It was one conversation among many at an eight-day gathering but I, for one, am both glad and proud that we did so. It helps us to more faithfully be the Church and to respond to the grief and loss that are so much a part of people's lives. That's part of what we are called to do, with God's help: to be instruments of God's peace, and to sow joy where there is sadness. It's who we are. I'm sorry if that offends you.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. (II Samuel 6:16)

This little glimpse into David’s unhappy home life in the midst of a political celebration adds a layer of nuance to the reading appointed for today from the sixth chapter of Second Samuel. Michal is the daughter of King Saul. Her marriage to King David was a political "arrangement." Like so many women in the Bible, Michal is hardly ever referred to by her given name: she is alternatively  “David’s wife” or “Saul’s daughter.” Given the political climate of the day, it’s impossible for her to be both at the same time. 

When Michal sees her husband leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despises him in her heart. (No good ever comes in any relationship when words like “despised” characterize the feelings of one partner toward the other!) And then there is a direct encounter between David and Michael which the lectionary did not include today.  Listen: 
David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!21David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord. 22I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.23And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death. (emphasis mine.)
It’s like two people going through a divorce who are trying hard not to fight in front of the kids: the lectionary chooses to keep this private encounter from us. But the Bible itself includes it, and I think that’s worth noting. All along, for weeks now, all of our attention has been focused on David. But we get a whole new angle from this little verbal exchange. Beneath all of those official press releases about how great King David is, there’s another story waiting to be told and the text itself points us that way, if only for a fleeting moment. We see how David looks from the home front, through his wife’s eyes. Think about what might happen if Michal ever got to sit down with Barbara Walters! I’m sure she’d be quite eager to tell us that old King David was no picnic to live with! In just two weeks we’ll hear about David’s affair with Bathsheba and the very public political scandal that ensues. But this little scene today keeps us from being too surprised about that.

This daughter of Saul/wife of David refuses to be simply a passive pawn caught between two powerful men. In the sixth chapter of Second Samuel she breaks into the narrative to offer her own point of view and to reveal something of the great King David's "shadow side."  In this moment the official narrator is pushed aside as Michal claims her name and points us toward the story she would tell, if only we would listen. We get this little glimpse of her looking out the window, and then in private telling her husband, the king, that he’s such a jackass!  Michal suggests an alternative narrative, apart from the David propaganda machine.

We’ve been rolling along and rolling along for weeks now. And then all of a sudden, this encounter invites a double-take, and a second look. It may even invite us to what the feminist scholars call a “hermeneutic of suspicion”—to go back to the very beginning of the whole unfolding story we’ve been hearing to ask: who is telling us this story? What is their angle? 

To linger on this scene invites us more deeply into the complex world of the Bible, which is not a rule book or a morality play.  Learning to read and mark and learn and inwardly digest this way may even give us the skills to read our own lives in the same way. 

What are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are? And who are the Michals for us—those people who make us uncomfortable by holding up a mirror, demanding that we take a closer look? 

This is a portion of the sermon I preached today at St. Francis. The full manuscript will be posted on the parish website.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Making Disciples

One more post on the 77th General Convention and then I shall return to my "regularly scheduled program." This one relates to all of those final-day resolutions on national and international concerns such as healthcare, terrorism, and immigration.

Faith must never be associated exclusively with one political ideology or party. God is not a Democrat. God is not a Republican. My bias is that when a preacher (or a General Convention) enters the political sphere, we need to be very careful about how we do that. It is not that we should not dare to do this; we must. But it is too easy (and very tempting) to misuse our power and to act in (unnecessarily) divisive ways when we do. It's easy to confuse our politics and our theology.

I do not worry that we might offend "the world." Rather, I know as a pastor that faithful Christians disagree on issues like healthcare policy, immigration policy, war and peace, and who should be elected president. I serve a parish whose parking lot has a wide variety of bumper stickers on their cars and I value and honor that. I don't want to serve "the Democratic party at prayer," I want to be among a people who have lively, holy, insightful debates and conversations about the issues we face as a nation and as God's holy people. And so I am impatient with political agendas that divide us unnecessarily - even when I mostly agree with them politically. I therefore think we must be care-full about our language in these kinds of resolutions, which sadly tend to come in a flurry at the very end of Convention, as people are eager to head home. 

But the Church can, and must, speak. And we are called especially to speak up on behalf of those whose voices are otherwise not heard. The Church is called to be in (even if not of) the world. And it is disingenuous, in my mind, to say that the Church must only ever speak about "spiritual" matters. That is a modern version of gnosticism and it is an ancient heresy that I unfortunately heard expressed more than once yesterday by so-called conservatives at Convention who felt that no such resolutions should ever be passed (or even before us) because they are "political." One deputy suggested that we should focus solely on how we will share the gospel of Jesus Christ. I guess that means accepting Jesus into our hearts, but never allowing him to change our lives.

But that is heresy! The good news of Jesus Christ is good news to the poor, after all (and not only the poor in spirit.) The deeper issue here is about our theology, about the Incarnation; about the fact that God comes to us in Jesus not only in "our hearts" but in body, mind, and spirit, and that God-in-Christ comes into a sinful and broken world to redeem it. The gospel is not only about telling people about Jesus, but about forming them and raising them up into the full stature of the crucified and risen Christ. (See the Five Marks of Mission,) We, the Church, are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ who live in the world as salt and light and yeast.

We cannot, therefore, shy away from the hard moral and ethical questions of the day: questions about human sexuality, economic justice, international concerns, and yes, healthcare. Indeed, there is a moral imperative for the Church to be a part of that public conversation about justice, and to do so especially on behalf of the "widow and orphan." 

How can we do that more faithfully? We can and should encourage Christians to pray, learn, lobby, and ultimately to engage; not only with the world but with each other. The Bible, as it turns out, has a whole lot more to say about how we are called to treat immigrants among us than it does about human sexuality. If we mean to be followers of Jesus (and to engage the Bible as the living Word of God) then we cannot help but to discover along the way that Jesus really does call us love all the little children of the world as God does.

The Presiding Bishop's sermon at the closing Eucharist of the 77th General Convention offers some guidance in this area, even if her words are (appropriately) more descriptive than prescriptive.

 [Swedish Lutheran pastor, theologian, and Archbishop of Uppsala, Nathan ] Söderblom is remembered most distinctly for starting the modern ecumenical movement, with the Conference on Life and Work in Stockholm in 1925. He insisted that personal spirituality made no sense if it was divorced from work for justice in the larger society, and he repeatedly called on Christian leaders to make common cause for world peace. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1930.

Peace begins with loving one another. Start with the people in this room. This body has done a pretty good job over the last few days. We’ve seen quite a few leaps beyond old spheres of safety for the sake of the other. Each person who has stepped out has done so in order to meet another. And we have discovered a new place, a third way beyond what either one knew before.

Take what you have learned here about deep hospitality and keep moving toward the other. Maybe we can even figure out how to love everybody in this church. This reconciling work isn’t like BASE jumping – finding a thrill by stretching some rubber band that ties you to the earth. God’s mission is real faith work, the kind of trusting vulnerability that knows there’s only one rule to keep us safe, the spirit’s tether that will draw us into the arms of a Friend on the other side of that chasm.

So step on out there past this narrow ledge of safety and love one another. Step out there and expect to find your Friend on the other side. Cross the chasm and you will find the other – and every single one of them will bear the image of God. Trust the wings of the morning, and take a flying leap! Take a flying leap into the future, and toward the other. The bridge is there – we call it the Light of the World.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Homeward Bound

My work at the 77th General Convention has come to a close. After the morning session today, and the Closing Eucharist, only one final legislative session remains. I gave my seat to our alternate deputy, who had not had a chance this week to be on the floor. I write from the Indianapolis Airport, knowing that it has been a full and productive week of work.

I ran into my bishop in the hallway as I was leaving the Convention Center and learned that the House of Bishops amended the Resolution C-029 which I blogged about yesterday. (Apparently not enough of them read my post about it being "good theology" - of if they did I did not persuade them!) They deleted that second line, essentially affirming Holy Baptism as normative, seeing the second line as giving tacit approval for offering Communion to the unbaptized and apparently not yet ready to go there.

So, legislatively, what happens? It may come back to the House of Deputies or not; since we are in the last Legislative Session they may just run out of time. But unless the Deputies are willing to go along with the revision, it will not pass. Either way seems to me to be the same result: either we do nothing, leaving the current canons in place, or they will reaffirm the current canons.

I was, however, reassured by my bishop that the conversation will continue, and that is reassuring. In fact, for me this is the most theological piece of legislation that we had before us and if we don't keep talking, I believe it will be a lost opportunity. We shall see.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

C-029 Substitute Resolution

Earlier this week, I blogged about the continuing debate in The Episcopal Church about offering Holy Communion to the unbaptized, what some call the "Open Table" movement, in a post entitled Font and Table.

A brief reflection on what has happened today on this report offers some interesting insights into both the legislative process of General Convention and the way Episcopalians "do theology." (Which is rather different, I think, from the way Roman Catholics or Presbyterians do theology!)

The tradition we have inherited is very clear: Baptism before Eucharist. We can change or reject tradition (especially when Holy Scripture and Reason pull us that way) but there is not really any denying this has been the ecumenical "norm" for two thousand years. And there is no longer any debate (at least that I am aware of) in TEC about welcoming all the baptized, regardless of age or denomination, to the Table. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer has grounded us in the Baptismal Covenant and returned Baptism to a public act of worship, and that has taken hold for both so-called "progressives" and "traditionalists."

As mentioned previously, some feel that we need to expand that invitation to unbaptized persons who seek Christ, to offer radical hospitality in the goal of becoming a more missional Church. To the question what would (or did) Jesus do, the answer from Scripture seems clear: he was happy to eat with anyone. And he got in trouble for it, too! This group potentially sees the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist to be an alternative entry point into the Christian life and faith. It is happening in various dioceses and parishes within the Episcopal Church, and has almost become "normative" in those places.The hope is that Baptism will follow, but that Eucharist is an easier entry point iu this time and place to the Christian life.

So, the Evangelism Committee listened to all sides and as I shared previously, the conversation was rich. After much thought and prayer the Committee presented a substitute resolution to the previous C-029 which had called for theological exploration.What was offered today to the House of Deputies was this substitute resolution, as follows:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that The Episcopal Church reaffirms that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples. We also acknowledge that in various local contexts there is exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who are not yet baptized.
One more legislative comment and then on to the theology. This resolution was in fact passed by the House of Deputies today and will now go on to the House of Bishops for their concurrence. Before the vote was taken, an amendment was offered (and defeated) to delete the second sentence. The HOD apparently liked the ambiguity here, although I imagine that some on both of the "edges" were disappointed with the final vote, which was pretty close (especially in the clergy order.)

While I wish we had kept the part of the original resolution calling for more theological study, I do hope that even if not "mandated" by Convention we will continue to talk and pray. However, I think this is a lovely Anglican compromise. The first statement is simply true: this is the ancient practice and it is still normative.But even that first sentence alone is not dogmatic as I read it, a "norm" is not the same as a "mandate."

Even so, the second sentence pushes us to remember that context does matter. The ministry that is happening at places like St. Gregory of Nyssa, where the Table is the primary Sacrament that leads to Font, is unarguably a place where Christian formation is happening: even if it does push the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy. Clearly holy work is happening there. Not to mention those many smaller pastoral exceptions that are made in local parishes at the discretion of priests who know their own contexts. The second sentence may not give permission or invite this to become a new norm but it does acknowledge the fact that pastoral sensitivity is being exercised, and presumably will continue to be.

This is a bit messy, but it's an example of what I love about being an Episcopalian. In the early days of the Elizabethan settlement, the debate was over the Eucharist and whether the invitation ought to be more "catholic" or "protestant." The former wanted to say, "The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for you" while the latter preferred "take and eat in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving." Anglicanism prefers paradox and ambiguity for the sake of unity,whenever possible. And so they put the two together, and made everyone a little happy, and everyone a little disappointed.

I do hope that the Bishops concur tomorrow, and see this middle way, "not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth." (From the Collect for the Feast of Richard Hooker.) 

The Arc of the Universe

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice"   (The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) 
Nine years ago when the General Convention of the Episcopal Church met in Minneapolis, Minnesota, they consented to the election of the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop Robinson was clearly not the first gay person ever to sit in the House of Bishops, in this or any other denomination. But he was the first one who openly said so, the first who was honest about his sexual orientation. I was on Cape Cod, on vacation, when that vote happened.

This week I attended the Integrity Eucharist in Indianapolis at which Bishop Robinson, who is soon to retire, preached the sermon. The next morning, standing in line at Starbucks, I had a chance to shake Bishop Robinson's hand and personally thank him for his courageous witness to the Church, as we each waited for our morning coffee.

The Episcopal Church, and indeed our nation, have come a long way in the past decade. Earlier this week the House of Bishops voted to approve a rite for the blessing of same-sex commitments in our church, and yesterday the House of Deputies concurred. Our bishop, and our clergy deputation (of which I am privileged to be a member) as well as our lay deputation all voted yes.

The vote was overwhelming; and clear in both Houses. Even so, there was and is a significant minority in both Houses who voted no. We have a rule on the floor of Convention: no applause. One person who spoke against the resolution yesterday asked the House to remember and honor that rule after the vote, knowing for some of the members of the Body this was not cause for celebration. We honored that request.  Even in the midst of great joy for many of us, I awake this morning very mindful that people are on their own journeys and human sexuality kicks up lots of emotional responses. May we honor one another going forward, not dividing as "winners" and "losers" but as God's people on a journey together.

That said, I do personally believe that this change is on that moral arc that does indeed bend  toward justice, and that what we did yesterday helps us to live more fully into the promises of Holy Baptism: to respect the dignity of every human being (no exceptions) and to strive for justice and peace among all people.

Believing that, I cannot help but to notice what a beautiful sunrise it is today in Indianapolis. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Context matters. Years ago I went to a debate between William F. Buckley, Jr. and George McGovern. McGovern lamented that "in the old days" in the U. S. Senate, people disagreed but still socialized with each other. In particular, he shared that he and Barry Goldwater were close friends and it was not uncommon for them to vote on opposite sides of an issue and then go out afterwards and have a beer together, one of them to gloat and the other to complain. But they stayed in relationship. McGovern's feeling was (this was back in the early 1990s) that this context had changed dramatically in Washington and I would simply add that I think it's gotten a lot worse in the past twenty years since he made those comments.

Context matters. Often in the Church we borrow political labels like "conservative" or "liberal" when we discuss theology. And often, sadly, our divisions do mirror the political world we live in. But at the center of our life together as Episcopalians gathered in Indianapolis is the Holy Eucharist. We gather every single day at 9:30 a.m. to break bread together. Today we had a full festival Sunday Eucharist at which we sang the following words at one point:
We the Lord's people, heart and voice uniting
praise him who called us out of sin and darkness
into his own light,
that he might annoint us a royal priesthood.

This is the Lord's house, home of all his people,
school for the faithful, refuge for the sinner,
rest for the pilgrim, haven for the weary,
all find a welcome.

This is the Lord's day, day of God's own making,
day of creation, day of resurrection,
day of the Spirit, sign of heaven's banquet,
day for rejoicing.

In the Lord's service bread and wine are offered,
that Christ may take them, bless them,
break and given them, to all his people,
his own life imparting, food everlasting. 
Context matters. We don't agree on everything. But we gather as God's people, we share something even better than a beer together: bread that is blessed, broken and given;  wine freely poured - Christ's own life imparting, food everlasting. Everything else flows from that.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Crazy Christians

A link to the video for the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry's sermon preached today at General Convention, as we remembered the great Harriett Beecher Stowe. What an amazing preacher!

We Need Some Crazy Christians

Five Marks of Mission

You hear a lot at General Convention, and in the resolutions presented, about the Anglican Five Marks of Mission.

While  I certainly knew about these before this week, it is helpful for me to be called back to them and to ask, as we do this important work, how the work before us will help us to better live into God's Mission.

The Mission of the Church Is the Mission of Christ
~ To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
~ To teach, baptize and nurture new believers 
~ To respond to human need by loving service 
~ To seek to transform unjust structures of society 
~ To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Friday, July 6, 2012

Font and Table

Two important resolutions are being discussed today by Committee 12, on Evangelism, at the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. This morning I sat in on two hours of hearings where the conversation was respectful, passionate, and insightful. Perhaps most interesting to me was that it was extremely difficult to know when a person stepped up to the microphone  which side they were going to speak to. The usual "categories" don't fit very well: there were young and old, gay and straight, people from "liberal" dioceses and "conservative" dioceses on both sides of the conversation. For the most part, polarization (and its uglier cousin, demonization) were avoided as more than one speaker said things like, "I agree with almost everything the previous speaker (on the other side) just said..." The tenor of the conversation really did represent the best of The Episcopal Church.

C040 comes to the committee and then to the Convention from the Diocese of Eastern Oregon. Essentially it asks the General Convention to amend the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer to invite all persons (including those not Baptized) to the Table for Holy Eucharist, and to delete Canon 1.17.1 which states that "no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion..."

It became clear to me that this practice of so-called "open communion" has been going on for so long in some places that some are surprised to even learn that there is a canon that prohibits this practice. On this side there were impassioned pleas for radical hospitality and an inclusive vision for the Church. The Bishop of Eastern Oregon began by referencing how many times Jesus breaks down the walls that separate people in the Gospels.

On the other hand were those who said that welcoming people into their homes and sharing a meal is true and radical hospitality, but the Holy Eucharist is the meal of the Baptized, not coffee hour, Chucky Cheese, or a Thanksgiving Day meal. One person spoke eloquently about the yearning for God and the yearning that comes from waiting, and honoring the historic witness of the Church for 2000 years and the ecumenical understanding of Eucharist as the "meal of the Baptized."

And then again, on the other side were several speakers who noted that Eucharist can lead and has led to Baptism, inverting the paradigm from believe and belong, to belong and believe.That the relationship between Baptism and Eucharist can move in both directions in terms of primacy.

It should be noted that those against this proposal almost all noted that there are pastoral exceptions that one must make, and no one has been, or should be, checking Baptismal "papers" at the Table. But these persons felt that these are just that: exceptions to an ancient and ecumenically accepted practice. Even so, those who support this resolution feel that the invitation to "all (only?) the baptized" does exclude seekers who for a variety of reasons have never been baptized, and may not come back if their first experience of the Church is "you are not welcome." More recently, others are beginning to suggest we come at it from the other side and practice "open baptism" - using the example of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts who said, "here is some water, what is to prevent me from being baptized?"

I confess that I am agnostic on this issue, although my (slight) leaning remains on the tradition we have inherited, before we go off on our own from the one "holy, catholic, and apostolic faith." While I have personally, and knowingly, on more than one occasion given Holy Communion to unbaptized persons I am not yet persuaded that this should become our practice and I am certainly not yet persuaded that we are ready to change the canons at this General Convention.

That said,  it struck me today that in so many parts of our church,  this has already been the practice for so long that you can't put that toothpaste back into the tube. Nor should we start bringing up priests and bishops on charges of heresy for violating the canon that is currently in place. Some Dioceses have been practicing "open communion" for a long time now and within many Dioceses, some parishes have. The policy we've had seems to me to be something like "don't ask, don't tell." And like that policy, it is at best a temporary solution...

More appealing to me, therefore, is an alternative resolution that comes from the Diocese of North Carolina: C029. It asks us to do some more intentional study, prayer, and reflection about the relationship between Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist and to report back to the 78th General Convention. It asks us to listen to one another with the same respect I witnessed today from people on both sides and those in the middle, as we also listen for the Spirit's guidance.

Usually I am not a person who wants to kick the can down the road on things: I generally like to decide and move on. But I think in this case, we really need to pass this second resolution. I yearn for everyone to have the opportunity I had today to hear rational, passionate people share their reading of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition on this question, and  their stories. To both speak and listen, and to be willing to be changed in the process of hearing one another. This truly seems to me to be a kind of teachable moment, an opportunity to engage in deep and serious theological reflection. I hope the opportunity is not missed.

Canons sometimes do need to be changed and we may, as a denomination, decide to go ahead and do just that in 2015. Perhaps by then we will be of one heart and mind on C040, or at least close enough. But if we do move that way, it should be done reverently and deliberately, having carefully weighed all sides.

For now, I think the second resolution makes the most sense. If it is the one that passes, my prayer is that we will not wait until the next General Convention to do this work, but take as our guide the good and faithful work that has been done on the liturgies and resources developed at the request of the last General Convention for the blessing of same-gender couples. If we plunge in with the same level of commitment and serious theological engagement that has happened there, we will figure it out together, with God's help.

Budgets and Structures

I believe that a budget is a moral document that expresses in numbers what we believe, what we truly care about and value. Stanley Hauerwas is right, I think, that a checkbook register tells more about what a person really believes about God, themselves, and what it means to be a part of a community than any spiritual autobiography. Same holds true for a federal budget - which is what those nuns on the bus are trying to say to Paul Ryan, who claims that his proposed budget is informed by his Catholic faith.

In Indianapolis, The Episcopal Church is trying to figure out its own budget priorities. (For an interesting summary, see The Anglican Curmudgeon. Since those words were written, the Presiding Bishop has released her own budget. And twelve bishops (including mine, in Western Mass) have signed on to a resolution that will ask for a budget that reduces the ask from dioceses to15%.

This all may seem like "insider baseball" - especially when compared to conversations about who can be married in our churches and whether or not unbaptized persons should be invited to come to the Table. It may feel, to some, like a distraction from the "real" work. But such conversations have the potential, at least, to take us to those bigger questions about identity and mission, where we might yet dare to ask: (a) what structures would support this mission and (b) how much will it take to do this and (c) how do we move from where we are, to there?

I know as a rector (in a much smaller system than a denomination) how challenging this is to do. If the money is coming in, it's easier to just suggest across-the-board % increases. And if money is tight, it's easier to just suggest across-the-board % decreases. It's far more difficult to say: "given our mission to focus on "a" it may mean we need to cut "b"  - not because "b" is unimportant but because "a" is our priority and we really need to focus on it.  I suspect that I have not said anything very controversial here; most reasonable people know that budgets - of all sizes - require choices and discernment.

Now this is my first of 77 General Conventions, so I say this as a newcomer with a great amount of humility. But it seems to me that TEC has run the same way, more or less, for a very long time. And it's hard - really hard - for a bureaucracy to step back and ask missional questions. In fact, a bureaucracy can never do that by itself. It requires leadership. And I suspect that in this instance it may be hardest of all for the "leaders" at the top to exercise the kind of leadership required. It may require something much closer to the grass roots level. And of course, trusting the Holy Spirit.

I have no idea what that might look like, or how it might be achieved. But in the long run it's at least as important as the issues that will probably get more media coverage.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

First Impressions

My travel yesterday on Southwest Air (Providence - Baltimore - Indianapolis) went very smoothly. I landed at 3 p.m, half hour ahead of schedule and caught a shuttle bus to the hotel. The shuttle bus was filled with Episcopalians, literally. We have taken over the Convention Center. All I could think of were those nuns on the bus. They are riding to focus on social justice. But our bus could have been riding for evangelism, a word you don't often associate with Episcopalians. People on that bus were so excited and one woman from the Diocese of Long Island was so certain that the way we are living the gospel in a changing world is so necessary, and so hope-filled.

In  front of the hotel I ran into my friend Rob Hirschfeld, bishop-elect in New Hampshire, who told me that the committee hearing for our new bishop-elect in Western Mass would be at 5:30 p.m. I checked in, and then got a text from another member of our deputation saying that I should be prepared to "say a few words" about Doug at the hearing. 

Baptism by fire! But it was very cool that this was my introduction to General Convention and even cooler when Doug got up and began his own introduction by saying that he'd been reading the newsletter from St. Francis, Holden (which went out electronically just the day before, on Tuesday) and he quoted a piece in there written by our youth delegate to the diocesan convention that elected him, about how his life had been changed forever. Very nice. He was unanimously approved by committee which means that sometime !this week both the full House of Bishops and House of Deputies will be asked to consent to his election.

There are a lot of purple shirts here (i.e. bishops!) I ran into Bishop Martin, for whom we pray every Sunday at St. Francis--the Bishop of El Salvador, and I conveyed to him the warm greetings of my parishioners, especially those who have traveled to El Salvador.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Deputation from Western Mass

2012 Gen. Con. Deputies
Our deputation from Western Mass to General Convention

Check out our daily blog from General Convention at:

Bishop-elect Douglas John Fisher


On June 2, 2012, at our Cathedral in Springfield, the Rev. Douglas John Fisher was elected to serve as the ninth bishop of Western Massachusetts. Because the election occurred within 120 days of the start of the 77th meeting of General Convention in Indianapolis (July 4-12), Canon III.11.3 provides for the required consents to be sought from the bishops and deputies at Convention. 

What does that mean? In our polity, we need the whole body to affirm the election of a new bishop, since s/he serves the whole Church and not only the diocese. For elections that happen outside of that 120-day window, this happens through the normal meetings of diocesan Standing Committees: a majority of bishops and Standing Committees need to give their consent whenever a diocese elects a new bishop. Since, however, our election is within this window, our bishop-elect will be presented to the General Convention for the consent process. (The same process will hold for a rather large number of bishops-elect from across the country, including our own A. Robert Hirschfeld, who was part of our clergy deputation until his election to serve as the next Bishop of New Hampshire.)

Our clergy deputation from Western Massachusetts includes the Rev. Meredyth Ward, the Rev. Tanya Wallace, the Venerable William Coyne, and myself. Meredyth has been chair of the Standing Committee in our diocese, which oversaw the recent election. I chaired the Search Committee and Tanya is chairing the Transition Committee. Bill has been serving for the past fifteen years as our current bishop's archdeacon. So it will be a special honor for all of us, I am sure (along with the lay deputies) to be able to present Doug to the convention as we seek those consents. (I am not yet certain what day that is scheduled to happen; I'm literally taking this "one day at a time!")

Assuming that all goes smoothly, his ordination date is set for December 1, 2012, at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Blue Book

A link to "The Report to the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church," otherwise known as The Blue Book can be found here. The document is over 750 pages in length and includes reports of the committees, commissions, agencies and boards of the Episcopal Church.

No doubt the report that will get the most media attention is the one submitted by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, which begins on page 162 and concludes on page 474. Most of the secular media will not be all that interested in the survey on Hymnal Revision but readers of this blog may be interested to learn (even if not surprised) that most bishops, priests, and seminarians are FOR revising The Hymnal 1982, while most of the people who sit in the pews are against it. Ah, Episcopalians and change...

The Report, "I Will Bless You And You Will Be A Blessing" begins on page 184, and continues for almost 100 pages. It is an extraordinary document that includes not only proposed liturgies for blessing people in same-gender relationships but (equally importantly) resources for congregational study and theological rationale for these liturgies. I encourage all readers here to access the entire Blue Book through the link above, or check out the materials as found on the website of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music.

In particular, I commend to you the excellent Provincial Presentation that I had a chance to see live in Westborough, MA when the Province I deputies gathered this past spring.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Indy Bound: The 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church

This week in Indianapolis, The Episcopal Church will gather for it's seventy-seventh General Convention. We meet every three years, which means that this has been going on now since the 1780s.  Of course, the roots of Anglicanism in this country go back further than that, but it was only after the American Revolution that The Episcopal Church was founded as distinct from the English Church.

This will be my very first Convention and I am going as a deputy from the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. I am genuinely awestruck by that fact, and, I must confess as I prepare for this work, a bit overwhelmed. (Alright, a lot overwhelmed!) My bishop (who is retiring at the end of this year) has been serving in the House of Bishops since 1996, making this seventh Convention. I will be serving in the House of Deputies with three other priests and four lay people from our Diocese, all but one of the lay people have done this before. So I'm hoping they will take me by the hand...

I've been trying to read up, trying to get my head around the scope of the work we are called to do. I am beginning to realize that may not be possible: that so much will be happening outside of the legislative sessions. One piece I just read with some excitement on The Episcopal Cafe was written by Jim Naughton. I've always enjoyed his writing and now I have a better understanding of why: like me he's a northeastern Pennsylvania boy! (He writes: "I started sliding voting cards under the windshield wipers of cars in church parking lots during Sunday morning Masses in my hometown when I was nine years old and my father worked for the city controller in Scranton, Pa.")

His entire post can be read here. But I want to quote here just the last two lines:
I love this church, and I love it in some measure, precisely because it is governed by an elected representative body. This is what elected representative bodies look like, and I salute those who are not too good to make them work.
I may be a rookie to General Convention, but I have been an Episcopalian long enough to add my own "amen" to this. Sometimes it is hard to say what we love about our own traditions without sounding critical of others. And I am certainly aware of a lingering paternalism and clericalism in the Episcopal Church. Even so, General Convention is an expression of our belief in the priesthood of all believers, in Baptism as the core of our Christian identity. Ultimately the Presiding Bishop and the House of Bishops don't get to tell us what to do or how to believe. We do this work together, as God's people. We listen for God's Word and we discern God's Vision together, through an elected, representative Body. How cool is that? I am excited and honored to be a part of that holy work this time around.

I am going to try to post as often as I can, and as quickly as I am able to process what I see and hear. But I want to recommend several other sources in addition to my thoughts here, and especially if I find that I don't have the time to do all that I want to do here in the next two weeks.

First, there is The Episcopal News Service. And there is also, as mentioned above, The Episcopal Cafe. In addition, our deputation from Western Massachusetts will also be writing a daily blog from Convention, Western Mass a minimum one of us will be posting each day, with other posts as people find the time and inclination. (See John Cheek's July 2 post if you are interested in the link to live streaming of Convention worship.)

Finally, then, I ask for your prayers as I get ready to travel tomorrow. How about this, from the Book of Common Prayer - 
Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in Indianapolis for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage ato pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sabbath Time

A friend of mine posted a provocative piece on his Facebook page from The New York Times, entitled The 'Busy' Trap which I commend to readers of this blog. Notice that the writer, Tim Kreider, puts 'busy' in quotes. The article begins this way:
If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”
Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
Those are pretty strong words. And yet they do ring true to me. Much of our busyness (or at least my own) is indeed self-imposed and rooted in ambition, drive, anxiety, and addiction. 

From time to time my spiritual director calls me back to a more centered reality by simply asking me if I really do believe in Sabbath. And if I do, then how might I better practice keeping it? He is a gentle monk, but in his own way he exposes the truth about so much of the busyness of my life in the same way that Kreider does.

I do believe what Thomas Merton once wrote, about the innate violence of busyness:
The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist...destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
And I do believe what Abraham Joshua Heschel's wrote in A Sanctuary in Time about Shabbat:
Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.
Today is my day off; my Sabbath day as a pastor. A little voice in my head says I should be frantically preparing for General Convention. I have a flight to catch on Wednesday morning and I need to pack and there is a ton of reading material I still need to do. Once there, the schedule looks busy. So busy. Crazy busy.

I really do believe more in Sabbath than in the Protestant work ethic. But how to better practice what I preach?