Sunday, June 21, 2015

Crossing a stormy lake

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. June 21, 2015

Mark 4:35-41

I’ve got a riddle for you. Why did Jesus and his disciples cross the big lake in the little boat? To get to the other side!
Once when I was a kid, I was on a sailboat with an adult family friend and some other young people on Lake George, NY. A storm came up, seemingly out of nowhere and we thought for a minute that our little boat might be overwhelmed by the big lake. It took a lot of work, but we made it to a sheltered spot. I remember being very busy, very wet…and feeling a little scared.  Frankly, it never occurred to me to ask “why were we crossing this big lake in this little boat?” But it was a worthwhile question.
After our little adventure, we were chattering about the experience when someone reminded us of a song going around church youth groups in those days called  "Joy is the Like the Rain" by Sister Miriam Therese Winter. There is line in the song that goes like this:
I saw Christ in wind and thunder, Joy is tried by storm.
Christ asleep within my boat, whipped by wind, yet still afloat.
Joy is tried by storm.
As you read and hear Mark’s Gospel, whenever it says that the disciples are crossing the lake, pay attention! It is Mark’s way of talking about the Church going into world. It is Church crossing to the other side…from that side that is safe and familiar to the side that is new, unknown, and dangerous. And along the way, the journey will be difficult.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus stills the storm. There is another time, in chapter six, where the disciples are in the boat facing a storm and Jesus walks to them on the water. Mark remembers the stories of these miracles to teach his church that going “to the other side” into the world is a dangerous, unpredictable, stormy journey—but absolutely necessary!
So why do disciples cross the lake? To get to the other side!
What’s on the other side is a world filled with unclean spirits and unclean things (once, after Jesus crossed the lake, he cast demons out of a man and into a herd of swine) or filled with people from faraway places (another time Jesus took the disciples to the Roman garrison called the Deacapolis). In Mark, the lake is the boundary between the Jewish church and the Gentile world. And I think that it is also an image of baptism. It is the boundary between the old world and the new. It is the boundary between our safe, familiar place and God’s kingdom, where miraculous and powerful things happen that transform and make holy the world.
So why do Jesus and his disciples cross the big lake? And why do we enter the waters of baptism? Why, to get to the other side!
The only way to go and do the work of Jesus is to cross the lake, and that means confronting the storms along the way. Jesus has power over these storms, but the disciples must weather them.
There are two kinds of storms we confront: the storms we cannot control. And the storms that happen inside us.
Storms go on within us. In the text, the disciples shake Jesus awake and say “don’t you care that we are all about to die?!” Their fear has to do with external things—wind and rain and staying afloat. But Jesus speaks to the fear inside the heart and the mind and the spirit. It is normal for people to worry and feel anxious. Jesus calms those storms.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the terrible news of the murder of nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. There is so much we have to learn and deal with as a nation and as a church in both this violence and the sin of racism that is so deeply embedded in our culture. Over and over again, one of the ways that the embedded racism shows up in America is when the churches of black folk are burned, bombed, or desecrated. At the same time, there is something that we can learn from the Martyrs of Charleston: The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, The Rev. Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson.
Accordingto the New York Times, and other news reports, it appears that after a church meeting, some folks stayed behind to study the Gospel lesson for this past Sunday and pray. A young white man came to the door and asked to see the pastor. They invited him to stay. After an hour, he pulled a gun and killed nine of the people present including the pastor.
Think about this: These folks invited him in. When he first talked of violence and when he pulled out his weapon, they tried to talk him down from his violence. When that failed, they tried to protect each other, one man shielding his aunt with his own body.
But that’s not all. After the killings, the shooter fled and was arrested in North Carolina. At his arraignment back in Charleston, the survivors of the shootings and the relatives appeared before the judge and the accused and forgave Dylann Roof.
“You took something very precious away from me,” Nadine Collier, daughter of 70­ year-­old Ethel Lance, told Roof. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” And she was not alone. The New York Times said, “It was as if the Bible study had never ended as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief. They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.”
Look closely at the witness of this Christian community. They welcomed, engaged, and afterwards forgave the killer. Roof repeatedly talked about race-hatred and fear. The folks at Emmanuel AME Church talked about Jesus. And at the moment of decision, they lived and acted out the teachings of Jesus. In the moment of decision, they demonstrated that Jesus is with them in the storm and that how we cross the lake, how we weather the storm, is just as miraculous and life-changing as what comes on the other side.
Look up. Would you please? See those ribs and beams. Does it remind you of something? This church, like many others, is built to be reminiscent of the inside of a boat. Imagine we are sitting underneath an upside down boat. (I sometimes imagine that we gather, by the side of our lake, next to an upturned boat, gathered around our Risen Lord while he serves breakfast!)
Now look around you. We who sit in this nave—the root word for this room is the same as the root word for “navy”—are people who have crossed the waters of baptism are daily crossing from our world of waste, hatred, violence and sin, into God’s kingdom of love, justice, and perfect community. We don’t have to go very far to find people in need, to find people in need of healing, to find people different than ourselves. The people Jesus sends us to are right next door, at work, at school, right around the corner…they may even be right here sitting next to you. And the storms haven’t gone away either. We would like to have the little ship we sit in protect us from the storms and be a shelter from the storms we face every day.
But a boat is not designed to merely protect us from the storm—even modern cruise ships, container ships and naval vessels with all the hi-tech stabilizers in the world can’t stop the storm!  No, ships are meant to convey us through the storm.  
This nave—this ship, this vessel that houses the God’s gathered people—conveys us through the storm.  And Jesus is with us throughout the voyage.

So why did the disciples cross the big lake in the little boat? To get to the other side! And…more than that… because Jesus told them to! It's time to cross the lake!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

An irrational, non-repeating, approximate, constant, transcendent act of faith

A Sermon for the 50th Wedding Anniversary of David and Ann Gerns, March 14, 2015.

Happy Pi Day!
That’s why we’re here, right?
We’re not? Well, darn!
You’ll have to forgive me because I do not often have the opportunity to geek out about two totally divergent things at the very same time!
Do you know what the coolest thing is about pi? Well, to me, anyway…is that is you can do so much with something that refuses to be nailed down.  
Both the ancient Chinese and the ancient Greeks figured out Pi. Why? Because you need Pi to calculate circles. You know: the circumference of a circle is the diameter times pi. And the area? Pi r squared. (Which is silly because we are know that pies are round!)
Not only do circles suggest completion, but you need them to build things, measure things, and move things. Without circles you can’t navigate. Without circles there are no arcs, and without arcs you can’t have model railroads, radios, and it would make sewing very, very difficult … not to mention boring.
But here’s the thing: for all the cool things you can do with circles, the best we can do when we calculate them is approximate. As a transcendental number, Pi never ends and it never repeats. So we have to always say approximately 3.141592857. Computers have divided 22 by 7 and calculated out to, I don’t know, maybe a million places and they just cannot nail this sucker down! It won’t end, and it won’t repeat. It just keeps going. And yet it is constant. Showing up in every circle from your thimble to your tires.
Pi is not only irrational and transcendent, it defies  fundamentalism of any kind--scientific, rationalistic, or religious. If you are the kind of person who must have everything exactly nailed down, perfectly defined, and all questions definitively  answered, the Pi will drive you bonkers! Because sooner or later you have got to get on with moving what you've got to move and building what you've got to build. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to say “The heck with it! For our purposes, 3.14 will just have to do!”
To me it is both beautiful and at the same time a wonderful kind of cosmic joke that is built into the heart of our universe: this most basic element of math, technology, and science is this rare, precious, transcendental, and ambiguous thing. But in order to be of any use to us  at all, we have to finally take on…faith.
And we can and do every single day… because it works.
Irrational, non-repeating, imprecise, approximate, constant, transcendent. Kind of like a fifty year marriage, right? (You were wondering when I would get down to business, weren’t you?)
When I was five or six years old, my cool big brother who was in college and had this amazing crew cut and rode a bright red Vespa, brought home one day… a girl. Now I have to tell you, at the time I wasn’t sure about this whole “girl” thing. Like the little boy whose grandfather read to him the story of The Princess Bride, I was pretty skeptical, especially the kissing. But this girl…played the guitar. And she sang. Yes, she did. And that pretty well sealed the deal as far as I was concerned.
Later on, I would become the only kid in my class who was an uncle. A very important job. Not that I always very good at it. I seem to recall leaving said nephew stranded in an apple tree while I attended to some other important matter involving Tonka trucks. And then again, and then again, this role would come my way.
It’s been a blessing these fifty years. In fact, I would say it has been transcendental, slightly irrational, and wonderfully constant. (You knew I would bring pi back into this, didn’t you?)
The Gospel you two picked today comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as found in The Gospel According to Matthew. Matthew is an interesting guy because this Gospel is the most concerned about The Law…about good behavior, and how Christian communities work…and yet he is the one who repeats over and over again that the most important part about the Law…about seeking and following God’s will…is not what you know but what you do. Over and over again, he reminds us that Jesus in his teaching divided people up into two general categories. The wise and the foolish.
Not the smart and the dumb. Not the heroic and the cowardly. But the wise and the foolish.
The foolish people are the ones who build their houses on sand, or don’t save enough oil for their lamps, they sew their seed on roadbeds, and turn life-giving faith into the death-dealing rules.  They hear Jesus’ teaching and even understand it, but ignore it.
The wise people are the ones who build their houses on firm ground, trim their lamps until the bridge-groom arrives, sew their seed on good soil, and live their faith by how what they do. They hear Jesus’ teaching, and do it.
The foolish see the naked, the hungry, and the outcast and do nothing. The wise see them and clothe them, feed them, and give them hospitality. That’s how the Gospel works in Matthew.
However the house is built, the wise build it on firm ground. And that foundation is faith, of learning and doing the work of Jesus every day. A solid faith, like a solid house, doesn't exempt one from difficulty but stands up to the storms. A solid faith stands despite the storms and wind and turmoil.
Faith is also a choice, but not always a rational one. In the iconic passage from Ruth from the Hebrew Scriptures we hear about three widow-women—two of them foreigners and aliens—who come to a point where the smart thing to do is part from each other and go each to their own country. But Ruth decides to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi. “Where you go, I will go,” she says.  “Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die…” In choosing to stay together; in choosing to be respectful; in doing what you could to make your household a safe, stable, place, you have chosen a life a faith.
Hmm. Stability. Amendment of life. Obedience to something bigger. Where might we have heard about that before? (Huh. Interesting. Never mind!)
But where will this all end? Where is this chosen life of faith take us? Well, let’s do what the early church did and look at a marriage feast. In Revelation, the image of how God will wrap up all of everything from creation to culmination is a marriage feast! And at this marriage feast we see that at long last the very thing we pray for all the time actually happens! God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven!
And you know the truth about marriage feasts, don’t you? They are always followed by a marriage. After the hokey pokey and clinging glasses comes the sacrament.  One that is created, celebrated, and repeated every single day. So when God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven, it’s only the beginning!
Fifty years ago, the show that was taking Broadway by storm was “Fiddler on the Roof.” One of my favorite songs from that show happen when Tevya is there with his wife Golde. He is troubled that the oldest daughter has married a poor tailor, and the next daughter wants to marry a revolutionary, and suspicious that the third daughter may be in love with a Gentile…and knowing that a pogrom is coming to his village to banish all the Jews. Everything that Tevya has built his life on, tradition, is falling down around him. While worrying about all this, Teyve, turns to Golde and asks “Do you love me?”
She thinks he is crazy.
Do I love you? 
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?
But he persists. Do you love me?
Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I've lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that's not love, what is?
Then you love me, he says.
I suppose I do, she answers.
He smiles at her and says: And I suppose I love you too.
Then they sing together, which I will paraphrase:
It doesn't change a thing
But even so
After (fifty or so) years
It's nice to know.
Irrational, non-repeating, approximate, constant, transcendent…and an act of faith that works.
Happy Pi Day.
And may God continue to bless you both.

See a wonderful video here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Evangelical...just not in the way we expect

The news that Rachel Held Evans, one of my favorite Evangelical writers and thinkers, is now a communicant in an Episcopal Church has made something of a splash.

Jonathan Merritt of RNS interviewed her for an upcoming book about her journey and characterized the interview as a defense of her "exit from evangelicalism."
Next month, Evans will release “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church,” a book that oscillates between stinging critiques of American Christianity and prescriptions for how she believes we can more faithfully participate in church-life. Here she explains what she believes is the key to revitalizing the church and defends her exit from evangelicalism.
 In the interview, Held Evans talks about the spiritual questing of millenials, and why the techniques and strategies of American evangelicalism...rooted as they have been in either marketing, the mall, and pop not speaking to people raised on the internet and in the shadow of 9/11.

She calls the Church to return to what the church does best:
Sharing communion. Baptizing sinners. Preaching the Word. Anointing the sick. Practicing confession. You know, the stuff the church has been doing for the last 2,000 years. We need to creatively re-articulate the significance of the traditional teachings and sacraments of the church in a modern context. That’s what I see happening in churches, big and small, that are making multigenerational disciples of Jesus.
Actually, this has been the call of the church for a long time. All one needs to do is think of John and Charles Wesley, the Oxford Movement, and Vatican II. When we drift, God has this way of calling us back to our roots...but in the garden where we find ourselves.

So Rachel Held Evans follows in the footsteps of Diana Butler Bass and even C.S. Lewis (to name a few) who found a home in Anglicanism for the expression of a vibrant, expressive, and adaptable Christian life.

But just because Rachel Held Evans is not a communicant in an Episcopal Church doesn't mean that has stopped being an Evangelical. Never mind that there is a vibrant and diverse Evangelical movement (or wing) within Anglicanism. It maybe more accurate to say that she has left "evangelicalism" as the media like to define Evangelicals, but I would suggest that she not left Evangelicalism but that her Evangelical faith has found her a home.

Based on what I have read, she has not left the heart and soul of what makes her a follower of Jesus. Discovering Sacramental living has not caused her to love, read, or attend to the Bible any less. My bet is that just the opposite is true.

Now I admit, from where I sit I see only dimly...through what is written about her journey in the very same media that conflates all Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Fundementalists into one broad category of "Christian"...leaving the rest of us to do nothing but wonder.

And it breaks my heart when people let the fullness of their faith get narrowed by fleeting agenda and movements of whatever age we live it. When people decide that a Christian isn't a Christian because they don't vote in a certain way. But God is not so easily thwarted and even seems to use that, too. It is what God uses to, as the late Bishop Mark Dyer used to say, clean house every now and then.

Still, I think that she has found a home where she can know and follow Jesus more effectively, a home where she can more clearly proclaim her faith, and place where she knows she can invite people in a relationship with Jesus in all the fullness and all the texture that the Spirit allows. Sounds quite evangelical to me.

Personally, I have found my home in the Episcopal Church after a very formative time in the evangelical world. I don't generally call myself an evangelical, not because it ain't so, but because of what the culture associates with the term which causes distraction. I don't like telling people what I am not on the way to saying who I am and whose I am. And the list of evangelicals, both famous and obscure, who have formed me and who don't fit the mold is very long.

One the things that the Episcopal Church does best is its comprehensiveness. We are one of the few denominations who assume and expect that other denominations exist with the same integrity as we are. For all of our supposed stuffiness, my experience is that we know that the tent is pretty big.

At the same time, I also know the amazing diversity of the evangelical world.

The Holy Spirit is pretty good at defying our expectations, which is why the Church, evangelical, mainline, Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and even SBNR, does not fit into the neat two-dimensional, horse-race categories that modern media needs to fit us into a 140 characters in a 24 hour news cycle.

So welcome to the Episcopal playground, Rachel Held Evans! May your evangelical heart be blessed.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Do the things that evil hates

The 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B: 1 Corinthian 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
If you could pick a super-power, what would it be?
I think I’d like to be able to cast out demons.
And my cool super-power would be so awesome that I wouldn't even need to say or do anything. Demons would see me coming and “pop!” Out they’d come!
That’s what happened to Jesus in today’s Gospel. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue near Capernaum. Mark says he is a person with authority. Jesus grabs the heart and won’t let go. So suddenly a guy jumps up and shouts “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God!”
Jesus engages the unclean spirit directly, silencing it and calling it out. And with convulsions and shouting, Jesus drives the unclean spirit out of the man.
That’s what I want to do!
Imagine being able to spot something we don’t like in someone and just throw it out! The problem, of course, is that we’d always identify the evil in the other guy, never in ourselves. We’d always be tempted to be the one who decides who is good and who is bad and who needs cleaning up and who doesn't.
I think this temptation is what motivates the people who stand outside military funerals or gay pride events and shout hateful, untrue and disgusting things in God’s name to and about gay and lesbian people. I think this is also the temptation for people who join ISIS and kill people in the name of God. They think they are confronting evil…but they have become evil themselves.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1963, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
The lesson we are learning again by watching a film like Selma and recalling the long non-violent struggle against state-sponsored racism is that minds—and hearts—were changed only when people refused to be goaded into violence by violence but instead did exactly the things that evil just cannot tolerate.
So my wish to have a spiritual super-power to cast out demons may sound cool but I think in the end it would not work. Because whenever we decide to fight evil with evil, evil always wins.
When Jesus encounters the unclean spirit he not on some spiritual search-and-destroy mission. And he is not a Gary Cooper-like lone sheriff who’s come to clean up this town. No. Instead he taught. It was his authority as a teacher that evil could not stand to be with. Jesus was doing the thing that evil hates. And that is the key.
If you want to cast out demons, do the thing that evil hates.
Doing the thing that evil hates is taught in Christian community. Just look at Paul’s teaching to the Christians in Corinth. In today’s epistle, Paul addresses a question sent to him about food sacrificed to idols. Corinth was a Greek city and this congregation had within it both Jews and Greeks. There were people raised in the synagogue and people raised in the religious supermarket that was Greek and Roman religion. The popular religions of the area were an array of different gods with a little deity for every possible need, and each cult had its own ritual. The meat that was sacrificed in these temples was not destroyed (as in Jewish temple practice) but turned around and sold in the marketplace.
We read in Acts (15:29) that one of the requirements placed on Gentiles who became Christians (without first becoming Jews) was that they were not to buy, serve or eat meat from animals that had been sacrificed to idols.  Some Christians in Corinth defy this rule and it was creating division. So they went to the apostle Paul to help straighten out this mess.
The Christians who ate idol-meat had a good case. They knew that the little fake deities were nothing compared to the One God made known in Jesus Christ. These Christians knew that because of Christ’s death and resurrection we are freed from all these little godlets. They said that if Jews who follow Christ are freed from their law, so are Gentiles freed from theirs. Paul says that they are right. But being right is not the point. Caring for one another is.
He urges people to refrain from eating if it would be a scandal for others. But he also tells those who stay away from idol-meat to go ahead and have an idol-burger if they are served one by a Christian who thinks it’s just a burger. Paul says the most important thing is that everyone is to look out for the other person’s conscience.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his little book about demons and their ways called The Screwtape Letters, that if the Church of England (and we) were to follow this rule then the Church would become a “hotbed of charity” that would be make a demon’s work nearly impossible. 
I had to learn the hard way about casting out demons. It meant learning Jesus’ new teaching and authority as well as Paul’s model of liberty tempered by charity. It all started when I was a brand new priest. From time to time I’d end up at a Roman Catholic Mass…maybe for a friend’s wedding or a funeral or something. And I’d insist on receiving Communion. After all, I know my orders are as valid as theirs. I knew we believe the same thing about baptism and Eucharist. So I’d step up and tell myself I was being a “prophetic witness.”
A wise spiritual director, on hearing me talk about my “courageous witness….” reminded me that the line between being prophetic and being a jerk is pretty fine. In fact, I was putting my brother priests in a terrible spot and causing scandal to those who did not share my knowledge. This is what Paul meant when he says knowledge puffs up but charity builds up. Maybe I’m right, but evil just loves it when my knowledge becomes another Christian’s scandal. The fact that we Episcopalians welcome all the baptized to receive communion, no matter what flavor Christian they may be, does not mean I get to dictate how other communities do things. It’s sad and painful to be denied communion in churches where we share so much. But there are times when I sit because charity demands it. I sit because it is not about me, it is about we.
So, do you want to cast out demons? Here’s how. Do the thing that evil hates.
Evil hates justice and thrives on division. Seek reconciliation.
Evil loves it when we are silent about injustice and marginalize the poor. Speak up and work on behalf of the oppressed and outcast. 
Evil drives us to be selfish and care only for ourselves. Cast out evil with compassion.
Evil wants us to be alone and cut off. Drive evil crazy with your prayer, your trust in God, and your life in Christian community.
Evil flourishes when we hate in God’s name. If you really want to cast out demons, love.
Evil feeds on our resentment and our list of wrongs. Cast out evil. Forgive.
Evil wants us to focus on scarcity. Fight evil. Be generous.
Evil grows when we get caught up in anxiety. Cast out a demon. Let go of needing to control every outcome.
Evil needs violence—in every form, physical and emotional—so fight evil and live peaceably.
Jesus shows us, starting with his encounter in the synagogue and ending in his journey to the cross, that he had power and authority. But he always met evil on God’s terms. By simply living and doing what he was called to do; by teaching, healing, and being a companion to the outcast he did all the things that evil hates…he drove evil crazy! When Jesus was crucified, it looked as if evil won. But in fact evil was defeated. Forever.
We have that power and that authority right now. Through our baptisms, the Eucharist and the power of the Holy Spirit in this community, everyone in this room has the power cast out evil in wonderful, surprisingly practical ways of compassion, holiness and calm.
It turns out that we do have a super-power that casts out demons. We defeat evil whenever we do the things that evil hates.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On tragedy, recovery, and being "an wholesome example."

The death of Thomas Palermo is an unspeakable tragedy that was absolutely avoidable. As person, priest, and cyclist, this whole situation heaps layers upon layers of sadness that at times feels overwhelming. I wish Thomas Palermo had not died while doing what he loved. I want Heather Cook to be held accountable for her rotten choices. I go back and forth grieving for the Palermo family, feeling angry at and then sorrowful for Cook. On top of it all, I feel anger that somehow my church "let" this happen. My heart is broken for everyone in this awful mess.

Up until now, I have avoided discussing on-line the death of Mr. Thomas Palermo of Baltimore, Maryland after he was hit by the car driven by the Bishop Suffragan of Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Heather Cooke. Part of this was to allow the investigation to move forward. Part of this was because, as a member of the editorial team on The Lead at the Episcopal Cafe, I wanted to preserve the integrity of our work there. And part of this is, frankly, because I did not want to add to the social media "trial by media" circus that others have addressed (here, here, and here) so eloquently.

Still there are many feelings to process. And there is much we have to learn and work through out of this tragedy.

The following came across my screen this morning. It is written by the Rev. Anjel Scarborough for the people of Grace Church, Brunswick, Maryland, and it summarizes well the facts as we now know them, and offers a useful perspective going forward. I am grateful to her for her wisdom. Here is an excerpt, but I urge you to read it all.
There has been much speculation and outrage expressed in the media – both in newspapers and on social media. Pastorally, I felt that refraining from speaking until the facts of the investigations became available rather than adding to speculation was an appropriate Christian response. Now that charges have been filed and having attended a clergy meeting with Bishop Sutton and diocesan staff this past Tuesday, I am in a better position to now speak to our Grace family as your rector....
...I want to address many of the questions which have arisen regarding this tragedy: How could someone with a history of driving under the influence be elected bishop? Did anyone know about this prior arrest? Did the search committee or standing committee fail to exercise due diligence in vetting the candidates for bishop? Bishop Sutton and the diocesan staff addressed questions about the search process on Tuesday and I want to share that with you.
  • Heather Cook self-disclosed her DUI to the chair of the search committee and Bishop Sutton. What level of detail she disclosed about her arrest was not discussed with us at the meeting. She received probation before judgment and satisfied all of the requirements of the court for her probation. In so doing, her record was eligible to be expunged. This was her first arrest for driving under the influence.
  • As per the national church’s guidelines, all of the bishop candidates were referred to a psychiatrist for evaluation. Heather was deemed fit to continue in the process. Exact details of what she discussed with the psychiatrist are protected under HIPAA laws.
  • The search committee and standing committee were told “a candidate has a DUI in their past” and both committees were asked if this would disqualify the candidate. No other details of Heather’s arrest were disclosed, such as how long ago it happened (4 years ago), what her blood alcohol content was at the time of arrest (the breathalyzer registered .27 – indicating severe intoxication), and the presence of drug paraphernalia and marijuana in the car (a charge which was dropped). This was in keeping with the national guidelines on handling sensitive information in a search process.
  • The information about Heather’s prior DUI was not disclosed to the electing convention per the national guidelines.
The conclusion I have reached is that our search committee and standing committee followed the guidelines from the national church but that our guidelines are woefully inadequate and naïve in addressing the complex problems of substance abuse and addiction. Questions regarding how one is managing and treating a chronic condition like addiction, or any other chronic condition which could impact a clergy’s ability to serve as a church leader, are questions which need to be addressed as part of the search process. I strongly believe our national guidelines need revision to address this deficiency but recognize that within the limits of what they could do our search and standing committees did their job to the best of their ability.
Some have expressed their feeling that the details of Heather’s DUI should have been made public to those charged with electing her. Heather was encouraged to self-disclose this during the walkabout meetings. She chose not to disclose. In hindsight, her lack of transparency over disclosing this raises serious questions about whether or not she was addressing her alcoholism. Indiscriminately publicizing the details of a DUI beyond the search and standing committees would have been akin to labeling someone with a scarlet letter: it is shaming. Shaming is never redemptive or Christian and serves to discourage those suffering from alcoholism and addiction from seeking needed treatment. Revising the process for more transparency in disclosing to search committees and standing committees would likely have resulted in Heather’s candidacy for bishop ending before her name was put forward for election.
I have been asked as to whether or not Heather was subjected to a criminal background check as all candidates for ordination are in the Episcopal Church.... The responsibility for running a background check for bishop’s candidates is that of the Presiding Bishop’s office at the national church, not the local diocese.
Some have made the blanket statement that no alcoholic should ever be ordained. I disagree strongly with that statement. We have many fine clergy in the Episcopal Church who are alcoholics in recovery. They have many years of sobriety to their credit and work solid programs to maintain their sobriety. They seek ways to be held accountable in sobriety and are transparent in disclosing their alcoholism when it is appropriate and when it can be of service to another alcoholic or to help educate others about the disease. Our church would be much poorer without their ministry. I do believe we need to better address the problems of clergy or candidates for ordination whose alcoholism is active and who are acting out in ways which damage themselves and others. I pray we can begin to address this in the wake of Tom’s tragic death.
In the end, this was an epic failure. It was the failure of a process to stop a candidate for bishop from being put forward when clearly her alcoholism was not in remission. It was a failure of Heather’s to choose not to treat her alcoholism and conceal her past. This resulted in the death of a husband and father – something which Heather will have to live with for the rest of her life and for which she may be incarcerated. This was our failure of Heather too. As the Church, we set her up to fail by confusing forgiveness with accountability. We did not hold her accountable to a program of sobriety and we failed to ask the tough love questions which needed to be asked. In so doing, we offered cheap grace – and that is enabling.
This tragic and painful situation has brought grief, a sense of betrayal, anger, and embarrassment to all of us in the Diocese of Maryland. Yet St. Paul reminds us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The many failures which resulted in Thomas Palermo’s death should not have happened, but they did. I ask your continued prayers for the Palermo family as they grieve. I ask you to pray for those who will be charged with bringing Heather Cook to trial that justice may be done for Tom’s family and the cycling community. I ask your prayers for Bishop Sutton and the staff at the diocesan offices as they move through this painful situation and seek healing. And I ask your prayers for Heather Cook that she may face the harsh reality of her alcoholism and, in accepting the consequences of her actions, be drawn to seek treatment to begin living a sober life. As always, I remain available to discuss these difficult issues with you in the coming days and weeks ahead.
The Rev. Anjel Scarborough, Rector
As a former hospital and emergency services chaplain, I am being drawn to learn from tragedy, and to improve things so that the disaster won't happen again. Or at least so that we respond better and better mitigate the damage. I can understand the anger from people who trusted Bishop Cook and are angry that the process that they participated in could have produced such a result. 
I agree that while the process for vetting the background was followed and everything done "right" (or at least as right they were imagined to be) when Cook was nominated and elected, we will have to to tweak and modify the process to do better going forward. We must do better at making sure that the leaders we select have good judgment and are "an wholesome example."
Having said that, we should not delude ourselves. As Blessed St. Murphy teaches, what can go wrong, will. We could do everything "right" and make no mistakes whatsoever and things can still go wrong. It is part and parcel of living as three dimensional beings who are both mortal and are subject to sin. 
Whether we are personally addicted or not, the AA saying applies in this case: "There but for the grace of God go I." Any one of us could have been Thomas Palermo. And any one of us could have been Heather Cook. This is yet one more reason that the Church celebrates Lent.
Still, Christians are not fatalists. We believe that God has healed and is healing creation through the incarnation and glorification and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We believe that we have the choice and the power to align our actions to God's purposes. So we can and must work for change. We must do better. 
It occurred to me that one question, or one string of questions, might have helped this along. With with the clarity of hindsight, these are the questions that I wish the search and nominating had asked Heather Cook, and I hope that every future search & nominating committee asks some future candidate for the episcopate who has an addictions history:
"Have you ever discussed your addiction and your recovery with your parishioners and colleagues?"
"How have you integrated your recovery into your preaching, pastoral care, and teaching?"
"Would you be willing to have a candid discussion of your experience with the whole search and nominating committee? 

and finally,

How would you answer a question about your DUI in a public forum?"
My belief is that recovery is not just something you do, but something one lives. That really successful recovery happens when the person not only refrains from drinking or using drugs but integrates what it means to be in "constant recovery" into their daily living. Recovery requires the whole person in a living context: emotional, relational, medical, and spiritual
The point of this line of questions is not to see the person squirm in their seat.

Well, okay... it is. 
In fact, if the person didn't squirm, even a little, when confronted with these notions, I'd be the most worried. 

And I believe that an outright "no" or a hesitant, conditional "yes" might tell us all we need to know about the readiness of this particular person for a public office of witness, encouragement, and example within the Church while also living a life of recovery.
The difficult part is that this question will prevent neither bad luck nor bad judgement. There is not a screening tool on earth that will guarantee that there will never be, at some future time, some future person, otherwise qualified and vetted in every possible way, who won't do something stupid, tragic, and deadly.

Part of the life of faith is that we do everything we possibly can with as much integrity as we can muster, and things still go wrong. The faithful question is how do we live faithfully and with integrity within that reality.
The question is not whether the person is in treatment or even if they have stopped drinking. The issue is whether the person is living a life of constant attentiveness, reflection, review, and prayer that recovery demands and whether this person is living in isolation or in community with those who can help her or him live their sobriety. 
Simply talking about alcoholism and addiction is not enough. Simply going to treatment is not enough. Tragically and ironically, Bishop Cook perhaps knows this better than anyone because she is the daughter of a beloved priest who was also an alcoholic who struggled with staying with the program right up until he died from his addiction. 
At the same time, there are many priests in recovery who have integrated their recovery into their living and into their stories and thus into their ministry in ways that have richly served their congregants. Put simply, they have discovered--probably the hard way-- how to turn their addiction and recovery into "an wholesome example to the people."
That is our challenge. If it were in our power to erase these horrible events and take back these terrible choices, we would. But we can't. We can only go forward. How we do that, and how we choose to live in the aftermath of sin, tragedy and death is crucial. The challenge before us as people of faith, as humans who carry around the image of God, is to accept and enter into the horror that we cannot change and cooperate with God into turning this into sacred, holy ground.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Can you come out and play?

At the Baptism for Daniel Kaimalino O Hawaii Hauanio - January 11, 2015

There is a great cartoon by Cuyler Black. It shows a kid holding a dripping wet cat over a washtub. Near him is an equally wet bird and a soaked dog. A voice from the other room says “Honey! For the last time, stop doing that to the pets!” The cartoon is titled: “John the Baptist as a kid.”
Sometimes I wonder what John the Baptist was like as a kid. Or for that matter Jesus? What was he like as a kid?
So was John the kid who not only played by the rules on the playground but protested when he thought the rules weren’t being followed? I wonder if he liked structured games or inventive play? Did he go off by himself in the woods for long periods of time? Did he like dressing differently than the other kids at school? When other kids had PB&J for lunch, did he eat bugs? If he had them, would John the Baptist have worn blinky shoes? Who knows?
Every Christmas and Advent, we hear a lot about Jesus’ nativity and a very little bit about John the Baptist’s. That’s because we really don’t know very much about their childhoods. Luke’s Gospel tells us that John is Jesus’ cousin and that his parents were very old. And that’s pretty much it about John. We have only two stories from Jesus’ childhood…the visitors who came when he was an infant—some scholars think he might have been as old as two when the Magi finally showed up—and we hear that he was a precocious kid who could teach experienced rabbis a thing or two.
In any event, it is easy to imagine John’s parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Mary and Joseph for that matter, asking themselves “how will this kid turn out?”
If you think about it, what we are doing in baptizing Daniel is nothing short of audacious and a little bit risky.
Have you ever noticed that the baptismal rite in the Book of Common Prayer is mainly for grownups?  The expectation in the Episcopal Church is that baptism is mostly for adult converts to the Christian faith. The paragraphs about infants and young children appear as exceptions—special cases. But in real life we do the exceptional thing most often and the normative thing only occasionally.
So why not wait? Why not wait until the child is old enough to decide for themselves? Why not make all baptisms adult baptisms? Some Christian traditions believe that and act on it. But they face the same challenge we face: can a Christian household raise Christian children? Can children be a complete part of Christ’s Church? And can children exhibit holiness and experience God in their lives?
We believe the answer to all those questions is an emphatic “yes!” Christian households can and do raise Christian children. Children can and do experience the holy. Children can and do take complete part in the life of Christian community.
Some people hold off any Christian or religious formation until, they think the children can decide for themselves.  God can do anything and we have here many people who were raised in non-religious households who have an amazingly energetic faith—but here’s why I think that if you have the chance to raise your kid in the faith you should go for it with gusto.
How can children decide on something like their spiritual and religious lives if they have nothing to compare it with? Teaching them from your faith tradition gives a grounding and a baseline from which they can compare experiences.
Waiting sends the message that spirituality is not very important or that at best our faith is a secondary issue, akin maybe to a hobby.
But there’s more. Do we wait to teach our children other life skills until they need them? Imagine holding off teaching arithmetic until they are old enough to have a checkbook? Or reading until they are old enough to work? Or manners and self-care until they have to live on their own and can make up their own minds?
No, the reality is that we share our experience, teach them the joy and wonder of learning early so that it is part and parcel of their lives. Children live to learn. They vacuum of knowledge like little dust-busters. This goes for things spiritual and religious as well.
Beside, like it or not, we can’t hold back from teaching our kids ethics and values—including spirituality and what we believe about our place in the universe— because we do it all the time! Every single day! Kids watch and take in everything we do—and they take from that what we believe, how judge good from evil, and what values we bring to our relationships. They see how we make rules…and break them. They see how we treat people, about listen to how we talk about those who differ from us. They know what scares us and empowers us. Your home is the most important Sunday school they will ever know. It’s built in to what it means to be family.
Here’s the rub. Along all the other things we don’t automatically know how to do when we become parents, we do not know how to enter into a spiritual journey with our children.
If I am not so hot on prayer, how can I teach my kid to pray? If my faith is sometimes shaky—sometimes I wonder if I even have faith—how then can I teach my kids about faith? If I don’t know Bible stories, how can I teach them? Wouldn’t that make me some kind of hypocrite? Actually, no. What that makes you is a fellow-traveler.
The point is not perfect mastery of the information; the point is that you and your children are walking the life of faith together. You are entering a spiritual journey together.
By bringing Daniel for baptism, just as you did when you brought Lexi, you are entering into a spiritual journey where you are not only helping them in their formation, they are forming you. And you are bringing them into a community of fellow travelers. Places like Trinity are probably one of the last places left in our culture where people of different generations and where people with and without children all willingly come together in one place, routinely. All of us--parents and singles, grandparents and couples without kids--all of us come together to do the same thing: we discover, share, and learn God’s love. Together we live Good News and tell each other—and the world—what we have seen and heard.
When John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan River just before Jesus came along, he was telling people that to really get the most out of their life of faith they had to get involved with their own faithfulness. He baptized because he was telling everyone that the spiritual life is not something that happens to you but something you do. God wants our participation. God wants us in the game.
As the cartoon on the back our bulletin says, Jesus was baptized so that we would know that he is taking on everything that life brings. This will eventually lead him to the wilderness for testing, into people's lives where he will meet people's suffering, to the places where he will teach and even to the cross. His baptism tells us that Jesus lived life by total immersion. Our baptisms is the beginning of life lived in total immersion! 

In bringing our children before God in the community of God’s people, we are also bringing ourselves. By participating with our kids in our mutual spiritual lives-- bringing them to church and worshiping with them, by receiving communion together, by taking time to pray before meals (even in the fast-food place), by allowing questions to be asked and, when we have to, by allowing ourselves the grace to say “I don’t know, I’m still working on that one…” and by working through the hard questions and hard choice together--we will discover that God is involved in every aspect of our living …good and bad, fun and routine, hard and easy.
Just like our children, we are on a spiritual journey of discovery. Our children invite us to take the time to play and pray so that we may discover how to follow Jesus in all that life brings.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Spoke too soon

It happens. In my giddiness, I spoke too soon. 
“that among the things that changed yesterday when Parliament and the Queen cleared away the final hurdles to women being consecrated Bishops in the Church of England is that apparently any lingering doubts about the validity of the orders conferred by women bishops in other parts of the Anglican communion has been resolved.
Well, I spoke too soon. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, read the Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, the compromise that was written into the enabling legislation. And this is part of what he has to say:
This has come about because the compromise that the Church of England has adopted over the consecration of bishops who happen to be women is to give an assurance that there will still be new consecrations of bishops who still refuse to accept that women can be consecrated as bishops.
This means that some bishops of the C of E will not accept that other bishops of the C of E are bishops at all.
I say that is a novelty and I say that the situation is absurd.
Now, to be absolutely clear, I think that it is a great thing that great new opportunities are opening up to great people. Of course the episcopate should be open to women and men. Of course it is exciting that women are going to be consecrated in the Church of England. The price though, was a muddle that I think that many will one day regret. It is also a price that women are going to be expected to pay.
All this is just a further extension of something that I think will probably one day be called (inaccurately) the Anglican Heresy. I think this heresy (which strictly speaking is more of a Church of England thing than something which affects most Anglicans in the world) is the notion that one should be able to accept or reject a bishop according to whether or not they fit with one’s theological peccadilloes. This seems to me to have come in initially through the ministry of suffragans who often seem to have been appointed to give “theological breadth” to episcopal oversight in any one diocese rather than to simply share in the episcopal oversight of the diocesan. Thus we have had evangelical parishes wanting to associate with and be on the receiving end of episcopal oversight from an evangelical bishop and anglo-catholics doing likewise.
This got worse with the appointment of the so-called Flying Bishops who wandered around the Church of England ministering only to those disaffected by the ordination of women as priests.
It has now reached the point of absurdity with bishops being appointed who don’t believe other bishops being appointed to be bishops.
Notwithstanding the genuine joy that many feel at the forthcoming consecration of female candidates as bishops, I also know both male and female friends who feel somewhat hesitant at the terms on which this will be done.
Are we really getting to a point where some people will be ordained as bishops in the Church of England who will not be able to participate by the laying on of hands in the consecration of other bishops in the Church of England?
If so, that is a novelty of monumental proportions. It is an absurd situation which others within the Anglican Communion are likely to feel very concerned about indeed.
So, the Church of England teaches that a “bishop is a bishop is a bishop” except when someone says they’re not. 
On the one hand, the Church of England is free to create whatever muddle it wants. We (in the Episcopal Church USA) certainly did! On the other hand, how the Church of England handles this sets the tone for all the churches that make up the Anglican Communion. As I previously noted, we have learned the hard way that this type of conscience-clause doesn't work, doesn't satisfy the needs of the uncomfortable because there is never enough assurance, it is unjust because the compromise will fall solely on women bishops, and is a muddled witness. It is one thing to honor the conscience of a weaker brother in Christ (and in this case, the weaker conscience almost always belongs to a guy) but it is quite another to measure our progress according to the comfort level of the most resistant (or the most impulsive) member of the body.