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.  

Monday, December 01, 2014

New tricks, same old dog

Someone asked me via e-mail how it was going with the Episcopal Cafe. Here is what I said.

I was the Monday newshound on the first day out of the new blog but I started pre-posting late last night. 
Remember that old Far Side cartoon of Rex the dog riding a unicycle on a high-wire in front of a hushed crowd while juggling, balancing a goldfish bowl on his head and using a hula hoop...? Well, just call me Rex. 
I am an old dog and this is a new trick! 
I thought I knew WordPress pretty well, but getting to know this new platform has been interesting... I know that good folks who are managing the back end are working hard and that Jon has my back. All day I saw improvements happening while I watched. 
As the day went on I either got (or muttered) comments like:

This is too slow...
Why does it do this?...
But it looked on fine on mine....!
Did you try clearing the cache?
Well. Hmm. That was interesting....
404?!? Really?!?...
Hmm. The old platform did this, how come we can't do that here...?
What's the HTML code for....?
Oh, what the heck! I'm going for it...!

In other words, normal stuff for the first day of a new platform. 
So we are learning and fixing things as we go. Already we've received some donations, and this helps because while we lived for years with an out-of-date publishing platform and had to hold together the old site with spit and airplane glue, now we have a platform that is both up to date and with which can (with the resources the donations bring us) make changes. 
It's been amazing how many people are really wrapped up in what we are doing. All the good feedback tells us that many in the Episcopal Church (and elsewhere) are rooting for us to succeed. I am praising God for that witness.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Living God's kingdom on earth as it is lived in heaven

A sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - November 23, 2014.
So today is the last Sunday of the Church’s year. And denominations of every flavor all are celebrating with a fairly new common feast that is called either “Christ the King” or the “Reign of Christ.”
It is a feast of hope. That the Risen and Ascended Christ will bring together everything in heaven and on earth and that he will make all creation new.
And the picture we paint in our hymns and scripture lessons all point to God wrapping it all up and bringing everything together in Christ. It really is quite grand!
Now we might want to focus on Jesus’ kingship in terms what being a “king” means, and how that works with our mindset of individualism and our experience of democracy.
But let’s do something else: let’s ask “what kind of Kingdom does Jesus want?” What would Jesus’ reign actually look like? And how do we take part in it?
So before we turn to today’s Gospel, let’s turn to that prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. And what do we pray? We pray that God’s Kingdom will come and we pray that what God wants will happen on earth just as it happens in heaven.
So what would that look like if what God wanted happened where we live just as it does in heaven? Well, that the trouble. Because it depends on what your idea of heaven is.
If you think heaven is a cloudy, puffy place where everyone has a harp and wings, then I guess then you think heaven to be a really peaceful and quiet (except for all the harp music).  How would that show up on earth? Probably in a kind of religion that says we don’t ever talk about hard things: like poverty…or war… or sickness… or ethics… just speak nice, comfortable things.
If you think heaven is filled up with people who think and act just like us, then I guess that both heaven and life on earth heaven will look a lot like our Facebook pages. Everything familiar would be blessed. We would only watch what we like, hang out only with people just like us, and with folks that pretty much believe and act the way we think they’re supposed to.
If you think heaven is only filled up with people who do right or believe right or think right, then you probably think that life on earth should be managed and governed only by people who do, believe and think the right way.
The problem with these approaches is that we turn our biases, prejudices, and assumptions into different kinds of idols. We try to get heaven (and God) to conform to our image not the other way around. It’s easy to do…but not what Jesus has in mind.
If we really believe what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, then our prayer is that God will act and be present right here and right now every day just as God is present and at work in heaven. And that means that we want us—and our world—to match God’s what God imagines for creation. What will that look like?
Well, let’s ask Jesus—or at least today’s Gospel lesson!—where Jesus asks simply “did you do on earth what God does in heaven?”
What I love about this story is that Jesus’ sets it up exactly as how we would expect it. Christ returns in glory surrounded by angels. And he separates the nations into those who will enter to heaven and those destined for eternal punishment.
And what’s the criteria for entrance?
Was it right belief? Nope!
What it belonging to the right religion? Nyet!
Was it doing the right ritual at the right time? Nada!
In this passage, the criteria for entrance into Heaven was simple kindness.
Now some people think that this passage means that the ones being judged are people who cared for persecuted Christians (or not). As if somehow non-believers would have heard and been swayed by Matthew’s Gospel. 
I don’t buy that argument. This is not kindness reserved for the club, and “the least of these,” is not a narrowing statement but a broadening of our definition of “neighbor."
All of the Law and the Prophets are summed up this way: Love God with all your being; and love your neighbor as yourself. In addition, it is fundamental to Jewish teaching at the time of Jesus that the faithful care for the stranger no matter who they are. And that is the hinge for this passage: When the opportunity to care for the stranger arrived people acted according to their inner compass. The people being welcomed—or not— in the passage did not even notice that they had the opportunity to act and it was how they chose to act in the moment that became the criteria for judgment.
When did we feed you? When did we clothe you? When did we care for you? When did we visit you? Jesus’ answer: when you cared for anyone who was hungry or naked or sick or in prison or alone or in trouble, you cared for me. And that is how God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
One of my all-time favorite movies is “42”, the story of Jackie Robinson and his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black player in Major League Baseball in 1947. Today’s Gospel made me remember a scene in the film when Branch Rickey, the manager of the Dodgers, gets a call from Herb Pennock the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Pennock wants Rickey to leave Robinson in Brooklyn, saying that if Robinson comes to Philadelphia, the Phillies won’t take the field.
Branch Rickey ask Pennock “You think God likes baseball, Herb?”
“What - ?” replied Pennock. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” shouts Rickey into the phone before slamming it down, “someday you're gonna meet God, and when he inquires as to why you didn't take the field against Robinson in Philadelphia, and you answer that it's because he was a Negro, it may not be a sufficient reply!”
Which makes me wonder what the difference is between standing before the throne of the King…or getting a phone call from an angry Branch Rickey? I’ll take the phone call. Because at least you have a chance to change your mind.
Speaking of change, during Advent, Father Andrew’s Illustrated, Simplified and Painless Bible Study will be look at Charles Dickens’ famous little book “A Christmas Carol.” A most subversive commentary on life in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, and a plea to live God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
As a preview, I will tell you what Dickens idea of hell is. They don’t go to a place where “goats” and “sheep” are sorted out but someplace far scarier. Instead of going to fiery pits, the wailing and gnashing happens right here on earth.
When Marley’s ghost leaves a shaken and startled Ebenezer Scrooge, Scrooge looks out and see a world “filled with phantoms” all carrying chains, cash boxes, safes, and bags of gold. And they wail because they see very clearly and feel very deeply the suffering of humanity all around them but have lost the power to do anything about it.
Marley’s ghost describes the symbol of his life’s work and focus: “I wear the chain I forged in life....I made it link by link, and yard by yard….”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” 
Every day we pray that simple, radical prayer that Jesus taught and which we learned as children. We pray that what God does in heaven will be done on earth.
Jesus’ lesson today is that God’s reign is now. Jesus’ kingdom is here. Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection, God has cleared away all that stands between us and God. In our baptisms we are united with Christ and marked and his own forever. And if we want to see God’s will happen on earth as it happens in heaven, then it starts now, right here, where we work, live and play in how we care for the hungry, the lonely, the sick and those in jail or any kind of trouble.

This is how know “that Jesus reigns where’er the sun doth its successive journey run,” this is what makes God’s kingdom happen on earth just as it does in heaven. It is so simple that we can overlook it. It is the eyes and the heart and the will to make practical kindness happen, and the will to live mercy, and the faith and humility to let generosity lead us to unexpected places. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Godspeed, Farewell, Amen!

I only met Jim Naughton once.
We communicated nearly every day for seven and a half years, and with increasing regularity before that.
But we only met once.
It was March 1, 2014. I was chairing the Special Convention of the Diocese of Bethlehem that would elect Bishop Sean Rowe, the Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania as our new Bishop Provisional. As President of the Standing Committee, it was my job to chair the meeting, oversee the election and along the way I would preach and celebrate the Eucharist. The Standing Committee had contracted with Canticle Communications to handle the press work and help us communicate to the people of our diocese why the Standing Committee chose to undertake this unprecedented arrangement.
So there I was, behind a table at the top of the chancel steps and there all the way in the back of the nave was Jim, laptop open, live tweeting the proceedings with Rebecca Wilson, also from Canticle. I had to stop and give a shout out saying something like “in seven years of almost daily interaction, this was the first we were actually in the same room.”
And when we got to talking during a coffee break, we were having such a good time that neither of us thought to get a picture. Not even a selfie!
It was appropriate that we were together in a Cathedral, during a church meeting, while history (or at least news) was being made. And it was appropriate that we never let a good photo-op get in the way of relationship. 
I write all this because today, Jim finishes up his stint as editor and chief cat herder at the Episcopal Cafe. I will miss working with him.
Back before there was a Café, there was the Daily Episcopalian, and before that was The Blog of Daniel. That first blog was meant to be a running commentary about a short-lived TV show centered on an Episcopal priest. There was a lot of buzz about this in the Episcopal Church, and I remember how people (including in my parish) were at the time grousing about all the little details the show got wrong. So I wrote a thing for my parish newsletter that said, essentially, that the point of the show was not for NBC to do our job of communicating the Episcopal Church—or the Gospel—to the world, but instead it was our job to listen and watch the show for what the culture is telling us about how they perceive us—what they think we are like—and what we can be—what the writers and producers wish we can become. These were actors, directors, writers and producers imaging themselves in our shoes and wondering what they’d do in our place.
Anyway, Nick Knisely, now the Bishop of Rhode Island, but then a priest in Bethlehem, passed the essay onto Jim and it went on the Blog of Daniel. Then I wrote a few things for when the Blog of Daniel became the Daily Episcopalian. Then one day I get a phone call about this idea of an online magazine for the Episcopal Church that reflected a progressive, independent voice.
Back then, there was a huge variety in the Anglican blogosphere (I know…I was one teeny-tiny part of that) and while there was lots and lots of opinion, there was only a few places that was gathering and reporting Anglican and Episcopal News with any quality or consistency. Most of them are still at it: Anglicans On-Line (the grand-daddy of them all), Thinking Anglicans, and Titus One Nine. The printed diocesan and national papers were dying fast. An attempt to start a news-gathering blog from the Episcopal Church's communication office (“Episcope”) showed much promise but was not supported and went away.
I remember the conversations that led to the Café. The vision was for something visually attractive, that covered news, reflected theologically, and fed spiritually. The Episcopal Café was born out of that. 
When Jim asked me if I could be a regular contributor to the Daily Episcopalian and one of the newsteam at The Lead, I was both thrilled and humbled.
I’ve had an attraction to journalism for most of my life. But other than dabbling on my high-school and college papers, I never really followed that urge. Working with the Café allowed me to get to know the Church on a whole different level, it has made me think, and it has made me listen. Along the way, Jim patiently taught our happy band of cub-reporters/bloggers…all of whom had other jobs and work to do…how to report and write on the fly. He taught us about fact-checking, and about how to distinguish a real story from mere rumor, and how to know what out there was worth passing along.
He let us try stuff: like the “Saturday Coffee Hour” where we’d gather all the little good news stories that were left in the inbox unused and summarize them on Saturday morning. And when the experiment ran its course, he helped us let it go.
He let us put up our very first April Fool's Day post, which has become something of a Café tradition. I like to think of myself as the unofficial editor of the April Fool's Desk at the Café. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
One thing about the Café that tickles me is our fanatical adherence to baseball. Even if the Episcopal Church is not really the official church of MLB, it was certainly the official sport of the Episcopal Café . Somehow, I think that fits that we at the Café keep tabs on the Church of Baseball while The Other Guys (you know who you are) follow tennis. 
I wonder what, Jim, the real journalist of the bunch, thought of all that ecclestiastical silliness.
We did get to do some real reporting…sometimes we ended up being the only reliable news that ordinary Episcopalians would have on the ground of what was going around them. Jim led the way with his investigation of the Institute for Religion and Democracy called “Following the Money” before the Café was born. 
Just when we thought that this job might not be needed any longer—that maybe with the daily battles that marked church life a decade ago largely over, our job was donethen came the blow-out between the faculty and the Dean/Trustees at General Seminary. For a while, the Café was the only consistent news-source following that story. Big papers like the Washington Post were linking to us! Jim led us through. Not bad for a bunch of volunteers who only met by IM, Tweet or e-mail. 
This surely demonstrated that the need for an independent news and opinion “paper” with a progressive voice has not gone away.
And when Jim decided to put out to the world that he was stepping down and put out a call for interested people--I must admit that this made me nervous--I was amazed to see what a talented and gifted group of people stepped forward and asked to take this on!
I am very excited and confident about the future of the Café, and can’t wait to see what happens when we go live with the new version next week. I am very happy to continue to do what I have come to love doing. 
But I will surely miss Jim at the Café and thank him for all he brought to me, the Episcopal Church and to the work of the Gospel.
God go with you in all you do, Jim!

Read Jim's two farewell blog posts on The Lead of the Episcopal Café here and here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Grace in and out of uniform

There is an old joke that sometimes pops up in ordination sermons. I forget the run-up but the punch-line is “It’s not a clergy shirt, it’s a projection screen.”
That line came to me when I read a piece in the Christian Century (and linked in The Episcopal Café) about the need for clergy to not be shy about wearing their clerical collars.
In it, the Rev. Samuel Wells, a vicar in the Church of England at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, talks eloquently about all the different ways that the clerical collar speaks to people. He related the different responses he gets to his clerical garb. One, person, a firefighter, appreciated his wearing the collar because he felt the cleric was taking him seriously. Another said that he should avoid wearing it because he felt “like you’re condemning us as sinners.” And the kicker was when, as a deacon, he turned aside an apparent request for confession from a bus driver on the technical point that deacons don’t hear confessions. Wells regretted that response saying, “My clerical collar had done its work.”
Been there. Done that. Bought the tab collar.
Already the column is getting quite a number of comments on the Café’s comment section and on Facebook, including, I suppose, this.
In many ways, I identify with Fr. Wells’ experience. I get all kinds of responses to my clerical garb. Almost none of it is about me, and almost all of it tells me something about the person who I am meeting. But it took me a while to learn that.
One of the things nearly every person preparing for ministry in a mainline denomination in the USA must do is take a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. As a former clinical chaplain who once held a board certification, I have taken quite a few of these. The most basic thing a person learns in their first (few) unit(s) of CPE is about how to carry their authority as a minister--how to give it and how to receive it. They also should learn about the basics of transference, counter-transference, displacement and projection. When you take that first CPE unit as a person not-yet-ordained, you have the distinct experience of having to function without “the uniform.”
Sometimes the uniform can be helpful. Like when I had my first clinical experience at hospital in England, where a bunch of us Yanks along with some Canadians were sent to do field placement. Dressed in our respectable coats and ties but talking with a funny accent, we found that none of the patients in our ward would talk to us. Turns out that we were confused with a group of equally young, equally earnest Mormon missionaries. When the deacon in our group suggested that we all go to the ward wearing cassocks, the patients began to open up. Why? Because they knew that we were somehow CofE and therefore “safe.”
Sometimes the uniform can get in the way. Like the times when patients refused to open to me in clerical uniform but would later chat away happily when I returned wearing a necktie with my lab coat.
Sometimes the uniform can open doors…which is handy when you need to visit a patient who has called you from the nursing home at 11 pm…and close them. I am aware that many of female colleagues have many strange, and sometimes quite horrid, stories of how people have handled the cognitive dissonance that comes when an unprepared person sees a woman dressed in clericals.
Sometimes the uniform means absolutely nothing. Like the time a young woman walked up to me in Barnes and Noble wondering if I could help her find a particular book. The black suit and clerical collar meant nothing to her, except that this well dressed person might work here as a clerk.
My dad used to say that the most important part of the car is the nut holding the wheel. The same is true of clergy garb. The most important part is the person wearing it and how they receive what is projected on that handy screen they happen to be wearing.
Once some members of my first CPE group pulled a prank on one of our fellow group members…and the supervisor quietly went along pretending not to notice because either the lesson was so rich or the situation so priceless…or both.
Our colleague was really bothered that as a lay person she could not wear a clerical collar (and her Bishop did not allow his seminarians to wear the then-common “seminarians collar”--if you don't know what that is, that's probably a good thing). So she was very glad when our lab coats came equipped with this very nice patch sewn above the breast pocket that said in large letters “CHAPLAIN.” She felt that the patch gave her an entrance that allowed all kinds of good things to happen.
She’d bring this fine intervention to group or tells us about an amazing conversation…and then she’d sell her own authority short by saying something like “well, if it weren’t for this (meaning the patch) I’d never have….”
So one of our number quietly and carefully removed the sewn on chaplains patch from her lab coat and then hung it up in its usual spot.
Of course, soon she came back with the story of another great encounter and, as usual, she gave at least part of the credit to the badge. Only when the ringleader of our little gag leaned over and put the patch in her hand and showed her that she went nearly a whole week with a plain white lab coat did she understand that the power of the encounter—the care, the listening, the prayer, the articulation of meaning and the consciousness of the divine—happened not because of the patch but because of the meeting of persons.
I have a habit I picked up in clinical settings of allowing my parishioners to decide what they will call me: Father, “Padre”, Andrew, Parson…whatever. And I choose to wear the archetype of my office for the same reason. Because how people respond to the trappings…the title, the symbol…not to mention my race, my gender, my age, my wedding ring, whatever…tells me something about the person of God in front of me at that very moment.
When a doctor tells me not to wear a clerical shirt in hospital because a patient might think they’re dying, it’s not about my shirt.
When a parishioner leans on me after a Eucharist because it’s one more week without her late husband and everyone has gone back to their lives except for her and everything, including the liturgy, reminds her of the love of her life now dead…it’s not the chasuble speaking.
I don’t care whether a person wears street clothes or pontifical garb, it's not the collar doing the work.

Once I went to a free comedy show in my city’s amphitheater. The mayor was the master of ceremonies introducing five comics. At the start of the show, he looks out in the audience sees me and says “Oh! Hello, Pastor!” It didn't matter that I was wearing a t-shirt... four of the next five comedians still had to make jokes at my expense. If you can’t take the transference, get out of the kitchen.
These things—the titles, the garb, all of it—are nothing but tools. And they are good ones! Make no mistake: the symbols speak and it is often powerful! And just as often they take one to unexpected places. How well the tool works depends on the skill and artistry of the person using it.
You know what really pulls me up short? It’s when I am walking through the grocery store or the hospital, and I am saying “good morning” and looking people in the eye, and holding open doors and engaging in strangers in conversations and then I remember…oh, yeah! I’m wearing a golf shirt. No one “knows” who “I am.” Gee!
At moments like this, I have to laugh at how I am still learning that same silly lesson!

Graceful encounters happen… even when out of uniform!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A person is a person is a person

Does this sound as silly to you as it does to me?

Up until yesterday, if you were an Anglican priest ordained in a Church within the Anglican Communion and you were seeking to get a license to officiate in the Church of England, the gender of the Bishop who ordained you might impact whether or not you would obtain permission to function.

Until yesterday. 

The Questions yesterday evening at General Synod included this question and answer:
Mrs Christina Rees (St Albans) asked the Secretary General:
Q Is there any longer a bar on a man or woman who, having been ordained to the priesthood by a bishop who is a woman in another province of the Anglican Communion or in another Church with which the Church of England is in communion, being given to permission to officiate under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967, so as to make them then to be as a priest in the Church of England, given a Licence or Permission to Officiate?
Mr William Fittall replied:
A The decision taken by the Synod this afternoon means that it is now lawful for women to be consecrated as bishops in England. The rationale for the bar which the Archbishops have operated up to now under the 1967 Measure has therefore disappeared. The gender of the consecrating bishop will be no longer relevant when applications for permission to officiate are considered.

So 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.

A priest is a priest is a priest. 

When the Episcopal Church regularized the ordination of women in 1976, it did so by simply stating that the canons of this Church would apply equally to women as to men. But there was an allowance for people who did not believe in the ordination of women: that no bishop would be penalized for refusing to ordain any otherwise called and qualified woman nor in placing a qualified woman in pastoral authority in his diocese. No priest or lay person would be penalized for refusing the ministry of women. (Deacons, I suppose, had to live with their discomfort because no one seemed to object when women deacons had the "-ess" dropped off their office and they were integrated in with the other male deacons.) 

It was presumed that this refusal would be for reasons of conscience and not simply because the person was bigoted or sexist. 

The so-called "Conscience Clause" was passed in 1977 after the then-Presiding Bishop, John Allin, offered to resign rather than accept the ordination of women to the priesthood.
"No Bishop, Priest, or Lay Person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support of the sixty-fifth General Convention's actions with regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood or episcopate."
Jan Nunley described the "ontological ambiguity" faced by those first women priests that lingered nearly twenty years later:
And for the church's women bishops, the "conscience clause" puts them in a House of Bishops that is not unanimously convinced they even belong there. "Obviously I'm not recognized as a bishop by the bishops who say that women cannot be ordained. I'm not valid for them, I'm 'ontologically impossible' -- that's the language that's used," said the Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon of Washington. "Yet I have polite conversations with some of the bishops who don't recognize me. One evening Mary Adelia [McLeod, bishop of Vermont] and I had a very interesting conversation with a number of the ESA bishops. I think most of the people in that room were dumbfounded. You live with the ambiguity."
Of course, some of these folks who thought that a woman being a priest or bishop was simply impossible have left the Episcopal Church and now another denomination has to live with this ambiguity as the price of their independence.

The conscience clause, which became the norm for the Anglican Communion, did not work both ways. If a male bishop refused to ordain or place a woman priest or refuse to accept the validity of an ordination performed by a woman, that was conscience. If that person was called out on their stubborness, then that was just, well, cheeky.

And apparently in the Church of England those who accepted the equality of orders as fervently were for a long time not as fervently protected those who fought to exclude women...for reasons of conscience. So, until yesterday, those ordained by men might expect that their application to officiate in the CofE would be accepted, there was still some lingering doubt about those ordained by a woman. I'd be interested in hearing stories about both male and female clergy whose orders were questioned because of the gender of their ordaining bishop. 

This matters not because our Presiding Bishop can now wear her hat the next time she goes to England.

And it doesn't even matter that the paperwork might be a little easier for some American priest seeking to spend his or her sabbatical in England via one of those nifty "housing for work" deals that I hear about (but have never tried).

And it doesn't even matter because in hind-sight the conscience clause caused us more trouble by delaying justice and justifying sexism than the ordination of women ever caused by itself. (Imagine, if you will, if we decided that the exclusion of a whole race from orders was merely a matter of conscience. Oh, wait...! We did that! More than fifteen years after a letter from a Birmingham Jail, the House of Bishops finally turned away from that form of incremental racism in shame while at the very same time the House of Bishops was creating this "appeal to conscience!") We are still learning that it takes a while for us to learn.

It matters because the conscience clause got in the way of the practical application of the ordinary-but-revolutionary implication of the Gospel that was right there all along only we were too blind, silly, or prejudiced to apply it: that a priest is a priest is a priest.

And that's important because in God's grand scheme of salvation it turns out that a person is a person is a person. 

So when the first women bishops are consecrated in the Church of England, let's celebrate! But as the first men starts having vapors over the ontological impossibility of it all and claim to be the victims of discrimination, pray for them, and remind yourselves that except for God's grace it was ontologically impossible for any of us to even walk with God, let alone dare to be God's ambassadors of reconciliation. 

Today the Church of England officially teaches that a bishop is a bishop is a bishop. And a priest is a priest is a priest. And a person is a person is a person. Thanks be to God.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sticking our tongues out at death.

An All Hallow's Eve Homily

As we in this household ready the candy anticipating night visits by wee ghosties and ghoulies, I recall that Halloween is our culture's time to stick our tongues out at death, and even make fun of it. Of course, death gets the last laugh.

Or so it seems. It is not for nothing that the Risen Christ is first encountered by the women in a cemetery.

Still, death is real. And even when we stick our tongue out, it has the way of leering back at us when we least expect it. Here is an essay by Jana Riess of Religion News Service that reminded me of our need to "grieve well".

"I had a wee breakdown in a big-box store yesterday.
"This was not the heaving sobs of a year and a half ago, when I felt so bereft after my mother’s death it sometimes manifested as a sharp physical pain whenever something reminded me of her.
"Which was all the time.
"No, this grief was quieter but more surprising. It was all so mundane. When I was placing an order at Lowe’s, the clerk found me in the computer from the last time I had placed an order at Lowe’s – which was when our family was fixing up Mom’s house to put it on the market.
"So there on the screen was the contact information that Lowe’s had on file for me, which was all my mother’s. Mom’s street address. Mom’s phone number. Mom Mom Mom.
"I had to turn away so that the clerk wouldn’t be alarmed that his formerly normal-seeming customer suddenly looked ready to weep buckets.
"These episodes don’t happen very often anymore, more than a year and a half after losing Mom. I can have whole conversations about her now without visibly losing it. But the grief is always there, gently submerged, biding its time. Sometimes it lashes out unexpectedly, a sudden onslaught of memories making it difficult to breathe."
Halloween is also the precursor to our culture's Great Winter Festival--you know, the one that runs from the Macy's Parade through the Super Bowl. So for many people in our lives, as well in our congregation, this is when deep loss and memory will jump out at us and shout "Boo!" as we pass by holidays, gatherings, music, worship and all the other hallmarks that remind us of people and moments long past. Sometimes that encounter, as in the one at Lowe's, will bring us to our knees.

I think St. Francis' had it right when he describes "gentle death" as our companion; and the prayer book, too, which describes death as a gateway. So when we walk with our companions in their grief, or as we dress up in our comical defiance of death, we followers of Jesus are not whistling past the graveyard. Instead we are sharing a knowing nod between life's constant companions in the company of the risen Christ.


Take an on-line class "Grieving Well" on ChurchNext here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The incompetence of force

In watching the events in Ferguson, Missouri unfold, I am struck by the sheer incompetence of the police and the ineptitude of the political leadership. Their reactivity and fear is adding fuel and oxygen to the fire on top of the heat that already exists in the community they are supposed to lead and care for.

They lack moral imagination and it is making things worse.

It is clear as the police empty the streets, enforce curfews, and confront protesters that the police forces there are well equipped, apparently disciplined and well versed in the use of their considerable technology. They seem to understand the tactics of crowd control, riot suppression and the use of what they deem minimal force to control violence. Apparently, the chief of police and the political leaders are listening to their lawyers (and maybe their media consultants) and doing everything "by the book."

But they have forgotten "why" they do what they do and for whom they do it.

The chief appears to be honestly mystified by the anger he and his officers have engendered. The political leadership seem singularly incapable of doing what is necessary to both direct and control their police and to calm and dialogue with their citizenry.

So they apply more force. And in return they get more anger, rage, and violence.

Right from the start, in their apparent adherence to procedure, they showed a startling disregard for the dignity of the people they were supposed to be protecting. They forgot--if they were ever aware--of the fact that the police are not outsiders who keep order, but fellow citizens who maintain the peace so that society can function in a civil manner.

The media face of the government in Ferguson is the police chief. Except for well-scripted sound bites, it does not look like the politicians of that community are going out into the community to listen, to dialogue and to lead. Instead, they are hiding behind the cops saying "protect us", and then I will bet blaming those very cops for not quickly calming things down.

Every one in leadership is apparently looking only to "salvage" a "situation" and so save their own skins.

And so the police are not alone. The political leaders of the community have also apparently forgotten why they are there. They are not there to be "in charge." They are there to govern. Which is different from exercising authority. Governing means, among other things, that they must have the consent and the cooperation--the trust--of the people. Good governance requires a moral framework and the kind of courage that does not need body armor.

We have done this to ourselves. As a society, we have given into fear and reactivity, and our political leaders have done nothing to help that and have even encouraged it! And the police have become the expressions of the very things we fear the most.

It should not surprise us that politicians don't govern because they are instead focused on winning. They don't function in a democracy because they don't understand it. Democracy is not about garnering enough votes to win elections--which is why gerrymandering and cash politics are so rampant. Democracy is a mechanism to govern with the maximum participation of the governed. It is the way we have organized ourselves to order our common life, preserve our liberties and get things done. And, oh yes, keep us safe.

Policing is about order but only in the sense of maintaining that fine balance between enforcing the law and creating the environment where the law is respected, understood and obeyed in the context of a society where all the citizenry are trusted to play their part. So while the police put away the bad guys--the murderers, the thieves, and the vandals--they also make it possible for people to go about the business of being citizens--going to work, going to school, keeping the economy going and taking part in all the different kinds of discourse that make a polis work day to day.

At the same time as our political leaders have forgotten how (and why it's even important) to govern. They debate. They stir people up. They seek their constituencies and play to their base. They use amazing technology to win votes and when they get to their offices they raise money so they can do it all over again and leave the actual work of governing to others.

We have given our police the most amazing tools ever created. Since 9/11, we have thrown so much money at policing so that now every little jurisdiction either has or can quickly call up a military style special weapons team. They have the technology to quickly reconnoiter situations, process suspects, communicate with one another, and quickly out-gun and control any situation. They have learned just enough psychology to use intimidation as a tool. They know the law and have a procedure and policy for every contingency.

But none of this is finally useful when the people who use it don't know why they are doing what they are doing, and the tools become and end in themselves. They come to see themselves as the adversaries of the very citizenry they are called to serve.

In some ways, it's too late for the solutions that could have prevented this. Because if they understood their neighborhoods, had relationships with the people they police, and if they designed their policing so that the people would have a voice in how they are to be policed this would not have happened.

Because in that kind of environment, the body of Michael Brown would not have been allowed to lie in the street unattended for hours.

Because in that kind of environment, the police would have a basic understanding of the dynamics of race and would have built the relationships of trust that might have made the confrontation less likely in the first place.

Because in that kind of environment, when something does go wrong--even fatally wrong--the first steps would be to allow dialogue, listening, grieving and, yes, protesting. And in that kind of environment the protesters and the police would have worked together to avoid unnecessary confrontation.

But both the police and the political leadership have failed their people because for all the technology at their disposal--the police in their riot gear and the politicians with their ability to manipulate elections--they are incompetent because they have no imagination for why they are doing what they do. They are incompetent because they have forgotten on whose behalf they police and govern.

In 1968, on the night that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy was campaigning for the Democratic Party nomination to be President of the United States. He was scheduled to hold a political rally in the African-American neighborhood in Indianapolis. His advisers and the police told him not to go. There had already been two summers of riots in cities all over the US and, of course, Bobby's brother the president has himself been assassinated.

Instead, Bobby stood on a flatbed truck, announced to the crowd of King's murder, and then spoke to the people. He spoke of his own feelings and his own experience. He quoted to the shocked and grieving people the Greek poet Aeschylus. He talked to them of pain and of hope.

Kennedy brought nothing to Indianapolis except himself. He did not even have a speech writer craft those words! He brought with him the experience of a man who moved through tragedy from ruthless political operator to a man with a moral vision. His moral vision was not only for himself but for a nation.

Other cities burned that night. Indianapolis did not.

Ferguson burns this week because of the incompetence that grows out of a lack of moral imagination.

Once again we are experiencing the lesson that the best technology and the best training in the world will not guarantee a moral outcome. A moral outcome requires people with a moral imagination to meet people where they live and who have the courage to work solutions out of the pain and contradiction of the moment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Leadership that makes you feel safe

I have been thinking a lot about leadership especially over the past two years.

Over the next several weeks, I want to use this space to reflect on leadership and the communities they serve, especially in the context of parish ministry where I live and work right now.

To start, I share a TED talk by Simon Sinek who describes why good leadership makes people feel safe. It helps answer a basic question-- "What's a leader for?"

Here is a pull quote to start the discussion:

"Leadership is a choice, it is not a rank. I know many people at the senior-most level of organizations who are not leaders - they are authorities, and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them. And I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizations, who have no authority, and they are absolutely leaders, because they have chosen to look after the person to the left of them and to the right of them. This is what leadership is."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Martyrs of Uganda witness against sexual violence

The Martyrs of Uganda are celebrated on June 3rd. While the feast is not well known in the West, it is a big day in much of Africa. Martyrs Day on June 3 is a national holiday in Uganda. The men who were martyred were Anglican and Roman Catholic Christians and this year marked the 50th anniversary of their canonization by Pope Paul VI.

The story of their death is hair-raising. The Satucket Lectionary on the Holy Women Holy Men website says:

On 3 June 1886, thirty-two young men, pages of the court of King Mwanga of Buganda, were burned to death at Namugongo for their refusal to renounce Christianity. In the following months many other Christians throughout the country died by spear or fire for their faith.’

These martyrdoms totally changed the dynamic of Christian growth in Uganda. Introduced by a handful of Anglican and Roman missionaries after 1877, the Christian faith had been preached only to the immediate members of the court, by order of King Mutesa. His successor, Mwanga, became increasingly angry as he realized that the first converts put loyalty to Christ above the traditional loyalty to the king. Martyrdoms began in 1885. Mwanga first forbade anyone to go near a Christian mission on pain of death, but finding himself unable to cool the ardor of the converts, resolved to wipe out Christianity.
Their deaths was the spark that began a remarkable expansion of the Christian Gospel in eastern and central Africa. It is a story of remarkable faithfulness in the face of the violence and power of the state.

But the story of the Ugandan Martyrs has changed. Their witness is no longer remembered in terms of the resistance of the faithful to the demands of a human king. Instead, their story has been used to justify homophobia and violence . Because in addition to demanding that the thirty-two men renounce their Christian faith, King Mwanga also demanded that they submit to him sexually. As a result their story is used to justify both hatred of homosexuality in general and violence against gay and lesbian people in particular.

The transformation of their story from a story of sexual violence exercised by king into a moralistic story against homosexuality is similar to how the church of the Middle Ages, the Victorian era and even in our time, transformed the story of first Christian women who were martyred...women who were often called virgins.

In the early church there was a strong connection between a woman's chastity and martyrdom with several examples of women choosing death over rape or forced marriages, and so on.

One the hallmarks of the early church was that it was a place that accepted "widows" and "orphans," who were not simply women or children whose husbands and parents predeceased them, but who were women and children cast off by society because their bond to that society was severed either by the death of--or very often the whim of-- a man. A woman whose husband put her out and whose father and brothers would not take back was a "widow."

Similarly, the children of a man who would not accept paternity--the child of a mistress or a slave or conceived through rape or simply not accepted in the family (like an expensive girl-child)-- were put out to fend for themselves in the society of the Greek and Roman world.

Slavery was one answer to this. Not the chattel slavery that we think of, but a high-order indentured servitude. People, in short, could and did become property.

The early church offered a place and a status to women and children by welcoming and caring for the widowed and orphaned. The idea that a woman could choose chastity over involuntary sex with a person not of her choosing, and this choice was considered not rebellious but virtuous was a radical aspect of the Christian gospel. Paul's affirmation that in Christ there is no "slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female" but that all are one in Christ takes on a particularly radical and poignant perspective in this context.

In this context, "virginity" was not so much about sexual restraint as the refusal to allow others to choose when, how and with whom a woman may exercise her sexuality. Early church saints and martyrs like Cecile, Agatha and Agnes were choosing not to participate in a society that made women the property of some man, in a world where sex was a sign of domination and power instead of intimacy.

The impact of their witness was lost when chastity and virginity became more about morals and regulating women's bodies in later times but understanding their original context can help us in understanding what to make of the Martyrs of Uganda.

For one thing, in the story of the king demanding sex with these Christian captives, there is very little connection with how we understand homosexuality (as an orientation) or marriage (as an equal partnership based on mutual love and mutual commitment) or even healthy sexuality today.

Like the early Christian martyrs, what the Martyrs of Uganda refused was the power of an earthly king who wanted to demonstrate his power over these slaves--and the powerlessness of the Gospel--by attempting to have forcible sex with helpless victims. What they refused was the use of sex as a expression of power--in this case political and religious--through the humiliation of rebellious subjects. Their refusal was an affirmation that in Christ each person has inherent dignity and worth. As they went to their gruesome deaths singing and praying, they proved that God's power builds up while human power degrades.

Their witness is a powerful example today where sexual violence is widespread in conflicts all over the world.

Participants at last week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, agreed that faith communities can have significant influence to end the sexual violence that still takes place all over the globe.
Faith leaders and faith-based organizations have a vital role to play in engaging their communities in both the prevention of, and response to, sexual violence in conflict..

…faith communities are often at the center of communities and able to be first responders in times of crisis. They can challenge the attitudes associated with sexual violence and address perceptions that can lead to inequality and the spread of violence.
Those who use the witness of the Martyrs of Uganda to condemn homosexual persons, or to denigrate same sex marriage or as an excuse to persecute GLBT persons miss the power of the original witness of the Martyrs of Uganda. They reduce their deaths to a story of paranoia and social control. In short, they accomplish precisely was the Ugandan king failed to do in 1886.

Instead, the Martyrs of Uganda are a powerful example of how the Church can—and does—stand against sexual violence of all kinds and in all places.

This post first appeared on The Daily Episcopalian at the Episcopal Cafe on Saturday, June 21, 2014.