Thursday, November 20, 2014
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
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.
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.
"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
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
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
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 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.’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.
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.
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..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.
…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.
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.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Sunday, March 30, 2014
The problem with spiritual blindness is that we don’t see what is right before our eyes.
Over the years he got to meet and know and work with ordained women until he met my friend the chaplain and began to mentor her as grandfather teaches a granddaughter. When I heard this story from her, a whole series of lights went off for me—because if my father could move in his middle age through the mud of his life from blindness to sight and then from sight to vision—then maybe there is hope for me, too?
Sunday, March 09, 2014
I was told by my long ago deceased spiritual director, the prior of Holy Cross, that he neither gave up nor took on [anything during Lent]. He used Lent to try to do what he was supposed to be doing [all along]. Since then I've [come to see that Lent is about] spiritual self-correction and challenged [my congregation] to do one exceptional deed each day during the season and tell no one about it.
Monday, March 03, 2014
Each morning at an Executive Council meeting, we begin with prayers and meditation on a Bible passage. At my table last week, during our discussion of one passage, a member said that every time he stands up to preach, or to lead a church group or meeting, he says to himself, “I hope this is about Jesus.”
Turn and live.
In simple containers living the love of God every day.