Monday, September 1, 2014

Sustainability for Advent, Madison

Throughout my years as a student at Furman I was active in several religious groups and hung out in the chaplain’s office.  My classmates will agree with me that Eugenia Cantrell’s “Russian tea” was often more therapeutic than any meeting with the chaplains L.D. or Jim.
My junior year I was elected president of the Chaplain’s Religious Council, the gathering of leaders from each of the student campus ministries.  It was our job to oversee the funding for each of the groups. We also had our own budget for events and programs unavailable to such denominationally bound groups.
We were aware mostly through our own involvement of the Collegiate Educational Service Corps, a student volunteer organization that directed more than half of Furman “locally” into Greenville area projects and programs.  My classmate, now Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer for the Episcopal Church and his then girlfriend now wife Ginger headed up that massive effort.
With me the Council decided that a campus–wide effort to make a difference somewhere else in the world was a perfect “foreign” balance to CESC.  There was a severe drought in sub-Saharan Africa in those years and so we linked ourselves to the work being done through OxFam in Ethiopia.  What guided our decision-making was the writing of E. F. Schumacher.  The author of “Small is Beautiful” articulated for us the best way for mostly white, mostly southern, people of faith to attempt a “non-evangelicalized foreign mission.”
We didn’t want to promote an Ethiopian dependency on western technology that could not be sustained by the locals.  We had seen the pictures of fairly new tractors and combines left to rust sitting without western petrol. We also didn’t want to fund a one shot airdrop with bags of rice or millet then to be black-marketed by corrupt officials.
Thanks to Schumacher and OxFam (and some Quakers) we found a way to help fund the construction of windmills from local supplies that could pump some of the water from the aquifers below the drought dried land.  We did some really cool fund-raising.  We had a T-shirt swap.  Students paid $1 per shirt and donated from their own closets.  We did the same with LP’s.  Then L.D. and I were interviewed on the local news and within a week we had raised over $30,000!
The windmills, 30 of them were built.  We had corroboration through pictures and reports from the Southern Baptist missionary parents of some of our students.  Little Furman made a big difference.  What we learned was irreplaceable.  And we know now that Schumacher was onto something much more “macro” than our little effort.  Yet then and now “small (I’d rather say “contextually-sized”) IS beautiful.”
What we have before us in this local movement, this becoming a parish in Madison, GA with a full-time rector needs to be a “contextually-sized” effort.  I imagine that it will be a almost entirely a local enterprise but how we scale our work so that time moves to our side and our results last longer than a single season or two will require the same careful resourcing and shared effort needed to fund and build those windmills 40 years ago in Ethiopia.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Affording Honor with Advent, Madison

I have never done what I am hoping to do with the people of the Church of the Advent in Madison.  That is to work through this priest in charge thing and become the rector.  Most of my colleagues and many of you think that I’m crazy, that I’m taking too big of a risk, or that I’m being unrealistic.  Thank goodness I’ve grown accustomed to my craziness long before I met you. 
This is my first – and given my age – most likely last chance to do what I’m choosing to do here.  Granted, it was not originally my idea to leave Athens this year. Everybody thought Advent being served by any priest on a full-time basis was something farther down the road.   Plainly and simply it was a question of affordability. 
Truth is I have never attempted nor was I expecting myself to downsize my life and expenses for the sake of making this arrangement affordable.  All of my previous transitions in ministry have at least been to bigger paychecks, bigger houses, if not loftier titles: assistant to rector, interim rector to university chaplain. 
So now the goal, the focus, the modus operandi I’m choosing is to afford becoming the rector to Advent, Madison, sooner than the later we thought it was going to be and still with some risk.  We have included semi-annual reviews so we can proceed nimbly and with care toward this shared goal, because it is risky. 
It’s OK, that this is not what I or we expected.  It is still and maybe especially because it has so many unusual pieces to it something that we can do. We can do well enough that we’ll be able to look back one day and say we were honored to do it.
In the meantime, thanks to Charlie and Janet Mason for use of their guest house and stay tuned for some unique ways you can help me make this transition affordable. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Feeding the 4000

Matthew 15:29 Jesus moved on from there along the shore of the Galilee Sea. He went up a mountain and sat down. 30 Large crowds came to him, including those who were paralyzed, blind, injured, and unable to speak, and many others. They laid them at his feet, and he healed them. 31 So the crowd was amazed when they saw those who had been unable to speak talking, and the paralyzed cured, and the injured walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.  32 Now Jesus called his disciples and said, “I feel sorry for the crowd because they have been with me for three days and have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry for fear they won’t have enough strength to travel.” 33 His disciples replied, “Where are we going to get enough food in this wilderness to satisfy such a big crowd?” 34 Jesus said, “How much bread do you have?” They responded, “Seven loaves and a few fish.” 35 He told the crowd to sit on the ground. 36 He took the seven loaves of bread and the fish. After he gave thanks, he broke them into pieces and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 Everyone ate until they were full. The disciples collected seven baskets full of leftovers. 38 Four thousand men ate, plus women and children.39 After dismissing the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came to the region of Magadan. (CEB)


There's something going on when Jesus asks "Who do the people say the Son of Man is?" just a few verses after this second of the multiplication of food miracles. It has something in common with the moment he shared in that other distinctly unwelcome place (compare Tyre and Sidon with Caesarea Philippi

In the first instance he loses (let's call it) an argument.  And in so doing gives us this beautiful insight into his work and the hope God has maintained in continuing to choose Israel.  "I am your God, your are my people and you will be blessed."  Over and over God reminds Israel whose they are and what it means.  The argument Jesus has is exactly so that we can again be reminded that Israel's blessedness is a means to an end and not an end in itself.  "Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs."  

It was just a few verses back and the crumbs added up to twelve baskets full.  Israel is not just a vehicle of blessing but is blessed in being a vehicle.

So there's more to this feeding thing, this blessedness thing than Israel's turn at it.  Again Jesus walks off, this time he draws a crowd of broken people and calls his disciples to feed them. This time, 7 loaves and an undetermined amount of fish.  This time, 4000.  This time, 7 baskets full of crumbs.  

So when Jesus asks Peter and the disciples about their take on who he is we need to read with the same squint that we used for the woman from Tyre and Sidon.  What we saw the first time was a demon possessed daughter being healed.  What we see this time is Peter getting a set of keys.  

What we learned the first time was that Israel's blessedness was not an end in itself.  What we can learn from Peter is that having the right answers about who Jesus is and what God is up to in him assures us of a huge responsibility.  This responsibility is closely kin to the one we learned about Israel.  But this time its not enough to let a few crumbs fall.  This time the feeding is on purpose and the world gets the leftovers. A basket for everyday, full. 

Whatever you bind, whatever you loose.  You’re doing heaven’s work now. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Good Grief

I wrote last week about the death of old habits.  What I had in mind was that I was already seeing, already feeling the tug-of-war between the past and the future in me.  I also had in mind that others among us were experiencing similar tensions.  I also hoped to indicate that these tensions were not all bad or to be avoided as much as acknowledged, examined, learned from and appreciated.   In short, the tension is a good thing.  And it is a good thing that it is a good thing, because it is not likely to end quickly. 
At this point I need to say something I learned from another time in my life.  It is that all change brings loss and all loss brings grief. As good as our future looks, there is still some -- or something very much like -- grieving going on.  
For me grieving has a half-life of residual effect.  As an example, I remember my divorce in 1982 and how I thought of my “ex” every minute that first week, then every hour that next week, then every day the next and so on.  Re-exposure to the “radiation” would trigger a relapse to a previous level of pain and longing.   I knew I was getting better when I noticed that my recovery back to a more normal rate of “decay” improved, too.   Feelings for something that happened 30 years can still be triggered.  Really I just want my LP’s back.  But now I am not afraid to feel those feelings, to hurt just the little that I still do. 
“My becoming Rector to Advent, Madison” is a huge -- and for me unique -- transition.  It’s less like a divorce and more like a marriage.  Still remembering that change>loss>grief applies, I assume the incumbent grief here will have something unique or new about it.  I can only hope to acknowledge, examine, learn from and appreciate it. 
Regardless, it is better for me to say before I forget: I am grieving, in lots of ways and sizes.  Even when I reflect in an engaging and whimsical way, part of me is grieving.  Even when I’m too busy to stop, part of me is grieving.  Even when I am happy to be here and enjoying the new rhythms and moments of 338 Academy St., part of me is grieving.  My smiles and laughter are not fake or superficial or in denial.  They are part of the tension of living in two places, in two moments, with at least two emotions.  And I believe this tension for now is a good thing. 


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

“Old habits die hard”

History gives no one in particular credit for originating this truth.  It must be too true.  That is to say no one is immune to its truth.  We are implicated, each and every one of us, one way or another, not always but at least once.  
For me it is the old habit of calling Athens home and of suffering its gravitational pull each evening.  I’ll just have to be patient and let the new pull of the Mason’s guest house and my computer in the rector’s office and walking up and down Dixie Avenue work their way into my bones and blood.  Until then I’m a creature of US 441 or Price Mill Road, pick your poison.
But gravity is not the only force acting through me.  I should admit to a little fear of what the future holds.  Okay . . . more than a little, sometimes.  Please understand that I am comforted by knowing I am not alone in this venture.  We have chosen to covenant together toward a new way of being and doing and growing what is already and is not yet the Church of the Advent, Madison, GA.  That’s how the realm of God works.  
My fears, apprehensions, doubts, seem to rise out of the mystery, the unknown, the experimental nature of our learning new habits.  But learn I must, the patterns need time to seep into the roots, to carve themselves into the foundation. 
“Old habits die hard,” is true . . . right now.  But it is true because a new set of habits are emerging, marking their territory, coming home to place they’ve not yet called home.


The Southern Baptist Gift to America

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee wrote “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)... There are just some kind of men who - who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”  Instead of "whiskey" you could say gun or constitution or so many other "fundamentals" that spring from fear and selfishness.  
I remember the first time that I saw the fundamentalism of the conservatives in my old Southern Baptist life. Friends of my father visited our cabin at Ridgecrest and talked about their congregation's love of old-time hymnody and how tiring it was always contending with a board of deacons about the value of a gym née "family life center," or a seminary trained assistant minister.  
Some of my Furman classmates changed their majors so as not contaminate their already certified beliefs.  My most vivid memory was hearing "Fun-DAMN-mentalism," as my mom would call it. "They've made the Bible matter more than Jesus himself." 
After the Pressler-Patterson takeover, a new fundamentalism practiced from inside the renovated walls of the SBC was more sophistry than theology.  Think of the boycott of Disneyworld, called in response to an official day in the park to welcome gay and lesbian patrons.  All the while Disney movies spewed pagan and heretical themes without a peep from Al Mohler and his minions, as if a pharisaical purity was the better definition of the denomination than any coherent discussable theological position.  
What is happening now is worse because it has grown outside the confines of the SBC into a national attack on thinking Christians, really just thinking itself. 
Since Fundamentalism is NOT a theology but a way of (not) doing theology, it is easy to replicate and apply to other areas. Some of those same Furman friends are now just as fundie about the US Constitution. Their attacks on President Obama mimic the ones used against my dad in the sixties. They say things like, "I don't think he loves my Jesus/country enough."
The response to fundamentalism in my current Christian community is two-fold: first is to be honest about the effects of fear and power. Then following from that honesty to approach scripture with our own version of Paul Ricouer's second naiveté.  
I think the same understandings can be used toward this emerging breed of Constitutional fundamentalism.  It takes a fuller and less fear-based exegesis to read the second amendment as a necessary provision for the arming of citizens joined in militias in contrast to that of fundamentalism's open carry and arming oneself for protection against imagined tyrannies.  
Neither Holy Scripture nor the Constitution require or deserve the reading my fundie friends have rendered.  But in the end fundamentalists are not doing theology, they are not refining their citizenship and participation in a government of, by, and for the people.  They are instead reacting in fear and in being so worried "about the next world they've never learned to live in this one."  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lawrence Contracts Dangerous Disease

One of the chronic ailments of so many "Angricans" is a poorly developed sacramental theology.  Many of them near Charleston -- apparently suffering a dual diagnosis -- are also infected with what I call Mons Presunzionus. A disease North Carolinian scholars tell us was first identified by Mary Oates Spratt Van Landingham.  Whether or not I agree with the scholars, having myself lived in both South Carolina and Virginia I agree with Ms. Van Landingham, and also believe the condition has worsened since her turn of the century.  The disease apparently now produces or exacerbates a conceit or blindness to one's own reality or is a delusion that allows those infected to act as if volume or style of utterance or repetition can make something true or factual that previously was not. 
The example in the case of ex-bishop Mark Lawrence is his most recent calling Presiding Bishop Jefferts-Schori's accepting of his November 17th statement as a resignation and further her announcing his canonical removal from office -- thus ex-bishop -- "superfluous." Mind you, it will do no good to attempt a logical or historic recounting of events in this matter.  Beside the circularity of his logic, Mons presunzionus prevents any constructive dialogue when facts are in question.   
But the sacramental problem matters more to me in this case because of how, bless his heart, the ex-bishop continues to claim and even worse to believe he is a Bishop.  Somehow -- and I have posited Mons Presunzionus as a possible and perhaps best defense -- he believes:  
“Quite simply I have not renounced my orders as a deacon, priest or bishop any more than I have abandoned the Church of Jesus Christ — But as I am sure you are aware, the Diocese of South Carolina has canonically and legally disassociated from The Episcopal Church,” Lawrence said in a letter posted on the diocese’s website after the presiding bishop’s announcement. “We took this action long before today’s attempt at renunciation of orders, therein making it superfluous.”
Did he "take action" equal to renunciation "long before" the BP's acceptance of it or not?  How can he on the one hand say that he is still a bishop and on the other hand admit to his November 17th presiding over the -- his words -- "legally and canonically" accomplished withdrawal of his diocese from TEC.  You can't have it both ways.   You can't be baptized and not baptized at the same time.  Find me the sacramental theology that allows you to spit out the host and still call it communion. 
Not only does a good sacramental theology prevent such duplicity it also protects against the gross idiosyncrasy Lawrence and his minions require to keep meeting as if they are the Diocese of South Carolina and that he needs only their assent to be a Bishop.  Either the action of the church that ordains you carries the force of an authority to which you have publicly consented and submitted and promised to uphold and vowed to obey with God's help or it doesn't.  In other words, you do not get to declare yourself a bishop, especially when the body that ordained you says you are not.  You do not get to declare yourselves as a diocese when that is not your status to grant.
Granted, in this part of the country we let people slide more than a little as long as they mean well.  But the ex-bishop's statement is not sincere, it is delusional.  He can't have it both ways,  He can't leave and stay.  His followers can't claim a membership status from a body they have quit. Those are conceits that have already lost one war of secession and look to be on their way to losing another.