Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Easter Sharing

During Lent and now extended into the season of Easter a small dedicated group has met to discuss and share their insights, stories and concerns in response to the 5 Marks of Love: Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, Treasure.  Each "mark" capsulizes how we accomplish our baptismal promises as a response to God's first loving all the world and us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  The curriculum is fashioned and led by members of the monastic community known as the Society of Saint John the Evangelist or the Cowley Brothers.

Every meeting has been seen some deep spiritual enrichment for each one of us.  It is exactly the kind of sharing and growth that a Christian community should foster.  One of the participants has offered this reflection following last week's session.
I have enjoyed participating in the Wednesday night “Marks of Love” study.  Last week we talked about transforming.  “Transforming unjust structures, challenging violence of every kind, and pursuing peace and reconciliation.”  Within our conversation, I was reminded of 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, and love, and self-control.”   
Imagine a world where there is no ego or self-consciousness.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can “take ourselves out of the equation.”  If we aren’t worried about ourselves, it frees us up to be more giving, more loving, more able to reach out to others in love and friendship.  Sometimes I feel this more than other times, but it is a goal; and when I pray for it and remind myself of it, I appropriate it more fully.  Justice and peace on earth seem difficult to realize. 
Reconciliation, at least on a personal level, is totally doable as we reach out to love our neighbor as ourselves, because God loved us first. 
I am beside myself with joy.  This is exactly the kind of "contribution toward dialogue" that we should all be offering to each other.  I'm betting that others from the Wednesday regulars as well as those who have done their own different study during Lent could offer similarly edifying and hope-filled comments.  So . . . let's have it!

Please send me your "contributions toward dialogue" however humble or grand they may be. You do not have to have attended any of the Wednesday sessions.  Heck, let's just share because it's Easter!

I'll protect your identity and add a little "packaging" to help us see where it fits in that 5-fold calling of Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, Treasure.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter Gratitude

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
What a wonderful and deeply enriching Holy Week and Easter it was.  There are so many who stepped up to help with a full calendar of worship and activities.  Some of you attended every service! Several served and some at more than one. It was charming how committed both Buck girls were to their now traditional -- I guess -- role of hiding the eggs for the post-Easter Sunday Celebration Hunt.  I can still see some eggs from my office window.  
I can also see a light of recognition in the eyes of those who took advantage of the calendar's fullness and made their way to most of the services of Holy Week and Easter.  Our Book of Common Prayer is a great resource.  By employing each of the Proper Liturgies for Special Days (BCP pages, 264 to 295) and by including non-BCP liturgies like a weekly Friday reading of the Stations of the Cross and Wednesday's Tenebrae we went "over and above" it's provisions.  There are just SO many options.
A quick look back in the worship register shows that Advent's history is uneven with some years missing the Great Vigil, others Tenebrae.  Some years the Stations of the Cross took the place of the Proper Liturgy for Holy Saturday.  At least now we are observing what our BCP directs and making good places for those "extra-curriculars."  
One of the other ways we have been moving through the year is to employ smaller prayer book options, especially in Holy Eucharist that suit the season.  We just finished a Lenten practice of beginning and ending worship on our knees in some penitential element before and from the Book of Occasional Services a “solemn prayer over the people” after. During the season after the Epiphany we prayed using Eucharistic Prayer D at the 10:30AM service. 8:00AM saw us on our knees reciting the Decalogue together during Lent.  Those are just a few of the options we chose.
Some of what we do is to recall practices more ancient but largely forgotten.  The BCP accommodates our joining a worship tradition older than the Episcopal Church itself.  On pages 362, 368 and 372 just where the celebrant begins what is called "the canon of the mass" there is small rubric. It says, "The people stand or kneel." By following that implied preference -- standing is listed before kneeling, because standing during the "canon" is the more ancient tradition and the one that more suits celebrations of Christ’s resurrection -- we are encouraged to act out our Easter aspirations begun in our opening "Alleluia, Christ is risen!"
We can grant that most of us remember one form of eucharistic worship over others, one set of habits, one set of recitations and gestures.  The options the BCP gives us aren't meant to excuse change for change sake but to give us a seasonal consistency that ties us to our ancient forebears even better than doing the same things every Sunday no matter the season.  
You've already heard my appeal to stand up for as much of our worship as possible in this Easter season but I'm a priest not a policeman, a celebrant not a inquisitor, an Episcopalian not some other denomination so I'm happy with your exercising the options that suit you as long as you "lift up your hearts."
I'm grateful for all your faithfulness, your energy, your rolling with the punches, your support, and for joining me in word and action to affirm "The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Challenging a Modern Christendom

Some of you will remember that we read Mclaren's "We make the road by walking" a couple of years ago.  His words have always challenged so much of our "conventional wisdom."

The Deepest Difference in Christianity is not what you think.

The deepest difference in Christianity is not what you think:

It is not the schism between East and West, Protestant and Catholic,

High and Low Church,

Evangelical and Mainline,

Pentecostal and NonPentecostal,

or Conservative/Traditionalist and Mainline/Liberal.

No, the deepest difference in Christianity is the chasm Between imperial and original Christianity,

Between a gospel of oppression and a gospel of liberation.

 In comparison to this difference, other differences are trivial.

In fact, they are merely different forms of the same unoriginal thing. The imperial gospel lives by the sword, the gun, and the bomb of violence; the original gospel lives by the basin and towel of service.

The imperial gospel loves money, pleasure, and power; the original gospel loves God, self, neighbor, and creation.

The imperial gospel pacifies the masses and makes them compliant with elites. The original gospel equips agents for justice, joy, and peace for all.

The imperial gospel follows violent men who kill and rule with an iron fist. The original gospel follows a nonviolent man who touches and heals with his nail-scarred hand.

The imperial gospel sends away children, women, the different, the sick, and the culturally, ethnically, and religiously other; the original gospel welcomes all, saying, “Come to me.”

The imperial gospel is a forgiveness racket, sparing you from torture if you play, pray, and pay by the rules. The original gospel is a journey to freedom, inviting the oppressed and oppressors to be transformed by the one rule of love.

The imperial gospel shows its true colors on Good Friday, with whip, thorn, mocking, spit, spear, and cross. The original gospel shows it true colors on Palm Sunday with tears for peace, on Maundy Thursday with an example of loving service, on Good Friday with the gracious prayer, “Forgive them!,” on Holy Saturday with the courage to wait in silence, and on Easter Sunday with an uprising of life to the full.

The deepest difference in Christianity is not what you think.

It is not what you think.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Hope of Reconciliation

Turn to page 447 in the Book of Common Prayer and you will find the beginning of a liturgy in two forms titled "The Reconciliation of a Penitent."  It is likely the least used of the 5 sacramental rites in the Episcopal Church.  The title matters in that it focuses the actions of penitent and confessor on a "reasonable and holy hope," a positive outcome more closely kin to grace than sin, more to resurrection than death.

There is plenty of room in our lives of faith to employ this rite, to have an appointed listener to hear the utterances of a contrite heart and then to pronounce the absolution that yearns to be spoken. Plenty of room that we instead fill with all sorts of things other than reconciliation.

I've been filling my time recently with a smug self-righteousness of a presumed prophetic indignation.  I didn't mean to do that.  I thought I was reprising my father's heroic stand against racism in opening up Anderson, SC's 1965 Community Thanksgiving Day service to his previously excluded African-American clergy colleagues.  I was wrong.

This is not 1965 and I'm not my father.  Even worse is that I lost sight of the fear and pain by which so many of us are still stunted.

Yes were are largely a privileged people.  We own -- with the help of mortgages -- the homes we inhabit.  Most of us have medical and life insurance policies.  (I frequently forget to thank you all for my insurance. I'm sorry.) Many of us have stock portfolios and thick pensions. Most of us can come and go to any and every place in this county and not be overly scrutinized or shunned.

Still there are all sorts of sadly limiting ideas and beliefs that things are not as they should be, even for us.  We know this on all sorts of levels, from private and personal to parochial and public. Sometimes we take responsibility for the difference between the way things are and the way we think things should be.  Sometimes we don't and instead point at others and their faults.  That's me in my indignation.  It's different for each one of us but its hard not to point away from self, especially when we ourselves are pressed upon by fear, stress or sadness.

There is a better way.  The Reconciliation of a Penitent is exactly the liturgy for heading that way. An important part of that heading is to make sure another human actually hears what is being said.  That's the incarnational part of the sacrament, like the getting wet of baptism, or the bread breaking of communion.

There are other parts that make it work too, like the confession itself, the statement of absolution, the naming and claiming of the power of God's grace, the acknowledgment that even the confessor is a sinner in need of forgiveness, and that this moment begs a descriptive and honest specificity in naming the sin for which one is seeking correction and forgiveness. Both forms touch those points in different but equally valid ways.

One plus for me is that a deacon can hear one's confession as well as a priest.  Thanks be to God, somebody can hear mine AND speak the words of absolution for me to hear.  So . . . I'll be saying my confession this coming Holy Week, too.

For sure I have much for which to ask to be forgiven but also I want to be in the best place possible to speak those words of absolution that you deserve to hear in your hope for reconciliation.  When I'm complimented on a sermon I hope to always say something like this, "I'm glad I didn't get in the way."  I hope for the same usage in my hearing and pronouncing God's forgiveness of your sins, too.

Here's an online link in case you can't find your BCP 1979.  Read through and then send me a note* if you want to schedule an hour for your hopeful reconciliation.

*To minimize the risk of spammers getting access this link will be removed at noon Holy Saturday, April 15.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Mission is Love

A small group of parishioners and I have been working our way through this year's Lenten study titled "The Five Marks of Love."  Like last year's it is designed and supported by the members of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.  The Cowley brothers take turns with short videos to reflect on their own lives in community but for the world.  That is, they acknowledge and celebrate their monastic vocation but understand it as a prayerful effort for all that God has made not just those monastically secluded with them.

That sectioning away from the world can be done all kinds of ways.  It can be an easy retreat, a hidden militant encampment, a sanctuary from danger, an elitist ivory tower, or an exclusive club.

There are even more ways for people to group themselves in distinction from the masses of everyday life.  The ones the church has chosen throughout its history are always at risk.  Even generous coffee shop fronted evangelistic mega-churches will quickly enforce "us and them" thinking.  We all do it. No matter how we gather there is an outside to our inside, a there to our here, a whole to our sect(ion).

Maybe its because -- no matter what my Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher claimed -- none of us have eyes in the backs of our heads.  We can only look at one side of things at a time.  So I like it that the brothers have redefined the historic "5 Marks of Mission" to be a reality based on God's love of the world and not just a sect(ion) being well intended to project it's brand further into that world. By reframing the conversation so that we understand our efforts as a response to first being loved by God the brothers have undone much of that tendency.

Humbly we should admit that simply by gathering as a function of our lives at the Episcopal Church of the Advent we are already significantly branded.  There is already an "us" at work.  So instead of our focus being on some sort of institutional maintenance or brand loyalty it has been more about becoming aware of God's love and representing that love with God back into the world.  We should understand our part as more like breathing than holding our breath or being "blowhards."

But it is marvelously confessional and cathartic when we talk about about how we struggle to practice the "5 Marks of Love" to Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, Treasure. Even as we hope to recognize God's starting with love we squirm at things like the e-word: evangelism. Even as we open to each other's sharing there is still a charming awkwardness that says something about how we are "in" a church community and "from" a world other than the church itself.

I love this study and I love that God's love is the starter for all this consideration and hope.  I love it that a "bunch of monks" understand their place in the world so well and can call us "in God's love" to recreate that love in so many ways.  Well at least 5 of them.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

First Amendment Christians

A couple of years ago we held a meeting under the title "Civil Religion."  Parishioner Ellen Warren, then a county commissioner was first to talk about her life as a person of faith in public service.  It was a good evening and some troublesome topics were addressed with good manners around the room.  It was the only episode in what I had hoped would be a series.

The title was a play on words.  Usually "civil religion" means that way of being religious in public that allows moments like our Presidents ending their speeches with "God bless America."  It is the anchored in mottos and phrases like "In God we trust" and "One nation, under God."

"Civil religion" informs the hosting of prayer breakfasts and declarations of national days of prayer. It also informed our talking about the interface between faith and governance and trying to be civil about religion at the same time.  Crazy, I know!

My intent was not to reinforce any sense that America is God's chosen nation or that we were founded as a Christian nation.  I instead wanted to push through the idea that the first amendment intends for the church -- in all its disguises -- to be party to the larger discourse of the whole nation, a discourse meant "to form a more perfect union."

That discourse is assumed in the protecting the rights of freedom of assembly, of freedom of speech, and of freedom of the press.  By protecting freedom of religion AND preventing a state church we are being named in the first amendment as having a particular role in that discourse.  We are not prevented from the conversation but are meant to be included for exactly what a church ought to bring to the table: moral and ethical input not serving those in power and a respect for the "dignity of every human being."

For me "civil religion" also means that we are to demonstrate how to have that "union perfecting" conversation with each other and for the sake of a government of, by and for the people.

So I'm OK with much of even my comments about politics and governance.  It's not my fault those terms are confused of conflated with each other.  It is my fault when I don't play fair with the confusion and help the people I love to read what I write or even more so what I post that has been written by others.

Last week's borrowing from John Pavlovitz is a perfect example.  I pretty much agree with what he said.  I do think that we are nearing the end of the life of much gets to call itself Christian in this nation.

Demographics galore will back this up.  But JP wasn't just talking numbers, he was talking about the loss of civil religion.  We have lost that first amendment intent for the practice of religion in America and replaced it with something that too often isn't civil and isn't religious.

I don't agree with everything he wrote or with all of HOW Pavlovitz wrote what he wrote.  So . . .

I'll take more care in the future to be civil and to promote civility but I intend to say more about this "First Amendment Christian" that I hope to model. I'll also continue to include others' voices and writings in describing and navigating that space that is ours as members of the Church of the Advent and citizens of this nation.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

From John Pavlovitz

This is from John Pavlovitz's blog entry titled "The Welcome Extinction of a Dinosaur Church"
There is plenty about who we are in Madison as the Church of the Advent that is so not near extinction.  But the challenge to be renewed is always before us no matter our history and antiques.  I hope this use of Pavlovitz's work encourages a lively conversation without fear or anxiety.

Extinction happens. 
All creatures eventually die out. No matter how much they temporarily flourish, over time they all become nothing but memories preserved in photos and fossils. 
The Church in America as we know it is on such borrowed time. It recently managed to buy a four-year stay of execution from the Electoral Collage, but the writing has been on the wall for a long time: the Religious Right here is in its last days—and thank God for that. 
This Bible Belt-dwelling dinosaur has long known that its demise was coming. While outwardly it appeared to be thriving over the past few decades, the attrition below the surface was and is undeniable: weekly attendance has steadily declined, favorable population demographics are shifting, cultural values are outpacing it, Science is continually challenging it. Its once seemingly endless territory is eroding, with now discarded buildings filling the landscape; dusty museums to what once ruled the land. 
And as with all animals backed into a corner and facing destruction, it has become fully desperate trying to save itself. It has ratcheted up its rhetoric, doubled down on damnation, and gone all in on fear in the hopes of rallying its own for one last frantic effort at staving off extinction. 
This is why it’s made its bed with a President without morals, why it has sold its soul for a Supreme Court seat, why it is frantically overreaching right now with its political advantage, why it is in perpetual attack mode—because it knows that these things are all that it has left. It is flailing wildly trying to postpone what it inevitable, but it cannot. 
Like all doomed species, this white, vicious, myopic dinosaur church will surely die because evolution is killing it— the evolution of a humanity that recognizes:

  • that diversity is not the enemy,
  • that spirituality is bigger than a single religious tradition,
  • that redemptive faith cannot be the author of hatred for its brother,
  • that Whoever or Whatever God is, it must be more compassionate than what this thing has become. 
In these last of its days, the dinosaur will make a grand, horrifying display. It will scream and lash out violently. It will thrash itself about and it will attempt to appear ferocious—but on the inside it is terrified. Its preachers will boldly speak of God giving them the victory, they will spit Scriptures and forecast alternative endings, but these things will not matter. The massive meteor of time and progress is hurling toward them and their eyes are widening. 
And for those of us who truly love Humanity, whether in the name of God or simply in that name of that humanity itself, this is all beautiful news. Because every thing that dies allows something new to be born—and something is being born in these moments: compassion is being birthed in our midst. We are moving into a golden age of empathy, where people will not allow religion to become a barrier any longer; where color and orientation and nation of origin are not deal breakers or justifications for separation—they are worth celebrating. 
And so yes, let the dinosaur posture and screech, but know that its end is surely near.
This is the twilight of one day and the dawn of another— and we are a people waking up to who we are together. 
The sun is rising and we are the caretakers of the coming day. 
Be encouraged.