Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Past, Present and Futures

The observant among us will have noticed how well our Dinners with Dann are going based solely on my waistline.  For sure the dinners have been better than expected in helping us to tell the story “that was and is and is to come” in our historic and hopeful walk of faith here in Madison.   I loved hearing about June Harrell hitching rides after church just so she could share a Moon Pie and NeHi with her friends or the time that Bishop Allan supported the vestry and their Sr. Warden Charlie Mason following Brian Black’s courageous and grace-filled last year on earth. 
There have been all sorts of good stories about what is happening right now at Advent.  I’ll be the first to celebrate the success of Advent-ures as a faithful caring for our children and their friends as they grow spiritually.  Hearing how each of our significant outreach efforts were begun and how they’ve grown and spurred other community ministries into being stirs the confidence of each of us at the table. 
There is a third part to our conversations that is just as comforting and exciting as are the present and the past when we celebrate them.  What’s so wonderful about this third part is that it is not just one story or a small handful of successes but an infinitely emerging and expanding picture of Advent tomorrow, next year, and long into the future. 
The title of this blurb uses “futures” because there are so many possibilities, so many hopes, so many dreams.  Whether we can realize all of them only time will tell, but in order for time to tell we have to hope.  Because of who God is and because of how we know Him in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we have to consider all those imagined and awesome and in some cases frightening futures as ours.  Given to us by the God who loves us and loves the world we live in more than we can know. 
And so we can move into as many futures as we can imagine because our hope is in a God who has been with us, and is with us now and has promised to be with us to the end of the ages.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Big Church, Little Church, . . . Good Church

Many of you are familiar with an expression of mine often said at the conclusion of our Sunday celebrations, “That was good church!” Especially when our worship has included some extra element: baptisms, blessing of scarves and blankets, blessing of Panda Packs, even a funeral has found me feeling that way.   
As well as worship there are ways we are engaged in making the world a better place, both near and far:  the aforementioned Panda Packs, Joseph’s Coat, Meals on Main, Matthew 25, the Boys and Girls Club, Twin Lakes, Île à Vache and on and on.  Outreach for us is also “good church.”
While we celebrate here another effort to identify “good church” is happening at the level of General Convention, and bishops, and executive committees.  The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) has reported on the work they were given by the House of Deputies in Indianapolis in 2012.   Lots of reasons for this work could be listed but to be brief there was an obvious frustration with how “big church” didn’t match up with “little church.”  What TREC has proposed includes significant changes to General Convention, Executive Council, the Presiding Bishop’s office and other structures. 
Lots of church pundits have responded; some through scathing disapproval, others by luke-warm endorsements and still others with pride and celebration of a job well done.  In most opinions one caution is repeated.  It is this: unless there is health at the level of individual congregations all the good ideas about structure and process “at the top” are in vain.
There you have it.  No matter what the structure is, the big church needs the little church. It is OUR health that makes whatever re-imagining General Convention authorizes, worth doing.   OUR health, first known by how we worship and similarly by how we help those both near and far is so important that we can’t take it for granted ourselves. 

These Dinners with Dann are our TREC.  We are doing our own re-imagining and structuring for growth and health sake.   Thanks be to God we already have so much to call “good church.”  Thanks as well that we can consider ways to grow and to contribute to the health of the big church from right here in Madison. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Apologies to Kierkegaard

Some of you already know that I have a strong affection for the “melancholy Dane.”  Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855):
“the first existentialist philosopher. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology and philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a "single individual", giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking, and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment. He was a fierce critic of idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, such as Swedenborg, Hegel, etc. Thanks Wikipedia, ;-)
I’m apologizing so that I can describe a reality of our lives together here in Madison and can use a model attributed to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, as much as anyone Kierkegaard’s nemesis. 
Here’s the reality: we are growing in love with each other.  We have been, we still are, and with this change in my status to full-time can continue on a new scale.  Part of the way this is happening is a back and forth of call and response, of giving and receiving and giving back, of taking turns for each other.  Yes there is plenty that we are doing together, so the back and forth is not so obvious.  But most of what we are doing has a kind of respect built in to it so that we can be said to be “taking turns.” 
One of Hegel’s ideas was that things like Truth – capital T truth – were the result of a dialectic of ideas.  First there is thesis, then there is antithesis then there is synthesis!  And everyday in every way we were getting better and better. Kierkegaard’s rebuttal was that there was no abstract truth better than those lived by the individual in crisis, in decision. 
I love my Søren but I think he is more helpful here in partnership with Hegel.  To be brief, we are exchanging respect, honor, trust and in the back and forth there is something better to build on to which we proclaim, Thanks be to God! 
As long as we are clear about our limitations – Kierkegaard would want us to call it sin – then we know not to expect what grows to be the end of who we are becoming.  That would be to presume a version of things like capital T truth the reality of which can only be known because it comes first from God and has no need for the repartee of antithesis.    

So thanks Georg H. and thanks Søren K.  The dialectic your philosophies are performing for us is helping us see something about our lives in this moment in Madison GA.  We are growing in love through an exchange of willful decisions made by people who understand their limits and trust in God.

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 L.D. or Jim, the chaplains.  
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 of each of the groups.  We also had our own budget for events and programs unavailable to those bound by denominational differences. 
We were aware mostly through our own involvement of the Collegiate Educational Service Corps, a student volunteer organization that directed more than half of the Furman community into Greenville area projects and programs.  Fellow student 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’s “local” mission.  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 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.  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 doesn’t need to be small but it definitely needs to be a “contexually-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 sort of careful resourcing and shared effort used to fund and build those windmills 40 years ago in Ethiopia.