Saturday, September 22, 2012
We were meeting in Martinsburg, which as it turns out, is only 20 miles from Winchester, Virginia. I have long desired to go there because in May of 1863, my great-great-grandfather, Alexander White managed to get himself killed there when his right leg was shot off by a Confederate cannonball. Alexander White was a private in the 12th WV US Infantry. Nearly 40 years old with 4 kids at home, he enlisted in the Union cause, marched 90 miles from home and died in his first battle.
I've often pondered what possessed him to enlist and what it must have been like, crouching behind a stone wall, the bullets and artillery shells bursting and ricocheting around him - the grey clad soldiers moving inexorably forward. And I wonder what price me and my family might have paid from his absence in the lives of his small children (my great-grandfather was about 11 or 12 when he died). Family Systems Theory suggests that such a traumatic event would surely have left its mark down the generations.
As I stood in the woods, peering over the remnants of the wall, instead of a raging enemy I looked out on a school playground and several children and their families playing in the late summer sunshine. And as I looked out on the peaceful scene presented to me, I believed that perhaps it had been worth it after all. I called my own father and spoke briefly and I felt blessed. We perhaps cannot control the paths into which our lives fall, but I am thankful that along those roads, no matter where we are, God is there waiting.
Saturday, July 7, 2012
But that's kind of what bothers me. I worry that I'll be too tempted to hole up in here and not go out into the world where I'm supposed to be - sharing the Good News and making visible the invisible hand of God. I've only been here a week, so I can't speak knowledgeably about the parish or my predecessors, but I have to wonder at what effect the introduction of large rector's offices has been on the church? Mind you, the walls that aren't bookshelves are concrete block, but when this building was built in 1955, the priest must have thought this office was paradise compared to the likely space he must have occupied in the former small brick church which had been bought from the Methodists 20 years earlier when they needed a bigger space.
Having an office feels alot like settling in and settling down. This is hardly an original thought, but Christianity like the Judaism from which it sprang, seems its most authentic self when it is on the move, on a pilgrimage. The Israelites were promised a land of milk and honey - but both of those are things you get on the hoof and not things you get by making permanent camps; they're the food of nomads and not of farmers. Jesus himself said that the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. If the church is truly the body of Christ, shouldn't we be at least a little concerned that we have nice comfy pillows in big fluffy beds on which to lay our heads?
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Thursday, June 7, 2012
|by Hans Memling|
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Sunday, May 13, 2012
I imagine it would be fun to see the movie with Kenny, but that isn't possible. He died nearly thirty years ago, in a house fire. It's probably fair to say I miss him more now than I did then, even though that doesn't reflect all that well on me I suppose. I keep a picture of him on the wall of our stairway; amongst the mostly dead ancestors. I was telling my daughter about him just the other day and we went and looked at him and then all the other pictures as I shared their stories.
I feel bad for my brother, his life was tragic - beginning to end - and I wonder now if he ever really knew happiness or contentment. He had a different mother from me. His mother, Janice, became gravely ill when he was just a baby and spent much of his life in the hospital I'm told and died when Kenny was only six. Later, he married a young woman also named Janice, who died from a brain aneurysm. In between were troubled years, difficulty at school, difficulty at home. He must have wondered who loved him.
I've spent a lot of time over a lot of years wondering about, and more recently, praying for my brother. I find myself praying for his mother as well. My origins lie somewhere in her sickness and death; we are in some way connected. Learning about her, her sickness, her desires for her children, my father and my mother's relationship with her has been helpful to learn about who I am. I like Bowen family systems theory, but untangling the mess that is my family of origin isn't easy. Those long-ago tragedies are, if you will, dark shadows that shift the color of my life.
So, I think I will go see the movie, and laugh (hopefully) and remember and live. I will live, I will remember and be thankful for the whole company of saints who went before. Our lives are formed and touched by so many others in so many ways that are beyond our understanding or even knowledge sometimes. Happy Mother's day Janice, God bless you.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
It took a little digging but I unearthed my copy this week and starting skimming through it which caused two reactions for me. The first was that it made me kind of want to be a sheep farmer again, but the second was to cause me to reconsider the line from John's Gospel we read this morning where Jesus says; "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep." Because as I read through the book I was reminded of how seemingly fraught with peril is the life of a sheep. The book describes all sorts of parasites and illnesses which can kill a sheep, and the dangers of lambing and how to respond; it has loads (really, loads) of info on fences, fences to keep sheep in and predators out. It even has a section on sheep dogs. But it didn't have anything in there about laying down your life.
Set aside for a minute that this is Jesus talking; do we really believe that a good shepherd would die for a bunch of sheep? Many people say they would give their life for their children, and some people may think they're willing to die for an ideal or a cause - but sheep? That's not how our world works. We're sheep-like enough, our primary concerns are a full belly and keeping the wolves at bay, but unlike sheep (probably) many of us are willing enough to do so at the expense of others. Even the most conscientious of us cannot escape the fact that all of our actions involve some kind of compromise with systems that perpetuate injustice.
Several years ago, after a Good Friday service, a friend said to me; "I just don't understand why he had to die." Many people have built entire theological careers on trying to answer that question. But in the end I think it might boil down to this. Jesus died because God believes in a world where good shepherds lay down their lives for sheep, and we don't.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Earlier that day, my 3 year old daughter's new big-girl bed arrived and part of getting it into her room was taking apart the bed she was using which had originally been her crib. As I took it apart, my mind was filled witht he images of Nikki and I picking it out at the store, and decorating Zella's room before she was born, picking out bedding and the mobile and getting the sleep sheep from Cathy at church and bringing Zella home and learning how to get a baby to sleep and... an d well all the stuff that goes with having a baby and I was struck by how much of my relationship with Zella was tied up in this bed that I was dismantling to put in the basement. And I was struck by how funny our memory is. It's like I couldn't begin to describe how my Grandma White smelled, but on at least two occasions I've encountered that scent and powerful memories, full of emotion and longing sprang forth.
So in the Maundy Thursday scripture readings we encounter instances of God's command to remember. To remember what God has done for his people enslaved in Egypt and what God is doing in the person of Jesus on the night before his death. "Do this in the remembrance of me," God says. But it seems to me that this remembrance to which we are called isn't just a recalling of the past, but an invitation to live out what God has done for God's people again today. God's saving actions aren't mere historical events but the indelible pattern of life, of our life and of life always and everywhere. We remember what God has done in order to open our eyes to what God is doing.
We are the people being set free from slavery, we are the people witnessing God’s saving arm; God’s grace on our behalf. In this remembrance God, Father, Son and Spirit are real and present among us and within us. When we kneel at the communion rail, and partake of the body and blood, we are sitting around the table in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem with our Lord and Teacher. Jesus isn’t confined to a piece of bread or a sip of wine but is wholly real and fully present in the community gathered in remembrance of God’s acts in the past, in the present and in the future.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Now I wouldn't go so far as Calvin's notion of the Total Depravity of humanity. I do believe that all of the created universe, including people, contains something inherently good that is reflective of the God who lies behind our existence. That said though, there does certainly seem to be something deep within our beings which causes us to create and re-create over and over again unjust relationships and systems. I think that an important part of being a faithful person is the need to continually examine our relationship and participation in the human-created systems that define our world. I'm pretty sure that's what Jesus was on about in his answer to the question about paying taxes; "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." The bigger question for us is; what isn't God's?
So, people continually do bad things because that seems to be at least a part of who we are as humans. Christ's call to love our neighbors as ourselves is an invitation to turn our narcissism and selfishness on its head; an invitation to put ourselves last. We need to be mindful of the ways we participate in Caesar's world, the ways in which we put our comforts ahead of justice. I'm not suggesting we all run off to live in communes - we aren't turning the clock back to be hunter-gatherers. But it might be helpful to recall that in Genesis, all of the arts of civilization are the fruit of the children of Cain, who was cursed for murdering his brother.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
A favorite blog (newspaper column really) of mine is ¡Ask a Mexican! which manages to be both funny and insightful. Imagined as a place where people could ask the kind of boneheadedly ignorant questions they would never ask a real live person; its real genius is the way that it subverts prejudice by taking it at face value and responding with truth and humor. Only someone really self-confident in their identity, but also someone who didn't take themselves too seriously could have pulled this off for as long as ¡Ask a Mexican! has been around.
It strikes me that much of Christianity, and especially the strain of Christianity which includes the Episcopal Church, is sadly lacking in such confidence (though I will offer the counter-example of Lent Madness, which seems to embody the same kind of cheeky confidence). So much energy in the Episcopal Church, as well as the wider Anglican Communion, is taken up with deadly earnest, woe-is-me, handwringing. But too many people think that answer to the larger cultural shifts away from religion generally is to abandon everything that makes Christianity, well… Christian. Hospitality isn't about removing the markers of community; it's about explaining the markers and walking with people as they navigate their way through them. We won't bring people along with us if we keep telling them that there is nothing distinctive about Christianity. To do so is to suggest that there is nothing worthwhile about our so-called faith life.
I suspect that the underlying reason is just that lack of confidence within the Church about the claims which Christianity makes. Jesus wasn't just a really swell guy with some good ideas, he is the Son of God, fully human, fully divine whose life is our best understanding of the nature of God, and whose death and resurrection is sure promise of God's redemptive power. If you're going to claim a Christian identity, especially if you're someone who occupies a position of authority, then for heaven's sake take it seriously!
Now to go finish that sermon for Maundy Thursday….
Monday, March 19, 2012
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
In case you missed it today was Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. As sacristan at the seminary, I spent this morning preparing for the worship service where the community would remember the fragility of life in the face of the gift of salvation that we will re-remember come Easter. We printed the bulletins on grey paper, I set up the missal, poured the wine into the flagons, took care of all the last minute things that come up and then mixed oil and water with the ashes of burned palms. And then as the serving party gathered and prepared to process into the church, I turned out the lights in the sacristy and left out the back door.
Partly, I was probably taking advantage of the remaining liberty to opt out of a liturgical responsibility while I still can. I've been busy looking for positions for after graduation (with some tentatively positive responses, thank you) and its really beginning to sink in, that someday soon, probably before Christmas, I will be a parish priest somewhere and I won't have the same ability to take a pass anymore. So, maybe the next few months are a kind of Rumspringa for me before fully committing to the life I have been called to and assented to live.
But mostly, I think it's that I don't really need to be reminded of the ever-present reality of death right now. I spend an hour or two nearly every weekend with the dead and dying. A couple of weeks ago, I attended seven deaths and a stillbirth in just under 30 hours and frankly it all kind of piles up emotionally. Now don't fret, I have people to talk to and decompress so my emotional and spiritual health is fine but my experience as a chaplain, even a part-time one, has brought me to a much more tangibly real experience of death than I'd ever known before. In a way, I think I will welcome Ash Wednesday in the future as a reminder to me of the intensity of the past year and a half as a chaplain and to honor the memory of all of those I've been privileged to be with as they die.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
I've been back in Oregon this week to meet with the people who control my fate as a priest. I am happy (very happy) to report that I have been approved. Of course, now begins the hard work of finding an opportunity to practice that ministry, though I actually feel pretty hopeful about that. But what's really on my mind is the question of readiness? Do I feel ready to take this on? Have I been adequately prepared?
I've worked at my studies, I know I've learned stuff. I've been involved in the parish, at school and at the hospital practicing and reflecting on the practice of vocational ministry. I know my perspective on the world and the church has shifted, my understanding of God is deeper. I even know how to fix a furnace and write a budget. I feel well prepared. However, I have no doubts I will flounder and make mistakes at the first church I serve as an ordained person.
Being here reminds of where I was ten years ago preparing for baptism. Was I ready? Was I a fully formed Christian? Of course I wasn't. My "faith" largely existed in my head as a philosophical proposition, my perspective was still focused on what God did for me and I felt I could take an a la carte approach, doing only what was good for me. I haven't fully and completely left that behind (I'm still a regular human, it turns out) but on the night I lowered my head over the font and the water flowed down my face I was willing and ready to make the commitment to being faithful even though there was still a long way to go.
Now, as I stand on the threshold of a new sacrament, ordination, I think I feel the same way. I am as prepared as I can be to make the commitment to living into the promises I will make in prayer that they may guide me and form me into whomever it is I am called to be. I hope I am a good priest, or at least not a bad one, but I promise I will try to be open to the movement of the Spirit that drew me in so long ago and that beckons me forward still.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
A couple of months ago I made a terrible mistake. I signed up to receive messages from the House of Bishops/House of Deputies email list-serv. Officially, I'm a kibitzer which means I can read the messages but I'm not able to post them. I suppose if I really wanted to add something to the conversation, I could email someone I know who is a deputy and ask them to post it for me. People do that once in awhile. But that's too much trouble really and besides anything interesting that might show up on the listserv is usually already on a blog somewhere and I can just go there and add my two cents if I'm really compelled to do so. But I think what really gets me is why the "leaders" of the Episcopal church have this odd kinda closed/kinda transparent communication medium? Why not just set up a Facebook group or a blog on the (newly updated) Episcopal church website?
So why was it a mistake, you might ask? Well, mostly because it's comprised of the same kind of rapid reaction, entrenched positions that characterize the rest of what passes for communications on the internet these days. Frankly it's not very heartening. I feel really bad saying that. Most of the people I've met who are deputies (and bishops) are really genuinely good people who care deeply about the Church and God's mission. But I know it can be hard to transcend the cultural biases we are surrounded by. I'd really like to see General Convention deputies engaged in substantive, gospel rooted conversations, and I suppose somewhere that's going on with some of them, but it for certain isn't on the list serv. Actually, I'm not really sure our culture knows how to have a substantive dialogue or even a real debate anymore, but its sad to see the Church trapped in that same paradigm.
I read something recently about ways churches might try to appeal to today's frenetic, always connected culture. One of the suggestions was to allow people to comment in between the readings during worship and then try to craft the sermon around what they say. I'll be honest and say that I'm not so sure that spending even less time preparing for sermons and worship will really help. I'm part of a transitional generation. I'm pretty well plugged in, heck I helped create this modern world as an engineer at Intel, but I also remember a life with rotary phones when "long distance" was a big deal. When I spent a year in Australia when I was 17, I only had actual letters to connect me to home. I think in that whole year I had one phone call with my parents. Not to be a curmudgeon, but there was something invaluable about being apart and on my own that I'm sad to see lost.
So while, I'd like to open up the conversation that Church Leaders are having to more of the church members, I don't want to see the Holy Spirit correlated to the latest Twitter Trend. Christ lives within his people, in the Church, maybe we can find the better balance between listening to our own voices and listening for THE voice.
|icon by Tobias Haller|
Monday, January 9, 2012
While working in the seminary office today I was recycling and came across a recent copy of the magazine from Trinity School for Ministry, which is an Episcopal-(ish) seminary in Pennsylvania. In it there was an article that talked that described the movement of secularism from a kind of ecumenism towards a kind of modern day paganism. I've tried to find a link, but the school seems to be a bit delayed in putting their materials online. I thought it was an interesting observation and thesis. With the Presidential election coming up and many in the Republican nomination contest explicitly forming their policies in religious terms, it seems that the perennial question of American church-state relations is in no danger of going away. Personally, I wish that Congress would've just established the Episcopal Church as the official expression of Christianity in America (hey, we built a national cathedral already!), but I digressJ. The General Ordination Exams I just completed had two questions relating to church-state relations on it as well, so it seems to be in the air around me a lot. So, since I've already written it, here are my thoughts on the issue as prompted by GOE question 5.
In any society, the exercise of power is predicated upon the assumption of authority. That is, society legitimates the inherently oppressive exercise of power over some members of society on behalf of the civitas only if that power is exercised by an entity with properly ordained authority. For example, a police officer may only use force against another member of society when acting in his/her officially sanctioned role, otherwise their acts are considered criminal. The issue of authority then, in our culture, is the backdrop to understanding issues of Church-state relations. At one time, most people assumed that all legitimate authority in our nation was derived from God. Such a notion is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence which speaks of rights as being inalienable because they are given by God.
In a society which understood all civic authority as being endowed by God, it made sense to provide a privileged perch to God's representatives, the Church. The Church was understood to have a legitimate claim on the life of the civitas, so that things like establishment and, later, tax exemptions could be justified as the sacrificial offering of the community to the God from whom the civic authority derived.
However, that understanding of the source of authority for civic life has been under sustained challenge for quite some time. There isn't a clear consensus on the underlying reasons for this. I would suggest though, that divisiveness of the Church itself, with the ever multiplying diversity of denominations and independent Churches is a significant factor. If one looks to God's proxy, the Church, to offer an authoritative foundation for civic life then what one is likely to find is a confusing series of contradictory pronouncements. An unclear and confused claim to authority is unequal to the task of legitimating the use of power in our complex society.
For much of the history of Christianity in the West, its place as an established part of the social structure has meant that western culture(s) are deeply Christianized. The notions of human dignity and human rights as currently understood are the direct inheritors of the Christian tradition. That peace should be the natural state of things, that government should act both justly and mercifully, that the least amongst us should not be oppressed but assisted – all of these are ideas formed and developed in the Christian imagination and ideas that would not be so prevalent had the Church not long enjoyed a privileged place in society.
However, the flip side of that is that the Church, having in some sense fulfilled its mission to make a society more aligned with the Gospels, retreated into a place where it has seen its mission as protecting the status quo. The long held place of privilege has lulled the Church into a false sense of its place in society. Like a child whose parents hover and over-protects, our privileged position has insulated us from the consequences of our own self-destructive tendencies. We have not needed to seek out the unity of all people to God and to each other, because there has been little institutional upside in doing so.
To really begin to live out our mission and calling as Christians in the world will force us to stop looking at the ways in which we are different and instead focus on what it is that brings us together. If we are ever to once again be an effective voice for God's vision in society, we should be rushing to discard all of the trappings of privilege that have held us back and eagerly embrace the ways in which we can come together with a singular voice. I am under no illusion that this would be busy, but until we can find unity within the body, we will not be able to reclaim our rightful place of authority.