Friday, June 23, 2006

From pride to frustration

With the election of the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop-elect I was overcome with pride and joy for the Episcopal Church. To elect the first woman Presiding Bishop took courage. It was the right thing to do because she was the best candidate and the best person for the job. The Bishop of Arizona, the Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith, had stated on several occasions prior to the election that she was the best candidate. (See his blog comments at Electing the right person for the right time is the best possible action.

The following day the House of Deputies rejected a resolution which would have called for a moratorium and ban on the election of future gay and lesbian bishops. They voted their heart and conscience. It was another day for celebration. The House of Deputies voted with courage. It was the right thing to do.

Then - the next day, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold called the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies into a special session. At that time the two houses agreed to ask that the election of "any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider Church," be resisted. That tarnished my pride and causes frustration.

How can the Episcopal Church be open and inclusive, "sort of"? It is either open to all or not. It can't offer selective inclusion. Those who have the opportunity to reside in power are the people who are fully included. If the position of bishop is not available to gay and lesbian clergy (or any person or group), then gay and lesbian clergy are not fully included in the full circle of the Church.

Even when the Church passes a resolution which states that gay and lesbians are "children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church," they might doubt it given their limited access to every level of the Church.

Yes, it is complicated when it comes to remaining in full communion with the World Wide Anglican Communion. (See the Rt. Rev. Peter Akinola's open letter to Episcopal Church And it continues to be a major strain to keep the Episcopal Church USA intact when the Diocese of Fort Worth is seeking to leave the Episcopal Church.
It is complicated, confusing, frustrating and painful. That is understood. But, the question is, who is fully included at the table?

I strongly recommend you check out the Rev. Kate Bradley's blog and this article in The Witness Both give powerful insight and call for strong action within the Episcopal Church. Both call for us to be courageous and stand together as sisters and brothers in the name of Jesus Christ.

It seems to me that now is the time more than ever for us to stand up and be the witness of the inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ. To preach that gospel from the pulpit and to call for action that truly speaks to the inclusion of all at the table.

As the Episcopal Chaplain at Arizona State University, the priest for St. Brigid's Community and one of the conveners of Peregrini, I want to be able to offer the Episcopal Church as a place where all who come are fully welcome and have all the rights, privileges and opportunities that are afforded to everyone else. I want to with a clear conscience offer to any gay or lesbian young adult who is considering vocations or seeking support from me as a priest in any way to know that they will be loved, included and encouraged in every way possible by the Church. They have that love, encouragement and support from me - I want them to have from the Church as well.

I will not stop preaching the inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ and I know that the Church is full of equally minded people who will not stop preaching that gospel either. Jesus Christ calls us to be witnesses of the gospel of love; to love God and to love my neighbor as myself - all my neighbors with all myself.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Proud to be an Episcopalian

Today I am so proud to be an Episcopalian!

The Episcopal Church USA elected the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori to be its 26th Presiding Bishop. She is the first woman elected to be the leader of the Episcopal Church as well as the first woman to lead any of the Provinces of the World Wide Anglican Church. She will be consecrated as Presiding Bishop in November at the National Cathedral.

This is a great day not only for the Episcopal Church but for the Christian community as a whole.

At a press conference and in interviews following Sunday's election, the Presiding Bishop-elect spoke with eloquence, compassion, humility and conviction as she answered challenging and forthright questions about the future of the Episcopal Church and its relationship with the Anglican Communion. Only two other provinces, New Zealand and Canada, have women Bishops though some allow women to serve in that position. Her election will be considered by some as a continued affront to the more conservative members of the Church. As quoted in a story by the Associated Press The Rev. Canon Chris Sugden, a leader of the Anglican Mainstream, a Church of England conservative group, said that her election "shows that the Episcopal leadership is going to do what they want to do regardless of what it means to the rest of the communion."

To those questions the Bishop-elect said that she believed that relationships are the most important component of reconciliation. She cited an example of being the lead scientist on a research vessel early in her career. The captain refused to speak to her because she is a woman. Jefferts Schori stated, "that lasted about 15 minutes and then he got over it. I think when we get to know one another we can work together."Her experience as an oceanographer and scientist, she said, has prepared her to be "open" and approach every circumstance with a "let's learn" about what "new adventure" we are on.

The Bishop-elect stressed the Millennium Development Goals as a priority. She constantly referred to the reign of God as being a place for the marginalized. She insists that the reign of God must focus on feeding the poor, working for health care for all and protecting the welfare of all children.

Jefferts Schori voted for the consecration of the Bishop Gene Robinson. When questioned about her support of Bishop Robinson and her views of gay and lesbian clergy she said, "God welcomes all to His table which includes a variety of theologies and opinions." She encouraged that those who disagree be willing to continue to stay in relationship and remain at the Eucharistic table.

Personally, I find this startling news to be so very encouraging and uplifting. This is powerful statement that the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies have made for and about the Episcopal Church. On a Sunday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio, they were able to speak for the inclusion of all of God's creation. For words of inclusion without the opportunity to be in position of power is just weak and worthless rhetoric. But, the Episcopal Church has once again proven that indeed the reign of God is alive and well.

No matter your position on this issue and any of the other hot topics being discussed at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I might ask that you do offer prayers for the Bishop-elect, the Episcopal Church and World Wide Communion.

The prayer of St. Francis: Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Friday, June 16, 2006

God? Vacations?

God, can I just take a few weeks off from you? Oh, it's actually you who want to take a few weeks off from me? Oh great, now I'm in real trouble. All I wanted was just a couple of days where I wasn't always thinking about whether you are actually there or here or somewhere. And I could really use a break from trying to talk to you or pray or whatever it is that I'm doing. Just for a moment I'd like to clear my mind and be released from the wrestling that is always going on in my soul. Now I find out it's you, God, who would like a break from my two-year-old like whining temper tantrums and paradoxical clinging. That scares me to death. Do you really want a vacation from me?

The Peregrini gathering made some passes at my wandering and rambling questions. We have unique fellow travelers; Christians of wide stripes, some nothings and don't want to bes, former this and that's, a few agnostics and some admitted doubters. Each in their own space. While the group rarely comes to consensus, this was one of those odd nights.

It seems that we can not get away from ourselves. To quote an Irish saying, "Wherever you go there you'll be." Life is a fabric, a woven tapestry, of which, to pull out some thread is at least dangerous, if not unwarranted. And to put it back into its place, well, that ridiculously impossible. While we can weave new threads into our life, temporarily withdrawing colorful pieces or bland lines, can only create a weakening and unraveling of the art of our life. If God is an intricate part of my life, maybe even the weaver or the loom itself, how could I extract myself from what is myself? Not possible.

As for God's taking leave? Well, we are promised that God will never leave us or forsake us. We trust that is the case. True, I'm pretty sure God gets real sick of my childish antics - but, we're supposed to have childlike faith; right? Ok, I know about the need to stop drinking the babies milk and start eating the meat of adulthood (well, at least good protein of some kind for vegetarians) - time to grow up. Well, sort of.

It is time to recognize that taking time off from God is no more possible than taking time off from the essence of myself. God, ever Present and constantly moving in the grace of the mystery of life, faith, struggle and the evolution of personhood.

Peregrini has formed community that exists beyond itself. It continues to grow, develop, change, re-invent itself and acknowledge new personalities. The chemistry of the experience is no other way explainable than it is a God-thing. Thank you to all pilgrims for your participation, support, interest and thoughts. Join us when you can on the first and third Thursdays of each month at 7:00 pm at the Fair Trade Cafe in Phoenix, Arizona - on Central and Roosevelt just behind Trinity Cathedral. All are welcome and every question is possible; just don't expect any answers - even though sometimes they do arrive.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Summer Reading

Reading in incredibly enjoyable for me. I spend a lot of time reading; so much to read and so little time left. That being the case, I am careful what I spend my time reading. And extremely careful what I recommend. It has also been important for me that if I'm not finding the book meaningful to give myself permission to stop reading it.

My spiritual director asks me every time we get together what I'm reading. At first I thought he was just curious. Then I realized how what I read is such an open window into my soul.

Because of the opportunity to take vacations and maybe get a little down time, the summer is a great space to catch up on reading. While it might be presumptuous of me to make some recommendations for your reading, I will be so bold as to make an offering of some recent books I've read that have been worth the time.

As a follow up to the recent book study at the Cathedral and Lenten conversation "Resurrection? So What?" two possibilities are Resurrection by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue edited by Robert Stewart.

Rebecca McClain suggested I read The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church by Diana Butler Bass. This book has been a good resource for me as I have been dreaming what St. Brigid's Community at ASU is going to look like.

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why written by Bart Ehrman was recommended to me Kerry Neuhardt, Priest-in-charge of St. James in Tempe. I read that book parallel with Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything. While Ehrman's book is more academic it does explore the early history of Bible's transcription and the process of "editing." McLaren's book is from an evangelical perspective trying to lean into something more open. His Generous Orthodoxy has some value in providing a voice for trying to figure out "where my theology fits in all this world of religious pluralism?"

Anything Anne Lamont writes is good. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith isn't her best but I would re-read it given time. She makes me laugh and cry in the same sentence. She also assuages my guilt for some of my more colorful metaphors.

For all those considering vocation in the priesthood On Being a Priest Today by Rosalind Brown and Christopher Cocksworth is a musical and poetic understanding of what it means to walk the pilgrimage path of being a priest for others.

Veronica encouraged me to add fiction reading to my spiritual practices. John Banville's The Sea won Ireland's "Man Booker Prize." It's a story of a man returning home and there he discovers his soul that he left behind. Joanne Harris wrote Chocolat. If you enjoyed that piece you will find this story of a seventeenth century woman fascinating and enlightening as well as intriguing. My daughter Alicia gave me a copy of Paulo Coelho's Eleven Minutes. It's a unique tale, all things Coelho, of a young woman who is on life's pilgrimage that takes her in some places she never wanted to go but finds through some experiences, her purpose in life.

Well, I've got a big stack of books to read for the summer. Better get busy.

Friday, June 02, 2006

God? In the Bible?

Peregrini gatherings are enlightening, challenging and often a little rough. The questioning of God in the Bible evoked all kinds of ideas and emotions. The challenge of the conversation was in every way invigorating and was not disappointing in the least. As is always possible, a God moment appeared in the midst of the evening. It almost went unnoticed, as maybe should be the case.

Lori was our cook for the evening. She made this fascinating and wonderful dish she calls "dirty rice." Trust me, it tastes a lot better than it sounds. We had salad, fruit, garlic bread, chocolate chips cookies and of course, wine. It was quite the feast. We always seem to have more that enough food to feed the hungry pilgrims.

Deep into the evening's conversation, Lori got up and slipped to the door of our downtown coffee shop. She had noticed one of the young homeless men who we often see near the shop. As quiet as an angel she invited him in and with her warm smile prepared him two heaping plates. He went on his way and she returned to her place around the table without saying a word. I'm not sure who else noticed; it seemed so natural. Lori was being the very Presence of God; for the hungry pilgrim and for us as well.

Discussing God seems to always unfold the mystery in our midst. Talking about the Bible, however, for some reason, evokes the theological trail to be followed. Our question for the evening had to be narrowed to "can you find God in the Bible, and if so, how?" So many passionate gifts of insight were offered by our band of pilgrims. Here is some kind of collection of our thoughts.

The Bible is story and narrative. It is a living text. Brought to life by the openness and the processing of God; in our lives and God's experience. The vivid stories (and our wild interpretations of them) of Abraham and Moses and their encounters with the living and dynamic God brought a lot of laughter and questions to the table.

Jesus' as a Jewish rabbi understood the text through his own worldview. His critique and context informs ours. Yet, God continues to speak to us in and through the word of the Bible in a way that is fresh and meaningful for our times. A biblically guided life can constantly be relevant yet connected to the ancient world in a uniquely invigorating manner.

The Story is sacred and authoritative. It contains all things for salvation. Yet, we still are drawn into conversation with it; to challenge and seek out all the possibilities of meaning from within this living text. We can ask questions of the writers of each text. Who were they and why did they write these words are questions that help to educate us as we struggle to find the bridge from their time to ours.

We find ourselves touched by the stories of women and men through the scripture. Our lives are moved through and with the pain of the Psalter. Daily we grapple with the lectionary text. Confronted by words that make us laugh, cry, get mad and often confuse us; still yet, we come back again and again, day after day, seeking the face and mind of God. What is here in this ancient manuscript? We ache to know.

Genuinely, we know that we don't hold the "right and only" view of the Bible. It is clear we don't reflect a literalist or fundamentalistic construct of the Bible. We are not the spokes persons for the conservative church, nor do we want to be. No one would confuse our band of pilgrims with being on the "right" side of much. But, without the eye, hand and foot of the church, we are not the complete body. The Bible is the sacred text that the band of Peregrini look to and it is also the sacred text of the conservative church. If we are to be followers of Jesus we have no other choice than to recognize and respect our fundamentalist brothers and sisters. As well, we must honor the sacred text as they understand it. They have a lot to teach us and we seek to listen and learn, though at times it is a great strain.

To engage with God and to be spiritually formed by God, we have few other options than to engage the sacred text. The Story beckons us to read, study and inwardly digest the meat and marrow of the lives on the pages of the Bible. God whispers and we lean into the narrative trying to find our own place among the pictures painted for us by Ruth, Esther, Isaiah (all three of them) Amos, John, Peter, Mary (all three of them), Paul and Jesus.

The stories are alluring and we spend the time to discover their meaning. Personally, we crave to hear. But, we know that our true learning is done in community. For without community we could find ourselves in a blind gully on the trail. Worse yet, we could do the unthinkable and wind up "creating God in our own image (swearing and all)." Scripture is understood with reason and tradition of which we are obligated to contribute. Yes, we are part of the past for the future.

Do we all need to stop now and go to seminary. God save us all - NO! We are called to live our experience in who we are and how we hear and to share that with our fellow travelers. Some times we are even needed to pick up the pack of our weary companion as we walk up the steep hills of the mount on which God will speak to us. And, we must recognize the need to lay ourselves down and rest in the field of the Good Shepherd. We are pilgrims traveling together.

All this rhetoric is just that unless we can be aware and be present to those who need a meal. Thank you Lori for providing action to our questions. You embodied the living text in a sacred way.

The next Peregrini is June 15 at Fair Trade Cafe in downtown Phoenix.