Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Managing Miracles

First off: a plug for a book. I don’t think I’ve ever used four sources from a single book before for a sermon! ALL my sources came from Feasting On the Word Year B, Vol. 3, edited by David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor. Four “perspectives” on each lesson of the Revised Common Lectionary: theological, pastoral, exegetical & homiletical. Do yourself (and your local independent bookstore) a favor by going and ordering it today. If you don’t have a bookstore nearby, try my old one in Cleveland (Sacred Path Books & Art) or my new one in Littleton, NH (Village Book Store).

OK! To the sermon:

“When he looked up, and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.” (John 6:5)

Imagine that Jesus has posed his test in a contemporary congregation, like this one. One might expect the Vestry and Finance Committee to echo Philip’s money-management concern pointing out that the congregation does not take in enough revenue to support such a project. (I should say that the rector would likely take this position as well.) The outreach committee might reinforce Andrew’s position, stating that the congregation has earmarked only a small percentage of its income for mission giving, and the proposed project’s needs far exceed the allocated amount. The groups responsible for discipleship and worship may not even offer an opinion, as they are busy preparing for a fast approaching religious festival. The building and grounds committee would be frantically searching for places for people to sit, praying that the Fire Marshall doesn’t show up, and wondering what toll this event would take on the building. (I adapted Yust’s words to fit what might happen at All Saints...see source below)

Karen Marie Yust, of Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia came up with the basis of this scenario. She suggests that at most places, “…none of the congregation’s leadership or committees would expect to participate in a miracle, as that is not what they signed on for. They would serve out of a sense of duty, or because they enjoy the work, or to contribute to a cause larger than themselves. They identify a few reasonable goals, set some workable plans in motion, and carry out their endeavors with the resources at hand.” It would be a frantic mess, and the best to hope for would be surviving the event.

Yust asks, “How would a congregation’s work together be different if its members deliberately shared in Jesus’ goal of revealing God’s power through each act of ministry? Would members construct their worship and outreach activities differently if pointing to Christ’s abundance in response to human hungers was their ongoing mission?” (Feasting On the Word Year B, Vol. 3, from now on simply “FOW”)

These are good questions to ask ourselves, in response to this morning’s Gospel reading.

The usual question on most modern minds, however, is the nature of the miracle itself. The story was simpler to understand in pre-Enlightenment days, where the pre-modern mind would be impressed by the miracles, and not question whether or not they could actually happen.

In recent times, the Biblical miracles often act barriers to the Gospel. The presence of miracles confuses and frustrates modern minds filled with scientific and practical knowledge. The miracle stories lose their power when approached outside of their ancient context: causing some to stubbornly insist that Jesus broke the laws of science, and others to wave off the story entirely as gratuitous fiction.

Personally, I have a real problem with this particular miracle as fact, beyond the breaking of science. What would be more cruel, and unworthy of our love and honor, if God could, with the snapping of fingers, multiply fish and loaves...and yet simply chooses not to, despite there being so many people currently suffering and dying without enough to eat? If the means are magical and outside of the natural world, the suggestion that God chooses to help some, and not others, is abhorrent. That is not the God that I have followed throughout my lifetime.

Explaining away the miracle, however, trying to demystify the account to determine “what really happened,” isn’t particularly helpful. The classic modern interpretation is that once the young boy pulls out what he has...his loaves and fish...for everyone to share, that others do the same...moved by guilt or realization that there is enough to go around. That may be, in fact, what actually happened, but our focus on explaining the miracle takes us away from the point of the account. Yust writes that the danger in this explanation is reducing God to “...a divine therapist counseling charity among a greedy people who already know better. Can God not be much more in our lives than an omnipresent social worker reminding us of our duties?” “FOW

It is so easy to get stuck in the miracle question, but we do so not only to our own peril, but also against the actual point of the text.

Douglass John Hall writes that what is truly wonderful in biblical terms is not that Jesus could multiply loaves and fishes in so astounding a matter, but that Jesus could represent, by his words and deeds, such a sign of hope and healing that hundreds of needy people would follow him about, and feel that their hunger for “the bread of life” had been met. “What is truly awe-inspiring is not that someone could walk on the surface of the water without sinking, but that his presence among ordinary, insecure, and timid persons could clam their anxieties and cause them to walk where they feared to walk before. What is genuinely miraculous is not that a dead body should come to life again, but that through the journey with the crucified one, the disciple community was enabled to find hope on the far side of despair, faith that could live with doubt, and the courage to live beyond the sting of death. In other words, when the miraculous is identified too exclusively with those literally incredible things, the wonder of divine grace that permeates the whole of life is deprived of a witness.” “FOW"

So, this morning, Jesus asks the critical question: “What do we have?” After uncovering only the five loaves and two fishes, Andrew makes the critical observation: “What are they among so many?” Or to put it another way, “How can the tremendous need be met by so small an offering?”

Robert Bryant writes that it is not clear by the text “whether the miracle is a supernatural multiplication of the food or the unleashing of compassion and generosity among the people. The text is explicit, however, that Jesus causes everyone’s hunger to be satisfied and twelve baskets of leftovers are collected, indicating the character of this new community: where “leftovers”---both food and people---are neither insignificant nor abandoned.” “FOW

Ministry is about multiplying resources so that what might have been a social handout becomes a revelation of amazing grace. Ministry should leave people exclaiming that prophets of transformation are active in the world, bringing hope to souls weary of oppressive social systems and values.” (Yust in “FOW)

Cheryl Bridges Johns beautifully concludes, “In the ‘prayers of the people,’ we place before the Lord the great needs of humanity. We may find echoing back the words, ‘What do you have?’” Whatever we have is not enough. Yet the text shows that our “not enough,” when placed in the hands of Jesus, becomes abundantly more...so much more…that there is enough for all, and even some leftover. (“FOW)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Compassionate Mark

(Yikes! How did Sunday roll around so fast? Here's my sermon from LAST week.)

This is our last Sunday with the Gospel of Mark for some time, as we will shift to the Gospel of John next Sunday.

This morning’s text, however, is a strange choice to leave Mark (6:30-34, 53-56).

Jesus’ disciples had just finished teaching out in the villages, having gone 2 by 2, proclaiming repentance, casting out demons, and healing the sick. Jesus senses that they’re tired, and could use some rest. So they go seeking a deserted place. But they’re recognized by the crowds, and they follow them there, and many even arrive ahead of them.

All this is set up for two major events: the feeding of the 5000, and then, afterwards, Jesus walks on top of the sea. Two BIG stories of the Gospel, and we get neither of them this morning.

Instead, our excerpt picks back up at the wrap up of the account: the Jesus and the disciples get off the boat, people recognize Jesus, and follow him wherever he goes, seeking healing.

It’s enough to make a preacher pull his hair out in frustration.

So what do we find, in the text allowed to us by the lectionary?

Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. (Mark 6:31)

The coming and going, and feeling of commotion is heightened every time I walk on Main Street (which is under major construction), or make the unfortunate decision to try and get across town by car. The commotion of construction contrasts with the promise that summer that is a quieter, slower pace. The text says, “come away to a deserted place, and rest a while.”

But I notice a wrinkle here. When I think of rest, and slowing down, I usually think of alone time: on a quiet forest walk, or settled down with a good book. That’s not the thing suggested here. Alone is not part of the occasion. The text says “all by yourselves.” It is addressed to the faith community: to take the time to gather together, resting from our labors and the commotion of our lives, and eat together, without agenda.

Eating together is a great example. We are a culture where eating so often is a thing to get done quickly: a bagel as we run out the door to get to school, the items to munch on at our work desk that passes as lunch, the drive thru window that is quick and easy, with little cost except to our bodies. Not only do we not take the time to eat well, the social event of eating so often gets lost. Slow down together, the text says, and eat with one another.

Even when our work is good, and we are accomplishing great things, we must be re-formed as a family in Christ, so that we may be joyful and refreshed for the long haul, so that we can then go back into the world as Christ’s hands and feet.

Ironically, what happens in our lives, happens to Jesus and his friends: interruption. “Jesus saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34)

Yes, rest is needed, and our faith community needs its Sabbath time and its leisure time. And yet, sometimes one need gets trumped by another: sometimes leisure and renewal have to wait a little longer because the moment calls for something else, addressing the outreach needs of the community.

Karen Marie Yust of Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, writes that “while God calls us to renewal through communal practices of Sabbath keeping, Eucharist, and theological reflection, God also pledges to sustain us when the needs of others interrupt our plans for retreat.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol. 3, edited by David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor) While I would add potlucks to the renewal list, I agree with the sediment: the faith community is to realize the extent that the world is suffering, and the need for healing. This is where compassion comes in.

Douglass John Hall, professor of Christian Theology at McGill University in Quebec, suggests here that, considering compassion, German is more helpful and direct than English. The German word for compassion is Mitleid, he writes—quite literally, “with –suffering.” Of course, that is the literal meaning of “compassion” too, but most of us do not hear it. We think of compassion a synonym for pity. Pity is something you can manage from afar—at a once remove! Not compassion. You do not have compassion, really, unless you suffer with those to whom you refer. The precondition for compassion is unconditional solidarity with the ones for whom you feel it.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol. 3, edited by David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor)

That’s how Jesus sees the crowd: a complete identification with his kind...with all of the people. Hall writes that this compassion is not just a “statement” about a good, generous, and loving human being, Jesus of Nazareth. This is testimony to the very nature of God: that divine compassion is the essence of who God is, as that we are called to the same thing: a radical compassion where we share in the woes...and the joys...of all life. We are completely invested in the well being of our neighbor. (Feasting on the Word)

The final part of our text, this morning, is this: "And wherever Jesus went, into villages or cities or farms, the people laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed." (Mark 6:36)

Jesus continues to go into the midst of people, and the people likewise come to him, believing that just by being in his presence, in the simple touching of the fringe of his cloak, they will be healed. And they are.

The Gospel of Mark speaks of people rushing and begging for an opportunity to be made whole through an encounter with God. Could any description be more foreign to most Episcopal Churches? With a world filled with uncertainly and brokenness, why aren’t churches full…recognized as one of the great places for healing?

After all, I think that Churches are more and more recognized as places where people are physically taken care of, through generous food pantries, meals, clothing collections, financial assistance, and so on...just as a lot of social agencies and groups are recognized as well. That’s a good thing. And, churches are often thought of as “deserted places to rest.” Read all the way into that one, my friends...but there is, in the midst of the irony about numbers dwindling numbers of people, an element of good can be found in the church being a place of silence and rest.

But The Episcopal Church, like all institutional churches, has fallen short: alienating people with bickering and power struggles, and marginalizing others in need of truth and justice. Many people have stopped seeking out the church as the place of individual and communal healing.

It is a roll that must be reclaimed in a new way if there is to be a future for the church, but we cannot do it as we’ve done in the past. Gone are the days where the Church should claim to be the exclusive gatekeepers of God, and set forth rules and orders under threat of God’s punishment. Gone are the days that we can expect people to return to the church on their own. Instead, we, the members of this church, must go outside of these walls in the spirit of the radical compassion Jesus showed us: where we share in the joys and woes of all, proclaiming God’s abundance for life and community, where others have declared scarcity and isolation.

Then, and only then, will people seek out the church for healing…and then the Church can be what it’s called to be…the fringe of the cloak of God.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Episcopal Church General Convention NH Recap

The Bishop and the Deputies from the Diocese of New Hampshire have returned!

They both kept blogs of their experiences:

Bishop Robinson's blog

New Hampshire's Deputation blog

What is so clear from reading both blogs is a sense of joy and hope for the church.

It's also clear how much was both undertaken and accomplished at the General Convention that DIDN'T MAKE the national news...

The New Hampshire Bishop and Deputies have done their part in sharing the story of how we in the Episcopal Church continue to respond to God in today's world as a Community of Faith.

Now it's our turn to share with others why this is a great time to be (or become) an Episcopalian!!!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I saw the sixth Harry Potter movie last night. It's an excellent movie, and a worthy adaptation of the book.

The movies have done a great balancing act in creating movies that really work with being true to the theme of the books. There are plenty of changes from the book version, even creating things that don't happen in the book. This is done so that the ethics and points made by the book are still conveyed through the film.

I was wondering just how they would do this. So much of the sixth book is dialogue with Harry and Dumbledore (which of course, includes Harry's thoughts and impressions, which are difficult to convey in film). The themes of trust, friendship, and complicated connections are conveyed well by the actors and dialogue.

The humor in the book, which could have easily been lost in the darkness of the themes, comes through well. And while I still think the books are far superior to the films (less limitations and more time to develop), the fantastic acting is a joy to watch. Everyone is solid, I could rave about at least a half dozen performances, but I must admit to being very impressed by Tom Felton's Malfoy (which is a nod to the writers and directors as well). This dark, lonely young man both wants to be accepted, but is terribly conflicted...is only sure thought being his hatred for Harry (which Harry returns in kind). I believed every moment of his screentime.

The "Sectumsempra" scene is tough to watch because it's so good and powerful, clearly showing what violence...even in the name of good...can do, and what follows is a movie alteration of combining scenes for multiple purposes that really work.

The concluding scenes leave everyone quiet and emotional (even though almost everyone knows what's coming.) Book enthusiasts will notice major changes here, and most of them work (except for the lack of other students joining the fight, which for me was a understandable, but unfortunate obmission).

It's not the book, but honestly, it doesn't try to be. HP6 is a fantastic, well acted movie, and JK Rowling's themes from her series shine through.

(One word of warning: don't see this movie without seeing the other movies...even if you've read the books...the movie plays better with the "movie background.")

Finally, I can't help but share this story as well, for it is such a reversal from the previous statements of fear towards the Harry Potter series:
Vatican lauds good and evil theme

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Episcopal Church Convention: What does this all Mean?

Do25 has now passed both houses of the 2009 General Convention.

There is an incredible amount of opinions as to what the Episcopal Church is doing and not doing, as well as countless others analyzing these positions. I've put down my understanding of what D025 means, and it's relationship to B033 in the earlier posts, but I thought I would point out some of the other reactions with links and quotes.

Diana Butler Bass, the insightful lay writer, wrote this article called "Not Angels, but Anglicans."
In plain English, the Episcopal Church has now formally recognized the lived reality of faithful same-sex Christian couples in our community and that the Holy Spirit may call persons in such relationships to Christian ministry--even the ministry of bishop. This affirmation doesn't demand that anyone do anything or anyone be forced to believe something they find offensive. Indeed, in the resolution, the church stated that Christians are not of a unified mind and that Christians "of good conscience" may disagree in regards to these concerns. But the resolution also does two important things: 1) it recognizes that many, many Episcopalians are perfectly comfortable and open to being part of a diverse spiritual community that includes gay and lesbian brothers and sisters; and 2) that local dioceses may chose their bishops by discerning the best candidate for ministry without restriction placed on sexual identity. Some may argue that the Episcopal Church has broken faith. No, Episcopalians are struggling to be faithful and to live justly as our society widens its understanding of human relationships and marriage. The attempt to do so is not somehow "secular" or untraditional. Rather, adapting to local cultures is an important part of being Anglican.

Bishop of Durham
NT Wright, wrote an op-ed in The Times entitled "The Americans know this will end in schism":

Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing. They were telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “instruments of communion” that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops. They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart”.

Not so, says Episcopal Priest Scott A. Gunn, Rector of Christ Church Lincoln, RI, in his blog entry "When Tom Wright gets it totally wrong..." He takes Wright's arguments on one by one, concluding:

Let’s all be clear about two things. First, the Episcopal Church is (imperfectly, to be sure) trying to answer God’s mission imperatives in this place and in this time. Second, we are committed to our bonds of affection with our sisters and brothers overseas. To say otherwise is to distort the truth and to refuse to listen to what our General Convention and our Presiding Bishop have repeatedly said.

Nick Knisely, Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Phoenix AZ, writes that the Episcopal Church has sent no clear single to walk apart from the Anglican Communion in "Wait..., what?":

For my part, I did no such thing, nor to the best of my knowledge did anyone at the deputations around me on the floor. We tried to express our internal conflict as best we could. It’s hard to understand the import of what happened. We believe that there will be more partnered gay and lesbian bishops in the future. We strongly desire to be allowed to remain a part of the Communion. We don’t see those two statements as contradictory, but others do.

The lack of clarity is not meant to be obfuscatory - certainly not on my part. It represents the muddled and confused place the Episcopal Church finds itself right now. It’s was not meant to, and it does not deliver clarity according to the standards of those demanding it. It struggles to be honest.

There's a great deal more out there...read for yourself.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Episcopal General Convention: Bishops Follow Through

I've never been happier to be wrong. The Bishops of the Episcopal Church, by a 2 to 1 margin, declared D205 (last post) to be an accurate picture of where the church is.

They passed one amendment to the resolution, so it must go back to the Deputies. I wish to honor the process and wait to talk about what I think this means for the future of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, but I want to explore what I think the resolution does.

Here is the resolution as a whole with the changes.

There is no mention of B033 in this resolution: it is a moving beyond, and it clearly states that the Episcopal Church:

includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God"

that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst

that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church,; and that God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church

The third paragraph is the moving beyond B033. It says that the discernment process set forth by the EC's Constitution and Canons suffices for all people in the church, and that no extra-canonical promises or restrictions apply to the process.

B033 is, in essence, an "extra-canonical promise or restriction." It will not be really tested until an openly GLBT partnered person is elected bishop somewhere. B033, after all, did not officially stop these elections, only called for restraint in giving consent (consent being part of the process). So, in some ways, B033 was never really tested to begin with, for there never was a situation to apply, since no partnered GLBT person was elected. However, it effectively kept qualified candidates from getting an unbiased look, and gave a clear message that the Episcopal Church was pausing in the area of justice for GLBT persons.

Thankfully, it appears that the artificial ban is about to be lifted, and clearly the justice process has been restarted.

Bishop Gene Robinson summed this up, saying "In effect, this resolution ends the informal ban on such bishops-elect. Its power is that it returns us to the canons of the Church, which have always served us well and which allow the Holy Spirit to call those whom the Spirit calls."

More to come...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Episcopal General Convention: What is D025?

D025 is the resolution passed by the House of Deputies at the Episcopal Church 2009 General Convention that suggests the way forward from B033 (from the 2006 GC)

It is intended to:
  • Reaffirm our commitment to the Anglican Communion
  • State our desire to remain in the highest degree of communion with other Anglican provinces
  • Pledge to participate in contributing to the Communion budget
  • Remind the church of the relationship values established in 2000-D039
  • Recognize the response of LGBT Episcopalians to God’s call to service
  • Affirm that God has called and may call partnered gay and lesbian people to any ordained ministry and that their call will be tested by the discernment process provided for in our canons
  • Acknowledge that we are not all of one mind about this
(from Walking With Integrity website)

This will now be taken up by the House of Bishops.

Here is the resolution in full
(Thanks "Father T")

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Listening Bishops

Our Episcopal Bishops have gone above and beyond to hear the stories from around the Anglican Communion. They have taken the time to get to know their brother bishops as members of the Body of Christ, and have formed new and powerful relationships with them. That's truly wonderful.

My deep fear, however, is that the majority of our Bishops are talking primarily to themselves, and not to the clergy and lay leaders that elected them to their positions: handing them the sacred trust to care for The Episcopal Church as our Bishops.

My bishop, The Rt Rev. Gene Robinson, seems to share that fear in his blog post. He wrote, concerning the hearing on moving beyond B033:

One alarming thing about last night's hearing was the fact that there were almost NO bishops present. Other than those on the committee (who HAD to be there), there were only five bishops present: Andrus (California), Beckwith (Newark) and myself, arguing for moving forward; Love (Albany) and Lawrence (South Carolina) arguing for continuing B033. Other than these, NO bishop was present to hear the two hours of voices from the Church appealing for progress.

I fear (and I hope I'm not being overly dramatic here) that we are moving toward a train wreck between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. I sense an unwillingness among the bishops to listen to these voices of the laity and clergy. I hope I'm terribly wrong, but it seems that bishops feel they have some special access to God's will and nothing will persuade them otherwise. I shutter to think of a church where the Bishops are so disconnected from the will of the people they serve. Please God, let me be terribly wrong about this perception, and may the scales fall from my pessimistic eyes and reveal an episcopate who has listened to the Spirit's movement in the people of this Church. Nothing would make me happier than to be wrong about this. Only time will tell.It is an incredible thing, that our bishops opened themselves up to their brother bishops from around the communion to get to know them better, and where they are in their journeys in Christ.”

The House of Deputies collectively made their voices heard by a 2/3rds majority approving D025, a serious step forward in the full inclusion of all people in the church. Now, as priests, deacons and laity, we must, as individuals, reach out to our Bishops.

The next time you see someone in purple and a clergy collar, go up to him or her and say, “Bishop, as a brother (sister) in Christ, and as a Bishop in my church, may I have a minute of your time.”

Then tell them (if your a deputy) why you voted the way you did for D025. Tell them, even if you’re not a deputy, why you’re in the Episcopal Church, what your hope and dream is for the Church, and why the time is now for moving towards full inclusion.

Pray for our Bishops, and pray for our church.

Herod’s Oath: When what is Right isn’t what was Promised

This morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 6:14-29) is one of those stories that I’m often surprised wasn’t left out of the Gospel of Mark, much less our lectionary series. It seems to offer little to the story of Jesus, focused on John the Baptist and his unfortunate demise. It most likely occurs here, in the Gospel of Mark, to bring home the fact of how dangerous it is to be a prophet. It is a clear message to the potential cost of speaking truth to authority, and making a public stand. Doing so will anger people, especially those with power and those comfortable with the status quo, and it is likely to get you into series trouble, and perhaps even killed.

There are, however, some really interesting things to point out about this story of John’s demise at the hand of Herod. It is the only New Testament story that can be closely examined by a non-Biblical, secular history source. Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived immediately after Jesus. He served as an advisor to three Roman emperors, and his history books were widely read for centuries. Josephus writes that the Herod of this story, the son of Herod the Great who ordered the killing of babies found in the birth narratives, married his sister-in-law in controversial fashion. Herodias left her living husband for Herod, and Herod’s wife fled to her father, an Arab king named King Aretas. This ultimately led to a battle where Herod’s army was wiped out.

Josephus also writes that, shortly before this battle, Herod had John the Baptist executed. Josephus does not say if John criticized the marriage, but it is inferred in the sequence of the story that John’s execution is not an isolated event, making it entirely possible that John the Baptist really did publicly oppose the marriage, and perhaps suggesting that Herod’s defeat was punishment for his actions.

One other fascinating discovery is that Josephus mentions that Herodias, from her previous marriage, had a daughter named Salome, thus entering a name into our collective Biblical memories that is NEVER MENTIONED anywhere in our Biblical texts. Perhaps Mark mistakenly used Herodias’ name instead of Salome, (the footnote in the NRSV says “other ancient authorities read ‘the daughter of Herodias herself”...this was what Matthew used in 14.6), or perhaps she was known by her mother’s name as well (suggests the annotated NRSV). Regardless, many of us (including me)end up with Salome’s name without reading Josephus and the name Salome not appearing in the Bible.
(Accounts of Josephus taken from the website of Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.)

Now that we’ve looked at our non-Biblical source, I want to dwell on the Herod of Mark’s account. Mark tells us that Herod assumes Jesus is John the Baptist raised, launching into the story of how Herod put John to death.

The tale has Herod throwing John in prison for speaking the unwelcome
truth that Herod’s marriage to Herodias was not lawful. John lives, however, because Herod recognizes the Baptist as a holy and righteous man. The text even goes as far to say that John perplexed Herod, that in some sense he feared John, and protected and listened to him even as The Baptist sat in Herod’s prison.

So Herod has a birthday party in front of a bunch of important people. We are told that his daughter (that would be Herodias’ biological daughter) dances for him and the experience pleases him so much that he offers her whatever she wants, solemnly swearing to even give her half of his kingdom. She goes to her mother, giving Herod’s wife the opportunity for revenge against John...who, remember, had publicly declared her marriage unlawful. The request for John’s head is made, and the text says, “The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.” And so follows the gruesome conclusion of the story...

Here is a story full of corrupt authority. John is imprisoned for speaking the truth to someone with power. Despite himself, Herod recognizes John’s authority and integrity. The stage is set for the final set of choices. Herod, taken in by the young woman’s dancing, makes a foolish oath that he’ll giver her anything. Whether he does this to gain her favor, or impress his guests, we can only speculate. But it backfires in his face when she asks for the head of John the Baptist.

We are told that the King didn’t want to, but is compelled to honor his word.

As I read commentary after commentary on this passage, I saw the conclusion being made that Herod had no choice in the matter but to keep his word. One person wrote that Herod had fallen in to the trap. Herod “had to” honor his bravado and grant the young woman her request.

Another wrote that the only semi-honorable thing Herod does in this story is - reluctantly - keep his promise made to his daughter.

I have to ask: where is the honor in keeping your word if it is the wrong thing to do?

Herod would have lost face with all of his guests. The cost would have been great: who knows if his officers would have ever served him again with any passion? Who knows if any other leader would have ever trusted a promise of Herod? He would have forever been known as an oath-breaker...one who did not keep his promises. Would that have been a cost worth paying to do the right thing?

It has been said by many a wise person that we our only as good as our word. But when the promise that we’ve made is wrong, at what point do we admit our mistake and accept the cost that comes with breaking our word? It is not something to do lightly, but when it’s clear we’ve committed to something that is wrong, isn’t the most honorable thing to do is let go of our honor and risk tarnishing our reputation? Is our word worth the cost of not doing what is right?

What, for God’s sake, would Jesus do?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Episcopal Church: The Time is Now

I believe that, three years ago, B033 passed in a moment of fear.

As I walked around during the early part of the Columbus Convention in 2006, the place was abuzz over who would be the next Presiding Bishop. Person after person expressed their impressed opinions of the Bishop of Nevada, Katharine Jefferts Schori. “She’s so articulate, she’s brilliant, she’s personable, thoughtful, spiritual, etc etc etc. Then everyone would end with the words, “Too bad she’s not electable,”

Well, we all know what the Holy Spirit did...

None of us non-bishops know what really happened next, but I think what I like to call an “oh s#%t” moment happened. There was an onset of fear that the conservative wing of the church and perhaps the rest of the Anglican Communion would never embrace a female bishop after receiving no contrite action on the Windsor Report.

So B033 was hatched...

I believe the hope was that this would give the new Presiding Bishop a chance of acceptance with the rest of the Communion.

The cost, however, was great: a heavy burden on the clergy and lay deputies to approve something they disagreed with, a sense of betrayal to the GLBT leaders in the church, disappointment to Episcopalians who thought that the barriers of discrimination were coming down, and a message to those outside the church that the Episcopal Church was stalling on the promise that all were welcome to full inclusion of the church.

The ironic thing is, it didn’t work. The conservative wing still left, and the general reaction of those looking to punish the Episcopal Church for lifting up GLBT people was “not enough.”

I will acknowledge that B033 was passed by the House of Bishops in 2006 with the idea that “this was the best we can do right now.” I will accept that action then as a well-intentioned mistake.

The mistake must now be corrected.

The window of opportunity for the Episcopal Church is near closing. For once in the last 100 years, the church is leading the cause of inclusion. We pathetically waited too long for the full inclusion of African Americans and women, as the rest of our society moved on and lumped us with other churches as “out of touch” with real life. If we wait any longer, we will once again only be “catching up with the times, and apologizing for our hesitation and short-sightedness.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fanning the Flames

Before General Convention began, I asked the All Saints' Littleton congregation not to settle for the "partial picture" from Anaheim. Newspapers will focus on what sells (sex and controversy), and various people will pick and choose peoples' words carefully to sway.

So, I'm not the least bit surprised (but still shaking my head) when I see things like:

"Bishop Gene Robinson says "Gay Church? You Bet we are!"


"The Presiding Bishop defined heretics as those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior"

Wow! What Controversy! Quick, call your friends to get outraged together!

What they actually said, in context, fans the flames in a different way.

The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson:
“God’s love is about celebrating one another in the fullness of their diversity."

"There are a lot of Episcopalians who say they are embarrassed when people say you are the ‘gay’ church.” To this, Episcopalians should say, “You bet we are.

“We are the church of the people of color, the church of women, the church of the mentally ill,” he said, a church of no outcasts."

(These quotes came from the question time, covered in the article here @ The Living Church, but it's worth noting the "sensational headline and opening sentence" are meant to provoke and aflame. Watch what Robinson said leading up to this. )

I believe that Bishop Robinson is saying that we are all the church, and we especially need to claim the place in the church for those who tend to be marginalized and discriminated against.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jeferts Schori said:

The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy –that we can be saved as individuals, that any of use alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being.

The "heresy" there is not in confessing Jesus, but the thought that our salvation rests only on our one individual action...that nothing else matters to God.

It's sort of like "loving God" without "loving neighbor." Jesus was pretty clear that the two were related.

It's worth noting that, for many people, the "confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior" is the first moment of conversion. It's the mountain top experience of transformation, and one's life is never the same. It's powerful and beautiful.

But it's also seductive and potentially stagnate: remember Peter, who wanted to stay on the mountain top and build booths. That idea wasn't a good one because it meant an end to growth and engagement. It would mean an end to mission and service. It suggests that transformation is over the first time our eyes were opened.

That's the PB's point: our development in God and the Church never ends. Our identity is one of constant change and discovery, and the points of transformation happen as we come together, just as much (if not more so) as when we sit alone and reflect, meditate and pray.

Episcopal Church GC: Wednesday

I'm in NH, keeping tabs on the work of the General Convention in Anaheim.

The official Daily Wrap is available here from Episcopal Life online.

Archbishop addresses Convention on Global Economics
From the Episcopal Life online article by Matthew Davies:

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, addressing the Convention in a forum called The Christian Faithfulness in the Global Economic Crisis, described the economic downturn as a "crisis of truthfulness."

Williams said, "We have suddenly discovered we have been lying to ourselves. For the last decade or more there has been a steady erosion of trust in our financial life. Our word has not been our bond. We have learned to tolerate high levels of evasion and anti-relational practices.

"We have lied to ourselves about the possibility of profit without risk. We have lied to ourselves consistently about the possibility of limitless material growth in a limited world. We have denied precisely that ubuntu that this convention seeks to venerate and reinforce," Williams added, referring to the convention theme that emphasizes the interconnectedness of people in community.

“The task before us as people of faith is to name this as a crisis of truthfulness and to challenge ourselves about the truth and above all to live in the truth."

Deputies adopt mission priorities for 2010-2012
From the EpiscopalLife online article by Mary Frances Schjonberg and Melodie Woerman

The House of Deputies adapted the Anglican Communion's Five Marks of Mission

Here are the five priorities proposed by the House of Deputies

Networking the members of the body of Christ
* Establishing and supporting collaborative efforts within and among dioceses and congregations to promote vibrant ministry in service to God's mission
* Structuring healthy relationships with overseas dioceses of The Episcopal Church and those Anglican provinces historically related to The Episcopal Church, clarifying commitments with firm timelines and establishing necessary accountability
* Promoting partnerships with other dioceses and churches of the Anglican Communion, encouraging multi-diocese mission efforts that reduce redundancy and enhance relationships both domestic and foreign
* Advancing ecumenical relationships and collaborations

Alleviating poverty and injustice
* Inspiring and modeling a genuine commitment to the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.
* Addressing, domestically and abroad, the challenges and consequences of a failing global economy
* Advocating for and working to provide education, healthcare, employment, housing, and equal rights for all of God's beloved
* Promoting environmental sustainability and stewardship of creation

Claiming our identity
* Exploring and discovering who we are as the Episcopal Church, within the comprehensive reality of our complex culture and in relationship to others
* Educating about Episcopal Church governance and polity, forming at all ages our Christian, Episcopal, and Anglican identity
* Telling Christ's story and our story, utilizing current technology and a vibrant contemporary communications network

Growing congregations and the next generations of faith
* Establishing lifelong Christian formation throughout the Church, with specific support of youth and young adults
* Making evangelists of all communicants
* Teaching and developing the spiritual discipline of giving
* Providing discernment and formation of lay and ordained ministries
* Supporting congregational vitality and development, with particular attention to immigrant, indigenous, and underserved populations

Strengthening governance and foundations for ministry
* Inspiring and developing sound leadership at all levels of the Church
* Moving from programmatic structures to ministry networks
* Collaborating with seminaries and dioceses to restructure and retool theological education for a changing church
* Reviewing provincial and diocesan configurations and composition
* Assuring standards of accountability and measurement of outcome
* Providing legal and operational support for dioceses in transition or litigation

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bono's Italian Love Letter

Bono wrote a love letter to Italy preparing for his role in the G8 Summit in Rome.

The whole thing is fantastic, but here's my favorite part:

"Who would want to be a politician in these times? Now more than ever we need leaders who have an ability to leap forward in time to a world differently envisioned, then spring back and make the changes required to realize it."

Just in time for the Episcopal Church to hear as well, as they discuss their budget and the MDGs.

Episcopal Church GC: Day "Zero"

I'm not in Anaheim for the Episcopal Church General Convention, but I'm keeping track.

Day "Zero," the first day before the opening of business, featured addresses by the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson.

Recap of Anderson's address and full text

Recap of Jefferts Schori's address and full text

Both addresses can be watched at the church's media hub.

If you're into Twitter, follow me there for real time conversation.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Family Gatherings

“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

This is a popular saying of Jesus. It is found in some form in every Gospel, including the Gospel of Thomas.

It seems a most appropriate subject matter after a July 4th weekend, for my hunch is that as families gathered, there’s been at least one instance of someone thinking (and hopefully not saying aloud) “who does she think she is.” I’m also willing to bet that the flipside is true: that someone in the family felt disrespected among their friends and neighbors this weekend.

There just might be some instances of this at the “Family Gathering” happening in Anaheim this week…

So, in this spirit, I’d like to explore the Mark’s version of the story (Mk 6:1-6) in terms of family dynamics.

Now, there’s an inherent danger any time we use a “Jesus conflict” to relate to our human conflicts. The assumption is that if one of us is pegged as “Jesus”, then they must be in the right, and anyone opposing or countering Jesus must be in the wrong.

Let’s resist that temptation for now, and speculate on the story.

Jesus is in his hometown. The Sabbath day arrives, and he started teaching in the temple.

I wonder if this was the intent of the trip, to teach in the synagogue, or was he primarily home visiting family and neighbors? Had the local rabbi been bugging Jesus: when are you coming home and sharing your good news with us? Was teaching the primary reason to return to his hometown, or was this some work on the side while visiting family, or perhaps even an excuse to get out of the house? I can’t tell, but it seems clear that Jesus ultimately places himself in the public domain.

So he does his thing: he astounds people with his insight into the scriptures, with his healing abilities, and with his general wisdom: and then they begin to resent him.

The question is: why do they resent him?

Well, the other people who resented Jesus were those in power: the synagogue leaders and the scribes, who felt threatened by him.

Something similar must have been going on...why would Jesus’ family and neighbors feel threatened by him?

The answer again is a change in dynamics and established order. Jesus’ place in the hometown was clearly perceived: son, brother, neighbor, carpenter.

Jesus comes back very different, and it clearly shows. His perceived place no longer clearly fits, and it produces anxiety. Some may be unnerved that this guy had changed so much, and some might even be resentful that their lives have, in comparison, changed so little.

It’s not surprising that the reaction is strongly negative.

Jesus shares some responsibility in this reaction. Remember, he has been transformed: transfigured by God. In the Gospel of Mark, he left his hometown a carpenter, and came out of the waters of baptism as God’s anointed. He is a changed man.

So he enters his hometown, knowing he’s a very different person then when he left. Jesus can’t, and shouldn't hide who he is. He should not simply play along like everything’s the same. But the situation called for a different approach than “business as usual.” Honest, intimate conversations on who he’d become, and what he now understood, would surely have gone over better then mass teaching in the synagogue. His family and neighbors perceived that Jesus had spiritually changed, and, unsure of where they still connected to him, they reacted negatively.

The results are striking: an inability to carry out the ministry. Jesus is unable to transform anyone’s life.

We have all been on both sides of this spectrum: the one who’s changed, and the one who’s unaware of the change, and upon realization, unsure what the change means to the relationship.

There’s no easy way to handle this: change is difficult, and produces anxiety by its unknown quality. Change is, however, always happening in one way or another, and pretending otherwise does not make it go away.

We are called, like it or not, to honestly explore our changes and new understandings with a gentleness in nature...whether we are the one who’s changed, or we are the one unsure as to what the change means.

Transformation does not absolve us from our relationships to our families and our neighbors. The only way to reconcile these relationships, however, is to be the change that God has called us to be: loving those who are still our family, searching out the quiet moments for the sharing of stories, and boldly proclaiming that God has called us to something new.