Sunday, July 8, 2012

Family Gatherings 2012

(I wrote this three years ago the last time this Gospel came around, and General Convention was happening.  Seems just as true this time, so I made only minor changes.  But in case you are wondering, this was NOT my sermon this morning...)
“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 week, 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 Indianapolis 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.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Presbyterians "steal spotlight" from Episcopalians (in the eyes of the Mainstream Media)

I guess it's still true:  whoever talks about SEX more gets more press.

(Even if no one is actually talking about "sex", but I digress...) 

From the Chicago Tribune:
The U.S. Presbyterian Church on Friday narrowly rejected a proposal by same-sex marriage proponents for a constitutional change that would redefine marriage as a union between "two people," rather than between a woman and a man. 
The 338-308 vote followed nearly four hours of heated debate at the Church's General Assembly in Pittsburgh, a biennial gathering to review policy. 
The Church, with around 2 million members, currently allows ministers to bless gay unions but prohibits them from solemnizing homosexual civil marriages.
Opponents of the change argued the move would alienate the Church from Presbyterian churches in other countries, while backers said it should be a leader in advocating for the acceptance of same-sex marriage.
Michael Wilson, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, told the General Assembly the proposal threatened to "tear the Church apart."
But Piper Madison, from North Alabama Presbytery, said "the Church doesn't ask us to do what others approve of, it asks us to do what is right."

The group More Light Presbyterians released this press release:
Presbyterian Church (USA) Discusses Marriage; Misses Historic Opportunity
Pittsburgh, PA – Today, the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) discussed two different ways to expand the 2 million member denomination’s understanding of marriage to include committed same-sex couples. While neither option ultimately collected the majority of votes needed to begin the ratification process, this discussion marked another step towards making the Presbyterian Church (USA) a truly inclusive church. 
“While it is disappointing that the Church missed this historic opportunity to move toward full inclusion, the fact that so many Presbyterians from around the country called for the Church to recognize love between committed same-gender couples was awe-inspiring to see.” said Michael J. Adee, Executive Director, More Light Presbyterians. “We have more work to do to show those who oppose full inclusion how truly wonderful the gifts that committed, married same-sex couples bring to our church. We’re inspired by the progress we’ve made together and are just as committed to continuing this work, together.”
The Civil Union and Marriage Committee recommended overture 13-04 to amend W-4.9001, the Directory of Worship to change the characterization of marriage from a "man and a woman" to “two persons.” The Directory of Worship is part of the Book of Order, the PCUSA's Constitution. This is the first time an overture like this has been debated by a Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly.
The second overture would have issued an authoritative interpretation that would permit ministers residing in states where marriage between same-sex couples is already legal to preside at same-sex wedding ceremonies. This overture would have clarified a confusing limbo that many Presbyterian ministers find themselves in as more and more states recognize same-sex marriage.
Rev. Heidi Peterson, pastor, Central Presbyterian Church, Kansas City, Missouri and Co-Moderator, More Light Presbyterians said: “As a Presbyterian minister, my job is to provide pastoral care to the real people I serve in my congregation and in my community. Today, our church missed an opportunity to not only take a bold step towards love, but to also clarify confusion that ministers across the country are facing as more and more states expand their recognition of marriage to include same-sex couples. While we didn’t take this step forward today, I have faith that the Presbyterian Church (USA) will one day soon stand on the side of love.” 
This progress on marriage equality follows on the heels of a 2011 amendment to open ordination in the church to include gay and lesbian candidates. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Day "Zero" of 2012 General Convention

Day "Zero" (before Convention business officially opens) features a few blog posts, a number of public hearings, and opening remarks from The Presiding Bishop and The President of the House of Deputies (which are excerpted and linked to the whole address).

Bishop Steve Lane (Maine) on the big word of pre-convention:  change

Bonnie Anderson, The President of the House of Deputies, connected July 4th to the church to deliver the most alarming marks:
Frederick Douglass, as you may know, was born a slave and escaped to freedom. He became one of this country’s leading abolitionists — the most prominent African American leader of the 19th century—and his writing and oratory served as the conscience of the nation for many years during the struggle to end slavery.
In his famous speech, Douglass spoke for those who were not made independent by Independence Day: 
“The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” 
The scourge of African American slavery that Douglass struggled against has ended in this country, but the plagues of racism, oppression, discrimination, violence and poverty have not—not in the United States, and not in any of the other fifteen countries of the Episcopal Church. What we celebrate on July 4th in the United States is an ideal that we have not yet achieved. Douglass’s words still ring true:  The blessings in which we, this day, rejoice, are still not enjoyed in common. 
As we set about discussing how to restructure the church, we need to remember that the blessings of independence earned through struggle in many countries of the Episcopal Church are not yet enjoyed in common in the church either. We have not yet realized the ideal of shared leadership of laity, clergy and bishops. Too many potential leaders in our church are excluded because people who already have power and access to money, technology, and education enjoy the privileges not available to all of us. 
We are a great and diverse body gathered here today, but I know — we all know — that too many voices are still missing. Too few of us gathered here today are poor, or young or people of color. In our idealistic yet imperfect polity, too many voices remain unheard in the councils of the church. 
Worse yet, in recent months, it’s even become fashionable in some circles to celebrate the exclusive nature of the church in the name of efficiency — to treat our governance as a lifeboat in which there is precious little room for laypeople and clergy, to question the value of our shared authority to the future of The Episcopal Church, to assert that the diversity of voices in our governance is just much, too loud, too messy, too expensive, and way too big.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's opening remarks:
I would invite everyone here to take a deep breath. Breathe in Holy Spirit, the source of life. Remember that we depend on that divine gift for all that we are and all that we have. Breathe deep, for the spirit is blowing a fresh wind, and bringing new creation out of the chaos of the deep. Contemplating that chaos frightens some, for we never know what is coming, but there is no creation without it – like the death that must precede resurrected life. We struggle with it because we can’t yet see what is aloft on that breeze. Yet we are the stuff of God’s creation, we are borne on that wind as partners in God’s re-creation, reconciling, and healing of this world. Breathe deep, and be not afraid, for God is at work in our midst.... 
Discovering the most effective ways to organize and network ourselves for mission, for governance, and for supporting that mission is going to require us to look outside ourselves. We have to be willing to search out the gifts and assets already present. Something like a blue ribbon commission would be helpful – a leadership group that includes independent voices, that is non-partisan, that will offer the input of outsiders and people on the margins of the church, not just those already deeply invested in the church and in the way the church is now. That may not be easy for this body to engage, but God is already at work beyond this Episcopal Church and we have something to learn from that reality. 
A lot of the anxiety in this body right now is rooted in fear of diminishment, loss of power or control, or change in status. The wider church – the grassroots – in not all that interested in the internal politics of this gathering. It is interested in the vitality of local congregations and communities, in ministry with young people, and in opportunities for transformative mission engagement in and beyond the local context. Our job here is to make common cause for the sake of God’s mission. That is in part a political task. 
Politics is not a dirty word – it refers to the art of living together in community, and it applies to Christ’s body as much as it does to the various nations in which this Church is present. We don’t yet live in the fullness of the reign of God, even though we do see glimpses of it around us and among us. Our task is to gather the various parts of this body of Christ, together with any partners who share our values, for the work of building societies that look more like the reign of God. That takes compromise, for we will never all agree on the proper route or method for getting there. We live in the awkward yet lively tension between what is and what will eventually come to be, in God’s good time. We aren’t going to find perfection at this Convention, but we can prayerfully work at discerning a way forward that will let us gather our common gifts to work toward that dream of the reign of God. 
We’re in this together – as the full range of Episcopalians, together with our Christian siblings – both those most like us and those who seem most distant – and we have other potential partners for the various parts of the mission God sends us to do. Our task is to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, in finding and blessing any creative gift that will serve God’s dream. Can we reframe our view? Will those with eyes to see and ears to hear look for the places where God’s creative presence is already at work? God has given those gifts, and we will miss the mark if we ignore them. We will miss all five marks if we ignore the partners and possibilities around us.

The Deputation from Minnesota had a nice list of voiced budget priorities:

Speakers so far have argued for:
--Our covenant partners to whom we give grants around the world
--Episcopal relief and development expressed many thanks for the MDGs, lots of great stories of people whose lives are better because of our generosity.
--Advocating continuing financial support for the network of social justice and jubilees ministries
--Devon just spoke very eloquently about what a prophetic witness we could make if especially in these hard times we chose the poor over our own needs.
--Advocating for the indigenous theological training institute 
--Advocating funding for indigenous ministries 
--Wanting money to plant churches
--(Fun fact: average age of episcopalians is 67 years old)
--Wanting not to cut money for the examining chaplains
--Supporting women’s ministries
--Developing electronic network infrastructure 
--And of course lots of advocates for Christian Ed, youth, and campus ministries

Finally, last night included the screenings of two movies.  From The Rev. Dr. Caroline J.A. Hall, Integrity President:

What a wonderful evening it was! About 125 people crowded into our meeting room to watch Out of the Box and Love Free or Die. As I’m sure you all know by now, Out of the Box is a moving and fascinating look at what it means to be transgender, and particularly, transgender people of faith. Most of the participants were there tonight, as were Bishop Gene Robinson and Bishop Tom Shaw. Love Free or Die follows Bishop Gene for an eventful year from his exclusion from the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 2008 to the General Convention of 2009 and the passing of D025 which opened the door to ordaining more LGBT bishops. In the movie, Bishop Tom Shaw comes out as a celibate gay man.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Viewing General Convention 2012 through the virtual world

The Episcopal Church meets for its General Convention every three years.

As an alternate Deputy from the Diocese of New Hampshire, I've had plans to travel to Indy for the last couple years.  However, life sometimes complicates things...

I have to have shoulder surgery to repair a SLAP tear of my right labrum (scheduled for Monday, after a month of PT).  This is the right time for me to do this, and unfortunately it means remaining in NH during General Convention.

I plan on updating the events of GC from afar as I can virtually discern them (at least, until my surgery).

There are lots of ways to stay informed with what is going on.

The Episcopal Cafe will have news updates and articles from people at General Convention.

The Cafe has also provided a list of bloggers (deputations and bishops) from GC.

The Episcopal Church is again offering a Media Hub for people to follow GC.

And of course, Twitter and Facebook also promise to be ablaze with commentary.

It's not the same as being there in person:  General Convention in an incredible experience, and despite its promised chaotic messiness, it is essential to our church.  (Consider Jim Naughton's article "On not being too good for General Convention").

I am grateful to all those who have journeyed to Indianapolis (and even more so to those who are hosting).

We who are there in spirit (virtually and prayerfully) will do our best to lend our ears, hearts, and minds to you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

JJ's reminder...

My dog JJ has asked me to remind you that the heat of a car can be fatal to your dog...

The dog in the picture is fake, but the temperature is real.

Even on 70 degree days, 5 minutes left in a car can be deadly to a dog...

Thanks to the officer(s) who made the demonstration, the Iowa Weim Rescue for posting it on Facebook, and the Littleton Police Department whose "share" brought it to my attention.