The Trump Delusion: What We’re Begging for is a Renewed Church not a New Prayer Book

So one of the truly galling facts of the most recent election is that so many people voted for a candidate of a party whose policies are in direct conflict with their interests as a class. Whether it was showmanship, demagoguery, or racial angst, a significant number of people voted for worse health insurance, less job security, reduced social safety benefits, tariffs, a degraded environmental quality, and so much more for the sake of taking a jab at “the system.” The system stood in for whatever grievance any person might have so a protest vote made sense no matter the cost.

Beneath that rage are real facts. The wealth gap is an appalling abomination. You can’t raise a family with a high school education. Minimum wage doesn’t get you an apartment in much of America let alone a vacation. Tuition has skyrocketed. Automation is taking our jobs. Our friends are addicted to meth, video games, or sex. Despair is real. It’s daily. It’s everything. The system is screwing us.

The heartbreaking realities of everyday Americans absolutely demand a moral response. Our political system, enslaved by corporate interests, has little concern with responding to those real needs so it creates new ones that it can respond to. Football players are kneeling. Illegals are stealing your jobs. Gays are marrying. All lives matter. On and on it goes.

So we become primed to respond to the symptoms of mailaise rather than the disease that triggers it. This is where I feel like we are as a Church.

Attendance is declining. Churches are closing. Where are the young people? Why is my church shrinking?

So the complaints pile up and they fuse with our own resentments until we are left with the conclusion that our resentments are reality. It doesn’t matter that robots and not the Chinese are stealing jobs. It doesn’t matter that increasing secularism and not stale liturgical prose are driving church closures – calamity is the midwife to irrational, spasmodic reaction. So as the country erupts in an undemocratic desire to make itself great again, the Church does likewise with equally predictable results.

We will make the Church great again with a new Prayer Book! Out will go the oppressive, antiquated, stale notions of holiness and in will come a renewed commitment to an egalitarian, modern notion of true Christian companionship! The problem is that even with a new Prayer Book we will still be the ones praying. We’re the problem. There is no health in us.

What we want is a country that lives into its ideals – what we want is a Church that lives into its baptismal covenant. We want internal commitment not external purity.

The push for external purity comes at the cost of internal commitment to renewal of life. In an age of social media it’s easy to believe that “Posting shapes believing” but it’s the opposite – we post for the sake of the appearance of a belief. Social networks reward the posting of certain kinds of virtuous content. So now we take on Prayer Book revision with the notion that Revision is Believing – but the challenge is not mobility in an era of perpetual reformation. The deepest challenge is believing because we are reformed.

Has our system of belief, action, and prayer been reformed by the act of submitting to being in Community? There is a profound difference between being in community and being in a social network. In a social network we choose the influences – we choose how we will be shaped. In a community we stumble across new influences that shape us and are surprised by the responses the Spirit leads us toward. In a community we look to the welfare of the whole to shape our grievance – our call to God – in a social network we insist that the whole shape their grievance to meet our demand.

The real facts of the Church today demand action. The real facts demand that the Church pray more deeply, believe more fervently, celebrate more faithfully, evangelize more truthfully, repent more lovingly, give more freely, preach more boldly, love more unsparingly, sacrifice more generously, go more willingly, receive strangers more warmly, and be, in so many ways, more godly.

There are facts today that should shock the conscience of any Episcopalian shaped by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. However we’re choosing to adjust the consciousness rather than to address the facts. We’re choosing to signal virtue rather than to say that the whole system of virtues is disgustingly, revoltingly in accord with the dominant and we, the Church, must choose to live in a counter-cultural way that accords with deeper and more lasting values.

We want a new Church – renewed Church fresh with the love of God and stirred to new works of loving mercy. We want a renewed Church inspired by the joy and wonder of God. We want a renewed Church that preaches repentance and forgiveness, that offers salvation and serenity, that binds up and restores, that casts down and raises up, that is evangelical and catholic and utterly centered on the life giving love of Jesus.

We want a Church that demands the most from us. We want a Church that demands that we resist evil. We want a Church that demands that we follow the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship. We want a Church that demands that when we fall away that we will repent and return to God. We want a Church that demands that we will continue in breaking Bread and in prayer. We want a Church that longs to be the Church inasmuch as so many want a nation that longs to be great – that longs to live into its ideals.

We don’t want a new Prayer Book – we want a renewed Church that wants to work, pray, and give for the sake, growth, and love of the Kingdom of God. So many want to make the Church great again that they’re willing to give up what makes us great. We don’t want a new thing – we want to live, with one heart and mind and voice, into that which Christ demands of us – we want to give our all for all.

The Church of tomorrow is not demanding adherence to the agendas of yesterday. It is demanding that the Church of yesterday live up to the demands of the moment. When we see that the Church today is responding to the facts on the ground today then we will trust them with tomorrow. Until that time we can only live into the call to love Christ and to make Christ known that we have inherited. We can only believe that the dream we have inherited is worth dreaming – yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Robert

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You can be right or you can be in relationship: You don’t get to choose both

One of my very bright and faithful clergy colleagues wrote, on Twitter, of General Convention’s deliberations, “this is not how Christianity works this is not how ANY part of Christianity has ever worked.” There is a unified feeling of disbelief among those who are longing to preserve the theological compromise that is the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and those longing to see injustices righted in its language, theology, and composition. This disbelief centers on one basic question, “Who are these people?”

Who are these people who cannot see that the Prayer Book’s language is misogynistic? Who are these people who can’t understand that God has revealed himself to be the Father so that’s enough? Who are these people who are afraid of Prayer Book revision? Who are these people who can never get enough of what they want?

Who are these people is the definitive question of our age. Because we’ve been nursed on and fed a diet of zero-sum political gamesmanship. Look at our politics. We now have mutually exclusive media ecosystems that reward, with little bursts of endorphins, being so, so right that major figures agree with you. We have a political system that thrives on the hit of biochemical affirmation that comes with a “like” on social media. We’re fed by a stream of little doses of bias confirmation. We assume others are fed by the same.

They are fed by the same triggers but they are not fed with the same food. So while we expect them to be addicted to the same addictions that we have they are, in reality, only addicted to the same reward – not the same stimulus. While our stimulus might be progressive orthodoxy theirs might be political revanchism. Yet our addiction is the very same – to being right. To being affirmed in our rightness. To being one with the rightest people.

Yet the call of Christ is to be one with the wrong people. Christ is always challenging us not to be right but to be in relationship – with him and one another. This is the choice we get to make. I tell every couple I’m marrying that you can be right or you can be in relationship – you don’t get to choose both at the same time. We’re now addicted to being right because we have been trained to be right, fed on being right, nursed to hate the wrong.

Being right is a spiritual sepsis for the Church. Church is so often the work of competing good – not just right and wrong.

There is something good and Holy about seeking to be in concert and continuity with the teaching and tradition we’ve inherited. There’s something right and good about acknowledging the holiness of relationships that scarce be named in the past. There’s something good in seeking to hold fast to the traditional prayer and formation that called us to Christ. There’s something good in seeing what is possible, what has been missed, so that we might see future generations called.

The Church is a complex web of competing goods – but we’ve been so trained to be right that we can only see the wrong. We’re beyond addicted. We’re at the point of sin. We’re at the point of sinful gluttony and anger. Gluttony for we all have a never satiated need to be right. Anger because we can’t bear compromise for the fear that it negates our rightness – our us.

We’re traveling together though. More than that we’re traveling as one Body. We can’t decide that we’re so right that another’s love, faith, or sense of duty is irrelevant. We’re traveling together and we can’t ever so long to be right that we no longer want to be in relationship.

We can’t let ourselves get to the point where we say, “who is this person?” Because, for the Christian, that person is Christ. That’s where the rightness of our relationship must always land. Choosing to be right so often feels desperately needed. If we’re wrong – if we give in – then our whole identity is on the line. Yet Jesus gives us the way. His deep sense of who he is, as the Father’s own, makes him able to accept all that comes not for the sake of being right but for the sake of being one with us – of being in relationship with us and with the Father.

The ultimate and most intimate answer to the question, “Who are these people?” is that they are us. Their fears are ours and their hopes are ours – their longing to be right is ours. If we can spend the time in prayer and corporal mercy together then we’ll see it – we’ll see the relationship whose rightness is not ours but God’s.

Relationships are the product of a hundred thousand small acts of sharing, giving, and receiving. May we so long to be in relationship that we demand love – that we demand to offer our selves, souls, and bodies for one another. In marriage we don’t often debate theological niceties – we do the dishes and we accept the joys of unexpected grace. May we be ready to offer ourselves to one another and to hear word of unexpected grace in the midst of our competing goods – which so often are really our common flourishing and the crucible of our salvation.

Robert

You can be right or you can be in relationship: You don’t get to choose both

One of my very bright and faithful clergy colleagues wrote, on Twitter, of General Convention’s deliberations, “this is not how Christianity works this is not how ANY part of Christianity has ever worked.” There is a unified feeling of disbelief among those who are longing to preserve the theological compromise that is the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and those longing to see injustices righted in its language, theology, and composition. This disbelief centers on one basic question, “Who are these people?”

Who are these people who cannot see that the Prayer Book’s language is misogynistic? Who are these people who can’t understand that God has revealed himself to be the Father so that’s enough? Who are these people who are afraid of Prayer Book revision? Who are these people who can never get enough of what they want?

Who are these people is the definitive question of our age. Because we’ve been nursed on and fed a diet of zero-sum political gamesmanship. Look at our politics. We now have mutually exclusive media ecosystems that reward, with little bursts of endorphins, being so, so right that major figures agree with you. We have a political system that thrives on the hit of biochemical affirmation that comes with a “like” on social media. We’re fed by a stream of little doses of bias confirmation. We assume others are fed by the same.

They are fed by the same triggers but they are not fed with the same food. So while we expect them to be addicted to the same addictions that we have they are, in reality, only addicted to the same reward – not the same stimulus. While our stimulus might be progressive orthodoxy theirs might be political revanchism. Yet our addiction is the very same – to being right. To being affirmed in our rightness. To being one with the rightest people.

Yet the call of Christ is to be one with the wrong people. Christ is always challenging us not to be right but to be in relationship – with him and one another. This is the choice we get to make. I tell every couple I’m marrying that you can be right or you can be in relationship – you don’t get to choose both at the same time. We’re now addicted to being right because we have been trained to be right, fed on being right, nursed to hate the wrong. Yet Church is often the work of competing goods.

There is something good and Holy about seeking to be in concert and continuity with the teaching and tradition we’ve inherited. There’s something right and good about acknowledging the holiness of relationships that scarce be named in the past. There’s something good in seeking to hold fast to the traditional prayer and formation that called us to Christ. There’s something good in seeing what is possible, what has been missed, so that we might see future generations called.

The Church is a complex web of competing goods – but we’ve been so trained to be right that we can only see the wrong. We’re beyond addicted. We’re at the point of sin. We’re at the point of sinful gluttony and anger. Gluttony fo we all have a never satiated need to be right and anger because we can’t bear compromise for the fear that it negates our rightness – our us. We’re traveling together. More than that we’re traveling as one Body. We can’t decide that we’re so right that another’s love, faith, or sense of duty is irrelevant. We’re traveling together and we can’t ever so long to be right that we no longer want to be in relationship.

We can’t let ourselves get to the point where we say, “who is this person?” Because, for the Christian, that person is Christ. That’s where the rightness of our relationship must always land. Choosing to be right so often feels desperately needed. If we’re wrong – if we give in – then our whole identity is on the line. Yet Jesus gives us the way. His deep sense of who he is, as the Father’s own, makes him able to accept all that comes not for the sake of being right but for the sake of being one with us – of being in relationship with us and with the Father.

Relationships are the product of a hundred thousand small acts of sharing, giving, and receiving. May we so long to be in relationship that we demand love – that we demand to offer our selves, souls, and bodies for one another. In marriage we don’t often debate theological niceties – we do the dishes and we accept the joys of unexpected grace. May we be ready to offer ourselves to one another and to hear word of unexpected grace in the midst of our competing goods – which so often are really our common flourishing and the crucible of our salvation.

Robert

Peace Between the Outrages

After the 10:00am mass today a woman told me, “I’m back at church today for the first time in twelve years because I read the message you sent about the separation of families at the border. I’m here to stay and I want to get involved.” Social justice is evangelical.

It’s often easy to fall into a separation between justice and preaching the gospel. The simple truth is that Kingdom news is Good News for our souls as individuals and, if we live it, it is Good News for the community as a whole. The challenge, in a reactive time, is to figure out what is justice and what is anger. There is, of course, such a thing as righteous anger that can lead to movements for justice. There is also unprocessed anger that continues cycles of reactive blame and retributive lashing out.

Another path is harder. The path of the Church is one in which the whole community is shaped by the regular and rich encounter with Christ in Word and Sacrament and finds their voice in the message and voice of Christ. This takes longer. This requires not just preaching prophetically but listening prophetically – listening to what’s moving in our shared life, our shared burdens, our shared hopes. That sharing is not just between one Christian and another but between the gathered people and Christ. This kind of sharing can break the cycle of violent indifference and indifferent violence rather than feed it.

The discipline of the Daily Office is one way we find this shared voice. It’s amazing to me what will come up in prayers at morning prayer. Often it’s as if the still small voice raises things that I had no idea were there. Or if I did know they were there I find that I was burying them under the chaff of busyness. Yet, when we make the space to listen, the Spirit will move where the Spirit chooses.

I’m always mindful of the example of Jonathan Myrick Daniels who went down to the Deep South in the heat of the movement for integration. He went down because it was in hearing the Magnificat at evening prayer that his heart was warmed toward justice. I’m sure he’d heard those words countless times and yet something in the swirl of the day’s news and the Virgin’s song called him to action – and strengthened him to give himself away for the sake of justice.

It’s one thing to react out of a shallow and reptilian anger or fear. It’s another thing to respond from the deep well of righteous compassion (sharing in the passion, the suffering) that is Christ’s own with the world.

It would be easy, week in and week out, to preach or teach on the latest outrage or secular contretemps. It takes discipline to avoid those for the deeper work of being with the Triune God – to dwell with God in contemplation. It’s that very act of taking in the Word and the Self that enables us to find the courage and the hope to give ourselves away. Week by week we need divine assistance to face the inhuman. We need the strength of broken bread to risk being broken ourselves. We need the blessing of the shared Cup to risk being a blessing ourselves. We need inward and spiritual grace to be an outward and visible sign.

We get pushed week by week to respond to the latest outrage – especially clergy. We are pushed to shape the liturgy or preaching based on the world’s demands. Sometimes what the world needs though is for us to claim a space that is unworldly – that is set apart from the scrolling outrages of social media. Sometimes though the world needs us to step up – to step away from the Rail with renewed strength and to stand and say no more. Sometimes the world needs us to rise up from kneeling before the tabernacle and to lift up the broken Body of Christ that is the caged child and say, “This is His Body.”

If we don’t make space for the peace of God we will be consumed by the anger of the world. We will become numb to suffering because we will find that we can, literally, care no more. This is the devil’s greatest desire – that we get so caught up that we flame out and can care no longer. We need peace that we may make it.

Between the outrages of the world we need to find the peace which passes all understanding. We need that space of peace so that we can see, hear, and know where God is speaking to us. We need that peace to discern what it true, holy, just, and pure. We need that peace to see with the eyes of faith what is blasphemous, unholy, and evil. In an age of fake news we need that space to hear Good News. That Good News is prophetic. It is justice. It is peace. It is mercy. Make space for the Good News – make space for peace – that you may preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are closest to you.

Robert

The Many Problems with Bishop Michael Curry’s Royal Wedding Sermon

There were so many mis-steps in Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding that it’s difficult to know where to start. Despite the fact that a billion people saw it, major media around the world are sharing it, and Episcopalians took pride and found joy in seeing one of our own bring the word there are ways he could have avoided a number of serious blunders.

Let’s just start at the beginning.

1. He opened with the egregiously outdated Trinitarian formula, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” There are far more creative ways that he could have talked about the various workplace roles of the Godhead and the sustaining work of the Redeemer. It just seemed unwelcoming.

2. Way too much Jesus. Really. Do a billion people need to be reminded of who Jesus is and the ways we are called to follow? Did they need the reminder to love God and love neighbor given by Jesus? People know more than enough about Jesus and really didn’t need a sermon that spent so much time on him. Besides this was a room full of people of all backgrounds and it seems like Bishop Curry could have chosen selections from world wisdom – these are not all followers of Christ after all and it’s not like we have some commission or the like to “evangelize.”

3. Too much love. Really. I think people have plenty of evidence these days that religion is about love. He could have spent time on any number of other topics without resorting to telling people that God is Love. Again, like with the Jesus thing, people can see everyday in our culture and news that Christianity is, at its heart, a movement of love.

4. Too personal. It’s weird when preachers show us how faith has reached them at a deep level. People need more information about God and these kinds of shows of deep devotion and conviction are confusing. It’s almost as if he was trying to say that Jesus (there he is again) can change who we are and how we see the world and not just tweak how we think about it.

5. Too political. I found it off putting that Bishop Curry wanted to bring uncomfortable things like slavery or Dr King into all of this. Why mix politics and faith? Jesus (oops, too much) rarely if ever mentioned these kinds of issues. If politics is about working out issues in community then it’s a little frightening to have someone say that Jesus (there he is again) has anything to do with the way we treat other people. Shaking hands at the Peace is about as political as we should get.

6. Too long. Really, if you are only preaching the Gospel to all nations then that could be creditably accomplished in four or five minutes.

7. Too predictable. It’s annoying that we can expect the Presiding Bishop to hammer, day in and day out, on Jesus and love. I wish he’d get more creative.

I’m sure that when time passs and the heady rush of the day wears off then people will be more appropriately critical of this personally convicted, Trinitarian, Jesus-proclaiming, socially conscious, and predictable sermon on the power of Love.

Feel free to watch and prove me wrong!

The Torture of Our Souls

On my drive to work today, as I do most days, I was listening to various podcasts.  Today’s was a Slate interview with the author of the Rolling Stone piece, “An Open Letter to Gina Haspel From Someone Who Was Physically Tortured.” The author was held for two years by Al Qaeda in Syria.  He writes, “I began to wonder: What had happened to the young men who bore the weapons in the torture room to make them willing to induce such suffering in a helpless person?”

I wonder this now in our national culture.  What has happened to make us so willing to induce suffering in the helpless?  What has happened that we are, again, debating the merits of strapping people who are in our custody to boards and simulate drowning them.  This is not a simple matter of getting information.  This is a matter of triggering primal fear in a soul in our custody – it is a matter of subjecting human beings to emotional, spiritual, and physical horror.

These details are from the Intelligence Committee’s report on what happened at Gina Haspel’s black site in Thailand:

“…walling, attention grasps, slapping, facial hold, stress positions, cramped confinement, white noise and sleep deprivation—continued ‘in varying combinations, 24 hours a day, for 17 straight days,’ through August 20, 2002. When Abu Zubaydah was left alone during this period, he was placed in a stress position, left on the waterboard with a cloth over his face, or locked in one of two confinement boxes. According to the cables, Abu Zubaydah was also subjected to the waterboard ‘2-4 times a day … with multiple iterations of the watering cycle during each application.’

The ‘aggressive phase of interrogation’ continued until August 23,
2002. Over the course of the entire 20-day ‘aggressive phase of interrogation,’ Abu Zubaydah spent a total of 266 hours (11 days, 2 hours) in the large (coffin size) confinement box and 29 hours in a small confinement box, which had a width of 21 inches, at depth of 2.5 feet, and a height of 2.5 feet…”

crucifixionThere is a point at which a people lose their collective soul not through actions they commit but through the actions they willingly allow to be committed on their behalf.  We are fast reaching that point.  We are reaching the point where our leaders are mortgaging our soul for the sake of cheap points scored in political gamesmanship.  We are reaching the point where an inveterate liar who is now our commander-in-chief is appointing people to high position who have broken not the will of the enemy but the souls of barely-eligible-to-drink-and-vote men and women by making them shatterers of bodies, minds, and spirits.
At some point or another we will pay for this.  We will be judged because we have turned away from seeing Christ in all people.  We will look in a mirror collectively and see the Devil looking back – smiling and complacent he will tell us, “At least I kept you safe.” The cost is too high.  The cost is too bloody.  The cost is too much pain.

When a people reach the point of sanctioning the degrading and violent abuse of prisoners then we have reached the point where we can see them thrown to the lions.  We have reached the point where we can force them to fight for our amusement.  We have reached the point where we shout Crucify.  We have reached the revolting apex of civilization in the pursuit of smashing the uncivilizable enemy and, thereby, become utterly and disgustingly tamed by evil.

Evil is a taming force.  It is a force that domesticates the passions because it numbs our ability to stand in the experience of others.  It numbs us to their fear – so we build a wall against those fleeing violence and oppression.  It numbs us to their heartaches – so we gut social service programs.  It numbs us to their loss, their misery, their depression, their hunger, their thirst, their very humanity.

The embrace of the horrors of torture is an embrace of the demonic.  Full stop.  No amount of practicality (and there is no demonstrable practical value) with regard to getting information can make this morally right.  It is immoral.  It is ineffective.  It is an abasement of all that makes us whole, human, or especially Christian.

No person who wants this country to engage in “enhanced interrogation” should ever, ever again call this a Christian nation.  Call it pagan.  Call in an empire.  Call it whatever you want but to call it Christian if it is to torture captive bodies is a vile slander of the name of Christ.  If we call it Christian while it tortures then it becomes the vilest of masquerades hiding our shame, violence, and fearful need for so-called security beneath a mask of self-deceit.

To call us Christian Torturers is to put us at the foot of the Cross hurling one more insult as we shout, “Hail, King of the Jews” while wielding the spear against the captive God.

When our compassion (our sharing in the passion, the death-dealing pain) with the world is psychically, emotionally, and spiritually ablated we are not safe but utterly and completely obliterated as functioning human beings.  That evangelical Christians are supporting this kind of revolting return to Dark Age tactics of soul-shattering abuse of captives by supporting this President and his nominees is a stain from which Christianity as we know it should not recover.

The world should know that we are the most grotesque of hypocrites and demand that we return to the example of Christ.  We follow a tortured God.  We follow a broken Savior.  We follow a God who cried out “I thirst” who thought himself forsaken by his Father at an Empire’s spear-tip.  This is the God who demanding, pleading, and praying that we repent and return to the Lord.

If we do not recoil in horror and cry out at the senseless cruelties that are being condoned and embraced in our name then we are lost – and worse than lost.  We will be worse than lost for we will have condemned a generation to reject Christ because we Christians have blasphemed and held as worthless the very thing which Christ held so dear – the souls and bodies of our enemies.

Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.

A Catholic Future: Universal Discomfort

We have had many discussions over the last couple of days about the meaning of Catholic. The common usage, in Episcopal circles, is universal. This seems like a dodge. The meaning seems deeper. Perhaps it is more akin to whole or complete. Is the whole of our life shaped by the encounter with the cross and tomb – not intellectually but by kneeling, crossing, smelling, and weeping?

Is our whole self brought to our whole awareness of the whole grace and mercy of God or is this a fragmented and Balkanized hobby that we consign to Sunday out of either malign intent or benign neglect? Catholic is not a team mascot but an encompassing reality in which what is universal is not our consumer opprobrium based in class distinction but our whole, obedient, quiescent and rebellious self making due with the perfect wholeness of Christ made known in the other, in the self, in bread made Bread, in wine made Wine, and in self made Us.

Catholic is less an adjective than a verb. It is the being of beings striving to be one in Being. This sublimates the urge for tidiness and gives way to the messiness of heartbreaking reality – it is allowing oneself, in death, an open casket so that mourning may be complete rather than insisting on a premature Immolation that we may avoid the discomfort of life ended or avoided too soon – or of appearing less than our best self rendered in the perfectly framed portrait.

Catholic is not a label but an algorithm of animating automation. It is an automation that presumes attenuation with Holy Will whether we realize it or not. It assumes that the brain-dead and the brilliant alike are one in peace and a piece of the Body. So, to cross oneself is not a marker of pride but a reminder of the soulful solidarity with an end and a beginning. To use incense is not an annoyance for the restrained but a restraint on the restraint that limits the senses to only those which are dignified and appropriate. To bow or kneel is not a flagrant act of self abasement that degrades dignity but an act of ultimate dignity for it gives honor to our choice to accede to the Primacy of the Holy One.

So much more is there – just beyond the labels, divination, and the devices and desires. So much more is there waiting for the end of labels that give comfort so that the heart of it all may be laid bare in a universal, uncomfortable, eager, and halting holiness.

Fr Robert

Priesthood is a Pack Activity

In 2009 a number of fellow clergy and I worked to start a North American branch of the Society of Catholic Priests which had begun in England.  It is a group that seeks to follow the traditional Catholic faith of the Church while being open to the insights and movements of the Holy Spirit along the way.  This meant that unlike many Catholic societies within Anglicanism we welcomed women who are priests, LGBT people, and others.  Our goal was not to question anyone’s priestly ministry but to affirm the Catholic heart of priesthood however it is understood.

In England this has meant a good deal more striving for the ordination of women bishops while in the United States this has meant a good deal more striving for apostolic continuity of faith with regard to Sacraments, Creeds, and more.  When the Bishop Visitor from the United Kingdom arrived for our first annual conference in New Haven he expressed surprise and dismay (in a restrained British way) that we were arguing for the proper Trinitarian invocation at Baptism.  He was dismayed not because we were arguing therefore but because we had to make the argument at all.  The same was true of the relationship between Communion and Baptism.

One of the choices we made when starting the American chapter was that we would welcome not only priests (those ordained to the priesthood) but lay religious and deacons as well to full membership.  This was a departure from our mother province’s practice but one that I think was well grounded.

The-Mass-of-St.-Gregory-feathers-on-a-wood-panel-68-x-56-cm-Mexico-1539The grounding, for me, has come in hindsight.  I am not sure that I could have articulated why we made that choice when we did.  My Rector, the first Convener of the Society might have been able to but I only know that I concurred.  I was not a priest yet when we started the Society.  It was an odd position to be starting a Society for priests when I was only eligible to be a provisionary member.

Having been a curate, sub-dean, and now rector I can now say with more certainty what was only an inchoate notion then – we admitted lay religious and deacons because priesthood is a pack activity.

Tomorrow is our annual meeting.  It is my second in this congregation.  I am reverently aware as I put together the “Rector’s Report” that the work I do is simply to create the boundaries of healthy habits and help till the soil so that a verdant and fully alive ecosystem of faith, hope, and love can take root and grow.  It would be easy to think that a Rector does something by force of charisma, faithfulness, charm, or intellect.  It would be easy but deleterious.

When I worked in retail we used to joke, “This would be a great store if it weren’t for the customers.” Of course, the customers were completely annoying and exhausting.  This was because they were consumers and we were there to facilitate their consumption.

Our parishioners are not here to be consumers – they join us as fellow ministers – as those who work, pray, and give that more may come to the Font and to the Altar.  They join us as friends and witnesses of the faith that is in them.  They are walking Sacraments – sign and outward manifestation of grace so deeply welcomed.  Our priesthood is theirs insofar as they invite, by word and inspiring service, those they meet to see and know that abundant life is waiting at the foot of the cross and beyond.

Our fellow ministers are not consumers but are being changed by the Holy Spirit as they offer their selves, souls, and bodies for the work of ministry – for the work of spreading the Word and making the fruits of the Sacraments visible and known.  This is why we welcomed deacons and lay religious to the Society of Catholic Priests – not because all are priests but because all make the priesthood worth living and worth the calling.

We celebrate a priesthood of all believers – this is manifest most fully in some sinner pouring water, some lovely widow filling the ewer, some tearful usher guiding the family forward, some bored acolyte trying to look too cool, some deacon worried about when to pass the paschal candle, and some Lord looking on and welcoming a child into the household of faith.

Fr Robert

The Women

Like so many I am seeing the steady scroll of “me too” on my social media platforms.  Woman after woman (and some who identify across genders) are making so many aware that their daily experience is rife with the common experience of the devaluing of their identity to a commodity for comment, caress, or worse.  What I keep thinking as I read these is this – it is a very real shame that we have lost our conversance with the language of sin and evil.

Greater_Poland_Sacra_ConversazioneIt is easy to dismiss so much of this as locker-room antics by boys being boys – it is less easy to dismiss when we ask ourselves what level of verbal degradation, abuse, or humiliation that Christ would consider acceptable.  Would he have tolerated the abuse of women who were too easy to ignore in his own time?  We know that he would not.  We know that the longest recorded conversation of his is with the woman at the well – a woman whose testimony is called “the word.” We know that he chastised stone throwers.  We know that he drew near to him women of means and of none.

The problem with our culture – with misogyny and sexism – is that it is death dealing.  How many dreams and hopes are smothered along with the self-worth of women who find themselves reduced to their look-value or use-value by men who dominate not by dint of their ability but by the inheritance of unearned privilege that their gender accords them?

One of the most poignant and painful memories from seminary was that of a classmate telling me that she was glad that her daughter was not in the chapel the day I told a harmless joke.  Obviously it was not harmless – it was isolating and shaming in a way that I was utterly blind to.  This is the devious nature of privilege – it gives us an excuse not to care.  It gives us a fig leaf to cover our unexamined ignorance.  It gives cheap cover for costly sin.

I cannot speak to the experience of my female friends, colleagues, and relatives.  That is impossible and presumptuous.  I can only offer silence as they tell their story.  I cannot understand it – nor will I ever.  I may, however, give space for the telling that I might find within their stories some part of my own salvation.  If this sounds like too grand a claim then consider that we are to seek and serve Christ in all persons – this cannot mean that I see a fraction of that fullness of glory in the women around me.  It cannot mean that I stop my ears when they tell the story of their abuse at the hands of a callous and corrosive patriarchy.

I used to get annoyed when I heard the word “patriarchy.” I got annoyed because I felt that it was the rampart of angry women who resented the world.  Then I started to take confession seriously.  I started to take sin seriously.  I started to take the gospel seriously.  Then I realized that I was the angry one – I was the one angry that the very thing that had so benefited me was being named as an agent – a power and a principality – of oppression.

I remain angry – but I am angrier that it is a system that seems to have no end.  It is a system that robs not just the women I care about or whose identity is tied to my own of their dignity but robs human beings of the chance to be fully alive – aware of their promise and potential.  I am angry at my complicity and complacency.  There is a kind of anger that is holy – it is table-flipping and boundary destroying.  I can only hope that this is the kind of anger that I can give voice to – an anger that sounds like voices found and hope renewed.  An anger that sounds like a still small voice giving word to that very basic hope that in Christ all are one and One is all that we hope to find together.

Robert+

Story by Story: from Generation to Generation

I have relatively recently finished my first year as Rector of Saint Philip’s.  To say that it has been a busy one is an understatement.  We have called a new music director, communications director, assistant rector, and two curates in that time.  We have restructured financials, tried a new stewardship program, made adjustments to liturgy, added the daily office and daily mass to our rotation, welcomed a massive art installation that has transformed our space, we re-configured Holy Week, we created a new website, and much more that I have forgotten that seemed the most important thing in the world that day (I am sure).  The urgent has squeezed the important and the important has pressured the necessary.

This is a warm congregation.  It is a thoughtful, engaging, and faithful congregation.  It is the epitome of a place that is formed by tradition but not bound by traditionalism.  They have born with many changes that a new rectorship always brings.  Other than a hiccup now and then (such as when we introduced a new bulletin format) there has been generous patience with change and adjustment.

19424006_10158845728880632_7751479846928014923_nIn the midst of so much change so much more has remained the same.  We have buried treasured friends.  We have married couples new to the Church.  We have baptized, fed, and taught.  We have consoled, healed, and cried.  We have done so much that so many have done over the centuries and millennia that has made churches the Church.

I am struck not by how much is different in the past year but by how much is the same.  People come to me with the same longings, fears, hopes, dreams, heartaches, and inchoate yearnings that I have heard in my office and in the confessional for years now.  One bleeds into another.  This is not to say that each individual’s need or offering is the same but to say that each so mirrors another’s that we find our hope and consolation in the gathered Body.  We find in our brother’s sorrow our own and in our sister’s joy the same as we have celebrated.

Today we transferred the Feast of Saint Luke to Sunday (a heretical practice to many of my sisters and brothers in ministry).  We do this so that many can engage the lives and lessons of the saints in a place where the practice of festal masses on the proper days has not been a long nor deep custom.

The Epistle today was one of my favorites – and our preachers did not only rightly by the text but splendidly.  The piece of the text that draws me in the most though is this line, “Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”

I love this passage because of the names and the utter quotidian details recorded.  How many times do we get caught up in the grand schemes, the sweeping narratives, and the theological debates while forgetting entirely that Mrs. Wambly’s lost jacket is as important to the narrative of the Church as is righteous exactitude over Transubstantiation?  That is no exaggeration.  Each and every story of the faithful is a gift of God to the people of God.  We only know that what once was lost is now found because the lost and found told the story of a Good Shepherd who cared enough to patiently wait as the lost and lonely one truculently, and by fits and starts, made his or her way home to the One.

The cloak and the books and the parchments – and Demas, Crescens, Titus, Luke, Mark, and Tychicus are all essential details in the sweeping arc of salvation history.  They matter because each of us matters – this is what it means to have a savior born in a stable, taking our form, lifting us to his stature, imbuing us with his voice, and equipping us for Resurrection ministry.  I watch lectors and preachers and lecturers and pastoral care-givers and more with a sense that they give voice to the sometimes lonely hope that there is more – that there is more of Christ waiting to be heard and seen and known in the stories we might ignore and in the homely biographies that get lost in the shuffle of the hagiographies of saints and angels.

The Church heals us with the story of Christ and we heal the Church with the stories of our salvation.  It is too easy for the capital-C Church to lose its way amidst the changes and chances of centuries and it is too easy for each of us to get lost in the shuffle of the day-by-day grind of the life of our churches while losing sight of the thing that has shaped us since before the foundations of the world.

Recently a parishioner of ours, Fr Gene Connely, died.  He went to God remembered by many.  He left a candle-stand for the parish that is used daily.  His story matters.  Another parishioner died not long ago with no one to mourn – with no one who felt the strength to face the tragedy of his death – his story matters.  Another died with the praise of God on his lips – his story matters.  Another died last year and legendary tales of her hospitality and loving-kindness are told daily – her story matters.

If every church is built of stones then we know that the living stones of the Church are the stories of each member who goes on to his or her reward sure of nothing but the loving call of a savior whom we know only story by story, by word, by deed, and by example.  May God continue to enliven the Church with the living witness of saints and sinners who give life and breath to the theology, debate, and decisions that seem so decisive one day and so lost in the shuffle the next.

Robert+