6/19/2015

The Church in Cuba and a non-imperialist future in or out of TEC.

With the renewal of almost "normal" relations between Cuba and the US there has been renewed interest in the Episcopal Church of Cuba becoming again a diocese in The Episcopal Church. 

By a very narrow, and somewhat confused vote, the synod of the Church in Cuba decided to request to join again The Episcopal Church.  That of course has to be further explored, the mandate widened, and conversations begun with General Convention. We can look forward to greater conversations with the Episcopal Church in Cuba about all this, but it will take a while.

While it is tempting to think this is all wonderful, and great that Cuba can again be part of TEC's life, we ought to exercise some care in the matter. And not only us, but The Church in Cuba as well.

The presence of The Episcopal Church in Cuba began in the mid 1800's with missionaries from the US. Following the Spanish American War the work was established as a missionary district with episcopal leadership elected for Cuba by the House of Bishops in The Episcopal Church. Bishops Albion Knight,  Hiram Richard Hulse, Hugo Blankingship, Romualdo Gonzalez are listed as members of the House of Bishops serving as bishop of Cuba. Following the break in relations between the US and Cuba, and under the supervision of a Metropolitan Council, the church in Cuba, under difficult circumstances was able finally to elect a diocesan bishop who is now in place. She is Bishop Griselda Delgado Del Carpio.

It is unclear just how strong the desire to become part of the Episcopal Church is. The church in Cuba has a long history of internal division an no one wants those divisions to reemerge as this decision is made. Hopefully there will be members of the Church in Cuba attending General Convention this year and they can fill us in further on their thinking.  

At any event it seems a declaration of intent might come forward this year, with the next three years as a time to develop further the possibility of re-incorporation into The Episcopal Church.

There remains, however, an important matter which only the Cuban Church can determine. Was the separation from the Episcopal Church, with continued good relations and engagement between the churches in fact a blessing in disguise?  Does the Church in Cuba have anything to gain from becoming part of TEC, when TEC is almost entirely preoccupied with matters internal to The United States and to TEC as an entity in The United States?  And is there any hope that TEC will not act towards the church in Cuba very much as it does with other churches in Latin America and the Carribean that are members of TEC?  Because these overseas jurisdictions receive substantial grants from TEC they ministry and work subject to review. TEC in its review efforts sometimes moves from matters of proper spending of the funds granted to matters of mission and program, from audit to intervention. When TEC, by way of General Convention, Executive Council or Staff action, intervenes, the results echo earlier more forceful imperialist attitudes.

Why would Cuba want to return to being an outpost of an American Church, rather than the presence of its own unique ministry and life. Granted the Church in Cuba was part of TEC in the past, but it was here as a missionary district and missionary diocese with bishops elected by our House of Bishops and funds directed to ends determined by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. In the present we have moved away of such obvious imperial presence, but there are plenty of examples of TEC continuing to exercise a controlling interest in matters internal to the dioceses, in ways that would not be tolerated if those dioceses were in the US.

Does the Church in Cuba need to question TEC about what the matter of organic union might entail?  I think it does. My sense is if the Church in Cuba were to become a diocese in TEC again it needs to do so with specific understandings regarding a variety of issues regarding mission and ministry. I believe we in TEC need to carry those talks forward as well.    

 


6/15/2015

The Profile for the Presiding Bishop looks like the profile for a parish priest.

Here is what the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop considers a summary of its Profile for that office:

"Our next Presiding Bishop will possess the following attributes or demonstrate strength in the areas of personal and professional gifts and practices:
  1. AN AUTHENTIC SPIRITUAL LIFE DEEPLY GROUNDED IN PRAYER
  2. AN EVANGELIST’S HEART, PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THROUGH PREACHING AND TEACHING
  3. LOVE OF THE PEOPLE, WITH VIBRANT RELATIONAL SKILLS
  4. PERSONAL HEALTH AND SELF-AWARENESS
  5. COLLABORATIVE LEADERSHIP SKILLS
  6. KNOWLEDGE OF, AND EXPERIENCE IN, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
  7. ABILITY TO NURTURE DIOCESES AND CONGREGATIONS IN THEIR DEVELOPMENT
  8. ABILITY TO INSPIRE GROWTH AND LEAD THROUGH CHANGE
  9. ABILITY TO BALANCE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES IN COMPLEX GOVERNANCE STRUCTURES"

Item 1-6 are classic hopes for a parish priest, item 7 would be, re congregations, an expectation, item 8 would certainly be of value in a parish that is undergoing changes, and item 9 would be highly desired where depending on the size of the parish, governance structures can get fairly complex.

The only time a specific reference is made to abilities related to church organization (as opposed to the parish) is in items 6 and 7. Given that all possible nominees must be bishops in The Episcopal Church, item 6 is a throw-away. Item 7 then is the only item that speaks to an ability related to something beyond parish life, namely "the ability to nurture dioceses  and congregations in their development."  But of course you don't have to be a bishop to do that work.

So, looking over the whole range of items in the summary - and recognizing that this is a summary of a larger and deeper profile - it is striking that the profile is essentially that we would expect for a search for a rector of a large parish.  With the exception of one part of item 7, no virtue or ability hoped for is different from what one would hope for from a parish priest.

Most delegates, and I suspect many bishops, will dig no deeper than the summary profile in the final report. On the basis of that set of expectations they will then look at the materials presented by the several nominees.  It will take considerable effort not to slide into thinking that the characteristics we need in a Presiding Bishop are deeply parallel to what we need in a parish rector. We can hope otherwise. Perhaps the bishops will ignore the profile and know better what is needed.

We should not want the Presiding Bishop to think of the work of that office as that of parish priest writ large. We ought not go to the organizational extreme either. George Clifford, writing for the Lead over at Episcopal Cafe, makes the point that we ought to consider not electing the Presiding Bishop for TEC as an organization either, but rather elect the PB as a motivator, cheerleader, for mission beyond the organizational structures of the church.  His article is HERE.

If the PB is a parish priest writ large, that is The Episcopal Church is his or her parish, then we ought to pack it in, unless we have a sense that The Episcopal Church through and through will be a missional church - a church primarily seeking ways to be truly in the world as an incarnation of the spirit, will and person of Jesus Christ. 

The profile seems too safe and to parochial for that. 

And unless the electing bishops are up for working beyond the expectations of the profile they will echo that safety. 

An argument can be made that we precisely need a parish priest writ large in these days when churches are loosing members and members getting older.  But if we elect a Presiding Bishop to rescue us from parochial problems we are electing at the wrong level.  Let's elect good parish priests, and even bishops. And let the bishops elect a presiding bishop who is capable of doing a job that is nothing like a parish priest's job, save that both finally rely upon the mercy and grace of God for any good that is done.

6/12/2015

An apology to Craig Uffman and other theologians who are working as hard as they can.

Earlier today I posted "The Episcopal Church and its ruminations on Marriage, and the baggage we all carry."
I've gotten many supportive comments, for which I am thankful. But I was troubled to see that one remark, " There are all sorts of highfalutin' articles purporting to give a robust (what ever that is) theology of marriage" was deeply hurtful to one of the theologians who have been writing. 

As with any commentary I of course meant to say what I said... there are some highfalutin' articles... written in pretty advanced theologically oriented language. I had pulled up "robust" as one of my favorite theological slang words. "Robust,"I believe echoes the energy of the evangelical movement of the late 1800's early 1900's where manly virtues of physical and moral strength through the exercise of body, mind and spirit, were all the rage and identified with a "robust" Christian mission in the world. The notion of Muscular Christianity was in the back of my mind as the place where the language of "robust" theology would have had a foothold.

So my remark was about what I saw out there in the internet landscape - a variety of strong, muscular, robust, theological arguments that I believed collectively moved the conversation not one wit closer to a conversation about justice in society regarding marriage and justice in marriage. It was a general remark. A bit snarky, I will admit.

However, I am not untouched by actual writing by these notables, and The Rev.Dr. Craig Uffman in his most recent article used the word "robust" to describe the sort of theological response needed to address some traditionalists who themselves were pretty robust.  I may well have been reminded of the word "robust" from his writing. But my remark was not directed at his writing. Craig was taken back by my apparent attack on his piece and wrote to tell me so. I meant no such personal attack.

Now first I want to apologize to Craig for adding to the load he is carrying these days. He has received some unpleasant comments from various sources. One of these, Stand Firm, has decided that "Craig Uffman has betrayed the Gospel."

He certainly did not need more to carry. I did not mean to refer specifically to Uffman's article by using the "robust" reference. That he understood it this way might suggest that others will as well. 
So let's get it right.  I have indeed read the Uffman article. I believe that it has much to offer as a theological paper of considerable depth. I do not agree with his notion that a pause in the conversation about marriage is necessary.  I believe we need to take on matters of justice as it concerns marriage as a peculiar form of civil contract. As concerns holiness in life, including life in marriage, that is another matter, one addressed I might suggest, not so much as a theological matter but as a faith matter, lived out in community.

And yes, highfalutin' robust theological articles by a wide variety of quite worthy persons are out there in Anglican land. Uffman's was one. As a collection they did not particularly move or help me.  But I was not signaling him out.

I hope one day to meet Dr. Uffman. I am sure we will have much to talk about.  Meanwhile, I will try to remember that snarky remarks have consequences, sometimes regrettable. When we meet we can perhaps begin anew with some sense of mutual forbearance.

Episcopal Church and its ruminations on Marriage, and the baggage we all carry.

The Task Force on the Study of Marriage has made their report to General Convention. There are resolutions from a variety of sources regarding marriage rites. There are all sorts of highfalutin articles purporting to give a robust (what ever that is) theology of marriage.  There is a good round up of current articles on the Study on The Lead, HERE.

Well, there it is.

The various pieces of proposed legislation on marriage will take up a great deal of air time at General Convention and could suck all the air out of the room.  Nominees for Presiding Bishop will no doubt be asked what they think is the way forward on producing a single liturgical piece for all blessings of unions, or not. There will be pressure to hold off and "study" some more. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth - often teeth of the false sort.

So here is my problem with all the sound and fury.

As far as I can tell, marriage is irrelevant to the central plot of the Christian message of vocation to attend to the Word of God. That is, marriage, as an activity engaged in by some, but not all, Christians cannot be considered central to the human experience of engagement with the Holy One and by extension engagement with one another.

It might very well be that some in marriage do experience the Holy present in their common life, in or out of bed. It may be that some see their vocation as a sanctification of otherwise sinful activities, or as a basis for building a family that in turn will find sanctification by way of raising up new believers in the faith, or whatever.

But the deal is, Jesus wasn't married (at least by most accounts), did not have much to say about it from personal experience, didn't recommend it to his followers as an expectation, and referenced it only in the context of his being a teacher or rabbi. No one disputes that as a teacher he was a pretty good one. But he did not develop anything like a theology of marriage, or a theology of anything vaguely engaging marriage as a central core matter.

His followers had little to say about marriage, except that Paul opined that sex in marriage was preferable to sexual relations outside marriage... better to marry then burn, etc.

So what's the big deal?

The big deal is that by the time anything like the Church in England, the Church of England, and then all of us out there in the provinces, got going the word has been that marriage is bound up with creation and the new creation in Jesus Christ. And, oh by the way, marriage was a civil / religious contract. Marriage was not an engagement of equals, and mostly still is not. Still, marriage was an example of a covenant and bond that echoed, even at some distance, the call for people to be bound together in covenant of love and faithfulness, that call being what the vocation to the Christian life in community was about. 

It has become, however, mucked up in a rather wide range of expectations having little to do with scripture, the call to the common life, or faith.  Look at the preface to the Marriage Service. There it says the following:

  1. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, 
  2. and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. 
  3. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and 
  4. Holy Scripture  commends it to be honored among all people.
The proposition in the Preface to the Marriage service is in four parts. 

The first of these, that "the bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation..." is a theological and biblical nightmare. Bonding and covenanting may be something built into human nature and therefore a part of who we are as created, but marriage?  "Marriage" is a word loaded with meanings that were simply not there, either at the creation or in whatever desire there is to bond and covenant built into our DNA.There is good argument that "marriage" as we understand it today is an invention of modernity. What was there from the creation is more like "community."

The second has to do with Our Lord working a miracle at a wedding in Cana. To propose that by doing so he "adorned this manner of life," is wonderful as a poetic device, but not much else. We may, I suppose, be glad that his first miracle was not on the occasion of a party at a circumcision, in which case the argument for us gentile men being included in the Christian community would have been much more difficult. The reason for more drink would of course have been obvious. Listening to the cries of the newly circumcised calls for wine.

The third is the theological dooze. That marriage should signify the mystery of the union between Christ and the church opens up the question, "How does it signify?" as well as the question, "is that then what Marriage is good for... to be a sign of something else?" A lot of the commentary on the report of the Committee had to do with this section of the Preface. I have to say I have been mostly unmoved by arguments that give marriage a special status on the basis of it signifying something else - anything else.

The notion that Holy Scripture commends marriage to be honored among all people is true. But what sort of marriage? One with multiple wives? One in which there are no children? And why? Is it about honoring promises made by people to each other or is it about property that belongs to this or that man?  This statement speaks to the reality that marriage has indeed been commended as a contract to be honored. Which is quite different from commended as something all right thinking people must undertake.


So we have packed into marriage a variety of ideas: that something about marriage is part of creation from the beginning, that it was no accident that Jesus did his first miracle in a marriage, that it signals something about the relationship of Christ to the church, and that it is a contract to be honored. 

All of this puts pressure on us to anti up and put our bets on marriage as understood through the Christian lens of say 1600.  We have at least changed the reasons for marriage a bit since then, deciding that perhaps there are better reasons for marriage than the avoidance of fornication.  But in the end it is clear as a bell that marriage was and is mostly understood as being about procreation (that's why there are men and women), it is dear to Jesus' heart, it is (in some way mysterious indeed) a reflection of the relation of Christ to the church, and that there are contracts involved, contracts that until recently were decidedly biased towards male property rights.

But all of this is refection by the Church at various stages of its life history. Some is based on events and sayings from the time of Jesus, some echoes ancient marriage covenant concerns, some is decidedly from the middle ages. Almost none of it, however, concerns matters central to the Christian witness or condition.

So I am unmoved by the many paths and arguments being put forward about the marriage canons and rites.

I am moved by those who feel deprived of the benefits, etc. I am moved by couples being able to ask for and receive a blessing on their relationship, by virtue of being baptized members of the Body of Christ. 

But, dear friends, I think changing or not changing who it is who can receive blessing for covenanted and bonded relationships is not a core matter of faith. It is a core matter for the Church, and is in that regard about justice. 

So my enduring interest in the matters related to marriage in the Episcopal Church have to do with justice, not theology (except to throw out a great deal to theological rubbish.)

It has been made a theological rather than a justice matter in some circles by convoluted theological and social argument. To those who argue by such means I say, "get a life."  To those who argue for a more inclusive blessing circle, watch it that you don't fall into similar theological muck. 

I believe the best thing we could do at this General Convention would be to prohibit clergy from signing the civil documents for marriage, and release them to bless those who are part of the church and who come forward for a blessing of their covenant and union. It would have to be made clear that such blessing has no bearing on their civil status at all.

And, as a reminder, Jesus adorned the life of wandering about with friends and followers a lot more than he did marriage. A marriage was an occasion for a miracle, not one that did people much good, but a miracle. The walk about life was the occasion for a much more substantial miracle - the proclamation of the Word of God to people and the building of a new community. Jesus adorned this manner of life a lot more than he did marrage.

We need to jump the theological fence and ask a simpler question.  Since marriage is not a cure for sin, and all married people are sinners in their marriage just as all single people are sinners in their singleness, and all same sex unions are sinners in their unions, and so forth, the question is this:  When members of the congregation ask a blessing on their attempt to live into a more perfect union, do we or don't we say "Yes"?  And how do we answer, in the shadow of the Cross and in the light of God's grace?


6/03/2015

The Nominees for Presiding Bishop answer questions, we have some of our own.


In May short essays from each of the four nominees for Presiding Bishop were published and short videos posted of their response to questions from the Nominating Committee. What do they tell us about the nominees? Is there anything to be gleaned from the two contributions of each of the four?
I encourage anyone interested in the nominees to look carefully at the videos and read carefully the written statements. Taken as a whole they give some real readings on the differences among the nominees and something also about their similarities. 
At some later point I hope to take up the broader impressions of these nominees, but here I want to do something much more particular.
This is a word study of their statements, looking at the use of particular words – mostly from the Profile that the Nominating Committee put forward.
THE PROFILE:
The Nominating Committee provided a summary of sought after characteristics of a Presiding Bishop in their Profile, included in their report. That summary is as follows (bold mine):
“Our next Presiding Bishop will possess the following attributes or demonstrate strength in the areas of personal and professional gifts and practices:

·      AN AUTHENTIC SPIRITUAL LIFE DEEPLY GROUNDED IN PRAYER
·      AN EVANGELIST’S HEART, PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THROUGH PREACHING AND TEACHING
·      LOVE OF THE PEOPLE, WITH VIBRANT RELATIONAL SKILLS
·      PERSONAL HEALTH AND SELF-AWARENESS
·      COLLABORATIVE LEADERSHIP SKILLS
·      KNOWLEDGE OF, AND EXPERIENCE IN, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
·      ABILITY TO NURTURE DIOCESES AND CONGREGATIONS IN THEIR DEVELOPMENT
·      ABILITY TO INSPIRE GROWTH AND LEAD THROUGH CHANGE
·      ABILITY TO BALANCE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES IN COMPLEX GOVERNANCE STRUCTURES”

I have done a word count of the words made bold in the Profile. I have searched the written and video statements made by the nominees.  The word list is : Prayer, Evangelism/Evangelical, Gospel, Jesus, Christ, Love, Health, Leadership, Church, Nurture, Growth, Change, Structures. To them I have added four more “church” words having to do with vocation: Bishop, Priest /Clergy, Lay and baptism/baptized.
It is interesting to note that no mention is made of ecumenical, inter-faith, inter-Anglican or Anglican Communion roles. This profile is for domestic consumption only. (This needs to be addressed as a separate issue – is the Anglican Communion irrelevant as a reference point for leadership in The Episcopal Church?)
THE QUESTIONS:
The four nominees for Presiding Bishop have written responses to a question posed by the Nominating Committee. The question is this:
“As a way of describing what you would contribute as Presiding Bishop, paint a picture of what the Episcopal Church might look like at the end of your tenure in that role. What steps you would take to bring that vision into being? (In 500 words or less).”
They also produced videos, the questions for the nominees were:
What changes would you encourage in the Church to enable us to be the Church God is calling us to be?
In the Good News of Jesus, what do you feel most called to share with the Church in this moment?”

The statements and videos are linked on the following page: http://www.generalconvention.org/pbelect

Several things stand out in the search for the words on this list. Several of the nominees use a word – for example “church” – and then refer in sentences that follow to “it.”  I did not mark down each use where a pronoun was used but only the actual word.  I did use Church identified as “Episcopal Church” as well as all other references to “church.”  “Christ” brought up longer words in which “Christ” appears, “Christians”. I did not count the longer words.  I was able to count fairly close the references in the written texts, doing a search for specific words. In the videos I tried to catch every reference, but no doubt will have missed some. So the unscientific postscript is to say the study is inexact at best.
THE QUICK TAKE:
So here is my quick take on observations about word use:
Only one nominee used the word “growth” in the written text (Smith). No one used it in the videos.
Only two nominees used the word “change,”  both instances being in the videos (Douglas,3, Smith, 2).
Only one used the word “health” – Smith, twice in the essay, four times on the video.
Only one used the work “nurture” – Curry in the essay.
Bishop Curry used the word “Jesus” more than all the others combined – 27 times. He did so in a cadenced sermon-like presentations.
Bishop Douglas used the words “baptism / baptized” more than all others combined – 14 times.
Bishop Smith used the word “bishop” more than all others combined  - 8 times.
The use of the word “church” ranged from 14 to 23, but all together that word was used more than any other.
There is not a lot we can glean from this word study. Each nominee came across somewhat differently, but each with a degree of comfort before the camera.
It seemed to me that Bishops Briedenthal came across as a teacher, Bishop Douglas as a missioner, Bishop Curry as a preacher and Bishop Smith as a pastor. In their primary roles they all seemed very impressive. The question for me is how well they do at the whole of these together – teacher, missioner, preacher, and pastor?
The Nominating Committee expressed the hope that the right nominee would have the “ability to inspire growth and lead through change.” I find it significant that growth and change were not words given much priority in the used vocabulary of the whole group.  In twenty-five minutes or so of recording and 2000 words, these words occurred only six times.
I can only hazard a guess why.  I think none spoke of growth because to promise to “inspire growth,” however measured, is a hard thing to do when all the indications are that all denominations are (viewed as a whole) under the gun these days. There are places of real growth, but overall growth in TEC or any other denomination is not a promise on which there is easy delivery. 
“Change” is a loaded word. On the one hand change is going to happen no matter who is Presiding Bishop, so why bring it up? On the other hand what changes are going to happen is always unclear, as is the potential for leadership through those changes, so too much attention to the specifics of change leads to possibilities for inaccurate prediction or promises bound to fail. Better to steer clear.
Were the nominees wise to avoid these words? Probably. But what this may also in indicate, indirectly, is that the nominees were chosen because they are careful people, not given to audacious claims or false hopes.
My sense is that all the nominees chart a relatively safe passage through the Profile ideas. None of them challenge the basic ideas of the Profile.  None of them reach much beyond the Profile.  No one challenges the domestic character of the Profile.
The vocational words – bishops, priests, lay / laity, and baptized got little use, except by Douglas, and while those words were not in the profile they do relate to one or the other “order” and how that vocation might be present at the end of this next period.  And we might ask too why the Profile makes no reference to encouraging members of TEC in their ministries.
Bishops Curry and Douglas used particular words far more often than others – Curry “Jesus”, and Douglas “the baptized / baptism.”  They were both working from visions – of the Gospel of Jesus or the baptism into Jesus – the visions of the preacher and missioner.  Briedenthal and Smith were less given to notably extensive use of any of the words listed.
The essays and videos were mostly helpful in determining that all four present fairly well on video and write with clarity. But I felt I had to work at it to discover much about the ability of any of these bishops to lead.
And about the “ability to inspire growth and lead through change,” I learned very little at all.  Hopefully the bishops as a “house” know all the nominees better as it applies to the matter of inspiring growth and leading through change.