12/08/2014

Leaning towards the dream: A sermon and a beginning of something more.


I preached at the church on the edge of the bay and the big water, St. Peter's in Lewes, Delaware, this last Sunday.  I wasn't particularly satisfied with the sermon, but there it is. I was more pleased with the conclusion, that Advent is a call to bend our lives towards the land of Glory, towards living the dream, not simply living in the land of oppressive compromise. Anyway, here it is. Of course it is not what I actually said, that being determined by being on the spot in the moment, but it is mostly what I said.
For a really good Advent meditation, go to Jim Friedrich's Religious Imagineer, HERE. 


Sermon: 2 Advent. 2014
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
Sounds pretty good, yes?  Good enough to become one of the lead songs in Godspell, the hippie songster’s version of the words of the prophet Isaiah and his younger protégé John the Baptist.  “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
OK.
So what is this Preparing stuff about?   Isaiah uses the image of making a highway for our God, lifting up the valleys and plowing down the mountains, making the uneven ground level, the rough places plain. All of which is done so that the glory of the Lord be revealed, and all people see it together.  Great stuff!
But what does it mean here and now?
Well, here’s my shot at that: I think it is pretty simple. It’s about leaning towards the dream.
The problem is we don’t want to hear it.  We don’t want to hear it so badly that we pass over these passages as fast as we can, or turn them into oratorio passages, or get to muttering about pie in the sky by and by.
Anything rather than face what is being told us by the prophets of old, Isaiah being a prime case, or the prophets of these latter days, John and Jesus being case in point, or by any number of prophets through the centuries.
 Preparing the way of the Lord is about bending towards the dream:
You know about dream… there is dream and there is reality. And we are trained to deal with reality (as we know it).
You and I live in the “Land of This and This and That.”  You know, the world that is fully resigned to the mixture of good and evil, joy and despair, life and death.
There is this, and this, and that. This terrible thing, then this one, and then there is that lovely occasion, that bit of beauty. There is war and suffering and illness, and there is delight and laughter and full-hearted joy. It is a mixture. But it is a land that assumes deep valleys and high mountains, strange sorrows and delights both. It is a land of ups and downs, and a land where we justify our actions on the basis of measure…. We are better or worse than others, more noble or less, more honest or less, and so on, and we do so in order to get by in a disorderly world.   It is a land of many inequalities, and we know it and participate in it.
But mostly the Land of This and This and That is the land of broken dreams.  We call this land Reality, and reality is, well, hard. And having learned to live in this land of compromise with injustice and inequities, with oppression, we judge ourselves and others by how well we cope.  How high can you climb? How do you deal with adversity? Can you cope with failure and death? And so on.  We rate ourselves, our families, our state, our country, against others.  How are we doing?  We rate ourselves on a mental health scale. How content are you, how happy, how do you judge yourself? And it makes everyone is just a little wacky.
Now the prophets tell us there is another land.  Detractors say the prophets are full of it, that that land is a fiction, a land of dreamers and visionaries. But the prophets say it beats the current mish mash of difficult and impossible peaks and valleys.
The land that the dreamers and visionaries speak of, the land of prophets, of whom Isaiah and John the washer away of sins and Jesus the redeemer speak, has a name: 
It is the land of Glory. It is the land where God comes among us and leads, where the road of life runs straight and true.  It is Glory, it is the place of God with us (Emmanuel) it is the place of God’s presence, God’s incarnation.
In this Land of Glory the world of broken dreams, of compromise with oppression in order to get by passes away. We see one another as God sees us, as God’s children all equal in God’s sight, and in ours. And even God ceases to be a special case, being present in all of us.
Jesus and the prophets before him and after him all proclaim this land as the promised land. Now don’t confuse the promised land for Jerusalem, or America, or Mecca, or any other particular place. This land of Glory is our land, and OUR means all people together, and it is everywhere. And it is a land of equality and justice at its deepest sense, for the people see in one another the presence of God, just as they see God in Glory.  There is no peace with oppression, on compromise of justice.
You and I, as Christians (but it works just as well for others), live as citizens of these two lands – the land of this and this and that, and the land of Glory.
Which explains a lot, yes? It explains why we, you and I and all of us in various lumps, are fragmented, schizoid, and generally wounded. We keep bouncing back and forth between being full of compromise with the world of this and this and that, and being clear that we are children of God and filled with Glory.
Which brings us back to what this business of “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” is all about.  It is about you and me, and everyone all together, doing our damnedest  to live more often than not in the land of Glory. It is about bending the real world to be more like the vision and dream of glory.
It is not about preparing for Christmas. It is about preparing for the consequences of the dream.  The dream is that God is present with us on the highway of Glory.  

This is not easy to do, for underneath it all we are comfortable in our present reality, in which highs and lows, life and death, joy and misery are the realities.  
And the call to prepare the way of the Lord is a call to give up that comfort. Advent is not about preparing for the birth of the little baby Lord Jesus, it is about preparing for the end of the oppressive reality we have and readying ourselves for the Glory that is to be revealed to us.
That’s it: If you are not interested in a new road to walk on, go back to Christmas followed by post Christmas depression, to highs followed by lows, by ranking ourselves as better or worse than others, luckier and more fortunate, or miserable and unfortunate, as rich or poor. 
If you are interested in this new road, prepare yourself for a Glorious ride.. It will cost, well, everything. The prophets knew this well. And remember that the first thing we thought to do when God was with us on the road was to kill him. And we did, but that was not the end of the story.
In the end we will be whole. Really whole. And death and oppression will have no hold on us.  If you come it will be quite a ride!
This train is bound for glory, this train. No ticket needed. Just get on board.
If you want more, I am available for conversation.

11/25/2014

Ten wishes for The Episcopal Church in its restructuring efforts:

Here are my top ten wishes for restructuring / re-envisioning of The Episcopal Church, from least to most important:

(10) Reduce overseas jurisdictions. Give oversight of the Episcopal Church in Micronesia (Guam and Saipan) to the Episcopal Church of the Philippines. We would continue to support them, but oversight should come from an Anglican Province nearer than TEC. We also should step away from further colonial based mission projects. Oh yes, and jurisdiction in Europe needs to be reordered.

(9) Support Overseas Regional Autonomy. Actively encourage moves for regional autonomy for overseas dioceses, working imaginatively with dioceses in other countries so that they can form new regional ministries within the Anglican Communion. This would include supporting a francophone province within TEC as a step towards autonomy for Haiti and other french speaking areas in the Caribbean, a new start at a Spanish speaking autonomous Province in the Caribbean, and discussions about how the Virgin Islands might link with the Province of the West Indies. 

(8) Focus on TEC as a US body. Stop advertising The Episcopal Church as an international Province (which it is indeed) but as The (Protestant) Episcopal Church in the United States of America, with overseas jurisdictions, whose autonomy TEC hopes to support. (I'm not much hung up on "protestant," but it is there in the formal title.)  It is important that we keep our eye on the primary task... to be the Episcopal Church, an entity primarily driven to be a reformed catholic community, with episcopal oversight,  of congregations grounded in common liturgy in this country, and part of a world wide community of churches (The Anglican Communion).

(7) Distinguish God's Mission from our work.  Try not to use "God's Mission" as some kind of shorthand for doing what we do as a church. The mission of the Church is indeed a subset of God's Mission, and our task is to find our place in God's work in the world. But that is a far cry from claiming that we know what God's Mission is in any detail, much less claiming that The Episcopal Church, or any other church for that matter, is the way by which that mission is to be carried out. 

 That is in part why it is not useful to single out employees of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society as "missionaries" or "missioners."  For that matter calling any person doing service on behalf of the church "missionaries" is a mistake. Better we call them what they are:  priests, pastors, medical personnel, teachers, preachers, church administrators or ministry facilitators, students, learners, people plunged into cross cultural life, and so on.  That TEC sends such people to work in places where they can make a real contribution should be a source of real joy to all of us. That TEC helps to expose its own members to the abundance of life outside the United States or their particular place in the US, is commendable.  That we work to use the missionary methods of St. Paul or any of the other great workers is valuable. But if the mission is God's mission, then God is the missionary. We who serve in one way or another are instruments of that mission (or not).  Meanwhile we are simply who we are... plumbers, administrators, preachers and those who plow and fish.  Better we be called by our names and what we do.

(6) The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society as a Service Agency. Bishop John Allin, with whom I often disagreed, believed the Church Center staff constituted a service agency. On this he was mostly right.  I think it is high time that that be the core commitment of DFMS staff - service. The limitations on staff and organization should be determined by whether the work and energy meets service needs as determined by General Convention and Executive Council.  TEC's budget for program should be recast from a zero base every General Convention. 

(5) Move the Church Center. The General Convention made it clear that The Episcopal Church Center should be moved from its current location. Period. That nothing has been done to effect this is unacceptable. If nothing is done to respond to this, and if General Convention again requires that The Church Center be moved, and if nothing happens again, General Convention should authorize Executive Council to fire those responsible and bring in persons willing to do the will of Convention.

(4) Let the Medium be the Message. In considering liturgical renewal, changes, and services for particular occasions, clearly distinguish between the prime liturgical task - the adoration of and giving glory to God - from the other ways in which our liturgies speak to people.  The prime liturgical task is not really communication at all (God knows what we have to say anyway), it is sigh, shout and groan of the creation as we await God's full presence.  

Communication of other information - that we are relevant, useful to the world's needs, responsive to changing understandings of commitment and life issues, and so on - is useful, but is primary only insofar as that communication is about life in the presence of God.  Liturgy is the medium, and the message at the same time. It is the shout and the shout is what is done. 

(3) Be clear that TEC is union of dioceses in General Convention and that the General Convention assumes as part of its charge that it will support an Episcopal Church jurisdiction and presence in every part of the territory that is the United States of America. For this reason, if work is discontinued in a particular place because the workers have left for other tasks, or it has failed for lack of effort or opportunity TEC seeks new ways to provide episcopal oversight and direction for ministry in that location. Domestic mission has always assumed that episcopal jurisdiction would include all of the United States.

(2) Clarify the role of Bishop in the Church:  Bishops in TEC are historically distinguished  by their being elected directly by their dioceses.  Yet we train our bishops in matters of administration and governance and expectations are generated about their authority, powers and perks that are not clearly understood by the electors. Further, the American hope was to have bishops that were not princes of the church, but its servants.  Something is amiss and the role of bishop needs to be clarified.

(1) The Episcopal Church as a Religious Order.  In our efforts to re-envision and restructure, we might well think of TEC not as a church, but as a religious order within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Our discipline is the regular worship of the church - Eucharist, daily prayers - in a constant round of adoration, guided in common life by scripture, reason and tradition, trying as we are able to live out a common life of prayer and service.  

If our restructuring and re-envisioning concerns "church" models, in which the accent too easily becomes on size,  powers and relationships between various roles in the church, doctrines that make this a "better" or more perfect church, etc., we will be a church exactly like other churches, guided by those marks of success by which we judge churches.  I would be glad if there were tens of millions of Episcopalians, but it is no shame if there are ten, provided those ten are working at being ordered in worship and work in accordance to the model of such order received by us and modified from time to time as the order so determines.

That is why, for example, I am glad we do not have an Archbishop, but rather a Presiding Bishop, whose powers are limited by a community rule that accentuates the roles of all members of the community and not primarily the role of bishops and their "house."  I am glad we have a Book of Common Prayer that continues as the standard for our order.  I am glad we see our primary task as daily common prayer, and the work that springs from such prayer.  I am glad our catechism does not speak of The Episcopal Church, but of the Church, of which we are a part. 

Well, there there are: ten wishes.

What are yours?




11/19/2014

For those who want high protein Christian stuff, sans bull... Religious Imagineer is the ticket.

OK boys and girls in Episcopal and Anglican Land. Time to move to the big time. All the petty squabbles about just who is most orthodox, who is most Anglican, who is mostly the most, mostly the best, and all that, fall by the wayside.

Jim Friedrich is an Episcopal Priest, but who gives a damn?  Not most of the Episcopal Church, it seems. He is an astounding theologian, but no seminary is much interested. Why? Because Jim (now getting to be a genuine ol fart), was post modern before there was post modernity, and has been working beyond the edges of the liturgical multi-media flab that passes for innovative creative liturgies for so long that all but his closest followers simply accept him as weirdly, well ... Christ centered.

The thing is, Jim is about as good a theologian as we get in Anglican Episcopal Land. He is articulate, passionate about art of all sorts in life and liturgy, astoundingly provocative and insightful about political and social matters, and like all of us, sometimes blind as a bat.  But he sees more than most of us see, hears more than we hear, and speaks the truth as he knows it.

Go over to The Religious Imagineer and read his stuff. It is fine reading, and deeper than the average pile of stuff you can find on the net as regards life and times for Christian folk in these times.  His current article suggests taking seriously this Dies Irae business, particularly in the light of pipelines to no good. He recalls drum circles and lightening flashing in the sky. He calls us back to the wonder of really profound shaking of our complacency.

I'm linking his stuff from mine, but hell, in these days when I am more interested in printmaking than much of what passes as stuff in Anglican Land, don't just link from me to him. Put him on your own watch list. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest - except of course for the few bits that fall short.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Jim is gifted as a writer, and we are the better for it.

11/10/2014

Retired Bishop Peter Beckwith has left the house.

The retired bishop of Springfield, Peter Beckwith, has been taken in by the college of bishops of (The Anglican Church in North America) ACNA. So he has landed solidly in ACNA land.

It's about time. It took him long enough to resettle, but the signs are all there that he was on his way. 

In 2003 he was a founding member of the Anglican Communion Network, the precursor to ACNA, whose work it was to help and encourage realignment.

In 2005 he became a pastoral reference for parishes who had left TEC and sought refuge in the Province of the Southern Cone.

In 2008 Beckwith became the "Episcopal Church Desk" person for the American Anglican Council (AAC):

Here is what AAC said about the possibility of being in but not of The Episcopal Church (as reported on the Stand Firm site):

"Bishop Beckwith and myself and the other bishops on the AAC Board of Trustees do not have our episcopal orders through the AAC but are and remain tied to the Anglican Provinces that hold our Letters. This means that some of our AAC bishops and members who are in TEC might well remain in TEC for the long term, and those who are in other judicatories might do the same, or might go through a time of dual membership with their sponsoring Province of the Communion and with ACNA as well."

Perhaps Beckwith was already out the door then, but running with supposed dual membership.

In 2009, when ACNA was still in formation,  Beckwith was on the ecumenical relations committee of what was the run up meeting to the formation of ACNA.  See ENS article HERE.

But he didn't leave then. He didn't go to the formative assembly for ACNA. Covenant reported,

"As a result of developments in the Diocese of Springfield, The Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith, Bishop of Springfield, will not be attending the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) Assembly which is scheduled to begin [Monday] at St. Vincent's Cathedral in Bedford, Texas.

Bishop Beckwith was previously reported to be among the list of attendees at the meeting composed largely of former members of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada by Episcopal News Service. The group is seeking official recognition as another North American province of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Beckwith said he had been invited and that he had intended to attend solely as an observer and that his association with the AAC was limited to being a "liaison to the Ecumenical Relations Task Force," adding that "[i]n no sense is he a structural part of either the Task Force, or the ACNA."

At the time of his retirement in 2010 the State Journal Register in Springfield reported that "
Beckwith recently said he had “no immediate plans to join ACNA.” However, he acknowledged that he has more in common with the secessionist church than the Episcopal Church. (Read more: http://www.sj-r.com/article/20100221/News/302219946#ixzz3IgPiylmh)
He didn't leave then. 

Following retirement Beckwith became chaplain at  Hillsdale College in Michigan. 

Apparently he didn't leave then.

I find no reference to his either leaving, being deposed, or otherwise announcing his departure from The Episcopal Church. Perhaps there is such a reference. (I am sure readers will inform me.)

But this year is different.

In May 2014 Beckwith signed on to the Jerusalem declaration and became the assistant bishop in the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, which began its formation as a small group of dioceses that sought protection from the Southern Cone. (Note above his relation to that group.)
 

On October 10, 2014 ACNA announced that Beckwith had been received into the College of Bishops of that church.

Well, there it is.  So, now I guess Peter Beckwith will no longer be getting invitations to the House of Bishops meetings. He has in all likelihood not been for a while.  He has left the circle. 

The question is, "is that it?"  It took a long time, but Beckwith has up and left, one might even say he as abandoned the communion of this church (The Episcopal Church). In his heart he may have done so long ago.  So a formal cutting of the ties needs to happen - whatever its form.

I don't much like using deposition for having "abandoned the communion of this Church" as the next step, but there at least has to be a formal acknowledgement that he is no longer a bishop in The Episcopal Church.  What form will that acknowledgement take now?  Is Bishop Beckwith willing to at least write the Presiding Bishop and say, "I quit?" Perhaps he has done so.

There's a lot to like about Bishop Beckwith. Earlier today I read a long interview with him about his life and career. It is quite something.  Apparently his career has not ended.  I wish him well.

He does not seem to have taken his personal feelings and concerns and made them the banner under which the Diocese of Springfield had to march.

Still, there is the strong sense that Beckwith was gone a long time ago.

Now at least its clear:  he has finally completely left The Episcopal Church.


11/01/2014

New Anglican Congress? Open how wide?

Last week there was a bit of a splutter of, dare we say, new thought out there in Anglican Land. It's about an Anglican Congress.

A small group of bishops from various dioceses in the Episcopal Church and Africa met at General Seminary in New York. They were: 

The Most Rev. Bernard Ntahoturi
Archbishop of Burundi

The Most Rev. Albert Chama
Archbishop of Central Africa

The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop of Southern Africa

The Most Rev. Jacob Chimeledya
Archbishop of Tanzania

The Most Rev. Daniel Sarfo
Archbishop of West Africa

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

The Rt. Rev. Stacy F. Sauls
Chief Operating Officer,

The Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves
TEC Bishop of El Camino Real

The Rt. Rev. Ogé Beauvoir
Bishop Suffragan of Haiti

The Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, III
Bishop Provisional of PA


Six Primates and four bishops from TEC, one being non-diocesan, one provisional and one from Haiti. 

It was a fairly "big gun" sort of meeting. In their final statement they suggested:

"Over our time together, we found ourselves referring repeatedly to the spirit of the Anglican Congress of 1963, which contributed greatly to the transformation of our understanding of mission in the Anglican Communion. It gave us the language of mutual responsibility and interdependence in the body of Christ and helped lead us to understand ourselves as partners in mission rather than in categories of givers and receivers. In that same spirit, and with eagerness to share the blessings we have received in these days, we express our fervent and urgent hope that another Anglican Congress might be held in the next two years, and encourage the active leadership of all who might help to make it a reality for the good of God’s mission to heal and reconcile the world. We hope that representatives of all the baptized—bishops, priests, deacons, and laypeople—will be present and heard. We hope that the Communion’s strategy to address the next iteration of the United Nations Development Goals might be part of the agenda. Aware that Africa is now the demographic center of the Anglican Communion and has always been mother to us all, we deeply hope that our leaders will take this opportunity to call us home to Africa for such an important gathering of our Anglican family."

Aside from a bit of fluff regarding Africa as the mother to us all and the demographic center of the Anglican Communion, the basic idea is:

(i) An Anglican Congress in the next two years,
(ii) Held somewhere in Africa
(iii) representing all the baptized from within "our Anglican family." 

What are we to make of this suggestion, particularly in the light of the growing sense that Lambeth will not meet in 2018, and GAFCON's most recent bit of triumphalism that it has become an instrument of unity in the Anglican Communion where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Primates, Lameth and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) have failed?  It would take a bit of generosity of spirit on all parts to see this idea through, that and a high dose of patience, and perhaps some desire for reconciliation. 

It seems to me the time is right for an Anglican Congress, but one which will dare to included not only representatives from dioceses within the member churches of the Anglican Communion as now constituted (ACC membership being and communion with Canterbury being the touchstones), but also those churches of "Anglican descent" that are in communion with one of the member churches of the Communion, but not necessarily Canterbury.  This would include then members of ACNA, a body with which GAFCON memebers are in full communion, but not Canterbury, the US and who are not part of the ACC. or members of churches with which the CofE is in full communion, but not part of the Anglican Communion. It would include members of the Old Catholic Church, several European Lutheran churches, The Philippine Independent Church, and so forth. 

Perhaps a rule for invitation would look something like this:
"Churches part of the Anglican family of churches throughout the world are invited to send members to the Anglican Congress. Inclusion in the Anglican family of churches is defined by each church being
(i) in communion with the See of Canterbury and part of the Anglican Consultative Council,
(ii) in communion with a church in communion with the See of Canterbury and part of the ACC.

"In communion with" will be understood to mean that the churches "in communion" welcome inclusion of the members of each church in the full life of the other - participation in the sacramental life of each church, recognizing the validity of orders and having a mechanism for easy interchange of ministry assignments, and affirmation of the distinctive life of each church.  

Additionally invited churches would have to understand themselves as part of "the Anglican family" of churches, either by direct historical and episcopal connection or by strong bonds of theological, sacramental and common prayer life formed from the influence of Anglican thinking and witness. That is, they would have to think of themselves as part of "the Anglican family."

There would be some fine lines of distinction and perhaps some quarrels along the way about who to invite. But the trail of links would have to be (I believe limited to two) - Either a church of the Anglican Communion as defined above, or a church in communion with one of those churches.

The question is, would this sort of Anglican Congress make it possible for churches who have broken communion or have impaired communion status with The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, or the Church of Southern Africa or the Church of South India, and so on, to sit in the same room with those they left?  Would The Episcopal Church really be interested in sending attendees to a meeting with those who constantly trash their leadership and the actions of their churches?  Would GAFCON get off its high horse and come to a meeting where Canterbury, Primates, and the Anglican Consultative Council still were considered touchstones for Anglican unity?

The one thing that would have to be avoided at all costs would be to make such an Anglican Congress a PRODUCT of two supposedly world wide agencies - the Anglican Communion offices and instruments on the one hand and GAFCON instruments on the other. The Anglican Congress should not become itself an instrument of further power politics in the church.

My thought is that the invitation to an Anglican Congress should come from a group of bishops (including Primates), priests, deacons and lay people who, of their own volition and with the support of Canterbury and the leadership of a growing number of Churches in the "Anglican Family," JUST DO IT.

Two years out sounds about right. So, think late 2016 or early 2017.  By all means meet in Africa.  Maybe the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia could offer an invitation for us to meet there. Speaking of "mother," pretty close to ground zero, and with not too much Anglican family problems in place.