Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More on Cowboy Poker: Newest at Episcopal Cafe

For some time, I've found a helpful metaphor for our Anglican controversies in "bull" or "cowboy poker."  Indeed, I've written about Williams "calling the game" for cowboy poker here and here, with passing references elsewhere.

Well, I think that has reached a new stage, and the consequences of this are becoming clear.  My latest piece is up at the Episcopal Cafe, and it's on this topic: how Rowan Williams has lost control of this game of cowboy poker, and what this is now doing to the Communion.  Take a look, and feel free to tell us what you think, either at the Cafe or here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Worth Watching, and Hearing

I try to note interesting stories in the media.  So, for those of you who haven't see it, let me commend a segment from this week's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on PBS.  It highlights chaplaincy at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles County.  It is an interesting presentation on correctional chaplaincy in general.  However, of greater interest for me are the facts is that the two chaplains profiled in the segment were Episcopalians, and that the scenes of worship in the facility are clearly modeled on Prayer Book liturgies - even communion through a prisoner's door.  It's worth viewing, and you can find the segment here.

Also of interest recently was a story on NPR's All Things Considered called A Decade Of Alzheimer's Devastating Impact.  Tom Debaggio was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 1999.  In the succeeding years he wrote two books on his experience, and was interviewed by NPR a number of times.  This is the story of the most recent visit by NPR reporter Melissa Block with Tom and with his wife.  Indeed, the focus is primarily on his wife , Joyce, because Tom's disease has progressed to the point that he can no longer communicate nor manage his own activities of daily living.  Her tenderness is clear, as is just how tired she is.  The story is a reminder that dementia and other chronic diseases are both individual and family conditions.  Take ten minutes to listen.

Monday, June 21, 2010

In the Absence of Sound: Reflections on Proper 7, Year C

Preached June 20, 2010: 1 Kings 19:1-15a; Luke 8:26-39.

I did some of my training as a chaplain in a children’s hospital.  I had finished seminary and was looking for more education for ministry.  So, I decided to challenge myself, to try something that frightened me.  I thought about either a children’s hospital or a psychiatric hospital.  Frankly, I was a bit concerned that if I ever went into a psychiatric hospital a door would lock behind me and they wouldn’t let me out.  So, I opted for the children’s hospital.

Now, being in a children’s hospital will give you a somewhat different perspective on children than most folks have.  I didn’t have children then, and I learned a lot.  I learned that they weren’t as fragile as they seemed, at least to a young man who hadn’t yet had his own.  I learned that they could communicate in ways I hadn’t imagined.  And I learned to appreciate them when they were noisy.

See, when you work with sick children you come to appreciate it when they cry.  Oh, it’s not fun, either for you or for the child.  However, as distressing as it is to the child’s parents, crying is very reassuring to staff.  You see, you know one thing for certain about a crying child: you know that child is breathing.  When the child stops crying, you worry, and you check.  Sometimes the really critical information comes in the absence of sound.

Parents do learn this, although hopefully in less critical situations.  At the same time, it’s not just the stuff of sitcoms; it’s also something many of us have experienced: when children playing noisily suddenly become quiet, we suddenly become very concerned.  What are they into?  What’s going on?  Especially, what’s going on that they don’t want us to know about?  Again, sometimes the really critical information comes in the absence of sound.

We have two examples of that in the lessons today.  Look at Elijah.  At first we might think of Elijah as someone who likes a lot of drama and likes to make an impression.  Not long ago we heard about the long fast he called.  Just before this passage he had challenged the priests of Baal, the Canaanite god that Jezebel had brought to Samaria when she married Ahab.  Not only had he showed the impotence of the priests of Baal when the God of Israel lit his sacrifice, but he had been responsible for the deaths of four hundred of them.  Jezebel put out a contract on him.

At that point, all the attention seems to have lost its charm.  With God’s help, Elijah fled; first to points south, and the deep into the wilderness.  And there in the wilderness he encountered God.  He had hidden in a cave, and God called to him.  “Elijah, what are you doing here?”

“God, I’m done.  I did my best, but I’m the last one.  There’s not another left in Israel faithful to you, and they’re all turned against me.”

“Elijah,” God said, “I’m coming.  Come out to the face of the mountain.”

So, Elijah came out and waited inside the entrance to the cave.  And outside the cave, it was as if the world was coming apart.  First there was wind, wind so strong that it shattered the cliffs around him; but somehow he know God wasn’t in all that wind.  Then the very earth itself shook; but he knew God wasn’t in the earthquake.  Then there was fire, as if the heart of the earth had erupted; but he knew God wasn’t in the fire.  And then, after all that tumult, there was absence of sound.  And at that Elijah came out, because in that silence was God.  In that absence of sound, Elijah heard God, and told God why he had run so far and so fast.  And it was in that absence that Elijah heard God say, “There’s work for you to do, a message for you to bring.  It’s time for you to go.”

Or look at the Gospel lesson.  Jesus and the Twelve had just landed after crossing the Sea of Galilee.  This was foreign country to them.  This was Gentile territory, and rough territory at that.  In sight there was a herd of swine, and above them a rock bluff, pockmarked with cave tombs.  And no sooner had they beached the boat, when out of the rocks, out from among the tombs, came a man, filthy, naked, and screaming.  He was himself all noise and tumult.  He was possessed, oppressed by demons, and completely out of control.  Family and friends had tried to control him with iron chains, and he had simply broken them.  He dwelt among the dead, almost as if he were dead himself, and certainly as alone.

“What have you to do with me, Son of the Most High God?  Just your presence tortures me.”

“What is your name,” said Jesus.

“We are Legion,” came the voice; for he was oppressed not just by one demon, but by many.  “Please don’t send us back to Hell,” they said.  “Look, there’s a herd of pigs.  Send us to them.”  And no sooner had Jesus allowed the demons to possess the pigs, than the pigs. unable to bear the pain and confusion, stampeded into the lake and drowned.

Of course, this got a reaction from the swineherds.  They had seen the ravings of the man possessed, the screaming of the demons, and the squealing of the pigs.  They ran into town, probably screaming themselves.  But when they and the townspeople returned, all was quiet.  There was Jesus, and there was the man they knew; but he wasn’t raving and screaming.  He was sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed, and quiet, and sane.  This seems to have frightened the locals even more than all the noise; for they knew that there, in that absence of sound, there was God; and it can be a terrifying thing to encounter God.  And there in the quiet, after all the noise and tumult, the man heard Jesus say, “There’s work for you to do, a message for you to bring.  It’s time for you to go.”

Sometimes our lives can become overloaded with noise and tumult.  We are surrounded by needs and demands, and by calls for our attention.  There are television shows – indeed there are entire television channels – that seem to be nothing but noise.  All that noise can overwhelm us.  It can leave us feeling powerless and alone.

That’s when it’s time to stop.  It’s time to listen – to leave the noise and listen: listen to the absence of sound.  It’s in the absence of sound that God is can speak to us, and that we can hear.

There are a number of ways we can do that.  That’s why some of us take retreats.  Some of us can find that in saying the Offices at home.  Some can even find that in the Sunday Eucharist.

But one way or another, we need to find that space when we can hear the absence of sound.  For it’s in that absence of sound that God can speak to us, and we can hear – and perhaps even hear God say, “There’s work for you to do, a message for you to bring.  It’s time for you to go.”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Diaconate of All Believers at the Cafe

My newest piece is up at the Episcopal Cafe; and like my recent sermon, it contemplates "the diaconate of all believers."  Because of time and deadlines, the Episcopal Cafe piece was actually written before the sermon.  On the other hand, I do think they're complementary.  So, stop over at the Cafe and take a look.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

And Now for a Bit of a Chuckle

Yesterday I heard a delightful piece on All Things Considered on NPR.  Host Robert Siegel and Andrew Holtz, author of The Medical Science of House, M.D, took a few minutes to discuss an episode. Specifically, they discussed what the bill would be for the central patient in the episode. You can find the story here.  Read the text, but also take the time to listen to the segment from the broadcast.  It highlights issues of varying agreements with insurers, cost shifting, and differences in reimbursement.  Consider it an interesting illustration of issues we've been talking about for a while - and will be talking about for some time to come.

Monday, June 07, 2010

All Form and Blessed Little Substance

Since last week, we have been looking at two primatial pastorals. The first was the Pentecost Letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The second was the Pastoral Letter from Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. The usual suspects have been having the expected discussions. (For my favorites, check  here and here.)

My contention is that much has hung on what the Archbishop meant in his letter when he wrote

I am therefore proposing that, while these tensions remain unresolved, members of such provinces – provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged.

I have been saying that much hangs on that word “formally,” emphasized in the Archbishop’s own text. It was in response to this that the Presiding Bishop wrote in her letter,

We are distressed at the apparent imposition of sanctions on some parts of the Communion. We note that these seem to be limited to those which "have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion." We are further distressed that such sanctions do not, apparently, apply to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviors in private. Why is there no sanction on those who continue with a double standard? In our context bowing to anxiety by ignoring that sort of double-mindedness is usually termed a "failure of nerve."

Well, it appears that we now have an answer, or at least a partial answer, to the question of what "formally" means in the letter from Canon Kearon. That is, we know where we stand "formally," because we have (or, critically for Canterbury, our House of Bishops has) consented to the election and ordination of a partnered lesbian to the episcopate. Of course, we knew where we stood before.

So, what about the others, those who have taken actions and may have rescinded them? Apparently, they get to report for themselves, if it's at all vague. Canon Kearon writes, "I have written to the Primate of the Southern Cone, whose interventions in other provinces are referred to in the Windsor Continuation Group Report asking him for clarification as to the current state of his interventions into other provinces." So, nothing to Nigeria, or to Uganda, or to Kenya, perhaps because they have transferred authority to ACNA? Somehow, that whole issue seems unclear, at least to the good Canon. One of his remaining questions is, "whether maintaining within the fellowship of one’s Provincial House of Bishops, a bishop who is exercising episcopal ministry in another province without the expressed permission of that province or the local bishop, constitutes an intervention and is therefore a breach of the third moratorium." That would seem to simply eliminate at a stroke most of the "interventions" that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have suffered. How is it that this is unclear in Canterbury?

And, of course, there is nothing about “to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviors in private.” While such things are certainly happening in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Church of Canada, perhaps the most egregious example is the Church of England. There “formal” accommodation has been made for civil partnerships even for clergy (although there is the fig leaf of asking the clergy to be celibate within such a relationship). However, reporters within the Church of England tell us often how many such relationships, including those of clergy, are blessed in the Church. However, to address that would require the Archbishop to address his own house.

I could say, “It’s easier to focus on what is formally done, and ignore the informal,” but the fact is that this is where the Episcopal Church has been on the moratorium on blessing same sex couples. We have not blessed in General Convention blessing such relationships, but a number of dioceses (including my own) have approved processes for doing so. At the same time, we haven’t denied officially that such things happen. We’ve only denied that we have taken any “formal” action, at least until this last General Convention (and even that was no more sweeping than to allow a “local option”). However, to ignore what was “formally” done because it was “formally” undone, especially when it was only undone after establishing a new ecclesial entity within a member national church, certainly seems perfidious.

I have come to the conclusion that the Episcopal Church should concentrate on maintaining communion with the Church of England and membership on the Anglican Consultative Council, and if not signing this Covenant results in a “second-tier” membership, so be it. However, having so narrowly applied the consequences of all the actions that have divided the Communion, when so many have participated, can only seriously undermine trust in Canterbury, not only in the Anglican provinces in North America, but throughout the Communion.

Called to Service in Christ's Name: A Sermon on the Diaconate

Preached for the Ordination of Deacons for the Diocese of West Missouri
June 5, 2010
Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral
Kansas City, Missouri

Let me begin with a story. It’s based on a teaching story from Idries Shah, but adapted a bit.

Two neighbors lived side by side in a small town in Turkey. One, Hakim, owned a dog. One night Hakim’s dog got out, and found itself a chicken carcass to enjoy. Unfortunately, it chose to enjoy the carcass and leave it on the porch of Rahim, Hakim’s neighbor.

This became a matter of an argument, and then a dispute between Hakim and Rahim. They couldn’t settle it between them, and so they took it to the town’s qadi, the local expert in law and custom. Each man was insistent, and each man had his vocal supporters, as well as a number of neighbors who had just gathered to watch.

The qadi looked out and in the crowd he saw Mullah Nasrudin. Now, the Mullah had been something a thorn in the qadi’s side. He claimed some spiritual expertise, and had gathered something of a following in the area. He had also been something of a public critic of the qadi’s decisions. So, the qadi thought he would take the Mullah down a peg. He said, “The learned Mullah Nasrudin is here. Let him hear the pleas and make the decision.”

So, the Mullah took his place and called the two men forward. Rahim said, “It’s Hakim’s dog, and he should clean up the carcass.”

Hakim said, “It’s Rahim’s porch, and he should clean up the carcass.”

The Mullah paused for a moment, and then said, “This is indeed a difficult case, dividing the community. It is Hakim’s dog; and it is Rahim’s porch. However, it is the responsibility of the courts to resolve these issues between neighbor and neighbor. Therefore, the qadi should clean up the carcass.”

Now, the point of the story was to challenge the stuffiness of the qadi, and I’m sure there was some laughter among those who first heard it. At the same time, if it seems an unlikely response in reality, it seems to me a very Christian response. After all consider from today’s Gospel, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves;” or, from today’s Epistle, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”

That was certainly the case, I think, for the first deacons. They were called on to resolve a dispute in the community. In the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem there were those who spoke primarily Aramaic, and those who spoke primarily Greek; and the Greek-speakers thought their widows were being neglected. This was a commune, really, and all were supposed to receive what they needed, but the Greek-speakers thought their folk were getting short-changed. So, they called on the Apostles for justice. Specifically, they called on the Apostles for better waiters.

And the Apostles offered the laity themselves a role in the decision. “Select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task.” Think about that for a moment. These were men, really, not unlike the qadi in our story. They were men who knew the faith and who had not only demonstrated that they know how to live out the faith, but had also gained a public reputation for it. Yet the ministry to which they were called was to be better waiters.

Human nature being what it is, did they stop and wonder at that, as we might? Did they stop and think, “God has called me – perhaps has been calling me, like Jeremiah, from before I was born – but, to be a waiter?” After all, even Jesus had noted the common opinion that the person seated at the table was more important than the waiter.

I would like to think that they didn’t. After all, these were men who knew that Jesus had said, “But I am among you as one who serves.” Perhaps some of them had heard Jesus say it themselves. This was a community that knew that such service was essential to Jesus’ standards of spiritual maturity and wisdom. Perhaps this was the sort of evidence of being full of the Spirit that led the community to choose these first seven men.

It is this same understanding of the ministry, and especially of the diaconate, that continues to shape what we do today. Of course, as with many matters of the faith, we have come to see these things more broadly. As we have come to understand that “Blessed are the cheesemakers” really applies to all producers of dairy products (let the reader understand), we have come to see that diaconal ministry goes well beyond simply being a waiter at our own tables. Remember that the ministry to which God called Jeremiah was not simply to Israel, but “to the goiim” – and not simply the nations beyond Israel, but also the poor and neglected within Israel. We might look to the “Outline of the Faith” as it says, “The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need….” We might attend to what we are about today, and to words that we will shortly hear spoken to these ordinands: “You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” Indeed, we need only listen to this theme in today’s lessons, a theme that they have claimed for their own ministries in choosing these lessons for their ordination.

Now, of course, one might ask what about this theme is specific to deacons. After all, this understanding of ministry, this call to service, is not specific to one order. All of us commit again and again to demonstrate the Gospel by serving Christ in all persons and loving neighbor as self, by seeking justice and respecting the dignity of all. I have been thinking of late that, as much as there is a priesthood of all believers, there is surely a diaconate of all believers, a call to all of us to reflect what God has done in Christ in our care and service for others.

But we are a people of the Incarnation, we Episcopalians. We believe not only that God came among us in Christ, truly human for our sake, but also that in the Spirit God continues to call human beings to “in-carnate,” to make manifest, the work of Christ in the world. So, some are called by God and raised up by the community especially to model for us and to lead us in ministries of compassion and service. They are called, as these new deacons have been called, to lead us so that we are in the world as those who serve, as those who are willing to be slaves of others for Jesus’ sake.

Let me say to the ordinands, thank you for your leadership as deacons, not least, and not really first, in choosing today’s lessons. There are differences in your ministries, and so there is no single charge to give. One of you is called to a focused ministry as a vocational deacon, a singular and direct demonstration of service. I know you’re exploring that call in health care, serving many who have no faith in a medical culture that often has no idea what to do with faith. Take your place waiting – at tables, at bedsides, in hallways and waiting rooms – and become what I often say chaplains are: the fingertips of the Body of Christ, touching with his compassion wounded bodies and souls.

For one of you, as a transitional deacon your ministry will not be so focused; but I am one of those who cherishes the diaconal work that is still a part of my ministry. I say of myself without hesitation, “Once a deacon, always a deacon.” Claim your own diaconate, so that you can support and work beside those deacons with whom the Church partners you; and so that you can make incarnate the call to service, especially when there is no deacon with you to model it better.

Both of you, wherever you serve, lead us in addressing the needs of our neighbors, whether the work is on our neighbor’s porch or half a world away. Call forth the diaconate of all believers, and show us all how we might be in the world and for the world as those who serve in Christ’s name.