Thursday, April 26, 2012

General Convention 2012: On Health

The General Convention is coming again this summer, and this brings me back to one of the first purposes I had for my blog: to share information about General Convention, and especially information related to health, ethics, and/or chaplaincy. The Blue Book, the collected reports of the Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards of the Episcopal Church (CCAB’s) is now available on line. With those reports are included the  resolutions (“A” resolutions) that CCAB’s are bringing to Convention. I encourage you to download it (you can do that here), and check out those that interest you.
It will not surprise anyone that I turned first to the report of the Standing Commission on Health. This year the report is long and detailed. The Commission reported on few topics, but sought to address those in depth. They did do something that I wish more of us in the Church did more often. They went through the Electronic Archives of the Episcopal Church, as they said, “so as not to repeat the work of the past.” Clearly they made a concerted effort over the past Triennium.
I was impressed, though, because the report began, not with an issue or a resolution, but with a reflection. “Despite the archival evidence of vehement commitment to improved health for the Church and the world, there has been little time spent in articulating the Church’s motivation for this work. The Commission finds this to be an unfortunate oversight, and sought to lay a foundation for a future theology of health.” This is an interesting observation, and I see the point. The Commission was deliberate in responding to this lack:
During the summit in 2011, Steven Fowl of Loyola and Leonard Hummel of Gettysburg Seminary facilitated a theological brainstorm, and as a result of such study helped collect these springboard insights:  
  • A belief that we are created by God, that creation is a gift, and that our health is a gift from God. We believe we are called to be thankful for and excellent stewards of this gift. 
  • An acknowledgment that we are not all healthy and do not all have equal opportunities to be healthy, and that these disparities and suffering are marks of the need for reconciliation with God and God’s plan for us in the world. 
  • A belief in the incarnated God, who lived as a person with a mind for the health of his people, who experienced bodily suffering, and who bore the wounds of his suffering in his resurrected body. The implication for health is the assurance that we have a God who suffers with, and cares deeply for, the human creation in body as well as spirit. 
  • A belief that engagement in personal and communal health issues is a sign of our hope in God’s creation and redemption. Our commitment to justice is the living out of our faith in God’s gift of health. Conversely, a lack of commitment shows a lack of faith. 
  • A belief that scripture provides a model for these efforts: including but not limited to Eden, the prophets including Amos, Jesus’ efforts towards healing, Jesus’ resurrected body, and the Christian community of Acts
  • A belief that our tradition is rich in communal attention to a spiritual life that honors the body. We also experience in our tradition a valued engagement with the secular world, critically valuing participation and contribution at personal, local, national and international efforts. 
Again, these are the result of a brainstorming session, and not an analytically reflected theological position statement. That said, they seem quite encompassing. They reference explicitly Christ’s incarnation, and the Scriptural evidence of God’s desire that we be healthy. It also references our responsibility to reflect that desire in the world, and the Scriptural foundation of our ministries of justice and reconciliation. While I haven’t analyzed them in depth either, my sense is that these thoughts align well with the Baptismal Covenant.

I also find myself questioning the statement that, “there has been little time spent in articulating the Church’s motivation for this work.” As in everything else, we Episcopalians articulate our theology first liturgically. We might look to the Prayer Book and to the services for Ministration to the Sick, Ministration at the Time of Death, and perhaps Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child. We might look at the Public Service of Healing in the Book of Occasional Services. These are certainly not theological treatises, but, then, we don’t usually focus on theological treatises. We begin with worship.

I think these reflections are important, certainly because they are comprehensive, but even more because the Commission offers them as a place to start. I think we should appreciate these thoughts, and then take the Commission up in its call for a more reflected theological statement about the Episcopal Church’s understanding of health, of God’s commitment to health and healing, and God’s call to us to participate in that commitment.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

At Episcopal Cafe: Reflecting on Power

My newest piece is posted at Episcopal Cafe. It's a reflection about power, and especially about power in the Church - the Body of Christ, but especially the Episcopal Church. So, go over and take a look. Then, whether there or here, let me know what you think. I value your comments, as do all of the contributors to the Cafe.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Where You Place Your Faith: Sermon for Second Easter

It's a bit unusual for me to be preaching two weeks in the same place. However, I had the opportunity to preach again at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church. Once again, my sermon there was recorded, and you can listen to it here.  I hope you find it worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Good Reading: Another Chaplain's Voice

I have added a new link to my list of blogs writing of chaplaincy. Pam Berardinelli Garrud, writer of PamBG's Blog, responded to my Maundy Thursday sermon, and I went over to look at her blog. Well, I would encourage you to look, too. Pam is a chaplain, and she's also sharing her insights on ministry in general and chaplaincy in particular. So, go over and spend some time.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Not the End of the World: Happy Easter!

A Blessed Easter to all. I preached the Easter Vigil at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church, Loch Lloyd, Missouri. And in an opportunity I'm not used to, my sermon was recorded. If you'd like to hear it, and for once actually hear my voice, it's here. If you do, my title above will also make sense. You'll find I had fun with it, and I hope you will as well.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

It Begins With a Meal: Reflections for Maundy Thursday

My wife and I were at dinner. It was New Year’s Eve, and we had taken the opportunity to go to a small restaurant noted for its premier chef and its excellent cuisine. We don’t do that often; but, after all, this was New Year’s Eve.

The menu was limited for the evening: for a fixed price, four courses, including dessert. The food was all we had been promised, and we were enjoying every bite. But one of the best moments of the evening wasn’t our food. It wasn’t even our moment. Suddenly, between the fish course and the entrĂ©e, just over my wife’s shoulder I noticed a young couple. I noticed them because, without any fanfare, the young man slid out of his seat and onto one knee, and produced in his hands a beautiful engagement ring.

I looked at my wife and said, “Why, I’ll be: he just proposed!” “Really?” she said. “That’s exciting!”

The couple at the next table heard me, and the woman asked, “Did she say yes?” I look for just a moment, and said, “From how they’re behaving now, I think so!” My wife looked back at me and said, “Well, that was worth the price of admission!”

Do we think about how many relationships start or change with a meal? Of course, the restaurant proposal is a classic; but there are so many other examples. In the same vein as the proposal, think about the first time a child brings a date to dinner with the family. Or, think about the new business relationships that get negotiated over lunch. Indeed, one of, if not the most profound and powerful of human relationships, begins with the first meal, when the newborn child takes to a mother’s breast.

The same is true, really, in our story as God’s people – both for good and ill. Think what started when a man and a woman shared an apple – a new relationship with one another, and a new relationship with God, all in one disastrous moment!

But, then again, think of the times when God’s actions to restore us also began with a meal. Our Jewish siblings will shortly celebrate Passover, and that began with a meal. Oh, it might have happened in the context of plagues, and it may reach its climax at the Red Sea, but it began with a meal. The celebration is set in the framework of a meal now because it began with a meal then: a meal prepared and eaten in haste because God’s plan was rapidly coming together. Right up to that point, they were still slaves in Egypt. From that meal on, they were the people God had gathered and would lead to freedom.

The same is true of our Christian faith. Oh, over the next few days we will experience the depths of Good Friday that we might be prepared for Easter; but the events of those three days began with a meal. Paul and John focus on different events of that meal, but we know in faith that they were one meal; and that after that meal Jesus had established a whole new relationship with his followers.

It was a meal, John tells us, that began in service. Before the food was served, there was Jesus, his good clothes laid aside, down on his knees to wash the feet of the disciples. It was a humble task, even, some might think, a humiliating task. It was a task so demeaning that Peter couldn’t imagine accepting it from Jesus. And Jesus insisted, and would not allow dinner until the he had washed the feet of everyone in the room, including those he knew would betray him.

It was a meal, Paul tells us, that was redefined in sacrifice. “This is my body,” Jesus said. “This is my blood, establishing among you a new Covenant. When you do this, you are once again connected in me.”

It was, above all, a meal that redefined who they were, those followers of Jesus. “What you have seen and heard in this meal,” Jesus said, “is my example to you. This is how you serve one another. This is how you connect with one another.” And the new Christian community took that to heart. It brought them together and held them together, so that they might go forth together. So Paul wrote, “Whenever you do this, until Christ comes again, you are recalling and proclaiming how he has died for you.”

And so we are gathered here today, that we might remember again, that we might proclaim again. Over the next few days, we will hear horror and joy again; but it begins here. It begins with this meal that we share. And if we remember what begins here, we can remember it, in all its agony and its ecstasy, every time. Every Sunday in church, or at every bedside in this hospital, we can recall again and proclaim again what the Lord has done for us, and how in doing it he has made us a new people in a new and restored relationship with him.

We are beginning the Great Three Days of the Christian story. We will go with Jesus to the Garden, to see how he accepted God’s will. We will go with Jesus to trial, and see the betrayal of even those who loved him. We will go with Jesus to the cross, in all its terror, and wait in hope and fear for life beyond death. We will go through this, as those first disciples did before us. And for us now, as it was did for them, it begins here. It begins with this meal.