Friday, October 31, 2014

Another Great Resource for Chaplains - and For Religion Nerds of All Types

My regular readers will know that I am something of a nerd. I work in a research environment. I grew up in a research household. So, I can get a real rush just from seeing and thinking about an interesting article title.

So, I want to share with you a resource that just tickles the nerd in me like nothing else. There is an organization called the Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion. According to their web site,

IBCSR's mission is three-fold, involving research, training, and outreach.ResearchIBCSR aims to conduct leading-edge research into the biological and cultural foundations and functions of religion.Training: IBCSR aims to train researchers in the bio-cultural study of religion at the very highest level.Outreach: IBCSR aims to reach out to researchers, scholars, and the general public to build professional networks and to share information about the bio-cultural study of religion.Also, the core values of IBCSR's institutional identity include the following:
  • maintaining the highest intellectual standards in all phases of our work;
  • acting ethically toward our business partners and funding sources;
  • maintaining neutrality regarding the ideological promotion or critique of religious traditions, faith communities, and political outlooks; and
  • remaining institutionally agile, with minimal institutional overhead.
From their web site, one can subscribe to the monthly IBSCR Research Review. It comes with pages and pages of citations of published research and abstracts, all published in the previous calendar month. With that and access to a good library, there's a wealth of information. Beyond general interest in the academic study of religion, there are large sections dedicated to research relevant to Religion and Health. For chaplains and others, the articles can be of real value. Best of all, the IRR is free! 

So, take a look at the web site, and think about subscribing. This can be an exciting resource for all of us interested in research on religion, and especially those of us working in  settings where research is the currency of the realm

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Poem Today: 10-24-14

The Pelican

The pelican on the piling,
Grey and brown in the sunlight,
Gazes over the water. 
It is and is not his home. 
In it he finds, 
From it he takes, 
The fish that sustain him and his. 
On it he finds,
Over it he rides,
The thermals that lift up him and his. 
On it he rests. 
In it he dives. 
It is and is not his home. 

But there on the piling he gazes, 
And to the sun he turns
And opens his wings,
Taking in the warmth,
Taking in the strength 

I spread my arms to the sun 
Wings heavier and weaker than his,
To feel the warmth,
To feel the strength. 
Illumine me this day
That I may find what I need
That I may be lifted up
That I may find rest
On the water
That is and is not my home. 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Chaplain on the TREC: What I'd Like to Hear

I have been thinking about the work of the Task Force to Re-imagine the Episcopal Church (TREC). I've been more aware of that more since the last Report and the gathering, and the many responses. I've had two issues rise for me, issues that are separable but related. 

Almost all the discussion has focused on issues of power and authority. That's relevant, of course. At the same time, it speaks to a climate of fear: will I, will we be disadvantaged? 

However, it is not the most important issue for me. I am more compelled by the section of the Report that speaks to function. The Task Force is correct that ministry happens primarily at the parish. As a chaplain I often remind colleagues that the normative experience of the Christian is not at the hospital bedside but in the congregation. So, I'm excited at the thought of the Episcopal Church Center or whatever overarching structures we have as catalytic and connecting and communicating of parish
ministries. In all the conversation there seems to me to have been too little reflection on this, even positive. Perhaps it's so widely accepted that no one sees a need to comment. 

To do that, the Task Force suggests that more be done through networks, and that concerns me. I work in a corporate environment and I am as aware as the members of the Task Force that everyone is talking about dispersed authority working in networks. At the same time, there are networks and the there are networks. I think that before we embrace that we need more conversation about what the network would look like that would connect and communicate the ministries and the catalytic ideas. I think that is part of what we need from the Task Force. 

Let me say more. I have a lot of experience with networks, and I'm conscious of important differences. For example, most of my readers know that I'm a member and past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains (AEHC). AEHC is a voluntary professional membership organization supporting healthcare chaplaincy in the Episcopal Church - which is to say a network. I am committed to AEHC and to being a chaplain among the Episcopalians. I am also conscious of its limitations. Member organizations as networks are dependent on the time, energy, and availability of members. They are especially dependent on those members who volunteer to be leaders and officers. Of course, the officers and all the members have limited time, energy, and availability. That limits what connection and communication can happen. Of course, that also means they have limited memory. As a result, the same issues come back into conversation as if they were new. Sometimes they do look new because the circumstances around us have changed. But we discover on reflection that the basic issues, like the classic heresies, rise up again and again. Changing leadership means a risk (although not inevitable) of loss of institutional memory. 

By the same token, there is difficulty in catalysis. With limited time and energy there is limited connection and communication, and ideas don't get shared. Basically, the network has too little and too weak a center to sustain programs of ministry. They can support some personal connection and advocacy, and those are valuable. On the other hand, I think the Task Force expressed higher expectations. 

In a different model, I spend time on the networks Facebook and LinkedIn. Those  networks demonstrate an interesting paradox. They appear chaotic. That is, individuals and groups find them decent tools for various efforts. In that sense these can be useful tools. At the same time, it is only a tool and each of those individuals and groups has disparate purposes. 

The paradox is that these networks in fact have coherent purposes: to make a profit by providing a service. As chaotic as they can seem to users, they have clear centers of authority and power. They have ongoing experts who have institutional memory and carry through on the central goal. In fact they are largely invisible until they change the environment. We don't see them until they change security parameters or give us a new capacity that we didn't ask for. Those networks have a lot of disparate activity, but they don't really have dispersed authority. Moreover, that authority is hidden and not really accountable to the users. I'm not saying they are not useful tools; but as networks I don't think they are models we want to follow, especially with all the anxiety we're expressing about centralized power. 

Then there are the Information Technology networks in corporations like the one I work in. I have a great relationship with the IT folks in our system. They do great work. They have a commitment to a central mission and clear (and even somewhat dispersed) authority. They understand that the network is a tool and not an end in itself. On the other hand, they are neither volunteers nor amateurs. They are also not cheap nor self-funding. 

All of these are networks. Each has its strengths and it's limitations. None of them seems to me what TREC is talking about, exactly. So, I don't think we've talked enough about that. I think we need to have that conversation before General Convention, and I think TREC needs to lead it.   

Again, I know that there has been more said and asked about power. I have other thoughts about that. I do think, though, that if we don't have the conversation about our expectations of networks we'll discover that those concerns get shaped not by our ministries but by the needs of the tools themselves. 

If we're serious about re-imagining the Church, the questions of structures and tools are important. That is what I'd really like TREC to lead us in now. 

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

On Gourd Vines and Wages and Mercy: Sermon for Proper 20A

It's taken me a couple of weeks to get back to it, but on September 21st I preached again at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church. There was something there about expectations, and about God's mercy, and even an important reference to Blessed Janis of Texas. You can hear it here. I hope you find it moving.