1/03/2015

When the terrible, terrifying and awful happens.

This is a short note on the actions of Heather Cook who, while driving, struck with her car a cyclist, who died, and who left the scene of the accident and returned. 

This is not a note about Bishop Heather Cook. There are lots of comments about her being bishop and whether or not she was reasonably vetted before the election, about addiction and recovery, and about responsibility for leaving the scene of an accident, the accident itself, and other actions.

That way leads to the exploration of who is responsible and for what. But too that way leads to a variety of blame games. That way leads to the titillation of catching a “church leader” or the “first woman bishop in Maryland” in trouble.  The internet world and the newshounds have had a fine time exploring “Bishop Cook” issues. And there is enough of that to go around.  “Bad Bishop Cook” and “bad ecclesiastical decisions” are both bait for the hooks in the news feeding frenzy that the whole matter has become.

This is not a note about the cyclist, Thomas Palermo. There is a lot written about him, and about how good a person and  a cyclist he was.  And he was.  There is a lot of grieving and considerable anger about his death.  

This is a note about Heather Cook the human being, who comes from a long line of human beings related in turn to a whole host of living beings who when confronted with extraordinary threat reacts in ways not always up to frontal lobe human ethical standards. 

When we are threatened by appalling realities (and sudden crash, accident and death qualify) the startling rush of body response can lead to a variety of responses, sometimes referred to as fight, flight or freeze, none of which are thought out moral and rational actions, but rather more primal.

A lot has been written about her leaving the scene of the accident, how far she went, why she stopped, and why she returned to the accident scene.  These comments have been about the rational and moral actions of Heather Cook, who as a thinking human being, and particularly as a bishop ought to be clearly moral and rational. The “bishop thing” keeps creeping in. 

Morally and rationally, and legally she was wrong to have left the scene of the accident. It lends speculative support to the notion that she had done something wrong at the time of the accident and that it was not an accident without fault or blame, and that she knew it. Further by leaving she left the victim without whatever aid she might have offered. That all may be true, but we don’t know it now. We will see.

But Heather Cook, the human being, shares with all of us a lot of reactive behaviors that are unrelated to our rational or moral selves, or our training in moral or rational action.  Those do not make the news more interesting, nor do they excuse her higher level rational behavior.  But those behaviors are there and we don’t quite know what to make of that reality – that we sometimes respond in immediate ways that are not particularly cognitive, and that those reactions include a variety of angers, avoidances and emotional shutdowns.

We are left doing the more rational and moral things we do when sudden and strange death comes. We grieve for Thomas Palermo’s death and for his family, for Heather Cook in her distress, and for an accounting that is true to the realities of what happened, and to accountability where it lies. And we pray for all.

Yet perhaps too in all of this, they and we are creatures of deeply ingrained responses, and likely to act before we reason. And how do we pray for ourselves or others as reactive beings? 


12/27/2014

Christmas and then what?

Here at the offices of Preludium and its many affiliate organizations, we have mostly been busy as printmaker these past days. Preludium Press has fulfilled Lady Kathryn's order for Christmas Cards. But given the Advent mumblings across the blogs, and in my heart, the cards were a bit, well, odd.

Card number one:



inside it says: 

               In the deep midwinter


May we find new light
and life.


Merry Christmas.




All in all a fine card, but a bit somber.A bit of glitter on the cover page helps, but still, an Advent reminder of something not so easily joyful as the sight of a plump little child surrounded by adoring parental units. 

The second card was a bit stranger. Inside it says:


Wise ones,
These birds seek
And find a sign –
a flower in the winter night!

May you find such a sign
in winter flight
and Christmas.







Its a stretch to make this card Christmas or Advent fodder. Its more a poetic reach across the darkness sort of thing. Still, there it is. This was less useable than the first.

But why were these cards so somber?  Well, here's my sense of the matter.

What did we go out to see this Advent? Meteor showers?  The last of the Steven Colbert show? The 12 days of Christmas spending, following close on the heels of Thanksgiving weekend buying madness? Or what did we go out to see? The Empires of the world and the vandals of the world snarling at one another with children and women the victims? Or religious wars in the name of the Prophet who would be (we can hope) appalled ? Or leaders of the great Christian state mutter under its breath that torture, is, after all, a useful skill.

No, we didn't need to go out of our way to see any of those things. But if we took a side path, skirting behind and under and around the barriers to anticipation, we find wonder enough for this and every time. So we in this dark time of the year have remembered again that God is indeed with us, and we with God.

Christmas day has come and gone, and now we have the twelve days... many of them taken up with eating leftovers, remembering martyrs great and small, and generally getting ready to take on the new year with something like missionary zeal (although both "missionary" and "zeal" don't seem quite right as the terms for the tasks ahead.)

Last year I wrote a New Year's essay, for which I received few comments. Perhaps it was because it was a difficult essay. It opined that the Anglican Communion was now really facing a second world wide Anglican expression, and we would simply have to live with it. This is something the Archbishop of Canterbury hinted at this year.  

It pointed out that if the Anglican Communion and / or the Episcopal Church really really tried to be a world wide church, or (in the case of the Episcopal Church) a denomination of the regular paid up sort, we would reap the rewards of being kingdoms like every other kingdom, and the final reward of all such efforts is death. So if we want to be a world wide church or a denomination, watch out, Mister death awaits.

I suggested then what I suggest now: That the Anglican Communion is an association / fellowship / koinonia of national and regional churches, and that in turn the "Church" as in "The Episcopal Church" is not an ecclesia at all, but rather a religious order within the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (which is a spiritual entity, not a physical one).  

That is, the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of communities of those whose religious life is ordered in pattern and form on the religious community that is the Church of England.  We are now somewhat distant cousins, but still of the same family, and when we gather worldwide, or even among ourselves, we need to recognize both our family of origin and our life circumstances. 

The Task Force on Reimaging the Episcopal Church (TREC) seems not to have much to say about TEC as a religious order and community. It is much more concerned about our having a vision and practical matters of governance. The first, the vision, seems to elude them, and the second is mostly too little, to late and too extraneous.  

I believe it is important to be an incarnational community bound together by common prayer and common life. We mostly have the prayer thing down. We have to work a lot more on common life, which will inform prayer, of course, but more will inform our desire, will and duties for the years to come.

May we find new light, new life and flowers in the winter night.



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.