7/10/2015

Shameless Commerce Division: Printmakers at Work

Very near the small town by the bay and the big water, aka Lewes, Delaware, there is another small town, Milton,  near the headwaters of the Broadkill River that runs down through the farm lands and marshes of Sussex County to the Bay.  

There the writer of this blog (Mark, myself) is engaged in exploring a new vocation, that of art printmaking, particularly using woodcuts and linocuts as a medium for expressionist work. This printmaking thing is becoming a vocation - and as it is with all vocations the call is tested against various realities, both communal and metaphysical. 

Somehow, as the printmaker, I have to get a sense that this is a calling and not a bit of extraneous fun (not that I am opposed to fun, extraneous or otherwise.) Still, the question of whether what I do has artistic merit, shows technical skill, etc, has to be judged by some larger community and indeed by some appeal to aesthetics. In many ways it it a journey not unlike the discernment to the vocation of priest, only without the .more obvious pitfalls of dogma. I have had pieces in several shows in the area and have been artist in residence at the National School of Arts in Haiti (ENARTS).


Two of the three printmakers in the collection of artists at Studios on Walnut, in Milton, - Mary Ellen Daly and I are having a joint show and reception on Saturday, July 18th from 5 to 7 PM.  Here is the invitation:

Here at Preludium we realize that the readers are drawn by the discussions of Anglican and Episcopal doings, so this announcement may not strike the reader as of much interest. But I would hope that even the most narrowly focused might take a moment and wish us well. As for the rest of you who get this, you are the ones I really delight in, for I am convinced that the vocation to artistic expression using the many senses is closely linked to the praise of God with all that we have. So I take great pleasure in using words and (most recently) graphic marks on paper to evoke some of the wonder that is the source of our praise of God. 

If you are anywhere near the lower county of Sussex in Delaware and near Lewes or Milton, come join us next week end on Saturday, July 18th.  If you are interested in seeing some more of my work, go to www.preludiumarts.net   Most of the prints in the show are not yet on those pages, but they will give you an idea of the work I am doing.


7/06/2015

"We are a good and wonderful church."

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This is the text from which I preached at St. Peter's, Lewes, the little town on the bay by the big water, this last Sunday, July 5th. The actual sermon can be found here. As usual the preaching and the writing only match up "sort of." I hope you find it useful.

Saturday a week ago Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina was elected Presiding Bishop.  After his election the House of Bishops sent a delegation to the House of Deputies with the message that he had been elected and the election tally. The message was received and given to a committee who reviewed the election and recommended action to be taken by the House of Deputies. The House of Deputies were then given the name and the recommendation (no surprise, to concur). The house strongly approved, and then in a sort of liturgical / legislative dance, the Presiding Bishop elect and the Presiding Bishop, his family and deputation from North Carolina were ushered into the House, and he was introduced by the Presiding Bishop and finally spoke, for the first time, to representatives of the whole church. His remarks were short and to the point. Near the end he said this:  

“We are a good and wonderful church,

a good and wonderful people.” 

Exactly so.

We don’t often hear that these days. Too often over the past forty years we have heard about The Episcopal Church in difficulties – with great discord within and increasing disinterest from without.  General Convention special programs,  new prayer book, ordination of women, inclusion of LGBT folk, various scandals and challenges in both church and society… and on an on. What we tended to hear was, “ain’t it awful,” and it tended to stick, even with those of us who thought the changes were right and good.   

So it was really great to hear such positive remarks, and then to think… that’s right!

 “We are a good and wonderful church, a good and wonderful people.”

I’ve been to every General Convention since 1969 - sixteen meetings of people from all over the Episcopal Church, both in the US and overseas.  At many of them I was a lobbyist, at six I was a deputy, just as Jeffery Ross is this year, and for four of them I was a staff member of the Episcopal Church Center. So I have been on the margins as a lobbyist, at the center as a deputy, and on call as staff.  Each has been memorable in its own way.

This General Convention elected its first African-American Presiding Bishop, decided to include trial liturgies for marriage that were gender neutral, to change its instruments of governance so that it might better be an instrument of mission, and to begin the process of working towards a new prayer book, one for the twenty-first century. It was a busy, sometimes difficult and often challenging time.

The Episcopal Church has always been for me both local… as a parish and diocesan, and “universal” a national –international body, and I have loved being involved the life of this Church.  So Bishop Curry’s remark was a wonderful and gracious word of encouragement not just for the church at large, but for the church where I am grounded, St. Peter’s.  “We are a good and wonderful church, and people,” says something about our common life where we are – where we are grounded.  In spite of our differences, issues, arguments and concerns, this place, this people “is a good and wonderful people.”

We need such encouragement, both in the church and in the nation. I am conscious that the temptation too is to always carp about the difficulties of being The United States of America and not take heart from “the better angels of our nature.” Too easily we gripe and mutter, rant  and carry on about how awful things are in the United States. Too seldom do we remember that we are at our better moments, a good and wonderful country, a good and wonderful people.

“The better angels of our nature,” is a phrase from the end of Lincoln’s first inaugural address, just as the war (wrongly called civil) was beginning.  It calls up the image of messengers from the core of what we hope we can be, coming forward and urging us on with encouragement to be better.  Those messages have to do with peace, unity, tolerance, forgiveness, repentance, joy.  

Sometimes it seems, as it must have seemed to Abraham Lincoln, that our unity as a nation is about to unravel. At such times an appeal to the better angels of our nature seems in order… that we might hold together with all our difficulties and disagreements and finally say of ourselves, “we are a good and wonderful country, a good and wonderful people.”  Hearing the better angels and acting on their message can involve struggle and resolve, but also finally malice towards none, for the message is finally about moving on to the hope of a better world.

Words of encouragement take many forms.  Today’s readings all have such encouragement.

We have been reading these past few weeks about the real questions about Israel having a king… First God challenges Samuel looking for a king, then God providing a new King instead of Saul, a shepherd David, from the fields. And today we read of God’s confirmation of David as king and his reign of 40 years. David was encouraged by God’s presence with him and with Israel.

Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” He draws courage from the idea that in Christ, even his weakness is a basis for strength.  “I am weak, but you are strong,” and that strength is enough to encourage Paul and each of us in our journey in faith.

And in the Gospel, Jesus , amazed at the unbelief of people in his own home town, none the less encourages his disciples, and they go forth in mission with great success.

Whatever the hardships, the discouragements, the disillusionments, David and Paul and Jesus moved on.  They kept on keeping on… seeking that higher goal to be good and wonder-filled as God’s people.

And of course that is the encouragement for this moment as well, both in the Church and in the United States of America.  “Keep on keeping on.”  We are called to high purpose, to be instruments of unity in a divided country and a divided church, and that unity is all the more important because disunity seems so much the reality. And it helps greatly to have some one say, as Bishop Curry said, “you are a good and wonderful people.”

Both the United States of America and The Episcopal Church are formed in the proposition that out of disunity grows competing claims for what to do as a way forward, and in the struggles that grow from those competing claims comes a new and more perfect union, if only we will keep on keeping on. Sometimes, as with the Civil War, the disunity grows to such force that the end of the experiment of “these united states” seems at hand.  Sometimes, as with the struggles within The Episcopal Church, pitting two sorts of sensibilities about what it means to be Christian against one another, it looks as if dissolving the union that is The Episcopal Church is also at hand.

Of course the two entities – the State and the Church – are different in particular because the one – the State -  is not linked with the other – the Church. One of the things we members of the Colonies were clear about was that there would be no link between the Church and State, such that not belonging to the church would be considered treason, or not being loyal to the State unchristian.  Yet in many respects they are of the same cloth…Church and State are both ways of grounding our selves in the idea of “more perfect union” in which that which is good and wonderful in us finds voice.

It would be naïve to believe that attending to the angels of our better nature comes easily. There is struggle and often amazing disunity, but if we keep on towards the prize all that will pass and we will come to a place where we can remember, or say now, or say for our future, “this is a good and wonderful Church and we are a good and wonderful people.”

I believe we the people and this the country of The United States of America, are indeed a good and wonderful people – when at the last the better angels of our nature prevail.  I believe we the people and this Episcopal Church, are a good and wonderful church, when there too the better angels of our nature prevail.

Let us pray for the Nation on this weekend of the celebration of our independence as a nation, a nation also dependent on God’s encouragement, and let us pray for this church, which relies entirely on God’s grace for encouragement and life.  Let us keep on keeping on… and find encouragement from God’s grace now and always. AMEN.



 

6/19/2015

The Church in Cuba and a non-imperialist future in or out of TEC.

With the renewal of almost "normal" relations between Cuba and the US there has been renewed interest in the Episcopal Church of Cuba becoming again a diocese in The Episcopal Church. 

By a very narrow, and somewhat confused vote, the synod of the Church in Cuba decided to request to join again The Episcopal Church.  That of course has to be further explored, the mandate widened, and conversations begun with General Convention. We can look forward to greater conversations with the Episcopal Church in Cuba about all this, but it will take a while.

While it is tempting to think this is all wonderful, and great that Cuba can again be part of TEC's life, we ought to exercise some care in the matter. And not only us, but The Church in Cuba as well.

The presence of The Episcopal Church in Cuba began in the mid 1800's with missionaries from the US. Following the Spanish American War the work was established as a missionary district with episcopal leadership elected for Cuba by the House of Bishops in The Episcopal Church. Bishops Albion Knight,  Hiram Richard Hulse, Hugo Blankingship, Romualdo Gonzalez are listed as members of the House of Bishops serving as bishop of Cuba. Following the break in relations between the US and Cuba, and under the supervision of a Metropolitan Council, the church in Cuba, under difficult circumstances was able finally to elect a diocesan bishop who is now in place. She is Bishop Griselda Delgado Del Carpio.

It is unclear just how strong the desire to become part of the Episcopal Church is. The church in Cuba has a long history of internal division an no one wants those divisions to reemerge as this decision is made. Hopefully there will be members of the Church in Cuba attending General Convention this year and they can fill us in further on their thinking.  

At any event it seems a declaration of intent might come forward this year, with the next three years as a time to develop further the possibility of re-incorporation into The Episcopal Church.

There remains, however, an important matter which only the Cuban Church can determine. Was the separation from the Episcopal Church, with continued good relations and engagement between the churches in fact a blessing in disguise?  Does the Church in Cuba have anything to gain from becoming part of TEC, when TEC is almost entirely preoccupied with matters internal to The United States and to TEC as an entity in The United States?  And is there any hope that TEC will not act towards the church in Cuba very much as it does with other churches in Latin America and the Carribean that are members of TEC?  Because these overseas jurisdictions receive substantial grants from TEC they ministry and work subject to review. TEC in its review efforts sometimes moves from matters of proper spending of the funds granted to matters of mission and program, from audit to intervention. When TEC, by way of General Convention, Executive Council or Staff action, intervenes, the results echo earlier more forceful imperialist attitudes.

Why would Cuba want to return to being an outpost of an American Church, rather than the presence of its own unique ministry and life. Granted the Church in Cuba was part of TEC in the past, but it was here as a missionary district and missionary diocese with bishops elected by our House of Bishops and funds directed to ends determined by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. In the present we have moved away of such obvious imperial presence, but there are plenty of examples of TEC continuing to exercise a controlling interest in matters internal to the dioceses, in ways that would not be tolerated if those dioceses were in the US.

Does the Church in Cuba need to question TEC about what the matter of organic union might entail?  I think it does. My sense is if the Church in Cuba were to become a diocese in TEC again it needs to do so with specific understandings regarding a variety of issues regarding mission and ministry. I believe we in TEC need to carry those talks forward as well.    

 


6/15/2015

The Profile for the Presiding Bishop looks like the profile for a parish priest.

Here is what the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop considers a summary of its Profile for that office:

"Our next Presiding Bishop will possess the following attributes or demonstrate strength in the areas of personal and professional gifts and practices:
  1. AN AUTHENTIC SPIRITUAL LIFE DEEPLY GROUNDED IN PRAYER
  2. AN EVANGELIST’S HEART, PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THROUGH PREACHING AND TEACHING
  3. LOVE OF THE PEOPLE, WITH VIBRANT RELATIONAL SKILLS
  4. PERSONAL HEALTH AND SELF-AWARENESS
  5. COLLABORATIVE LEADERSHIP SKILLS
  6. KNOWLEDGE OF, AND EXPERIENCE IN, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
  7. ABILITY TO NURTURE DIOCESES AND CONGREGATIONS IN THEIR DEVELOPMENT
  8. ABILITY TO INSPIRE GROWTH AND LEAD THROUGH CHANGE
  9. ABILITY TO BALANCE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES IN COMPLEX GOVERNANCE STRUCTURES"

Item 1-6 are classic hopes for a parish priest, item 7 would be, re congregations, an expectation, item 8 would certainly be of value in a parish that is undergoing changes, and item 9 would be highly desired where depending on the size of the parish, governance structures can get fairly complex.

The only time a specific reference is made to abilities related to church organization (as opposed to the parish) is in items 6 and 7. Given that all possible nominees must be bishops in The Episcopal Church, item 6 is a throw-away. Item 7 then is the only item that speaks to an ability related to something beyond parish life, namely "the ability to nurture dioceses  and congregations in their development."  But of course you don't have to be a bishop to do that work.

So, looking over the whole range of items in the summary - and recognizing that this is a summary of a larger and deeper profile - it is striking that the profile is essentially that we would expect for a search for a rector of a large parish.  With the exception of one part of item 7, no virtue or ability hoped for is different from what one would hope for from a parish priest.

Most delegates, and I suspect many bishops, will dig no deeper than the summary profile in the final report. On the basis of that set of expectations they will then look at the materials presented by the several nominees.  It will take considerable effort not to slide into thinking that the characteristics we need in a Presiding Bishop are deeply parallel to what we need in a parish rector. We can hope otherwise. Perhaps the bishops will ignore the profile and know better what is needed.

We should not want the Presiding Bishop to think of the work of that office as that of parish priest writ large. We ought not go to the organizational extreme either. George Clifford, writing for the Lead over at Episcopal Cafe, makes the point that we ought to consider not electing the Presiding Bishop for TEC as an organization either, but rather elect the PB as a motivator, cheerleader, for mission beyond the organizational structures of the church.  His article is HERE.

If the PB is a parish priest writ large, that is The Episcopal Church is his or her parish, then we ought to pack it in, unless we have a sense that The Episcopal Church through and through will be a missional church - a church primarily seeking ways to be truly in the world as an incarnation of the spirit, will and person of Jesus Christ. 

The profile seems too safe and to parochial for that. 

And unless the electing bishops are up for working beyond the expectations of the profile they will echo that safety. 

An argument can be made that we precisely need a parish priest writ large in these days when churches are loosing members and members getting older.  But if we elect a Presiding Bishop to rescue us from parochial problems we are electing at the wrong level.  Let's elect good parish priests, and even bishops. And let the bishops elect a presiding bishop who is capable of doing a job that is nothing like a parish priest's job, save that both finally rely upon the mercy and grace of God for any good that is done.

6/12/2015

An apology to Craig Uffman and other theologians who are working as hard as they can.

Earlier today I posted "The Episcopal Church and its ruminations on Marriage, and the baggage we all carry."
I've gotten many supportive comments, for which I am thankful. But I was troubled to see that one remark, " There are all sorts of highfalutin' articles purporting to give a robust (what ever that is) theology of marriage" was deeply hurtful to one of the theologians who have been writing. 

As with any commentary I of course meant to say what I said... there are some highfalutin' articles... written in pretty advanced theologically oriented language. I had pulled up "robust" as one of my favorite theological slang words. "Robust,"I believe echoes the energy of the evangelical movement of the late 1800's early 1900's where manly virtues of physical and moral strength through the exercise of body, mind and spirit, were all the rage and identified with a "robust" Christian mission in the world. The notion of Muscular Christianity was in the back of my mind as the place where the language of "robust" theology would have had a foothold.

So my remark was about what I saw out there in the internet landscape - a variety of strong, muscular, robust, theological arguments that I believed collectively moved the conversation not one wit closer to a conversation about justice in society regarding marriage and justice in marriage. It was a general remark. A bit snarky, I will admit.

However, I am not untouched by actual writing by these notables, and The Rev.Dr. Craig Uffman in his most recent article used the word "robust" to describe the sort of theological response needed to address some traditionalists who themselves were pretty robust.  I may well have been reminded of the word "robust" from his writing. But my remark was not directed at his writing. Craig was taken back by my apparent attack on his piece and wrote to tell me so. I meant no such personal attack.

Now first I want to apologize to Craig for adding to the load he is carrying these days. He has received some unpleasant comments from various sources. One of these, Stand Firm, has decided that "Craig Uffman has betrayed the Gospel."

He certainly did not need more to carry. I did not mean to refer specifically to Uffman's article by using the "robust" reference. That he understood it this way might suggest that others will as well. 
So let's get it right.  I have indeed read the Uffman article. I believe that it has much to offer as a theological paper of considerable depth. I do not agree with his notion that a pause in the conversation about marriage is necessary.  I believe we need to take on matters of justice as it concerns marriage as a peculiar form of civil contract. As concerns holiness in life, including life in marriage, that is another matter, one addressed I might suggest, not so much as a theological matter but as a faith matter, lived out in community.

And yes, highfalutin' robust theological articles by a wide variety of quite worthy persons are out there in Anglican land. Uffman's was one. As a collection they did not particularly move or help me.  But I was not signaling him out.

I hope one day to meet Dr. Uffman. I am sure we will have much to talk about.  Meanwhile, I will try to remember that snarky remarks have consequences, sometimes regrettable. When we meet we can perhaps begin anew with some sense of mutual forbearance.