Monday, November 12, 2012

Thoughts and Thanks on Veterans Day

"O beautiful, for heroes proved in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law."

A few years ago, when I put out the call for names of veterans to be read at a Veteran's Day prayer service, I got an email back thanking me and remarking that "in the past, CCC has been overly "peacenik" and resistant to any such service."

If that's true, it's not surprising. Not because of anything about this community, but because we as Christians struggle with the tension between honoring two values that Jesus himself lived -- self-sacrificial love and commitment to peace.

That tension is brilliantly sung in "America, the Beautiful,"  one of the "patriotic hymns" in our own hymnal. I am particularly struck by the brilliance of that second verse as a way we might honor and live both of those values as Jesus did.

People have served in our armed forces for many reasons -- from volunteering, to the compulsion of the draft to economic compulsion. But whatever the reason, that service represents a willingness to put their lives on the line for a greater good. To offer, if necessary, what President Lincoln rightly called "the last full measure of devotion."

That act of self-giving is at the heart of our call to be disciples of the one who gave himself for the love of the world. It must be acknowledged, celebrated and even revered. In fact, the willingness to offer that "last full measure of devotion" is so sacred that we as a nation have a sacred duty to make sure it is never demanded except when absolutely necessary. That it is only demanded, as in the case of those honored dead at Gettysburg, literally to preserve not our nation's economic interest or our strategic position but the very freedoms upon which our nation was founded.

That's why on this Veterans Day, in addition to honoring those "who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life," we must ask God to "mend our every flaw." We must repent of those ways we have dishonored - and continue to dishonor - their service by sending them to fight, kill and die, for lesser and less pure causes than ensuring that "government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

We have the greatest fighting force in the history of history, but with that comes the responsibility of restraint. The power not only to kill, but to force our own sisters and brothers to be takers of life should be used only in extreme circumstances. And when we do go to war, we must do so in ways that embody the freedoms and respect for the dignity of every human being we fight to defend.

The soul of our nation must be confirmed in self-control, her liberty in law.

I hope we will take a minute today to read these names below -- names of people in our congregation who have served and are serving. I hope we will take the time to thank them for their service the next time you see them.

I also hope this day and every day, we will dedicate ourselves to holding our nation to the highest standards of honoring their commitment, supporting any commitment of troops that is worthy of their devotion ... and working tirelessly to end any action that falls short of that high standard.
Thank you for your service:

Ed Mehler
Orrin Dieckmeyer
Ron Thompson
Dennis Goffin
Bob Schleipman
Ronnie Smith
Bruce Hoover
Sel Jenkins
Mike Rohan
Bob Lipscomb
Tom Manche
Kate Eakin
Walt Johnson
Jerry Wacker

... and any others I have missed. Please leave those in the comments section.

Friday, November 9, 2012

I'm on a Grand Jury (sort of).

Dear Ones,

Yesterday, I was impaneled as an alternate on a Grand Jury for St. Louis City. We talked about this possibility at the last Chapter meeting and it has come to pass -- at least in part.

The basics are that for the next two weeks (beginning Tuesday, Nov. 13), I will be at the courthouse from 9 am - 5 pm hearing testimony. From that point on, I will be on call every Tuesday and Thursday ... as well as the last two Wednesdays of the month - through the first week in February. 

On call means that I can be called at any time and with very little notice to report to the courthouse on one of those days to serve for the day. That means I can get a call at 8:30 am saying "be here in 30 minutes." 

I am not anxious about this in the least and, in fact, I see this as a great opportunity for all of us. First off, as a Cathedral in the city with a long and deep presence in the city, the experience of the parade of murder, assault, drug, domestic violence, etc. cases that will come before me on the days I serve cannot help but give me (and all of us as I share the experiences) a deeper sense of the opportunity of God's call to us as an urban congregation. I am viewing this impanelment not just as my civic duty but as a call to ministry ... and one not just for me but for the entire Cathedral community.

Second, it will mean that I will have fewer hours -- and we really don't know how MANY fewer hours -- to devote explicitly to my job as dean. As a chronic overfunctioner, I think this can also be a great opportunity for all of us! This really is about shared leadership ... and the opportunity for things that I have too readily just taken on myself to be shared with you all and others. 

I have already had an initial conversation with Annette and Amy about this and we wil be having a conversation about this at Chapter next Thursday. A real gift in this for us is an invitation for us to be grace-filled and flexible. Things literally may change at a moment's notice in terms of what I am able to do. I have been already advised not to schedule meetings on days I could be called to serve ... or to have them be meetings that can easily work without me. 

If you have any questions about this, please feel free to email or call me. 

Love you all and see you Sunday.

in Christ's love,

Opening Prayer - Board of Aldermen Meeting -- Friday, Nov. 9, 2012

Here is the prayer I led to open this morning's session of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. Many thanks to President Reed for honoring Christ Church Cathedral with this opportunity.

God, you are a God who implants vision in your people. And the vision you have implanted in all your people of every tradition throughout time is a vision of a promised land, a land where none of us are natives but all of us call it home. A land without power or privilege of the few but of a people working together for the common good. A heavenly city that makes glad your heart.

That city is not a place we reach all at once or a place that magically appears by itself. We know that we can only reach it through your leadership, but even as you lead us there, you have given us the charge to build it here in this City of St. Louis.

And because we know we will never build it out of despair, give us the gift of hope.
Because we will never build it out of fear, give us the gift of courage.
Because we will never build it out of division, give us the spirit of reconciliation.
Because we will never build it out of narrowness of mind, give us the gift of broadness and generosity of spirit.
Because we will never build it out of arrogance and hard-heartedness, give us the gifts of humility and compassion.

Holy God, if we are to pick up the tools to build this city, we need to lay down some other things we are holding onto pretty tightly. So I invite us here to lay down and release those things that keep us from picking up the tools to build this city that makes glad God's heart.

Aloud or in the silence of our hearts, I invite us to lay down the grudges that we might hold against one another. (Silence)

Aloud or in the silence of our hearts, I invite us to lay down the certainties in our own agendas that might prevent us from listening deeply and hearing God's voice in one another. (Silence)

Aloud or in the silence of our hearts, I invite us to lay down the pain and burdens we carry from all corners of our life and to let God carry those burdens and to seek ways we can help carry them for one another. (Silence)

God, we ask your blessing on this session. Implant in us a wisdom for the common good that is beyond us each individually but which we can reach together. Ignite in us a passion for the common good that will overwhelm any temptations to a personal good.

Finally, bind us together in the quest for the common good, the promised land, the heavenly city, for we know that the only way we will reach it is if we travel together.

Let the people say ... Amen.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Faith knows no party II -- How people of faith can choose either side.

Last week, I asked several people of deep faith -- some Republican, some Democrat, all St. Louis Episcopalians -- to write no more than 2 paragraphs telling about what core principles of their Christian faith lead them to embrace what they see as the core principles of their party.

I asked them to
DO speak openly and passionately about both your faith and your party affiliation.
DO speak clearly about how your faith is expressed in your political views and affiliation.
DO NOT talk at all about "the other party."
DO NOT talk about a specific candidate for office.

My goal is to demonstrate what has been my personal experience ... which is that while both parties have at times claimed a corner on faithfulness, neither has it. This is about showing that people can be faithful Republicans and faithful Democrats ... and that the Episcopal Church (I hope) is big enough to hold both.

I will be posting the responses here -- two a day until the election (or until they stop coming in). PLEASE continue the conversation in the comments but also abide by the DOs and DONTs above and use "I statements."

Katie Des Prez - A Faithful Democrat
Some people might consider what I’m about to say to be paradoxical: Among the central tenets of my religious beliefs is reason. In my estimation, faith is impossible without a willingness to ask questions and challenge paradigms. It is important to me to be a part of a church community that embraces change and accepts how evolving knowledge can also transform how we approach certain issues (such as homosexuality and our ideas about creation and science, for example).It is also important to me to be a part of a political party that supports scientific progress, as I believe that God gave us the gift of scientific insight in order to see what is truly miraculous about Nature and to put creation to its most just use.

On the other hand, some things should not change even as the world around us does: our dedication to helping those less fortunate, our willingness to engage different faiths (or those who are not religious) in open and honest dialogue, and rejecting prejudice. Government’s most important role is reducing inequalities among people. I believe in reducing disparities among Americans and around the world, and that is why I am a Democrat. It makes me sad to say that I feel one party would support these principles more than another, as I feel that they are truly human — not political — values. But meeting the needs of the poor, continued openness with other cultures around the world, and support of the rights of all people are also the main reasons why I identify as an Episcopalian and a Democrat.

Becky Davidson - A Faithful Republican
When i was asked to do this, I was humbled and a bit terrified. I wanted to make sure that I touched on what the most important thing for me to say and how do I say it succinctly. After praying about it and talking with my family, it came to me. I would say the two aspects of my Christian faith that have had the greatest influence in my political decisions are life and choices. The life aspect is easy to explain. I value life. This past week I had the opportunity to hold my niece for the first time. When she smiled and reached out to me it was the best gift anyone could give me. My niece, nephew and God children are a most wonderful gift from God. I don't understand how anyone see a child as anything other then that wonderful gift. As a woman, I have had to work through where my body ends and where a baby begins. I won't say it was easy because regardless of what anyone says life begins within the woman's body and is nurtured by her body. Yet regardless of where the life begins it is still a life. The Republican Party shares my belief that this life should be protected. This leads to my second part of choices. Other than in the instances of rape, a woman has the choice of whether to try to conceive or not. I understand birth control is not 100% fail safe but abstinence is.

Your life is a series of choices, some good and some not so good. God gave us free choice. We are responsible for accepting the consequences of those choices - good or bad. The Government is not a replacement for God. Loving my neighbor does not mean that my hard earned money should go to the government to take care of someone else. My observation has been that providing welfare as a solution predominantly breeds dependence on welfare not independence. I miss the days when someone had a need and the local churches and community helped, instead of everyone relying on the Federal Government to provide the primary support. There are times when people need a hand up. The east coast after storm Sandy last week is a perfect example. People across the country - if not across the world - are pitching in to help. When the tornado struck Joplin, people from across Missouri sent truck loads of food, water and clothing. Others traveled down to offer a hand. Jesus never asked Caesar to help, he asked his children to love their neighbor. The Republican Party shares my belief that the role of government is not to replace God. It should be up to people to help people and when given the opportunity, they do.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Faith knows no party -- How people of faith can choose either side.

Last week, I asked several people of deep faith -- some Republican, some Democrat, all St. Louis Episcopalians -- to write no more than 2 paragraphs telling about what core principles of their Christian faith lead them to embrace what they see as the core principles of their party.

I asked them to
DO speak openly and passionately about both your faith and your party affiliation.
DO speak clearly about how your faith is expressed in your political views and affiliation.
DO NOT talk at all about "the other party."
DO NOT talk about a specific candidate for office.

My goal is to demonstrate what has been my personal experience ... which is that while both parties have at times claimed a corner on faithfulness, neither has it. This is about showing that people can be faithful Republicans and faithful Democrats ... and that the Episcopal Church (I hope) is big enough to hold both.

I will be posting the responses here -- two a day until the election (or until they stop coming in). PLEASE continue the conversation in the comments but also abide by the DOs and DONTs above and use "I statements."
Mark Klamer -- A Faithful Republican
Helping the poor is nonnegotiable for Christians. How best to help them is the tougher issue. Those in desperate need should be protected by a robust safety net, certainly, but the far better result is for the poor to earn their own living. Why? Some reasons are obvious. Almost every job confers dignity and self worth, and the self-sufficiency of some allows us to help more people. Welfare, on the other hand, risks creating a culture of dependency and having unintended adverse consequences (for example by damaging family structures). But perhaps the most important reason to favor jobs over welfare is that God created humans to do work; we participate in His creative nature when we do our jobs imbued with Christian principles. Human being’s deepest and best nature is to honor God with the work we do. The Republican Party, at its best, fundamentally embraces the primary importance of jobs and the health of the economy.

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us". This applies to every single business person and every single person who works for the government. It applies to every single person, period. Although businesses are run by sinners, market forces provide checks on their behavior. A business with shoddy products, for example, loses its reputation and can go broke; competitors will seek by their self interest to do better. The problem with government is there are no natural forces to check the sinful nature of its workers. Bureaucracies, for example, have no competitors to run them out of business. Therefore, at their best, bureaucracies tend to inefficiency and wasteful activity. At their worst, they get corrupted to favor the rich, the powerful and the connected. I don’t argue for a moment in favor of the straw man of laissez-faire economics, but the larger the government, the more resources that are wasted, and the larger unchecked power that is created. The Republican party, at its best, recognizes the societal implications of our sinful nature, and seeks to restrain the size, scope and nature of government accordingly.

Celeste Smith -- A Faithful Democrat
I am a Christian. I believe that our responsibility on earth is to learn about God's love though our relationships with others. I believe this means that my relationship with my parents teaches me about aspects of God's love, my relationship with my husband teaches me about aspects of God's love, and my relationship with my daughter another mirror of God's love for us. But my Christianity is not just personal, it is political. I believe that God expects us to build our communities based on love, too. I believe it is our responsibility to make decisions focused on compassion, mutuality, and speaking up for those who need our support. I am a Democrat because our party stands up for these values on a political level. Our party wants a government that balances corporate and individual interests, invested in maintaining a safety net, and truly respects diversity.

Tomorrow -- two more faithful people (one Republican/one Democrat) share how their faith informs their politics.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Justice and Jesus -- An Anglican Approach

At tomorrow's Adult Christian Formation session (9 - 9:50 am in Schuyler Hall), I'll be leading us through a conversation on "Justice and Jesus." As Anglicans, we have a particular way of "doing theology" that places authority first in scripture then in tradition (which, as Jaroslav Pelikan notes is "the living faith of the dead not the dead faith of the living!") and in reason (our own thought, conversation and lots of room for the Holy Spirit). I hope you can be there, but if you can't (or in preparation for being there) ... here are our guiding prayers, vows, scriptures and wisdom from tradition ... as well as the questions we will be grappling with (that's the reason piece).

Go ahead and start the conversation in the comments section! All thoughts welcome!

Guiding Prayer
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Guiding Vows
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will with God’s help.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will with God’s help.

Guiding Scriptures
Matthew 6:25-33
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Questions for discussion (reason)
*What is God’s righteousness? How does it differ from self-righteousness?

*What is the choice that is being presented to us in this reading?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Gnaw on This ... The Gospel for This Sunday

The Gospel isn't meant to be gulped down on a Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us.
You've got to work at it ... like a dog with a good bone!
Here's the Gospel for this Sunday ... with some notes and more "food for thought"

15th Sunday After Pentecost - Mark 7:24-37
From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’

The Backstory - What's Going On Here?
This section of Mark sees Jesus breaking barrier after barrier -- from the feeding of the 4,000 and walking on water to healings and casting out demons. Last week we saw Jesus tangle with the Pharisees about the barriers set up by the Law ... and reframe them in terms of what honors God best.

Immediately, we see Jesus take the conversation with the Pharisees and put it into action. And he keeps upping the ante. Not only does he go straight to Gentile territory. He has a conversation with a Gentile. And it's a woman. And he lets her touch him! And it's a woman with a demon-possessed daughter! And he is open to her changing his mind! And he heals the girl! And then with the deaf man, he even puts his fingers in his ears and touches his tongue. Jesus continues to break barrier after barrier. The reader must wonder ... where will it end?
A few things to chew on:
*The Syrophoenician woman argues with Jesus, comes back at him even after he insults her (he calls her a dog!). Sparring with God is nothing new in scripture - think of Jacob wrestling with the angel and Abraham bargaining with God in Genesis. All three examples lead to closer relationship with

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Souls to the Polls and Voter Registration -- What, Why, and How

One of the things your Chapter and clergy staff are trying to do is remove the mystery about how things work and how things happen at Christ Church Cathedral. Last week, I wrote this post (What is *Christian* Outreach at Christ Church Cathedral) and updated you on the work of our Outreach Visioning Team ... which (among other things) will be proposing to Chapter a process for discerning which outreach ministries we should embrace as an entire congregation.

In the meantime, I was approached by the Rev. Traci Blackmon of Christ the King United Church of Christ to see if Christ Church Cathedral would be a part of Souls to the Polls, an ecumenical movement afoot among 31 churches (so far) in the St. Louis metro area to help get out the vote on Election Day, Nov. 6.

Christ Church Cathedral is now a "Souls to the Polls" congregation. But I want to be clear how we got there ... and invite conversation and feedback as much about the process as the outcome. Remember, we're all in this together.

First, what is Souls to the Polls?
Souls to the Polls is Rev. Blackmon's idea (I know Traci from our work together on Magdalene St. Louis). It is a nonpartisan effort that I believe comes from two common principles:

1) As Christians, we believe faithful exercise of the vote for the greater good is part of loving one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34)

2)As Americans, we believe nobody should have his or her right to vote taken away or discouraged.

Many of us (myself included), believe that voter suppression ... particularly among the poor, elderly and minorities ... is alive and well. But you do not have to share that opinion to be part of Souls to the Polls. You just have to recognize that the poor, homeless, disabled and elderly face many challenges accessing the vote ... and be willing to help.

For a congregation to participate, all they need is a congregational coordinator who can rally volunteers in the congregation and act as a liaison between the church and the citywide effort. All volunteers need is a vehicle (theirs or the church's), driver's license and valid insurance.

Second, how did Christ Church Cathedral become a "Souls to the Polls" congregation?
When Pastor Blackmon invited us to join, I asked her to put us in the "maybe" category and I attended an organizational breakfast at her church. There, I became convinced that this was truly a nonpartisan effort, and that the two principles above (which are my distillation of their mission) were ones that the vast majority of people not just in our Cathedral congregation but in the diocese whose cathedral we are could embrace.

Friday, August 31, 2012

MONEY MONEY MONEY (Do I have your attention?)

As I hope you've heard, we're doing stewardship differently this year. We've got three different teams each concentrating on one aspect of our stewardship. Stewardship of Money.  Stewardship of Time and Talent.  Stewardship of Spirit. The first two are fairly self-explanatory. The third is a group that recognizes we need to care for the gift God gives us in each other through opportunities to come together and celebrate and enjoy our community. I'm going to be using this blog to update you on the work of these groups ... starting today with the "Money Team."

Who is the "Money Team" -- Currently it is Mark Bethell, Joan D'Ambrose, Jennifer Feldhaus, Hopey Gardner, Laura Lambrix, John Long, Titus Olajide. I am convening this team and the current membership was drawn from me doing what has served me well for 15 years of ordained ministry -- praying with the directory and lists of newcomers and seeing what names emerge (I always have to give Heidi Clark credit for recommending this!). It has never failed to gather amazing groups -- and often of people I wouldn't have thought of myself. That said, ANYONE is welcome to join ... just contact me and come aboard!

We've met three times so far. We've told our "money stories" (the messages we got about money growing up). We've looked at three different pieces of scripture (Matthew 11:28-30, John 21: 15-19, Philippians 4:10-13). We talked openly about our struggles with wealth and our experience of stewardship and the life of this congregation.

After those three meetings here is where we are ... and we would love your thoughts and input and ideas. We'd also need you to consider how you might be a part of our Cathedral community coming together to make this happen:

We dream of a Cathedral community that:
*Honestly faces our financial realities
*Boldly trusts that God will provide for us and through us.
*Joyfully commits together to sustaining and growing Christ Church Cathedral.

We have identified five key messages we need to engage together as a Cathedral.

*Face Facts - Cathedrals can and have closed - even this year in the Episcopal Church two have (Wilmington, DE and Providence, RI). We are being kept afloat at current levels by the Pope Bequest. At current draw, that will run out in 3 years and then it is gone. The congregation can't do it all, but we need to take responsibility for paying for staff and program -- which is where the pledge target of $440K comes from.

*Trust God - We trust God will provide for Christ Church Cathedral, but we also trust that God provides through us. We trust that when we give generously, that God will provide for us ... not just in our physical needs but bring us incredible joy in giving and in seeing what this Cathedral can become as a beehive of mission and ministry and worship.

*Come Together - We are the Body of Christ. That means we follow Jesus as a community and represent Christ to each other. People give to people. Our stewardship must be deeply grounded in our relationship with each other on a one-on-one level. Inviting. Holding accountable. Praying for and with. Celebrating. Stewardship of Spirit is truly a major part of this, and that must include welcoming many new people into this community.

*Trust Each Other - The staff and chapter need to make sure all finances are transparent as possible/appropriate. People need to feel confident that their money is being handled professionally and their gifts are valued and respected. Information needs to be clear and consistent. The congregation needs to trust the staff and the chapter, assume the best about their professionalism and faithfulness. We need to all be in this together and assume the best of one another.

*Embrace a vision - We will give more enthusiastically and generously if we have a clear sense of mission ... a sense of what we are becoming as a Cathedral. That vision will come from the process we are going through right now with the diocese and the city of discerning our shared, core values ... but the Dean and Chapter need to communicate clearly about that process ... and the process for how leadership is chosen.

What do you think about this dream and these points? How can we work together? What role would you like to play? Leave a comment or talk to me or any member of the "Money Team."

Also, please join us in regularly praying the "Money Team's" guiding prayer. It's the "Prayer of Abandonment" by Charles de Foucauld.

God, I abandon myself to you. Do with me as you will.
Whatever you may do with me, I thank you.
I am prepared for anything, I accept everything.
Provided your will is fulfilled in me and in all creatures I ask for nothing more, my God.
I place my soul in your hands. I give it to you, my God,
With all the love of my heart Because I love you.
And for me it is a necessity of love, This gift of myself,
This placing of myself in your hands Without reserve
In boundless confidence Because you are my God
-Charles de Foucauld

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Caring for the Poor is OUR Biblical Role -- You. Me. Everyone.

This morning, Jim Wallis published an article on his "God's Politics" blog with the title "Caring for the Poor is Government's Biblical Role."   Here's how it begins:

There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: how big, how small should it be? Some famously have said government should be shrunk so small that it "could be drowned in a bathtub."

But I want to suggest that what size the government should be is the wrong question. A more useful discussion would be about the purposes of government and whether ours is fulfilling them. So let's look at what the Bible says.

It's a good read, and Jim definitely knows his Bible. But I've got two big problems with it. And just so I don't become just one more internet naysayer taking potshots at someone else's writing ... I think the problems also point us to definite positive courses of action.

In a country whose constitution says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," while my own opinions about governments role may be shaped by the Bible, those views should not carry any more or less weight than any others in our national discussions. I should not expect government at any level to automatically adapt to a Biblical definition of anything.

What the article doesn't say (but I know Jim Wallis knows and deeply believes) is that whether or not it is government's role to take care of the poor it is certainly not JUST government's role. The Bible ... particularly the Gospels ... are very clear about that.

In Matthew 25 when Jesus says that he is present in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner and that our very fate and salvation depends on whether we care for those people on an individual basis in that need. When Jesus tells the man who has fulfilled all the law the one thing he lacks is to "sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."  ... it is very clear that he is saying each one of us has individual responsibility to help the poor both as individuals and as a class of people.

Now, you might say, "well, of course, that's a given." Well ... no, it's not. Because if you are a liberal who has never had this conversation with conservatives, you might be surprised to find that an article like Jim Wallis' will likely evoke the reaction of "those liberals just want government to take care of everything."  Many conservatives I know see thinking like Jim's article not as a challenging of the government to strive for the common good but an abdication of our own responsibility and making the poor "someone else's problem."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Sunday Morning Wedding -- Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

Some of you are old enough to remember that old commercial for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The guy walking down the street eating the chocolate bar. The girl walking down the street eating from a jar of peanut butter (seriously, has anyone ever really done that??). They turn the corner and collide. Peanut butter hits chocolate.

At first they're upset. "You put your chocolate in my peanut butter!" "You got peanut butter in my chocolate!"

But then they take a bite and ... "Delicious!"

Two great tastes that taste great together.

One of the many things I love about our Cathedral congregation is how much we love our Sunday morning liturgy.  It is a huge team effort to create this offering for God, and so many people work to make it a truly beautiful gift. More than that, it's a chance for us to come together and lay our lives on the table with Christ. To offer ourselves to God. I know for me, there is nothing more meaningful. Sunday morning is the highlight of every week for me.

Just about all of us also love weddings. And anyone who has had any part of one knows that's also a team effort to create something beautiful. We love the fancy clothes, of course, but more than that we love the hope, we love the love. We love that two people would love each other so much that they are not just willing but completely on fire to pledge devotion to one another until they are parted by death. We love that we can find one person to try to love as deeply as Christ loves us. Weddings are some of the best celebrations of our lives.

So in February, when we first had a wedding on a Sunday morning at Christ Church Cathedral (and it was a wonderful event where Brittney Rickard and Chloe Hollett gave themselves to each other in vows and with rings in front of God and our community), it was really new and for some people kind of jarring. Like the peanut butter hitting the chocolate. 

And while a lot of people said, "MMMMM ... Delicious!" there were also those who said: "Hey, what's up? You got your wedding in my Eucharist." ... and that's OK. Some things take a while to get used to.

This Sunday, we're doing it again. Melanie Jianakoplos and Chris Slane will exchange vows and be married at our regular 10 am service. Bishop Smith will be the presider and Canon to the Ordinary Dan Smith (an old family friend of the Slane's) will preach.

The reason Melanie and Chris are doing this at the Cathedral is that both are postulants for holy orders (specifically, the priesthood. Melanie from Missouri and Chris from Nebraska). When you enter the process for holy orders you stop being a parishioner of a congregation. That means the diocese is their congregation and the Cathedral is their church.

But why Sunday morning?

Because marriage is not just a sacramental rite between two people. It is an act of the entire community. The Rev. Dr. Dan Handschy, rector of Church of the Advent in Crestwood and new dean of the Episcopal School for Ministry, gives the best description I know when he says, "At a wedding your relationship becomes community property."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Gnaw on This: The Gospel for This Sunday

The Gospel isn't meant to be gulped down on a Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us.
You've got to work at it ... like a dog with a good bone!
Here's the Gospel for this Sunday ... with some notes and more "food for thought"
14th Sunday After Pentecost - Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

'This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.'

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

The Backstory - What's Going On Here?
We're back in the primary Gospel for this year -- Mark. We pick up in Chapter 7. Jesus has gathered his disciples and taught them in parables. He has calmed a storm, cast our demons and healed poeple. He was rejected by his own hometown in Nazareth and he sent out his disciples to spread the mission. This next section is highlighted by two feedings -- the feeding of the 4,000 (6:45-52) and the feeding of the 5,000 (8:1-10). In between the two, Jesus walks on water (freaking the disciples out!), he heals people ... and we have this passage where he tangles with the Pharisees about purity laws and ritual tradition.

What we see in the passages leading up to this point is Jesus gaining power. That is bound to make whomever has power nervous, and the Pharisees are the ones who have power. Jesus is showing he has power to feed, heal and even control the elements. But the Pharisees are the keeper of God's rulebook ... and so they use it to flex back.

A few things to chew on:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Welcoming fellow travelers to our urban adventure and pilgrimage.

At 10:30 last night, the Journey to Adulthood (J2A) group from Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington, KY, pulled into our parking lot. They're staying with us ... sleeping in sleeping bags in our second floor Christian Education area ... through Sunday afternoon.

J2A is a middle school/early high school youth curriculum we use (in an adapted form because of our smaller numbers) at Christ Church Cathedral. It generally involves two trips. At the end of the first year there is an "Urban Adventure" - a trip to an unfamiliar city to learn about and work with organizations that are healing urban poverty. At the end of the second year is a pilgrimage to a holy site. Some churches take their groups to the Holy Land or Canterbury, but most don't have those resources and find places that can be reached by car and van.

This group is on their Urban Adventure. They will be spending two days working at our partners The Bridge at Centenary United Methodist Church down the street.

Cathedrals are natural locations for both urban adventure and pilgrimage. In the nearly two millennia that cathedrals have existed, they have been centers for urban ministry and also places of pilgrimage. Hospitality has always been a hallmark of Cathedral ministry ... a place where travelers could not only find shelter but experience the transcendent love of God in Christ.

Christ Church Cathedral regularly hosts mission groups of young people (we've had a group from Gonzaga come here for the past three years on alternative spring break and many J2A groups come through). We do not charge for this, though we accept any donation the traveler wishes to give to support this way station we call home.

We do this not just because we are on a pilgrimage and an urban adventure, too. Every day at Christ Church Cathedral is an urban adventure! It is full of challenge and heartbreak and many, many instances of grace. It is full of feeling like a failure and falling short in the face of the enormous challenges of urban life. It is full of deep, deep joy at knowing that just by being here with open doors, praying hands and listening ears that we are reminding people that they are indeed made in God's image and deeply loved.

We are also on a pilgrimage. Each and all of us are on a journey deep into the heart of God. We are at different places on that journey, but we take it together. And so we welcome the good people from our sister Christ Church Cathedral not just as guests but as fellow adventurers and pilgrims.

Pray for them this week ... and I've asked them to pray for us. They'll be joining us for worship at 10 am on Sunday. When you see them, embrace them well.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What is *Christian* outreach at Christ Church Cathedral?

"Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?"
"Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, 
and respect the dignity of every human being?" 
(Baptismal Covenant, BCP p. 305)

We all have a sense that following Jesus and being the church involves service (particularly with the poor) and working for justice. Christ Church Cathedral has a long history of embracing this. Lately, many people have come to me saying it feels there is no coherent vision for outreach here, that we're sputtering without a clear sense of what we're supposed to be doing. 

As our congregation, the diocese and representatives from the neighborhood and region go through the process of discerning the shared, core values that will guide this Cathedral, much of that vision will emerge. But after hearing so many of these voices, Amy Cortright, Mark Sluss and I decided that even as that process was happening, it would be good for us to convene a diverse group of Cathedral parishioners to wrestle with some foundational and structural questions about outreach that will enable us to be ready to move once our values are discerned. Questions like:

*Why we as Christians are called to outreach with the poor and to work for justice (i.e. what makes us different from the United Way?)

*What are the opportunities and challenges for outreach and social justice based on location/population/etc.?

*What process can we propose for Chapter to consider that will help the Cathedral identify outreach ministries for the congregation to engage in and also for helping figure out whether a ministry proposed by a parishioner is something the Cathedral as a body should support or whether this is something the person should be encouraged to support individually as part of their baptized life in Christ?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gnaw On This ... The Gospel for This Sunday

The Gospel isn't meant to be gulped down on a Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. 
You've got to work at it ... like a dog with a good bone! 
Here's the Gospel for this Sunday ... with some notes and more "food for thought"

13th Sunday After Pentecost - John 6:56-69
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

The Backstory - What's Going On Here?
This is the end of the long discourse on bread in John's Gospel that has carried us for the past five weeks, starting with the feeding of the five thousand. If we were to go back and read all of chapter 6 as a piece, we would notice that the tension and conflict is continually growing in breadth and depth throughout.

After the feeding, the people are crying with one voice, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world," But as soon as Jesus starts revealing more and more not only what the feeding was about, but who he is ... there is more and more discontent and more and more people turn from praising Jesus to turning against him.

The lectionary unfortunately cuts us off just before the climax of this passage. Even some of Jesus' disciples have turned against him and we are left with two paragons -- one of ultimate virtue and one of ultimate vice. Just after Peter (representing ultimate faith and virtue) confesses that he is all in with Jesus, John completes the passage with verses 70-71:

"Jesus answered them 'Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?' He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him."

We see Jesus for who he really is ... and it's not easy. The lines are drawn. John asks us -- which side of that line will we be on?

A few things to chew on:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Flags? Banners? Icons? What goes in our worship spaces?

In preparing to host the Icons in Transformation exhibit last year, we cleared pretty much everything out of the Nave that wasn't a chair or the altar to make room for Ludmila's art. We were amazed how many items had accumulated over the years!

It's been seven months since the icons left, and the question is "What goes back in the Nave?"

That question is an opportunity.

When it comes to liturgy and liturgical spaces, everyone has an opinion -- there are plenty of likes and dislikes. Because of that, those conversations often never get beyond the level of personal preference. When that happens, we end up with zero-sum games with lots of winners and losers ...  and more than that no unified sense of what we believe about worship as a church community.

The decisions facing us about the Nave are no different. Flags or no flags? Congregational banners hanging from the catwalks or not? And what about that angel font?

Instead of having a vote or instituting mine or others' personal preferences, we're going to use this as a chance to think deeply about what the Nave (and Bofinger Chapel) are to us, to the Diocese and to downtown St. Louis.

I've identified a thoughtful group of people to come together and undertake this process. My hope is that this group will develop a set of values for what goes in the Nave and the Chapel that we can then apply to specific questions … not just now but in the future.

This team will make recommendations to me and will make a presentation of those recommendations to Chapter. As it is his Cathedral, the Bishop will have "veto power" over any decision, should he choose to exercise it.

As decisions are made about what goes in the Nave and the Chapel, they will be communicated in terms of the identified values so we can all understand not just what is being done but why.

The team (which still has one vacant seat ... for a young adult) is made up of Bob Schleipman (sr. warden), Pat Partridge (canon precentor), the Rev. Canon John Kilgore (canon minor), Shug Goodlow (head verger), Paul Anderson (Cathedral archivist) and the Rev. Dr. Lydia Agnew Speller (priest of the Diocese of Missouri), and me.  Please feel free to talk with any of us about this endeavor!

As information comes in from the Cathedral congregation, the people of the Diocese and representatives of downtown St. Louis in chapter's process of identifying our shared, core values, that information will be made available to this team so that it may be considered as well.

We had our first meeting on Monday and laid out the process. We wil start with six questions to frame our work:

I – What pieces of scripture might be helpful to us as guides as we go through this process?

II – What personal opinions (micro to macro) do we bring to this conversation before it starts? (This is about owning our baggage up front)

III - What factors (physical realities, constituencies who use the space, purposes for the space, etc.) do we need to keep in mind as we develop the values that will guide our recommendations?

IV – What history can we be aware of that is essential to or will help us in this process?

V – What values data do we have from other people/constituencies that we need to consider?

VI – Are there other Cathedrals or sources of wisdom we can tap to help us in this process?

We believe that as we engage these questions a way forward will emerge and that a set of values will emerge. While I don’t want to drag our feet on this, this shouldn’t be driven by an artificial deadline. So we're going to do it as quickly as we can and still do it really, really well. We hope that timetable will emerge in the coming weeks. (remember ... We Have Time!)

Throughout the process, I'll use this blog and the On The Table forums to share how the conversation is proceeding and what we are learning. I have asked all the members of this team to engage people in conversation and listen deeply so that we can bring everyone's voice to the table. Please keep this process in your prayers.

Why is this important for Christ Church Cathedral?  This is definitely one of those instances where the journey is at least as important - if not more - than the destination. And in that, it has a lot in common with much of what we are doing at Christ Church Cathedral. Following Jesus and loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is not just about doing the right thing but about being thoughtfully, prayerfully aware of WHY we are doing it. The decisions we make about what we put in our worship spaces send messages to everyone who enters about what the life of Christ is like (or isn't like) in those spaces. It's worth spending time considering.

What do you think?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Love is patient. We have time.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

If you've ever been to a wedding, you've probably heard this passage from Corinthians. Because of that, we usually think of it as applying to the relationship between two people. But Paul was writing to an entire Church community. He is holding up a vision for community for all of us.

I don't think it's an accident that the first thing Paul says about love is that "Love is patient."  It is like a wonderful deep breath -- inhale and exhale --  at the beginning of this litany. It's a reminder, even to a first-century church that wasn't texting, tweeting and driving kids to three different baseball practices, of an eternal truth they needed to hear:

We have time.

The past 30 years have probably seen a greater increase in the pace of life than any other similar time in human history. And at least in our culture, that has made we Americans a most impatient people. We want everything right now, be it economic recovery or our order of fries. And so Paul's words speak wonderfully to us.

Love is patient.

We have time.

Yesterday, we restarted our "On The Table" dean's forums that we have had in the past. We're going to be having them monthly on the second Sunday after the 10 am service, (except in September, when Dale Kuhn will be leading us in a conversation about alcohol and family systems)  and they are a chance to bring any and every issue or question up and lay it "on the table" for us to wrestle with together.

During yesterday's OTT, we talked about liturgy, outreach, communication and other important things. And I found myself saying these three words over and over again.

We have time.

"We have time" is a statement of faith. It is a statement that God is in control and as long as we are diligent and faithful, all will be well. We can be patient with one another and with ourselves. And we can be incredibly grateful that God is infinitely patient with us!

Someone suggested a liturgical change in how we receive communion ... which prompted several other comments pro and con. Every one of them was worth considering. But what I said was that right now, what we're doing with our liturgy is sticking with what we have and concentrating on carefully defining and organizing our liturgical ministries. We want every person who serves at the altar to know exactly what they are doing and why ... which will free them up to lead worship with love and joy and without anxiety. I have delegated this work to Amy and she is working with our head verger, Shug Goodlow, and others to do this work. (Click here for more information on this)

This is not to say we will never make liturgical changes. But it is to say don't expect any major ones right now. Liturgy is an offering all of us make to God together. And we need to get to a point where we can have conversations across our community about how our liturgy reflects what we believe about God and the life of Christ in this place. About how the "shared, core values" we are discerning right now are expressed in our worship.

We're not there yet. We're not ready or set up to have that conversation. And that's OK. We will get there.

We have time.

We have time is not a dodge. It's not an excuse to do nothing or to drag our feet. Remember -- diligence and faithfulness! But it is saying that we are not going to be driven by anxieties or artificial deadlines. Barring extreme circumstances, we are going to take as much time as it takes to do things well.

We are going to pray through everything. We are going to look for wisdom in scripture. We are going to listen to each other deeply.

There will always be moments of truth. Moments where we have to make a decision right here, right now. And when those moments happen, we will be as faithful as we can. But we will not impose those deadlines on questions that don't require them.

Christ Church congregation has been around almost two centuries. God has seen us through this far and God will lead us home.

In the coming days, I'm going to be posting more to this blog and sharing about some of the conversations that are happening about things like how we will decide what things will be displayed in the nave and the chapel, what is happening with outreach, and other areas of our life. A common theme you will see is that we are taking the time we need to be diligent and faithful.


Because love is patient.

Because we have time.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What does God dream for Christ Church Cathedral -- A view from West Convocation

What does God dream for our Cathedral?
What does Jesus long for us to love?

Throughout 2012, Chapter is re-imagining the answers to these questions for today and the years to come by reaching out to the Cathedral congregation (our house meetings this summer), downtown St. Louis (more to come on this soon) and Episcopalians throughout the Diocese of Missouri.

The Diocesan representatives on Chapter have framed this conversation with seven questions for conversation (scroll to the bottom to see them ... you can also click here  - - and give your own answers on an online survey).

I spent this morning in Jefferson City listening to clergy and laypeople from West Convocation (congregations in the Western part of our diocese) give there answers to these questions. It was a wonderful and energetic hourlong conversation, and here is what I heard:

*The Cathedral is important to the people of the diocese as a visible, tangible sign of unity with the larger church (diocese, Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.) There is a sense of disconnect among the congregations in this region with the diocese (both in terms of the congregations and structures). The Cathedral has an important role in fostering a sense of community combating congregationalism and filling a void we are feeling for face-to-face contact with one another.

*The Cathedral building is important. There is an aesthetic experience at the Cathedral (architecture, worship, music, etc.) that you can't have in any other worship space in the diocese.

*What the Cathedral does is important. The ministries of the Cathedral are a source of pride to other Episcopalians in Missouri.

*The Cathedral can be a place of celebration and also pilgrimage. Invite everyone in to use the Cathedral as a place of reflection and prayer. 

*Some ideas for sharing in mission together included:
     -Episcopalians throughout the diocese encouraging direct involvement in Cathedral events.
     -Having guest preachers at the Cathedral from different churches in the diocese, perhaps having different "congregational Sundays" (e.g. Trinity, Kirksville, Sunday) with clergy, choir and people coming.
     -Cathedral hosting events in partnership with other churches that "engage our imagination, creativity and joy."

*There is a role for the Cathedral taking a stand on social/political issues, but we also need to be a place where everyone from across the political/theological spectrum can gather. Remember that there is a way what the Cathedral says and does represents all of us.

Diocesan chapter representatives and I are convening conversations like this in all the metros and convocations around the diocese. The Chapter will take this information and use it as we set out our answers to what the shared, core values of Christ Church Cathedral are ... what we believe God wants us to be and love.

So stay tuned ... and feel free to add your own thoughts below!

Framing Questions:
*What has Christ Church Cathedral meant to you and your congregation in the past?
*What does Christ Church Cathedral mean to you and your congregation today?
*What, if anything, do you see as the distinction between the Offices of the Bishop and Christ Church  Cathedral?
*What should the mission of Christ Church Cathedral be as the Cathedral of the Diocese?
*How might we share in this mission together?
*What should the mission of Christ Church Cathedral be as a sign of the Episcopal Church's presence in Eastern Missouri?
*How might we share in this mission together?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jesus, love of enemy, and "crappy fast food chicken sandwiches"

“It's sad that the level of debate in this country has sunk to the point where the ‘Conversation’ about what the sacrament of marriage should be is happening on the level of  ‘Do I or do I not buy this crappy fast food chicken sandwich.’”

After I posted this Facebook status yesterday, I received several comments – both public and private – saying that I had missed the point and was trivializing the power of boycott. That is a legitimate response and worth examining. I have not been persuaded that I did “miss the point,” and my opinion is based on taking the power of boycott very seriously. In fact, what troubles me is that the boycott/counter-demonstration of Chick-Fil-A seems reactive rather than reflective and in many ways counter to the role and purposes of boycott in our Christian tradition.

Let’s start with what Jesus has to say on the subject:

“’You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44).

This is part of a larger section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talks about how we treat our enemies. It is, as Nelson Mandela has said in our day, never seeing an enemy, but always a future friend … and not only treating the person as you would a friend but in such a way as looks forward to that friendship blossoming. The goal is transformation and changing hearts. If we believe we are in the right, our goal is not to defeat the other but to move their hearts. And the most powerful force in the universe for change is sacrificial love.

That is the message that Jesus “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” embodied with his life and with his death.

If we are not just to follow Christ but to trust in Christ fully, the goal of every encounter with an enemy must be together to strive for the truth and wisdom that is beyond us. To have all of our hearts transformed by God’s love so that together we are shaped into the image of Christ. Our goal must never be to defeat or humiliate or shame or do violence in any way to the other.

Boycott is a legitimate and powerful tool of nonviolent resistance to injustice. But remember the goal – the goal is not to beat our enemies into submission but by the power of our dedication and self-sacrificial love to convert their hearts – even as our own hearts are still being converted. It is always done with great care to the pain it causes particularly to the poor and working class people who are inevitably caught in the middle. (Gandhi traveled to England and apologized to the mill workers who were put out of work by India’s boycott of British cloth … and found that far from being upset at him, they understood and were awed by this burgeoning nonviolent movement for independence)

Let’s look at the situation with Chick-Fil-A. The owner of the company said something invoking the name of God that I and many believe is counter to the Gospel Jesus embodied and proclaims. The pain and anger this causes is real and natural. But Jesus calls us not to react out of our pain and anger in kind but to bear the blows and respond in love.

Let’s put aside for a moment the very real question of whether it is appropriate to boycott not based on the practice of an organization (e.g. the Montgomery Bus Boycott was in protest of an unjust policy) but because of a statement of opinion of the owner. That in itself raises a whole bunch of other very tricky questions. But for the sake of argument, let’s just go to the extreme. Let’s say that the owner of Chick-Fil-A had said, “I’m not going to hire anyone who is in a same-sex relationship.”

What is the Christian response?

I submit that the Christian response would not be … as the mayor of Boston did … to tell Chick-Fil-A “there is no place for your company here.” but instead to say,

“Here in Boston some of us who once felt as you do have had our hearts changed by the deep love and commitment of same-sex couples. Those of us who, like you, are people of deep faith, have seen God’s love in new and wonderful ways through them. And many of us have come to understand that marriage is not about the gender of the people involved but the depth of the sacrificial commitment of love they pledge to one another. We hope you will come to Boston and experience what we have learned and are learning, because we want the joy for you that we have found for ourselves when we celebrate the love of all God’s people.”

WOW! How different that would have been! Instead of us mimicking the response of “Begone, sinner!” that so many of our LGBT sisters and brothers have received, it would have been us demonstrating to those who would say “Begone, sinner” once more to us the very expansiveness of love that we say we believe in.

So let’s look at the boycott. A Christian boycott is always nonviolent. That means the goal is not to shame or do violence, but to convert hearts by the power of our sacrifice.

The Chick-Fil-A boycott both in theory and in practice falls short of this on pretty much every level.

First off, let’s be honest about the level of sacrifice involved in not eating at Chick-Fil-A … particularly when we are instead going to KFC. It’s basically no sacrifice at all. This is not a level of sacrifice that is going to change hearts.

Second, the whole intent of the boycott is punitive and violent. And because of that, the reaction is predictable. Instead of hearts being changed, hearts will be hardened. We will lose the high ground of being the people of love who are willing to reach out in love even when we receive blows and will sink into the valley of just being another giver of blows – indistinguishable to the observer from our opponent. And that will, in turn, not convert but rally and solidify the opposition.

… which leads us to yesterday, where this is precisely what happened. There was no conversion of hearts yesterday. There was no triumph of love over hate. There was only anger and self-righteousness on all sides. There was no conversation, no raising of consciousness on what marriage is and might be … just a choosing up of sides based on “Do I or do I not buy this crappy fast food chicken sandwich.”

Of course we should use our purchasing power wisely. But that means we should use it reflectively and not reactively. Remembering that our goal it to change hearts even as we ask Christ to change our heart, our choices should never be made out of anger or with the effect of doing violence, but with the goal of turning todays enemy into tomorrow’s friend.

How can we do better next time?

What does this have to do with Christ Church Cathedral? Part of our embodiment of Christ’s love is that we are an Oasis congregation, which means we are intentionally welcoming and embracing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons and families. That welcome and embrace is a part of our understanding of the Gospel. Jesus tells us that the Good News of Christ is not to be kept to ourselves but to be spread to the ends of the earth. How we have experienced Christ through our understanding of love and marriage is a piece of the Good News we have to share, and we are called – as a part of “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” -- to draw the world into it. This is about us because Christ calls us to embody his love in converting hearts. Christ calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This is about Christ Church Cathedral because it’s about how we will show EVERYONE Christ’s surpassing love.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Basic Discipleship V - Give

Opening Prayer – Charles de Foucauld

God, I abandon myself to you.
Do with me as you will.
Whatever you may do with me, I thank you.
I am prepared for anything, I accept everything.
Provided your will is fulfilled in me and in all creatures I ask for nothing more, my God.
I place my soul in your hands. I give it to you, my God,
With all the love of my heart
Because I love you.
And for me it is a necessity of love,
This gift of myself, This placing of myself in your hands
Without reserve
In boundless confidence
Because you are my God
We started with 15 minutes in small groups - brief sharing about where we were on the journey of where our deep longing meets the needs of the world. Also anything on prayer. 

Asked everyone to think about their money stories – what messages about money did you receive from your family or origin or church growing up. Were they about scarcity or abundance?

Matthew 11:30 -"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." 

John 21:15-19 - When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 

Give is about how we answer Jesus command: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 

Give is about how we answer Jesus question: “do you love me more than these?” 

Giving is about freedom. It is about letting go of what we hold most dear and saying “Jesus, I love you more than these.” It is about money (which is what our culture holds most dear) but it’s also about letting go of grudges (for-giving), agendas and many other things. 

There is a key word that is a fail-safe indicator of what “these” are for each of us. It is the word “mine.” (think Finding Nemo and the pelicans … and any 3 year old). 

Mine is a fiction. At the offertory we say “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” We don’t own anything. Nothing is ours. All is God’s. That’s true for everything. Even time! How many times have we said “I don’t HAVE the time.” Of course you don’t, time is not ours to have. It is God’s. 

Think of your whole life as a giant arts and crafts table. You don’t own anything on it – including your life itself – but you get to use everything that is on it to create something beautiful for God. 

So where do you say “mine”? What do you hold most dear in your life? Don’t hold back. Name it. We named things and put them on easel paper.

Luke 9:59-62 Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ 

What is it like to imagine giving it up. Entrusting it to God. Freeing yourself of the worry of whether you will have enough.  

Matthew 19:16-30 - Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’ 

Then Peter said in reply, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. 

When I was raising money for EGR and Rockwell House, I used to tell people, "I’m here to liberate you from your money. " This is the challenge of stewardship – we are trained to think that our money is something that we own that others are trying to get from us. We are always being marketed to … so we assume the church is doing the same thing. And so we get defensive and protective about our wealth. 

Believe me when I tell you that it is more important to me that you give than that you give to Christ Church Cathedral. 

Give is a habit of discipleship because  
-it is our liberation and rest (“trapped under something heavy”) 
-it is a statement of “I love you more than these”
-it is our salvation 

Working toward a tithe. Tithe is a goal. Biblically based. It is a minimum. This is all part of kenotic living. 

Everyone had the opportunity to sign up for a two-month trial with a discipleship group!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Basic Discipleship IV - Serve

We are finishing our second round of Back to Basics classes at Christ Church Cathedral. Basic Discipleship is the lynchpin course -- during the five weeks we learn about and experience the spiritual practices of prayer, worship, learning, serving and giving -- and build a community of support and accountability for integrating them into our lives. For each week of the class, I'm posting a very truncated summation of the ideas we discussed and the homework given. It's not meant to be a substitute for the class ... but I hope it will whet your appetite. 

We started in small groups.
Q1: Prayer: How is it going? What are you noticing? Barriers/gifts?
Q2: Learning: How did you incorporate it into your life. What did you notice? Did you do an inventory of your life of what is “junk food” and what is “only the finest”? What did you notice.

We shared the story of Gordon Cosby, founder of Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. Gordon had been preaching since he was a 15-year­-old in Lynchburg, VA. Raised Southern Baptist, he went into the seminary and then became an Army chaplain in Europe in World War II, an experience that reshaped his faith perspective.

He said he came back feeling that denomination and race were artificial constructs and that people should live in regular life as they would in war-­-willing to lay down their lives for their neighbors, viewing their faith as an urgent tool to change the world. He and his wife, Mary, began to craft an unusual church structure: Members had to commit to an inward journey of daily quiet prayer, meditation and courses on Christianity as well as an outward journey of social justice work. People would be held accountable by working in small groups.

Never more than 200 members, the church actually seemed to discourage growth. You can only join for one year at a time. If you do not re-­apply each year, your membership automatically lapses. You have to attend the School of Christian Living one evening a week for two years before you can move from apprentice membership to full membership. No congregation has ever taken more seriously the path of discipleship.

What were the results? Hundreds of faith-­based ministries have been started over the years, including a community health center, a residential treatment center for women with AIDS, hundreds of units of low-­cost housing, a jobs program that placed 800 unemployed individuals last year, FLOC (For the Love of Children, a movement that revamped how foster care is done in DC), Alabaster Jar (a movement of artists who are people of faith and express faith in their art), the influential Wellspring retreat center, a small college, and Potter's House, what many consider the original Christian coffeehouse ministry which still operates in the Adams-­Morgan neighborhood on Columbia.

Cosby interpreted the call to discipleship as the integration of two journeys in community-­-an inward journey to grow in love of God, self and others and an outward journey to help mend some part of creation.

The foundation was small groups – but they discovered the groups need a mission focus or they become support groups. Nothing wrong with support groups, it's just not discipleship.

The inward journey without the outward journey becomes self-­centered.

The outward journey without the inward journey becomes rootless activism.

Service is not just because we’re “supposed to” or to earn points to heaven. Original sin is self-focus/putting self in place of God. Life in Christ is “love God with heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as your self. It is God/Christ-­focused (inward journey) and other-­focused (outward journey). Self-­focus is seductive. Jesus really did say “get over yourself.”

This is true from the early church. It comes through perhaps most clearly in Philippians 2 (click here to read):

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus – Inward journey

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. - Outward journey.

Therefore, God highly exalted. - The combination of the inward journey and the outward journey is glory.

The outward journey is about one word -­ Kenosis - self-emptying. We are called to live kenotically.

How do we empty ourselves? By making a big internal shift: Our lives are not our own but are given to us to be given away. That’s radical thinking. We think of MY LIFE. But that’s not the baptized life. The baptized life is dying with Christ and rising to new life -­-­ the resurrected life. We die to the old way of “my life” and we rise to the new life of “God gave me this life to live kenotically, to give it away.”

When we believe we own our lives, we believe we have to protect it. We believe it is a scarce resource that we have to hoard. That invites fear. But our lives are not our own, they are God’s ... and that means our life springs from an infinite abundance. “I have come that they might have life and have it in abundance.” We don’t need to fear losing our lives ... in fact we are told that we have to lose them to save it “Whomever will save their life will lose it, and whomever will lose their life for my sake will save it.”

Giving our lives away is our salvation, but we are afraid so we do it as if it were painful extractive surgery. We give of ourselves with eyedroppers. God is inviting us to give like a firehose.

But we do it. And we do it more than we know. We serve, we give ourselves away all the time. A lot of times in the church we think that things only "count" as Christian service if they are church ministries. Not true. The primary locus of ministry is not the church but the world.

We then did a service inventory. Everyone named every ministry or organization or act of service they had participated in the past year. It easily filled up a sheet of easel paper.

This isn't to say "OK, we're all cool, we're fine with service, what's next." It's to expand our thoughts of what service is.

Frederick Buechner said, "Service is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

Most of us are well aware of the world’s deep hunger. It’s all over the place. The challenge for us is to help each other find the deep gladness. The sense of deep connection.

"We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.” Archbishop Oscar Romero

That is a process of discernment. What is it that we are called to do very well? What is that place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet?

At Church of the Savior, the small groups gathered around a mutually discerned mission. They gathered not around geography or time they wanted to meet or any other criteria save sharing that hinge point of deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.

This week’s homework: 
*1 hour of worship 
*1 hour of learning 
*Ponder and listen to where your deep longing is. Spend time looking at the world’s deep hunger. Come back with an idea of where God might be calling you to give your life away.