Thursday, March 15, 2012

Learning #3 - Have Less. Be More.

So much of the best of priesthood I learned from college students. As I watched them, I realized that there was a direct connection between how little they were encumbered and how amazing their lives were. I learned from them that the freest time of your life can be the six months between when you graduate from college and when your student loans come due ... because you’re usually not married, don’t have kids and often aren’t tied to a job and a career. I learned watching them that it’s really easy to raise your standard of living and really hard to lower it ... and the ones who kept their standard of living low did the coolest things with their lives because they weren’t spending time, energy and money maintaining that standard of living.

I learned that from my students, but it's really straight from scripture. There is an ethic of enoughness, of non-attachment that runs throughout our scriptural story.

*God provided for the people of Israel in the desert. God provided “manna enough for the day.” And if you tried to store up too much it would spoil. Give us this day our daily bread. Give us just enough.

*We look at the call of disciples. Leave your nets and follow me, Jesus says. I will provide ... enough.

*We hear Jesus say “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” You can’t inherit the kingdom if you have more than ... enough.

And then there is Mark 6:7-13:

He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Take nothing with you, Jesus says. Travel light. Keep your overhead low. Be fully dependent on God.
And how does God provide? God provides through the community. And it is from that radical dependence on God through the community that the disciples get their authority.

Which leads me to the third learning:

Have less. Be more.

A couple things about this.

First, fear is always about loss. Take any fear and you can see how it about loss. About loss of possessions. About loss of life or function. About loss of friendship or love or respect. All fear is fear of loss. But here’s the thing. We can’t lose anything that really matters. Because in the end the only thing that really matters is the one thing that we can never lose – the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Second, even though Jesus tells us "take nothing with you" ... we have all this stuff of institutions. And it has helped us stay as a constant entity for nearly 2,000 years. So what does faithfulness look like? I think it looks like wrestling with three questions:

1) Does the stuff of the institution serve the impulse of mission or does it just serve to perpetuate itself?

The prayer book says “The Mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” This is straight from 2 Corinthians 5:16- 20

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

We have a budget of around $900,000. How much of that is really going toward being ambassadors of Christ reconciling all people to God and one another? And how much of that is going toward feeding the beast, toward growing and perpetuating the institution for the sake of the institution.

Most of our salaries go to clergy - to Amy and to me. Is that money going to pay people who are running everything? Who are building and maintaining systems that are dependent on them and organizational structures that look like spokes on a wheel with them at the hub?

Or are we using that salary for people who are going to give power away? Who are going to gather and send? Who are going to equip this community to lay our lives on the table with Jesus and live what happens next?

2) Do we have a living sense of “enoughness” and daily bread that strikes a balance between preserving living heritage and maintaining dependence on God and community?

If we decide that we need some sort of an institution to preserve the living tradition, how can we make sure we are doing that with the least amount of maintenance resources possible ... not just so we don’t have to worry about budget cuts but so we are cultivating the kind of dependence on God and community that scripture calls us to.

We need to always, always, always challenge conventional wisdom about money. Not reject it out of hand, but challenge it, push back against it. Because conventional wisdom about money is ALWAYS about fear- full caution and self-reliance, not trust and hope-full reliance on God’s provision in the wilderness.

3)  Do we primarily see ourselves as owners of what we have or stewards of what God gives to all?

There are two primary frameworks for looking at the church’s “stuff” – ownership and stewardship. Because we tend to mimic the world around us, we almost exclusively see it in terms of ownership, and that’s where we run off the rails.

And maybe this is the heart of “Have less. Be more.”

HAVE indicates ownership. That what I HAVE is mine or ours. Which means it is not yours or theirs. HAVE is about exclusive right and control of. HAVE is about possession. I think this is might be what Paul means when he talks in Philippians 3 about suffering the loss of all things and regarding them as rubbish "in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ."

Does this mean that we should go around naked because we are completely without anything material in our lives? No. But I do think this is one of those really hard narrow gate places where we need to remember and live not by an ethic of ownership but by an ethic of stewardship. I also think this is one of those ethics where the extreme really is the highest virtue ... and most, if not all of us fall short of that.

An ethic of stewardship instead of ownership is embodied in "when someone asks for your coat, give them your cloak as well." It is recognizing that we don't OWN anything but we are given the opportunity to be stewards of great abundance. And our task and joy is to steward the abundance for the good of all.

It might seem like a ticky-tack semantic point, but it's HUGE! Part of what we're wrestling with at Christ Church Cathedral – and I don’t think we’re much different from any other church -- is the difference between these two attitudes:

1) The Cathedral is OUR building. We own it.

2) The Cathedral belongs to God. We have been charged with caring for it for the good of the people of this congregation, the diocese and the city of St. Louis.

In practice, there is a HUGE distinction between these two things. Ownership inevitably leads us down the path of protecting what we believe is ours and leads us into idolatry. Stewardship leads us into self-giving love, which is the heart of the Gospel. It is through embracing stewardship instead of ownership that we become the body of Christ.

What does this mean for Christ Church Cathedral?

Well ... I think it means everything. It's about who we are going to be and what we are going to be about. Will we exist just to keep existing or will we exist for God's mission of reconciliation in the world? Will we live trusting in ourselves or trusting in Jesus?

What do you think?

Does "Have less. Be more." resonate with you? What do you think about the distinction between ownership and stewardship? Where do you think we are at our best as a Cathedral?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Learning # 2 - Gather around Jesus .. cast our lives on Jesus ... and see what happens!

The best piece of advice I got before taking this job was from the Rev. Dan Handschy, rector of Church of the Advent in Crestwood. I asked him how he ran a vestry meeting. And Dan told me that when he sits at the vestry table or any other table in the Advent community, it is an extension of him standing at the Eucharistic table. His role is always the same.

It is to gather people around the presence of Christ.

Lead everyone in laying our lives on the table with Christ.

Lead everyone in asking that great question I learned from Donald Schell “What do you notice?”

Lead everyone in joining the Spirit in playing with what is on that table and being a part of new life being created.

And then all be sent out into the world to live this new life in amazing ways (that's the deacon's job).

That's our job as priests. That's my job as Dean of Christ Church Cathedral. To gather people around the presence of Christ – around the hope – and to reject the pressures of hubris and fear as priests to define exactly what it looks like. That’s for the whole community to discover together.

The Rev. Dr. Susanna Singer said in her talk at Gathering of Leaders that the theological opposite of hope is not fear but certainty. What a critical insight. In this post-expert era, we need to resist the temptation to tell our communities absolutely certainties that give them only the options of lining up with us or against us.

We gather around what we hope is the presence of Christ ... keep the attention trained on Christ ... don’t let the gaze shift from Christ ... and then watch what happens.

Daniel Simons (my friend and colleague group member at Trinity, Wall Street) said something like this to me a couple years ago. That what was really emerging about an emerging church is not flashy liturgy or some other thing out of a bag of tricks in the Emerging Church Industrial Complex but a new/old way of being priest that is about us getting back to our central role of presiding at the table. Of gathering around the presence of Christ.

What that looks like at Christ Church Cathedral is that we are working together - first as a Chapter and then beyond. We brought in an excellent consultant, Jane Klieve – ‘cause I don’t know how to do this stuff nearly as well as she does – we brought her in to work with all of us on building structures of shared leadership. And now we have started a process as a chapter – fairly standard organizational stuff – of figuring out what our shared, core values are. Which is another way of saying “what is it that we believe Jesus dreams for us to love and be.” And we’re figuring out how to involve not just the congregation but the diocese and even the city in that conversation.

We are being an incubator for ministries like Magdalene St. Louis that involve us gathering the diocese and the city around something we think might be Christ ... encouraging people to lay their lives on the table with Christ ... and seeing what happens.

And you know what we're discovering? It's fun!  When we start asking the question "Is this Jesus?"really fun, joyful things happen.

Why is this important for Christ Church Cathedral?

Because it's opening up wonderful new ways of being the Body of Christ for us. Here's an example:

Sandy Coburn (one of our diocesan reps from St. Michael and St. George)heard about this artist named Stuart Morse who gathers diverse groups of kids together to create beautiful urban murals. Wow -- gathering diverse groups of kids to create beauty. That could be Jesus! So she brought the idea to us and tomorrow at Chapter, Stuart will make a presentation about gathering a large, diverse group of youth to do a giant gothic urban mural on the BTM that tells the story of the mission and ministry of Christ Church Cathedral.

Will it end up happening? Well .. we'll see. But if it does, it won't be because THE DEAN said "make it so" but because we looked at something and said "that looks enough like Jesus that we're willing to put our lives into this."And we'll see what happens.

What fun!

What do you think?

What do you think about the way I've described the role of the priest? What is exciting for you about this way of being church? What is challenging or scary? What can we all do to better center ourselves on Christ and continually ask ourselves "what do we notice?" 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Learning #1 - Remember How To Play

Over the next four days, I'm going to expand briefly on the four learnings I identified in preparing my time at Gathering of Leaders. I'll say here what I said there: a "learning"doesn't mean it's something I have learned ... some sort of done deal. It means something that I feel like I'm in the process of learning. Something that is beginning to emerge and become clear for me. Take these in that spirit ... and thoughts still in process for us all to play with.

With that said, here's the first learning:

We need to remember how to play.


The first thing I did with the GOL group was an exercise in play that I got from this TED talk by IDEO CEO Tim Brown where everyone had 30 seconds to draw a picture of someone sitting next to them and then had to show it to them. When you do this with adults, the most common word you hear is "sorry"and embarrassment. When you do this with children,  there is no embarrassment. Only pride.

If you have 30 minutes, watch the video ... or you could just watch the first 5 minutes that has that exercise ... or you could just read on.

Somewhere between childhood and adolescence most of us learn to fear the judgment of our peers ... especially groups of our peers. So we start to censor ourselves -- our ideas, our creativity, everything. And this causes us to be conservative in our thinking.

Kids don't have this problem. Kids learn to fear as they grow, but if they're in a trusted environment where there is room to play, wonderful creative things happen. And there is great, great joy in it!

There's this wonderful passage in Matthew 19:

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

I wonder if this isn't part of what Jesus is talking about here. That it is when we embrace our creativity and play -- when we allow ourselves to be the image of God the creator that we are created as -- the kingdom of heaven opens up to us. It's no accident that the very next thing Jesus says is "it is easy for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." When we are weighed down ... be it by possessions or fear of judgment ... it's hard if not impossible for us to embrace the glorious creative joy that God dreams for us.

Maybe we need a new operating system for this new era in the Church. Maybe we should call it OSP – Operating System Play. Or if PLAY is somehow a stumbling block to you, think in terms of "creativity" or "sense of adventure." Either way, it's when we look around ourselves and see what we have to work with ... and then create.

My best model for this is my nine-year old son, Hayden. Hayden has two great loves in this world – penguins and Legos. Hayden saved up his allowance and bought every single SpongeBob SquarePants Lego set they make. And as soon as he got each one, he got it out and followed the instructions and made the set exactly as it looked on the box.

But then he didn’t stop there. He just started cannibalizing the sets and creating. He made bizarre and beautiful abstract villages for Squidward and Patrick and SpongeBob. And he kept coming and dragging us into his room – “Look at this!” “Come see what I made!”

And it was joy-filled and awesome!

What if we did that as a Cathedral. What if we took all the pieces of this great life God has given us together. All the pieces of our building. All the pieces of our history. All the pieces of the people who have been here for decades and all the pieces of the all the people who have just walked in ... and maybe all the pieces of those who haven't found us yet but whom we know are out there. What if we took all those pieces and just started playing. Made one of our priorities approaching it all with a sense of grand adventure. Started looking for what we could create that we think makes God laugh and dance and sing.

It would mean not worrying if things change or are different.

It would mean not being afraid to fail.

It would mean learning to "play nice" and work together, sharing our toys as we build whatever this is ... and maybe even take turns trying different things if we can't agree what to do next.

But most of all, it would be a commitment to joy.

I've seen us do this at Christ Church Cathedral. And I'm trying to do it more myself. It's hard to re-learn, but it is possible. And here's what I'm learning:

I'm learning that as we do this ... other people want to play with us.

I'm learning as we do this ... we get a taste of God's love for us and joy in us.

I'm learning as we do this ... we get a taste of how joy-filled and awesome Christ Church Cathedral can be.

Why is this important for Christ Church Cathedral?
Because creativity is in our DNA. Not just as a Cathedral that has a long history of being a haven for the arts (which we do), but because we are members of Christ's body and as human beings we are made in the image of God the creator. This is important because cynicism, anger and fear are the voices of the worse angels of our human nature and because creativity, hope and joy are the better angels that call us to our best future.

What do you think?
Where have you seen us play well together? How has it felt? Do you feel we are playful and creative enough? What are the challenges or even the pains of this way of thinking and being? Do you think play/creativity/a sense of adventure is important to being the Body of Christ? Why or why not?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gathering of Leaders - a few thoughts

Last week, Amy and I spent three days in the Bay Area at a conference called Gathering of Leaders, then followed it up with some time at our sister Cathedral, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

Gathering of Leaders (GOL) was started by former Texas Bishop Claude Payne to "assist in the empowerment, support and development of transformational leaders for the Episcopal Church to grow the Church in spiritual depth and numbers." The Gatherings are opportunities for "mutual encouragement, deepening skills, establishing networks to aid ministry and clarify understanding of God's emerging vision for the renewed Episcopal Church."

In other words, it's a gathering of people who are trying to lead the church in a faithful response to a rapidly changing world.

As we sat at the airport on the way back, Amy asked me "What is your takeaway from the conference? What will you bring back to the Cathedral?" I struggled to find an answer because what we find when we try to faithfully respond to a rapidly changing world is that there are no easy answers anymore. And maybe there never were.

The Rev. Daniel Simons, associate for pilgrimage at Trinity Church, Wall Street (and also a member of my colleague group) quoted leadership guru Hugh O'Doherty in saying "there are no 'best practices 'anymore, only 'next practices.'" While I think that's overstating it (I still think having two signers on a check, for example, qualifies as a "best practice."), that stayed with me.

There is a tendency to want to find the expert who has all the answers or the person with the right bag of tricks to make everything all right. But we're really living in a post-expert era. One presenter likened it to the people of Israel's trek through the desert to the promised land. We can make golden calfs of technique and quick-fix programs, but what really is called for is looking for God's leadership. Where is that pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. How can we depend fully on God?

Maybe it's a lot less about having the right trick or program ... and a lot more about how ways of being  -- together.

Part of my GOL experience was that I was asked to give one of the keynote presentations. It was the "practical application" piece that followed the "theological reflection" on the theme "Hope-full, Fear-less Leadership for a Missionary Church."

Frankly, in addition to spending time with wonderfully creative people, my main takeaway from GOL was in preparing my time with the larger group, I had to reflect on what I have been learning from our time together here at Christ Church Cathedral. And because I think my old liturgy professor at seminary was right when he said "you preach most what you most need to hear," I think my biggest takeaway was the four ideas I tossed out for the group to play with.

*Fear-less, hope-full leadership involves creating a trusted environment where we can play creatively together .

*We gather people around the presence of Christ – around the hope – and we reject the pressures of hubris and fear as priests to define exactly what it looks like. That’s for the whole community to discover together.

*Have less, be more. Embrace stewardship, reject ownership.

*Embrace the horror. The moments of deep loss are painful and the pain is real, but all loss is an opportunity to embrace more deeply what we can never lose -- the love of God in Jesus Christ.

So what did I take away for Christ Church Cathedral? That our life and the future of Christ Church Cathedral is much more art than science.

That our best future will emerge when we play creatively with a sense of joyful adventure.

When we share the process of vision casting together not look to one leader (me) to provide it.

When we look at all we have not as things to be owned and defended but as blessings to be shared and given away.

And when we don't hide from change but say "Bring. It. On." knowing that it is in the times of greatest challenge, when we feel most over our head, that we are most aware of and invited to depend on the providence of God.

None of these things are new. They all have their roots deep in our scripture and tradition ... and in fact my biggest learnings of them have been from the time we have spent together. That we have been our best as a Cathedral community when we have run away from fear and toward this hope.

It makes me feel good about where we are headed.

What does this have to do with Christ Church Cathedral?
Well,  everything, I think. One thing I learned is that every church or seminary or institution represented there was united in agreeing that there was no "business as usual" to go back to and that there are no magic tricks or silver bullets. And we were all pretty united in saying "Alleluia" to that (even if it is Lent!) ... that this invites us into a time of great creativity and dependence on God, which is the church's bread and butter. So maybe the biggest thing this has to do with Christ Church Cathedral is that we're not alone. Lots of places are going through the same explorations and transitions we are. And many of us are really, really hope-full in the midst of it.

What do you think?
I'd love any of your thoughts on any of this. Given that I condensed 45 minutes of presentation into a few sentences, there's not a lot of meat on these bones that I've laid out ... but I'd love your thoughts about what's out here. Over the next week, I'm going to write a little more about each one, but I'd love your initial thoughts. Where does it resonate and where does it rub you wrong? Where is your hope and where is your fear? Discuss!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dean's World! Party Time! Excellent!

Yesterday, I sat down with Jim Berger, one of our new Chapter members, and a friend with whom he has had a cable access talk how for 5-6 years. They approached me with the idea of me having either a half-hour or hourlong weekly show on a local cable system.

We kicked around concepts and agreed that if it happened, we all wanted it to be substantive, engaging and entertaining ... but also something that would raise the profile of the Episcopal Church in general and Christ Church Cathedral in particular.

I expressed interest in exploring it further but also a concern that my available show prep time was likely to be fairly limited and I would need a producer to take care of all of the details because I don't have the time and the Cathedral doesn't have the support staff to do this. They didn't see that as a problem.

We left without deciding on a concept and they pretty much left it to me to come up with something. So I want to open it up to you. But first....

Why this is important for Christ Church Cathedral.
That probably should be a "why could this be important for Christ Church Cathedral." I have expressed interest in this but haven't agreed to it yet. The first reason I think it could be important is we are people of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20

"And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

We are to be proclaimers of the Gospel not hiders of it. This could be an opportunity for us to spread some Good News around in a medium and in language that people could here us. Also, if the mission of the Cathedral is the mission of reconciliation and if we are to be a heart of mission and ministry for the city, it could be a chance not only to raise our profile for that purpose but even to bring divergent people together for substantive conversation.

What do you think?
Do you think I should do this? What concept do you think would be compelling? What ideas do you have? Any other thoughts? (BTW, if you leave a comment, please sign your name. I put my name on everything I write and ask everyone to do the same).