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?