Friday, December 24, 2010

Peace to the whole community

"Peace to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 6:23)

Peace indeed. On earth -- especially some parts of the earth which needs a good dose of peace. Goodwill to all -- especially to those who are approaching Christmas with the taste of dry ashes in their mouth. or knots in their stomach

May hope be our gift. Hope being what writer Jim Wallis describes as "believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change."

As you gather at the creche -- at church or in your mind's eye, may you drink from that divine well of peace and hope. And allow yourself to be changed. May that be your gift.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Put on the armor of God

One of our longest hymns is St. Patrick's breastplate, which begins "I bind unto myself today...."
It is often sung at ordinations. It is seven verses long. It is a variation of an ancient Celtic practice of getting dressed in Christ. As people put on whatever they were going to wear that day, they were intentional of adorning themselves with the presence of Christ. It is an ancient practice worth preserving

The hymn derives from the Celts -- and I suspect they got it from Paul: "Put on the whole armor of God." (Ephesians 6:11) This is not preparation for war, but is an admonition to be prepared for the struggle "against the rules, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (6:12)

It's a tough world out there, and we had better be ready. Fasten the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, put on your feet whatever you need to proclaim the gospel of peace. Take the shield of faith, take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (6: 14-17)

Get dressed. Be ready. The world needs our witness -- to grace, to hope, to peace -- to Christ's glory.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Truth telling

Paul challenges us to challenge the principalities and powers. It requires truth telling -- which can be difficult at times -- and demands profound personal discipline: "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." (Ephesians 5:11)

In my lifetime, Martin Luther King stands out as the most eloquent and abiding truth teller -- exposer of darkness:

"We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with...Injustice must likewise be the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured." (Letter from a Birmingham Jail)

And then we get to the household code (Ephesians 5:21-6:9). It grates on the ears and seems to undermine everything else that Paul has said in his letter. At first reading, the household code seems to be proof text for wives to be subordinate to husbands, children to parents and slaves to masters. It seems to hold up social inequality as a cultural norm.

But -- and this is the key, "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." There is an emphasis on mutuality here. It undermines the hierarchy of the time, a hierarchy which engenders injustice. Paul addresses both parties in the three household relationships -- husbands/wives, children/parents, slaves/masters -- and admonishes them to be respectful of each other. Secular codes couldn't -- and wouldn't, do this. They were only addressed to the paterfamilias. Subordinates in the family system were deemed not worthy of ethical instruction.

Paul is leveling the family playing field. Some would say he could have done a better job. And he does -- at the end" ...for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality."

Paul is exposing the injustice of wives, children and slaves having no voice -- and no value. There needs to be mutuality -- and relationships need to be gathered around -- and abide in, the living Christ.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Call to nonviolence

"Be angry but do not sin." (Ephesians 4:26) This is Paul's clarion call for nonviolence.

There is a lot to be angry about. Exploitation, oppression; those of high degree taking advantage over those of low or no degree. Paul's 4th and 5th chapter represent a virtual cathechism for how to live nonviolently in a violent world.

"Do not let the sun go down on your anger" (4:26). Violence -- be it physical violence or verbal violence -- often springs from anger that won't go away. Let it go, Paul admonishes us.

Several years ago, Ernesto Cortez, a community organizer for the Industrial Areas Foundation, wrote a book called Cold Anger. A second generation Mexican-American, Ernesto received a MacArthur Genius Fellowship for his work. Keeping his anger cold, so he could have an ongoing impact. Maintaining discipline and direction in the face of discrimination -- which he received regularly as a Latino growing up in Texas.

"Take up the armor of God." (6:13) Not to go to war -- but to engage in the practice of nonviolence.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Speaking the truth in love

Yesterday a small group in the diocese met with The Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyenjo, an exiled Bishop in Uganda. Christopher has been marginalized because his ministry in retirement has been to the marginalized. He has set up a counseling practice -- and a large part of his clientele is the LGBT community of the capital city of Kampala.

His motivation for this ministry comes -- in some measure from Paul: "I to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patients, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Christopher is indeed gentle and humble -- and passionate about the calling to offer God's love.

And he is in trouble for it. Because the primary constituency to whom he is offering God's love is a constituency that is subject to arrest, punishment -- and even death. It is a crime to be a gay or lesbian person in Uganda. A law that was presented to the Uganda Parliament this fall that criminalized the LGBT community was shelved -- for the time being. We were told that a new version of it will probably appear after national elections -- in March, and it will be more subtle and more ruthless.

In Uganda, open hostility may become official policy. Open hostility is already the practice around the world -- be it racial, regional or religious -- but official hostility is something else.

Paul enjoins us to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). They have to go together. In a sermon I heard recently, truth without love can be tantamount to abuse -- and love without truth doesn't exist.

And Bishop Senyenjo offers his witness -- with extraordinary gentleness and humility. And fire -- for love. For the redeeming power of love. And it is making a difference.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Be all that you can be

"Be all you can be" was a recruiting ploy of the US Army several years back. The phrase has stuck with me, partly because I thought it to be a shameless -- and inaccurate marketing tool, but because it was good theology that had been placed in the wrong context.

Be all you can be. It could regarded as a paraphrase of Paul's last verses in the third chapter of Ephesians: "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).

It is an invitation to partner with a power that is available to us -- but which we will never fully understand. Be all that you can be -- BUT not on your own.

My favorite definition of vocation comes from Gail Godwin's novel Evensong. It is about two Episcopal priests who are married to each other. The husband says to his wife, "something is your vocation if it keeps making more of you."

To make more of us is God's desire. And the more that God wants to make of us is not the more of the culture -- more stuff, more recognition, more influence, more status. No, the more of vocation is to have a discipline that draws on the mysterious but abiding power of God -- which has an abundance that is more than we can ask or imagine. A power that reveals God's glory, and which can work for God's purpose in the world.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Knowing vs. believing

Before he died, the great psychologist and author Carl Jung was interviewed about his view of the world -- and about God.

'Do you believe in God?', the interviewer asked. Jung hesitated for a moment. "I don't believe", Jung said. "I know".

Jung's answer is Paul's prayer: "I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:18-19)

This is knowing beyond knowing. God has given us this power to know at this very deep level, a level that Jung lived at -- and wrote from.

"Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it." (Psalm 139:5)

We cannot attain this knowledge. Rather, we are asked to submit to it -- which is a very different project; counterintuitive and intensely countercultural. And has a power all its own.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Prayer is Power

When I was a priest in Massachusetts, Archibshop Tutu came to preach on the occasion of his granddaughter's baptism. Bishop Tutu began his sermon by thanking us -- for praying for the end of apartheid. Your prayers, he said, helped to end apartheid. He cited the case of a nun who lived as a hermit in the mountains of California. She wrote Bishop Tutu to tell him that she got up every morning at 3 am to pray -- for an hour, for an end to apartheid.

"They didn't stand a chance," Bishop Tutu said -- "They didn't stand a chance against a nun praying at 3 am -- in the mountains of California."

The "they" he was referring to were the principalities and powers, whose main purpose -- if not sole purpose, is to preserve the status quo. And to protect their hegemony, at whatever cost.

Prayer is power. Different from the power of the principalities and powers, but power nonetheless. Paul knew this. "I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit (Ephesians 3:16).

The power of prayer can take on the principalities and powers -- and, at least in the case of apartheid -- according to the profound witness of Desmond Tutu, can help to dismantle them.

May it be so.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Taking on principalities and powers

One of St. Paul's intentions is to take on the "principalities and powers" (Ephesians 1:20 ff) They are the entities and institutions whose primary interest is preservation. Preservation of place, authority and identity.

Paul takes on the principalities and powers because he is primarily interested in transformation. The soul's transformation. It comes through peace -- which, for Paul, is not the absence of conflict but is the presence of justice. And so Paul seeks to deconstruct the divided house between Jew and Greek, slave and free -- and reconstruct it on the foundation of race, class and gender equality. He is interested in the reunification of all things.

Paul sees a battle -- between Christ's desire for the inauguration of peace and the Principalities and Powers' perpetuation of conflict, which is their misguided recipe for preservation.

We are preserved -- and transformed, by Christ's peace.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mystery -- beyond space and time

For most of us -- most of the time, our world is framed by space and time. Nearly everything that we think and do falls within the space and time boundary. Advances in science and technology enable us to push out the edge of space and time, but is not able to go beyond it.

Mystery does. Actually, mystery comes to us beyond space and time. Mystery (Ephesians 3:3, 3:4, 3:5) is truth that cannot be explained -- and cannot be roped in by space and time. Mystery is the word made flesh; mystery is the grace of God; mystery is the Resurrection.

One of the reasons I love the Episcopal Church is because we celebrate mystery. We celebrate mystery with intention and reverence. We actually call what is put on the altar the "holy mysteries". We then place ourselves in the midst of mystery, and I for one, am transformed by that mystery. I can't explain the mystery, but I have learned over the years that I can't live without its unexplainable and abiding power.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Prisoner of Christ

Paul describes himself as a prisoner. (Ephesians 3:1) A prisoner for Christ Jesus. To me, that means he is captured. Captured by Christ.

Most of us know what it is to be a prisoner. To be a prisoner of anxiety or fear; to be captured by anger or disappointment. It is a web of worry -- and I have found that the more I wrestle with it, the tighter the web gets.

Paul is a prisoner of Christ. He is at the mercy of mercy -- and of love and grace.

It sounds like freedom to me.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The God Above God, the Peace Beneath Peace

As Paul writes eloquently about peace in the second chapter of Ephesians, I am drawn back to Paul Tillich's great work, The Courage to Be, which was written in 1952 -- and which I read in college. And which had an enormous influence on me. Tillich writes just as eloquently about the "God above God," which is the God beyond the God of our projections, beyond the God of our creation -- the God that we think (wrongly) we can control. The 'God above God' is the God who exists beyond our knowing -- who is beyond our sentient world of space and time.

That is the God with whom we should be in relationship, Tillich writes.

In the same vein, St. Paul's invitation to peace is -- for me, a peace beneath peace. It is a peace beneath the peace of a brokered deal or the absence of hostilities; it goes further than moments when the shouting and insults stop. Paul's peace is a deeper peace. This deep peace doesn't make conflict go away -- but enables us to see conflict differently. And not be consumed by that conflict. And to imagine (which means to create an image) of disparate positions or groups coming together in unity: "...that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it." (2:15-16)

That is the peace with which we should be in relationship.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"For he is our peace."

"For he is our peace." (Ephesians 2:14)

This is simple, but not easy. It is not easy because many of us often think -- myself included, that peace is about having my position prevail. Which makes it more about power than peace.

'Peace reigns' is a hope that many of us carry. Which usually means that the boss, parent or the partner -- or the bishop, gets their way. That isn't peace. That is just another version of political power.

"For he is our peace."

Paul's statement is an invitation to go beneath the need to prevail, and beyond the desire to win people over.

Paul's peace is the prayer book's peace -- that peace which passes all understanding. It is beneath anxiety and fear. It is hard to describe, but easier to see. I have seen it in the face of some people who are near death. Their bodies may be broken and filled with pain, but there is nevertheless present a peace which is beyond explanation.

In that Christ-centered peace place, divisions take on a different perspective, adrenaline scales back to normal -- and love is palpable. As it is a peace which passes all understanding, it is a power that is beyond our knowing.

"For he is our peace."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Grace is enough

While pondering grace, which seems to be the theme of the second chapter of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, I keep being brought back to a prayer attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola. The founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius wrote the Suscipe (to receive) prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will -- all that I have and possess. You, Lord, have given all that to me. I now give it back to you. All of it is yours. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, for that is enough for me.

Grace is enough. Something to remember during a season when the culture tries to entice us to want or buy more. Grace is enough.

The Ignatius prayer has resonance with an opening prayer at a retreat I attended over thirty years ago:
Help us to see, O Lord, that the only thing we truly possess is the capacity to be filled by you.

May it be so.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Breaking down the silo

There is a temptation in all of us -- certainly in me, that when things are at their worst, the response is to seal oneself off in a silo. A silo of safety. Or a silo of certainty. In such a silo the world becomes only that which we choose to see.

Things are not always what they seem. While the silo promises security and certainty, and while it may seem safe -- it turns out that the silo is a dangerous place. Because as we think we have sealed ourselves off from that which threatens us -- we end up sealing ourselves off from God. Which is never a good thing. And which becomes the foundation of sin.

"By grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:5). Grace breaks open the silo -- and enables us to see the full reality of the world -- in all its misery AND in all its glory. And enables us to receive the unfiltered blessing of God.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith" (2:8). When I hear some Christians claim that they have been saved, I hear more hubris than humility. It is as if the "saved" have somehow figured out how to bring God into their silo. We can't direct God's movement. We can't take a piece of God that fits our job description of God, and put God to our own use.

For by grace we are saved. The silo crumbles. And we then see and live in the fullness of creation -- and are exposed to a dimension of God that is greater than anything we could otherwise imagine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Receiving grace

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God -- not the result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I remember the first moment I understood the concept of grace. I was a sophomore in college, and a group of us Religion majors were talking after our night class on the Bhagavad Gita (the sacred Hindu texts) and the writings of St. Paul. (I can't remember how the two went together, but apparently they did.) We were discussing grace. Actually, a couple of others were discussing grace and I was trying to "get" what they were talking about. As an athlete, I thought that grace was something that you had to work for. And work hard for. Achieve. Win. A classmate (not an athlete, and now an Episcopal priest) said, no, all you have to do is receive it.

"You're kidding", I said. "No, that's all you need to do", he replied.

At first I was a bit indignant, because I thought it should be harder than that. I thought that grace was something you went after -- not something you simply received.

That conversation was a turning moment for me. One of many conversions in the course of my adult life.

I would like to say that it was a 'turn on a dime' moment. It wasn't. While that conversation began an intention to simply receive God's gift of grace, over the years I have discovered that I regularly put up no end of barriers to thwart the receiving of this extraordinary divine gift.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ego and soul

Paul doesn't name Satan, but that is who he is talking about in the opening verses of the second chapter of Ephesians. "Following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient." (2:2)

The power of the air? It sounds ominous -- and it is. I am not sure what to call the power of the air -- although our tradition has many names: Satan, the devil, Beelzebub, the unclean spirit. And I am not sure what that power looks like -- be it the time-honored image of red creature with tail and horns, or some nefarious energy that floats about in the air. But I do know where that life-denying power lives.

It lives in my ego. That place in my psyche that wants advantage or affirmation (usually at the expense of someone else). That power that is averse to risk, and which will do almost anything to maintain order (usually at the expense of someone else).

That is the power of darkness. That power can lead us to trespass (2:1). But in this season we are asked -- as it is said from the Collect of the First Sunday of Advent, to put on the armor of light. To bathe in the Spirit. It is another power. The power of Christ -- given to us by grace. We don't have to buy it or prove ourselves worthy of it. All we need to do is accept it.

It is a power that lives in the soul, which is a place that lies beneath the ego. It is a deeper place -- of blessing and freedom and hope. It is Christ's gift -- and the rest of this chapter describes the gift and how we might go about the internal work of receiving it. And sharing it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A VUCA world

We live in a VUCA world. So writes author Robert Johansen in his 2007 book, Get There Early. It is a world marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. We would like to think that VUCA is a new phenomenon, and although it may be a new acronym we have had these dynamics around for a long time.

And most of us don't like it. The Tea Party movement seems to me a misguided attempt to deny or collapse VUCA. And the outrage industry is fueled by the fear and anxiety that emerges from VUCA -- and indeed is an artifact of the VUCA world.

Paul lived in a VUCA world. And he had many responses to it; the most most profound (for me) coming in the first chapter of Ephesians: " I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power." (1:17-19)

This is not a solution, but an invitation. An invitation to look beyond the very real (and troubling) issues raised by VUCA, and to see a vision of hope by using wisdom and revelation -- which the Lord will provide.

Jesus was always re-framing the perspective of how to read the dynamics of the world. So does Paul.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The fullness of time

Time is a four letter word. While not a curse word, nevertheless time can feel like a curse given the relative lack of it. Especially at this time of the year.

We are often pressed for time; we try and find time for others -- or just for ourselves. We wonder where did the time go, almost as though it wasn't there in the first place.

As I read over the 10th verse of the first chapter in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, I am reintroduced to the "fullness of time." Which for me is kairos time. Time outside of time. Unbounded time -- when a moment can linger for what feels like an eternity. Moments when we literally lose track of time.

Most of us can recall moments of kairos time. The first few days after after our children were born was kairos time. More often than not for me, the breaking of the bread in the Eucharist is a kind of alarm clock for an encounter with kairos time.

No telling what might happen in the fullness of time. "In the fullness of time", Eucharistic Prayer B beseeches God to "put all things in subjection under your Christ" (page 369 of the Book of Common Prayer); which I think the Prayer Book authors took directly from Ephesians.

Children seem to be more open to kairos time than adults. Mainly because they are not bound -- as we adults are, to kronos time. Which is measured time. Most of us keep the measure of kronos time close at hand, if not literally wrapped around the hand. I think we have twelve clocks in our house, not counting computers or cell phones. I have three clocks in my office. If we are not slaves to time, we end up being indentured servants to it. Being on time -- and getting things done in time are important virtues, but our hyper-allegiance to kronos time runs the risk of erecting formidable barriers to the breaking in of the fullness of time. Where timeless kairos gifts await.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In the heavenly places

"In the heavenly places." (Ephesians 1:3)

Where are those heavenly places? Most of us have been taught to think that the heavenly places are up there; someplace beyond reach. A place flowing with milk and honey, and filled with serenity and peace. Certainly not here.

I have a good friend who sports a bumper sticker on his car: 'I would rather be here now.' Not fishing. Not at the beach or shopping. Here.

Which is where heaven is. Which is where God is working. When we go to a favored place for the purpose of getting away from it all -- or go on retreat, we may have a sense that we are going to a unique heavenly place. The fact is, God is no more there than God is here. The difference is that in that 'away from it all' place, we position our souls differently, and are more ready to receive God's presence.

Next month, a group of bishops in New York and New Jersey are planning to go to Haiti. Haiti is part of our province. We will go to offer support to our brother bishop, Zache, who has invited us. We also go because -- in spite of squalor and cholera and unspeakable grief, Haiti is a heavenly place. We go to witness, and to find out -- in new ways, how God is working.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And the Band Played On

And the Band Played On is the title of an important book written in the 1980's by Randy Shilts. A journalist, Shilts followed the developing AIDS epidemic -- and how the government and medical establishment intentionally ignored the spreading of a complicated virus and its inexorable and fatal outcome. "And the band played on."

Much has changed in the three decades since the outbreak of HIV disease. There is better treatment. AIDS is no longer a death sentence (provided people have access to the treatment). But more people are infected.

Today is World AIDS day. We remember those who have died from this disease, their families -and caregivers -- and the many self-organizing individuals and groups around the world who stepped in to help when the official entities wouldn't.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives blessing to God, "who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love." (1:3-4)

What an extraordinary statement about the abundance of God's blessing. It covers everyone and everything. In all situations.

But there is a tendency in us to ration that blessing. To limit it -- or to carefully direct it to the "worthy" places. A limited blessing was unofficial policy at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. It is less the case today, but prejudicial blessings still abound. Which meant -- and which means, that whole categories of people are thought -- in some quarters, to be expendable. Paul doesn't see it that way.

Nor should we.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Grace and Peace

Thanksgiving dinner has hardly been digested, and Advent announces itself. Advent is the season for waiting, for preparation and for getting ready. I don't feel ready to get ready; the preparation list seems daunting -- and the punishing pace of the season twists "wait" into a forbidden four-letter word.

Enter Paul's letter to the Ephesians. I have added this Epistle to my preparation list. And I have invited people across the diocese and beyond to add it to theirs. Part of the good news is that the letter is mercifully short. It is beautiful prose. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it "one of the divinest compositions of man (sic)." So we can take it slowly -- and allow the combination of prose, Spirit, beauty and brevity to speak to the soul. Let it not be a task, but a way to enter into the season.

"To the saints," Paul begins, and by saints he means us. Not just some of us. All of us. I don't think Paul is trying to flatter his audience. He says saints because he means saints. So ponder your sainthood. The goodness which has been given us -- and the giftedness that marks us. We are blessed. Through no fault of our own we are saints. Most of the time it seems that Christian theology asks us to sort through our sinfulness. Paul opens by identifying our saintliness. I invite you to deal with that.

"Grace to you and peace." I think he means that as well. I want to greet people with that same graciousness. And it doesn't always work. It certainly didn't this afternoon when I spent an hour trying to get across the George Washington Bridge. Let's just say that I didn't greet every other driver with a warm and open heart.

A couple of years ago I was remarking in a parish forum about the challenges of driving in New Jersey. Not just the driving part, but the etiquette part. One woman said that whenever she got cut off on the road, she responded with "go in peace to love and serve the Lord." I had a hard time believing her, and so I asked how long it took for her to say that. She indicated that she said it right away. Still not believing her, I asked her with what tone did she use when she said it. "As if I mean it", she replied. She was able to pass on the grace that had been given to her. Grace begets grace.

Now there is an Advent challenge.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Advent Invitation: Lectio Divina Of Ephesians

This Advent, I invite you to join me in the practice of Lectio Divina -- or divine reading. The text we will be using is Paul's letter to the Ephesians. It's short -- six chapters. It will take about a half hour to read. (You can read Paul's Letter To The Ephesians online (New Revised Standard Version) using the oremus Bible Browser.)

But Lectio Divina
is a different kind of reading. It is a practice of reading as much with the heart as with the brain. It invites the reader to sit with images and metaphors of what is written -- and to ponder what they are saying to our soul.

Paul's letter to the Ephesians is probably misnamed. Many scholars think one of Paul's disciples wrote the letter, to an audience that was much wider than the community of Ephesus. No matter. It is filled with the powerful expressions of the Christian faith -- "now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine" (3:21); which raise some important questions: what is the power? How does it work? What are the limits of what we can imagine?

And there are some serious theological speed bumps: "Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord" (5:22). What is that all about?

Paul's' purpose in writing the letter was to pull the community together -- to create unity in diversity.

As we get ready to enter the season of Advent, which is preparation time for the coming of the Prince of Peace, the irony is that Advent is lined up with (or against) the time of the year that is perhaps the most chaotic, confusing -- and unpeaceful.

I trust that Lectio Divina and Paul's wisdom will provide a spiritual anchor for us. I will be sharing regular ponderings on my blog. I invite us to take this journey together.

How The Online Discussion Will Work

As a guide, during the four weeks of Advent I will focus on the reading as follows:
  1. Nov. 28 - Dec. 4: Chapter 1
  2. Dec. 5 - 11: Chapter 2
  3. Dec. 12 - 18: Chapter 3
  4. Dec. 19 - 24: Chapters 4-6
You are invited to post your own insights and reflections in the comments section at the end of each post. While I look forward to reading everyone's reflections, I regret that I won't be able to respond to individual comments.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Support And Protect Our Children

Imagine a large empty room. Place a group of children in the center. The children may be the children of your church, the children of the local community, the children of the world -- or a combination of all three.

Then imagine the four corners of the room, each promoting its unique cultural influence. One corner is the mall. Another corner is the entertainment industry. The third is the sports industry, and the fourth is the violence industry (in both its legal and illegal forms). Each corner bombards the room with messages -- well-funded and market-tested messages that beg the children’s attention, and that boast of some immediate glory if the children head in their direction.

Surrounding the children is the body of Christ. That’s us. On one level, the body of Christ is no match for the relentless, if not ruthless, messages coming from the four corners. We can’t buy the air time. We can’t produce the technical wizardry which provides such astounding promises.

Photo by M. Christyanne WardBut we can provide relationship and guidance and hope that is real and abiding. And necessary.

Children are vulnerable -- to no end of unhealthy cultural influences, to each other (with the escalating incidence of bullying) -- and increasingly, to poverty. One in four children in the United States lives in poverty. In the last twenty years, 300 million people from around the world have died of poverty-related causes. Most of them were children.

Last spring, the interfaith group I work with in Newark -- the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace, came up with a message: support and protect our children. We are hoping to have the message on T-shirts, and next spring when the Dalai Lama comes to Newark to bring his unique message of peace, to have the message on billboards.

Support and protect our children. That is what the body of Christ does as it surrounds the children. It is not an easy job. On one level our kids often indicate that they don’t want us to surround them for protection and support. They often insist that they can do it on their own. Or we can’t gather the kids in order to surround them.

Support and protect our children. It is holy work. The newly created Justice Board of the Diocese (made up of deputies to General Convention along with some other folks in the diocese with a demonstrated commitment to justice) has identified children as the primary focus for our justice work in the diocese. The purpose of the Justice Board is to sort through the many issues that come our way -- by way of General Convention, international concerns or local community needs. When we think of hunger, I invite you to think of kids. When we engage in homeless ministry or environmental work -- or respond to any of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) endorsed by the United Nations in 2000, I invite you to imagine faces of children who are most affected if we don’t make more progress on those goals.

The Justice Board and I will be formulating opportunities and challenges to galvanize the ministries of congregations and individuals in the area of justice -- with a focus on children. I invite you to do the same. We know that our children are our future. How we surround them -- and protect and support them, is a benchmark for how well we live out the invitation -- and challenges -- of the Christian faith.

For more about the Justice Board, please see “A Witness To Justice” on page 10 of the September 2010 Voice.

Photo by M. Christyanne Ward.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stewardship and our need to give

Although Christian stewardship is a year-round enterprise, it peaks in intensity at this time of year. Letters are written, witnesses are given, visits are (sometimes) undertaken – and pledges are solicited. Stewardship is a spiritual discipline, but as the end of the year looms and next year’s budget is prepared, there is a tendency to shift the message from our need to give to the church’s need to receive. Which is understandable. At every level of life today, there is a lot of anxiety today about money.

But stewardship isn’t about money. It is about our need to give.

When I was newly ordained, I pledged to the church what I could afford. I knew the church needed money, but so did I. And since I didn’t think I had much, I didn’t give much. Then I learned about proportionate giving, which involved figuring out how much you give away in proportion to what you earn. It required setting aside some time to think this through, and engaging in the rudiments of calculation. And committing to the idea that this is holy work.

It was my wife Marilyn who recommended that we add up our combined incomes and then decide on a percentage that we would give away. It was somewhat embarrassing to see how little we had been giving. When we established a percentage and pledged that percentage, our giving tripled. When we reached a tithe a few years later, our giving tripled again.

While this process had the concrete effect of giving more money away, the spiritual dynamics of it all introduced me to a level of gratitude I had never known before. When my giving was based on what I thought I could afford, I gave with an undercurrent of resentment. When I gave from a percentage of what I had, I found that my giving was in fact a gift. I wanted to give. And I discovered that I needed to give in order to fully appreciate the corresponding gift of joy.

Stewardship is what we do with what we have – all of the time. At this peak stewardship time of the year, the practice of Christian stewardship presents us with an opportunity to experience deeper spiritual levels of gratitude and joy by living into our need to give.

Friday, October 8, 2010

New Jersey Episcopal bishops respond to Tyler Clementi's suicide

A joint statement by Bishop Beckwith and the Rt. Rev. George E. Councell, Bishop of New Jersey.

We write as Christian pastors who are privileged to serve as bishops of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Newark and in the Diocese of New Jersey in order to express our grief, alarm, compassion and outrage over the suicide of Tyler Clementi. We join our voices with the voices of all those concerned in Ridgewood, where Tyler grew up, at Rutgers University, where he was a freshman and across our nation. Another gay young person has died by suicide. This tragic loss of a promising life would appear to be directly related to an invasion of Tyler’s privacy and a violation of his personal life. Much remains to be considered by law enforcement authorities and the courts in order to determine whether this is also a case of bullying, a felony or a hate crime – or a combination of the three. Whatever that legal determination may be, we join with other Christian and religious leaders, with the LGBT community and with all people of good will who take their stand against hatred, bigotry and bullying; against every expression of physical and verbal violence; and against any violation of the dignity of LGBT persons. When the rights of any – especially the members of vulnerable groups who have so often been scapegoated – are threatened, the rights of all are endangered.

We want to call attention to another, potentially deeper, issue here. It is the invasion of intimacy. Intimacy is a holy place within every human being; an innermost sanctuary where we develop our ultimate beliefs and values, nurture our closest relationships and maintain our deepest commitments. No one has the right to disclose that intimacy for someone else without consent. Such a violation is tantamount to the desecration of a sacred space. It is, in fact, a sacred space. It is the territory of the soul.

Technology, however, now provides tools to record, seize and disclose the most intimate matters of our lives without our consent. Identities can be stolen, hearts broken and lives shattered. Technology has placed powerful tools in human hands. Will they be used for building-up or for breaking down our neighbor? Tyler Clementi’s death certainly poses some important legal issues, but it also raises some critical moral concerns. Hubris has outstripped humility. And that is a serious problem. We can do better. We must do better, with God’s help.

In our Episcopal tradition, whenever we reaffirm our faith in worship, we are given a challenging question: “will you respect the dignity of every human being?” And we answer, “I will, with God’s help.” It is an important commitment. Whatever our religious tradition, we can agree on the need to respect one another’s dignity. With God’s help, we can stand together and stand up against bullies who would damage and destroy the lives of LGBT persons, their partners and families and friends. With God’s help, we can offer safety, support and sanctuary to all LGBT persons who are at risk. With God’s help, we can remind our society that every LGBT person is made in the image of God. The world needs our witness.

The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of Newark
The Rt. Rev. George E. Councell, Bishop of New Jersey

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Cross at the Border: Reflections on the House of Bishops meeting

I am bringing a cross back with me from Arizona. It is made of wood, about 18” high and painted white. Written in Sharpie pen across the front is the name Jorge Cruz Becerril. His birth date is written on the top of the cross; and January 23, 2003 is written at the bottom, which is the day he died in the desert from a combination of heat and dehydration as he tried to make the crossing from Mexico to the United States. Jorge’s name was among 300 or so read aloud at a weekly prayer vigil held at the border between Douglas, Arizona and Agua Pierta, Mexico – each name represented with their own cross. We were told that nearly 2000 people have died in the last three years along the “Douglas section,” which is just 41 miles of border marked by an eight foot high fence. A cross has been made for each person who has died – and the vigil is a weekly witness to one of the horrendous costs of our broken immigration policy.

I am also bringing back copies of a bishops’ pastoral letter on immigration (with corresponding theological resources), and a resolution which commits the Episcopal Church to raise $10 million dollars by Easter to help begin the reconstruction of the Diocese of Haiti (which is the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church). I have a copy of a “Mind of the House” resolution, requesting the Bishop of Pennsylvania to resign his office immediately and unconditionally, because the relationship between Bishop Bennison and his diocese is “irretrievably damaged” – after an ecclesiastical trial which found the bishop guilty of overlooking sexual misconduct thirty years ago but was overturned by an ecclesiastical court of review because the statute of limitations had expired. Our request to Bishop Bennison was a painful step to take – but it was taken as a witness to our holding one another accountable as bishops; and our commitment to “unequivocal solidarity with anyone who has been sexually abused or mistreated by a member of our clergy or by any member of our church.”

So I am bringing back a lot of paper – which is the fruit of good and hard work, and – to borrow from our own mission statement, is a reflection of a deeper commitment to engage the world.

Which is what 29 bishops did at the Mexican/Arizona border. In addition to the vigil, we visited a migrant shelter, which has provided support, food and water to some 17,000 people (in the last two years) who have been sent back to Mexico by the Border Patrol. We went to the Border Patrol facility – and heard first-hand from agents who have the daunting task of going into the desert to sort out drug smugglers from those who are just trying to get into America to find a job. We heard from a rancher whose patience has been tested by people trespassing and trashing his land. We heard from a woman who had recently been sent back to Mexico after having lived in Los Angeles with her husband for 20 years; where she worked as a quality control technician for all that time; where she gave birth to three children (all American citizens), and paid thousands of dollars over several years to lawyers who turned out not to be lawyers – not to mention the thousands of dollars she paid in social security taxes for a benefit she cannot legally receive.

We went to a water station in the desert, on the Mexican side about fifty yards from the fence. The desert sand burned through the soles of my shoes. The driver of the water truck was a Mexican man who had been volunteering for this ministry for over seven years. He is well known in the community, which is a good thing because he got word out to the drug traffickers that he was bringing a group of bishops into the desert, and that they should leave us alone. Which, thank God, they did.

Many of us expressed the hope that our trip to the border would yield greater clarity on the issue of immigration. In some ways it did. Our experience exposed the complexity of the issue. Our conversations and reflections revealed that while it is tempting to cast blame, there are no easy answers. The new Arizona law is an attempt for a quick fix – but from what I saw and heard, it has only made things worse. It has produced greater polarization and has generated toxic levels of fear.

The Presbyterian minister who has organized the weekly vigils and who has carried out a border ministry for twelve years, told a story about a rather heated exchange he had with a local parent who was trying to decide whether or not to allow her daughter to go on a half-day mission trip to Mexico. “Do you support illegal immigration?” she asked the pastor. “I suppose I do”, the pastor replied. “Every time I buy lettuce, stay in a hotel or play golf, I am supporting illegal immigration.” He then asked the mother if she supported illegal immigration.

There are so many feelings, opinions, postures and positions that separate us from one another. Sometimes it seems that we are all scattered across a desert of acrimony. As I bring the cross of Jorge Cruz Becerril home with me, the whole experience has brought home to me the importance and power of the cross. The cross holds us together – the living and the dead, the isolationists and the accommodators. It is the paradoxical symbol of an incredible human cost as well as the gateway to freedom. As the cross holds us together, we need to hold on to the cross – and carry its power into a fragmented world that needs our witness. Our commitment to the cross can reframe the conversation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Challenging the violence of scapegoating

As our cultural temperature rises to higher thresholds, fed by the anxiety over money, safety and religion; there have been a number of reckless, if not dangerous, attempts to bring the fever down. It has been ever thus. Virtually every ancient culture has had some practice of ritual sacrifice. In the early Jewish tradition, a goat was selected on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The sins of the community were written on the goat, and with all the insults people could muster, it was sent into the wilderness -- where it would die.

It was the scapegoat. The high priest would then go into the Holy of Holies, and since the sins of the community had symbolically been removed, he would pray for atonement -- that God's mercy would provide people with new life for the New Year.

Ritual sacrifice is no longer practiced much in the modern world, but scapegoating is alive and well. Because it works -- in an insidious way. When an individual or group is identified -- usually because of some perceived or projected difference -- and is cast down or thrown out of the community with accompanying insults and degradation, the fever of anxiety for the rest of the community goes down. For a time.

The Salem witch trials were an exercise in scapegoating. As was the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. As is the near epidemic levels of bullying in high schools across the country. Over the centuries the dominant white culture has demonstrated a devastating capacity to identify racial minorities as scapegoats. And while different religions have long been ruthlessly effective at scapegoating one another, a new and disturbing trend seems to be emerging: the scapegoating of Muslims.

Our rituals may no longer support scapegoating, but some theologies do. Violence is identified as a disease that needs curing, and violence (be it physical or verbal) is presented as the cure. This runs the risk of making violence sacred. The biblical prophets argued -- with great passion and considerable risk to themselves, that the practice of violence in order to bring peace is wrong.

There are some theologies which hold that Jesus' death was an atoning sacrifice; that by giving in to cultural violence Jesus was providing space for it. For many, this then gives sanction to a belief that ideologies and religions can continue to wreak violence as a means of keeping the community temperature down.

I don't see it that way. Jesus stepped in between violence given and scapegoating violence received -- and he has been a haunting presence ever since. His was a witness -- and an instruction. God chose his son to stand non-violently in the face of violence, in the hope -- indeed the expectation, that the fury for scapegoating would be exposed as cruel and inhuman -- and ultimately destructive to the development of community.

We are called to stand up, speak up and act up in the face of scapegoating violence. Even when we don't want to. Even -- and especially, when we may have a very human, but nevertheless insidious desire to build ourselves up by putting someone else down.

The world needs our witness.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Give us this day our daily bread

I have been reciting the Lord’s Prayer since I was five years old. It was – for me, and perhaps for most of us in the Christian tradition, our first prayer. One of the reasons we keep saying it is because Jesus told us to. The Gospel for July 25 gives us the basic outline for the Lord’s Prayer, which was probably recited by Jesus in the now-dead language of Aramaic. It was then written down in Greek. It has since been translated into every language spoken around the globe. At the Lambeth Conference two summers ago, the daily Eucharist gave most of the gathered assembly – 700 bishops from around the world, spouses, staff and guests; an auditory taste of Pentecost, because we said the Lord’s Prayer in about seventy languages at once.

It is a powerful prayer, because when we pray as Jesus taught us, there is the sense that we are praying the words of Jesus. That we are even praying with Jesus.

But it is more than that. The Lord’s Prayer is a progressive prayer – not in a political sense but in a biblical one. It professes a faith and hope in progress – toward a freedom to which Jesus has paved the way. The Lord’s Prayer is deeply rooted in the trajectory of promise -- for everyone. I used to think that that “give us this day our daily bread” was my order from some holy menu – and that my family and I would have three meals on the table for the next day as long as I kept praying the prayer.

But it is not about me, or about you. It is about us. Not just some of us – but all of us. “Give us this day…” Which means that we need to participate in the promise in order for all of God’s people to have their daily bread.

“Forgive us our… as we forgive those…” If our participation in the promise of all being fed is going to have any chance of succeeding, we need to forgive. In the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive our trespasses; the contemporary version beseeches God to forgive us our sins. And God will. That is God’s promise. The real challenge is to us – that we forgive. Most translations of Luke’s Gospel have Jesus insisting that we forgive not just those who trespass or sin against us; but those who are indebted to us.

Forgive the debt. Let it go. That is the promise we make. It is not an economic protocol, but is rather a mandate that we see one another not in terms of what we owe – or are owed; but how we can work with Jesus’ promise to help set each other free. To help free all of us from the debts of oppression and resentment; and from the intransigence of systems that reward and punish on the basis of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or zip code. And to help provide “food enough” – be it the food of opportunity or education or shelter – or daily sustenance.

When we forgive, we live into a measure of freedom. When we are forgiven, we are unbridled from many of the dimensions of debt. The Lord’s Prayer is a clarion call to work with the living Christ to set people free. To help provide people with their basic human needs. How we deal with our ability to forgive, and participate in the discipline of giving, is an important measure of our integrity as a Christian community. That is the progress we are called to make. That is the promise we are invited to claim.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pondering the Holy Spirit

Pentecost is the feast day when the church celebrates the releasing of the Holy Spirit. This year, Pentecost was an occasion for the Archbishop of Canterbury to release a letter -- which prompted the releasing of a post-Pentecost letter from our Presiding Bishop.

The missives from these two Primates have prompted me to ponder about the Holy Spirit. We sing and pray about the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit holds down one side of a holy triangle called the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is foundational to who we are as Christians.

The Archbishop and the Presiding Bishop have written eloquently about what the Holy Spirit is and how it speaks. About ten years ago, in a guided mediation on the Holy Spirit, I had a quiet -- but powerful experience, as to what the Holy Spirit does.

It brings people together.

Out of difference and distraction, the Holy Spirit brings people together. The Spirit does not bring us into agreement -- or make us the same, or into a condition where we can even say we like each other. The Spirit brings us beyond our disagreements and beneath our differences -- to a place where we can have the experience of being brothers and sisters in a divinely created and nurtured humanity. I don't know how that happens, but I am very grateful that it does. I have seen it, and felt it -- and been transformed by it. And I trust it.

I trust that the Spirit can bring people together to be able see the presence of God in each other's faces -- no matter how different the face; no matter that prejudice or projection may have scrambled one's view. I trust that the Spirit has the divine capacity to bring hearts together -- no matter that hearts have turned to stone or have been broken -- or are just absent from the place we normally find them.

So when there is a recommendation that members of the Anglican community not participate in conversations and consultations of that same community, I understand the politics of that recommendation (even though I don't agree with them), but the recommendation seems to undercut the opportunity for the Spirit to bring people together. The recommendation doesn't defeat the Spirit -- because I don't believe the Holy Spirit can ever be defeated, but it certainly seems to give the Spirit an unnecessary challenge.

I have had times -- we all have had times, when being at the table with a certain person or a particular group has not been a good idea. Times when everyone involved needed a cooling off period so that souls might have a chance to have their equilibrium restored after an incident which has released toxic amounts of anger and fear. "Time out" times when the Holy Spirit is in strategy mode, preparing for a more opportune moment to bring people together.

That is not what is being asked for here. The Archbishop's recommendation is being presented as a consequence, if not a punishment, for actions taken, which -- our Presiding Bishop has graciously and clearly written, are the result of 50 years of discerning the work of the Spirit bringing us closer together on the issue of human sexuality. We are not in agreement as a Communion. Nor are we yet together as a church. But the genius of our Anglican tradition is that we have a nearly 500 year history of living in the midst of tension and disagreement -- trusting that that Spirit will at least hold us -- and at best, bring us together.

We need to give it that chance.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Poverty - and the need for relationship

About 150 people came from all over the country to attend a Domestic Poverty Summit. It was held in Newark at the Robert Treat Hotel from April 27-30. The Presiding Bishop came and gave an eloquent and comprehensive overview of the various dimensions of economic poverty – and challenged us to respond to it. Two former priests of the diocese came – Jim Snodgrass from Puerto Rico; and Eric Duff from Northern California – who were the original founders of Apostles’ House (from 1983-85); which has grown into one of the largest service providers for low-income people in Essex County. Many current people from the diocese came – to listen and learn, to facilitate, to network – and to organize. It was an honor to see people from the diocese at the center of it all. We have done – and continue to do, a lot of work. We have quite a story to tell.

And yet.

There are spiritual and economic and political forces at work that have widened the gap between people who are economically poor – and those who are not. We heard the statistics. It was disheartening.

And yet.

The summit brought together different national networks – Jubilee Ministries, Episcopal Community Services and National Health Ministries. There was a growing consensus that these groups can be more effective in alleviating poverty if they work in partnership rather than independently. There was a commitment to develop the partnership, with an ongoing plan – which will provide more leverage in dealing with issues that are maddeningly complex.

I wasn’t able to attend the entire conference – but I was inspired by the parts I did. I was inspired by the witness to the Gospel, by the commitment to stay engaged – and by the willingness to engage differently. Which means taking on the systemic issues of injustice. As House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson said: it is important to exercise compassion in pulling people out of the river of poverty; but it is just as important to prevent whatever or whoever is throwing them in.

And I think – at least I hope, there is a commitment to be careful about language. It was called a poverty summit. Poverty is a condition. There is a temptation to see it as a definition – especially when we refer to “the poor”. Jesus made many references to “the poor” – but he did so as a challenge to develop and deepen a relationship between those who were poor and those who were not. Jesus didn’t allow the “the poor” to be a category from which people could not otherwise be identified. We do. I cringe whenever I hear an appeal to help “disadvantaged kids” (which to me always means poor kids). While the term may be technically true – it almost sounds like the appeal to help comes with an underlying assumption that the distance will be maintained between those who are disadvantaged and those who are not.

A week ago a 91 year old man was murdered in his home in Essex Fells. He was a long-time member of St. Peter’s Church. The family and community were devastated – because of the tragic death of a wonderful man, and the fact that Essex Fells hadn’t had a homicide in over forty years. A vigil was held at St. Peter’s on the evening of the murder. The Essex Fells community came. The mayor spoke. Prayers were offered.

It was then discovered that the arrested suspects were from East Orange – a community five miles away but as different as any economic or demographic matrix can register.

There was the anxiety that the disparity between the two communities would generate more fear and resentment. But the people of St. Peter’s Church and Christ Church, East Orange have an ongoing relationship with each other; generated by the two Rectors – Stephanie Wethered and William Guthrie. Leaders from Christ Church came to the funeral at Essex Fells. It was an important witness. It made a difference – and shortened the distance. Relationship always does.

There are many things we as a church can and should do in seeking to alleviate poverty. Building relationships between people who are on different “sides’ as far as economic data is concerned, needs to be at the foundation of any strategy. Building relationships – with the commitment to a willingness to be changed – if not transformed, as the relationships deepen.

It can make a huge difference.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Stories from the House of Bishops

For me, the story of our just concluded House of Bishops was, in fact, the stories. There was the chilling story of the assassination attempt on the life of Bishop Martin Barahona of El Salvador two days before our meeting began. Thankfully, Bishop Barahona was not hurt; his driver was injured, but will recover. We wrote a letter offering support to the Bishop, his family and the country – and decrying the escalating violence there.

There was the ongoing and heartbreaking story of Bishop Zach̩ Duracin of Haiti, who told us that it was the first time since January 12 that he had slept in a bed Рand not on a cot in a tent. He said that 222,000 people are known to have died in the earthquake; but many estimate that the death toll will eventually approach a half million. And there are 1 to 2 million people who are homeless Рin a country of less than 10 million. There is hope and there is commitment, he said; but there is also no end of pain. And a longer timeline than anyone can imagine for when lives return to normal and adequate housing can be rebuilt. A master plan of redevelopment is being put together; but it is revised weekly as the assessment of human and building destruction is updated. Bishop Duracin is a national figure in Haiti. He exhorts people to hold on to their faith Рas he demonstrates his own.

We pledged our continued commitment to Haiti – and those of us in Province II (which includes the Diocese of Haiti) have – at this point, agreed to Bishop Duracin’s request that we take the lead in rebuilding the Cathedral.

There was the story of Mary Glasspool’s receiving enough consents from bishops and standing committees so that her consecration can take place on May 15. But that story happened two days before our meeting, and it really wasn’t a story during our time together. There were six bishops-elect at our meeting, and they each were welcomed with eagerness and hospitality into our fellowship. There may have been grumbling in some quarters about a partnered lesbian becoming a bishop, but I didn’t hear it. There was perhaps some anxiety about how the Los Angeles consecration will play beyond The Episcopal Church (TEC), but for the most part the bishops were non-anxious in the face of that anxiety.

Instead, there was a clear sense of celebration for some – and perhaps a feeling of grudging acceptance for others, that we are all in this together. And that now – in a new and different way, we can put more commitment into carrying out God’s witness and mission in a world often shaken by violence and tragedy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is America a Christian country? and other Lenten questions

Last Sunday (February 14), the New York Times magazine had a feature article regarding a brewing curriculum controversy in Texas. It seems that there are some members of the state board of education who want Texas textbooks to reflect their conviction that America has been, and continues to be, a Christian country.

"So there" , I could imagine these ardent advocates of the Christian witness saying as I read the article. "We're Christian. Always have been. We are a God given and Christian driven country. It is our destiny."

"So what?", I found myself muttering rather irreverently under my breath as I finished the article. What does it mean to say America is a Christian country? The debate felt like some theological contest -- and if there were to be enough political muscle to pull this off, I had the sense that many will feel that the Christians have won. Against whom? If Christians are the winners, who are the losers? Will they need to be Christian to be American? What defines a Christian?

"So what?" I have continued to ask myself for the past several days and on into this first week of Lent. I have found guidance -- and challenge, from the Gospel of Mark. In the eighth chapter, Jesus asks his disciples, "who do people say that I am?" (8:27) And they tell him what they have been hearing: some think he is John the Baptist; others say Elijah, and still others say one of the prophets. Jesus is not so much interested in what others are saying; he wants to know what the disciples believe: "But who do you say that I am?" (8:29)

I love to avoid that question. Most of us do. We avoid it by thinking that Jesus is asking the question of Peter and James and John -- and not us. We avoid it by wondering how other people can say they are Christian if they act the way they do. We avoid it by worrying over whether or not America is a Christian country -- and not pondering who Jesus is for you or me.

"But who do you say that Jesus is?" is one of the fundamental questions of faith. It is not a question that is easily answered, and it is not a question that we answer just once.

It is a question for this season. A daily question. I would suggest that whatever you take on this Lent -- or whatever you give up; that it be done with the intention of bringing you to a greater appreciation of the challenge of Jesus' question; and a discovery of the deep desire that both you and the living Christ have to be in relationship with each other.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Marriage Equality in NJ: Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

Like many, I am deeply disappointed that the State Senate voted down marriage equality last Thursday. Three months ago, those who profess to divine the political winds were confident that it would pass – and New Jersey would join the ranks of states that permit same-gender marriage.

It didn’t.

Two weeks ago I spent the better part of a morning with a legislator who said to our small group that while he was personally in favor of marriage equality, his constituency was not; and he was not willing to create a political problem for himself by voting for it. This summer at General Convention, a group of 25 bishops met informally late one evening and early the next morning to see if we could come up with a resolution that would honor the disparity of political opinions and theological perspectives that we held regarding human sexuality. We were honest and fair with each other. One bishop – who was opposed to same gender blessings and to electing a gay or lesbian priest to be bishop, said that he knew this was all coming eventually, but asked if we could please slow it down a little.

The state slowed it down; the General Convention of the Episcopal Church took a step in moving it forward. At least a little. I do believe that full equality for all people whose relationships are marked by fidelity and commitment is coming eventually – at least in the Episcopal Church and in the state of New Jersey; and many of us will continue to work in each arena to bring that about. That, I suppose, is some consolation, but – as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently stated years ago: “justice delayed is justice denied”.