Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Faith and Works: A Riddle

I have disclosed in a few comments on Facebook and in a few hints in blog posts that I am not a fan of John 6. Actually, I love John 6; I just don't like spending 5 lectionary weeks in a row on it. The bread of life is spiritually nutritious, but, like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, I'm tired of eating this bread, this bread! I'd rather have cucumbers and leeks, like a miracle or a parable. The funny thing, of course, is that a preacher like me, who would rather skip more quickly through John 6, is probably the exact person who needs some extra time wrestling with the text, and, this morning, I'm grateful for another opportunity to focus on the transformational work of believing in Jesus.

Last Sunday, I preached on the feeding of the 5,000, and I played up the tension between those who come to us seeking free food without really investing in the mission of the church and the responsibility that Jesus gives us to feed them anyway. In my mind, I wanted to expand that point and mention that their encounter with the church is still transformative. I wanted to allude to this Sunday's gospel lesson (John 6:24-35), in which Jesus says to the crowd, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves." Because St. Paul's will not be reading this gospel lesson this week as we celebrate, with the bishop's permission, the feast of the Transfiguration as a sixth baptismal Sunday, I wanted to make the point that the church is in the feeding business because the act of being fed is a vehicle for deeper transformation. Anyone might be welcome just as they are, but God isn't going to leave them there. But Sunday's sermon was already long enough, and I had to leave that transformation bit out.

Jesus urges us, "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." All of us come to Jesus for cheap calories of comfort food. We want today's need to be met. "Give us today our daily bread," we say, but we mean it not as an expression of determined satisfaction with whatever we will have for the day but as a craving for the day's sustenance. Yet Jesus always encourages us to pursue the sort of sustenance that will last--the kind of confidence (i.e. faith) that changes us from one who fears whether there will be enough tomorrow to one who lives with no anxiety about our daily provision.

To get this point across, Jesus anachronistically engages in a little Pauline, Protestant repartee. Jesus tells the crowd to "work...for the food that endures for eternal life," and the crowd replies, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" Jesus answers them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." And, with those words, the distinction between faith and works collapses, and we discover that the work is the faith, and our collective mind is blown.

Having faith in God is the work that we do. It is literally the "toil" or "labor" or "action" or "deed" that we endeavor to undertake. The Greek for "work" is "ergon," from which the CGS measurement for work, the erg, is derived. In physics, work requires force over distance, which, as my former roommate Tim Gilheart explained to me a long time ago, if you push all day against a brick wall as hard as you can but the wall never moves, it isn't work. In a similar way, the work of faith must move us. Even in Jesus' pre-Pauline day, the distinction between faith and work was a part of second-temple Judaism. Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees and scribes over sabbath observances suggests that there were different interpretations of what really mattered--faith or works. In his encounter with the crowd, however, Jesus suggests that the dispute may be unfounded. Our work is our faith--not a sitting on a couch thinking about God but a life-changing, life-moving occupation and effort.

Again, we're not focusing on John 6 this Sunday, but, if we were and if I were preaching, the work of faith would likely be my focus. Faith is not easy. It is not easy to be in the wilderness and trust that God will provide. It requires effort to believe that God will carry us through the trials of this life and into the next. To pursue faith like that is to pursue a transformed life, and that transformation--that movement--represents the foundational work of our relationship with God.

Monday, July 30, 2018

One Faith

This week, our congregation, having sought and received permission of the bishop for the "urgent and sufficient reason" of needing a sixth celebration for public baptisms, will celebrate the Transfiguration on Sunday (BCP p. 16). At some point during this week, I'll write about Transfiguration, but, since my focus is usually the RCL texts, I will start with lessons for Proper 13B.

What does unity of faith look like? In the reading from Ephesians 4, the author, quoting a familiar Pauline image, notes that God has given a variety of gifts so that "some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry,for building up the body of Christ..." This is foundational Pauline ecclesiology. It's how we function as the body of Christ--activated by the Spirit's gifts. But in this passage, the author goes on to envision the conclusion of that work, the fulfillment of the church's identity in a teleological way: "...for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ." What is the Spirit's goal among us? To build us up to unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, which is our spiritual maturity.

Those are powerful words. It's a powerful vision. And, depending on who has the authority to define "unity of the faith," they can be dangerous. Who gets to decide what that unity looks like? Do we all have to agree on a single theology of atonement, or is it acceptable for some to be penal substitutionists and others to be Christus victorists? Do we all have to agree that Mary was "ever-virgin," or can some of us believe that the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus really were Jesus' siblings and not his cousins or half-siblings? Do we all have to believe in the virgin birth? In the empty tomb? Some would say, "Absolutely!" but others would say, "No thank you!" Who decides?

In the second week of the five-week discourse from John 6 on the bread of life, we hear Jesus use words that are echoed in the reading from Ephesians. The crowd asks him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" and Jesus answers, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." Some might argue that that is an over-simplification of the issue and that "unity of the faith" described in Ephesians 4 is more nuanced and complicated than simply believing in the Son of God, but I think there's more to what Jesus tells us than mere recognition. In the exchange that follows, Jesus and the crowd discuss the manna from heaven that was given to Israel while they wandered in the wilderness. That was the source of provision for God's people. Their faith in God was literally confidence in God's provision. And when they failed to trust God and grumbled about where they would get meat and where they would get water and about how much better things were in Egypt, God sent fire or snakes or opened up the ground to swallow them whole. Faith in God means trusting in God to save us. Faith in Jesus as the Son of God means trusting that Jesus is the means of that salvation. It doesn't mean obtaining a ticket to heaven. It means confidence in daily provision that is cumulative unto eternal life. Is that a confidence that all people share?

I like to imagine Jesus shaking his head or running his hands through his hair in frustration when he hears us focusing our time and effort on arguing over who is correct over a particular doctrinal point. What matters is unity of faith in Jesus as our savior. Jesus is the one who reveals and enables God's redemption of the world. If the doctrinal debate helps us see that more clearly, that's fine. If it obscures that fact, then we're off course. The Holy Spirit is at work, equipping us for various ministries. And those ministries and the Spirit that works through them are leading us to unity of confidence in God as the one who saves us through God's Son, Jesus Christ. What does unity of faith look like? Perhaps the one baptism that almost all of Jesus' followers share is a good sign. No matter what your baptismal theology, we recognize baptism as the means by which an individual is united to the body of Christ. Whether infant or adult, the individual is being placed into God's saving arms. The unity of the church is built not on universal agreement on a list of doctrines but universal dependence on God as the one who creates, provides, sustains, protects, redeems, and saves. That's unity of faith.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Theology of Abundance

July 29, 2018 – The 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12B

© 2018 Evan D. Garner

Audio of this sermon is available here. Video is available here at the 20:21 mark.

“Where are we to buy bread for all of these people to eat?” Can you imagine the panic that flooded Philip’s heart and mind when he heard Jesus ask that question? “Where are we to buy bread for all of these people to eat?” And it was Jesus asking the question—Jesus! He was supposed to have the answer to questions like that. He was the boss. He was the leader. He had always had the answers. And now Jesus wanted Philip to figure out how they would feed a multitude of hungry souls in the middle of nowhere?

Not long after Elizabeth and I were engaged, my mother told me a little story about her mother-in-law. I think my mom wanted me to know that, as I began married life, she would try her best to be a supportive presence in my wife’s life and not the kind of mother-in-law about which people tell real-life horror stories. To make that point, she recalled for me a moment early in her marriage when my father’s mother drove from Birmingham, Alabama, to Atlanta, Georgia, to make her first visit to her son and new daughter-in-law’s home. My grandmother worked at a dance studio, and she had to finish that day’s teaching before she set out for the three- or four-hour trip. With a change in time zone, her arrival would be especially late, but, about the time when my mother expected her to show up, it occurred to her that her guest may not have eaten supper. “Surely she will have already eaten; it’s nearly nine o’clock,” she said to my father, trying to push that growing sliver of fear out of her mind, but the fear didn’t go away. “She never said anything about dinner, but what if she hasn’t eaten?” my mother continued as the fear steadily grew. Jumping up, looking in the cupboard, and finding almost nothing, her fear escalated into a full-blown panic as my mother considered the implications of having nothing to offer her mother-in-law. “Where am I to buy something for my mother-in-law to eat?” she said to my father, who probably just shrugged his shoulders. Adding another can of tomatoes to some leftover chili and fixing a skillet of cornbread didn’t provide much, but it was enough to avoid the shame of having nothing for her mother-in-law’s first visit.

What do we do when we look out at the hungry multitude coming toward us—not just the hundred and twenty or so people who come twice a week for Community Meals or the 40,000 or so people here in Washington County who live at or below the poverty line but the entire starving world that needs our help. What do we do when we see them coming and hear Jesus say to us, “Where are we to buy bread for all of these people to eat?” How do we answer Jesus’ question?

We could tell him that it isn’t really our job to feed all of these people. Some of the people in the crowd that day may have had a relationship with Jesus and his disciples, but most of them had come out because they had seen or heard about Jesus’ miracles. Just as when news that a church is handing out free meals begins to spread, people show up not because they care about the church or its mission but because they want something to eat. And is it really the church’s job to feed them all? Plenty of them could afford food on their own if they just shifted their priorities a little bit away from a fancy smart phone or cable television or designer clothes or alcohol and drugs and spent that money on basic nutrition. And why does our church have to be the one that feeds them. The multitude around Jesus could have gone back to their homes or to a nearby village or to another preacher or another agency to get the food they wanted. Why did Jesus ask Philip to figure it out? Why did Jesus ask his disciples to take on the responsibility for feeding these 5,000 people?

Because feeding them is our job. As followers of Jesus, it is our calling to feed these people, indeed to feed all hungry people. The kind of people who left their homes to walk out into the wilderness and hike up a mountain to see Jesus are the kind of people who were desperate to be fed. Some of them may not have needed physical nourishment, but most of them did. For most of them, their spiritual crisis was born out of an economic crisis. We know that because usually the kind of people who had enough on their own weren’t very interested in Jesus. The rich and the powerful ignored him or laughed at him or, sometimes, plotted against him. And the people who set out in search of Jesus that day were just as smart as you and I. They knew how to estimate how long they might be gone and what provisions they might need for the journey, but sometimes people are so desperate that they set out with nothing in their pockets because they either have nothing to put in them or because their need is so great that they have forgotten how to care. Those are the people who were searching for Jesus, and they are the same people who are streaming toward us. And Jesus looks at us and asks, “Where are we to buy bread for all of these people to eat?” What will we say to him?

It is our instinct as the church to assess both the need before us and the resources we have to respond to that need in measurable quantities. “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little,” the Finance Committee says. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish,’ the Rector replies, “but what are they among so many people?” It is our job as the leaders of the church, as the stewards of the resources entrusted to us by God and by our parish, to count costs and estimate resources. But it is never our job as the people of God to allow an attitude of scarcity to overcome a theology of abundance. How different would this encounter have been if Philip had said to the crowd, “Even six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of us to get a little, but following Jesus has taught me to believe in miracles. Come on, everybody. What do we have to work with?” And how different would it have been if Andrew had walked up with the boy’s basket and said, “Here are five barley loaves and two fish, truly a gift and a blessing among all these people.” When Jesus took them and multiplied them and gave them to the crowd, it would have been the same miracle, but it would have been one that the people of God believed in even before it had taken place. When we look out at the multitude coming toward us, isn’t that what Jesus is really asking us to see?

Hunger. Homelessness. Poverty. Addiction. Hatred. Discrimination. Gun violence. Domestic violence. Children separated from their parents at the border. Refugees sent back into the violence from which they fled. These needs are all around us, and the people to whom they belong are coming straight to us. People are hungry for food and security and healing and peace, and they are streaming toward us to find what they need. They need us because, as followers of Jesus, we believe that God loves the poor and meek and vulnerable and holds them in the center of God’s heart. Where are we to buy bread for all of these people to eat? How will we ever find the resources we need to make this world the dream that God dreams it could be? I don’t know. I don’t have that answer. But I do believe in miracles. And I do believe that unconditional love has the power to change the world. And I know that you cannot love your neighbor as yourself or love the world unconditionally and ignore the needs that are in front of you.

Later that night, after Jesus had taken the loaves and the fish and fed the entire crowd so that everyone was satisfied, he sent the disciples ahead of him across the lake. In the midst of a tumultuous sea, the disciples looked out and saw Jesus walking toward them on the water, and they were terrified. “It is I,” he said to them, “do not be afraid.” John tells us that “they wanted to take him into the boat,” but they looked up and immediately saw that the boat had already reached the land toward which they were going. What a strange way to finish this miracle story! Perhaps John wants us to remember how the fear of insufficiency often prevents us from seeing that God has already given us everything that we need.

Have faith in God. Believe in Jesus. Trust that in him there will be enough. Don’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need ahead of us or the limitations of the resources we have at our disposal. God is with us. So bring your offering to God and, through the ministries of your church, share it with those in need and know that, with Jesus here among us, we will transform the world into the place God dreams it could be one loaf, one meal, one person at a time.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Forgotten Walk

In preparing for a sermon this week, several colleagues have noted that the end of Sunday's gospel lesson (John 6:1-21) doesn't really belong with the beginning. Primarily, this Sunday's lesson seems to be about the feeding of the five thousand, which takes up verses 1-15. Then, for whatever reason, the lectionary authors decided to continue the lesson to include Jesus walking on the water to his distressed disciples in verses 16-21. A friend asked a colleague group, "Anyone else thinking about cutting the gospel lesson off at verse 15?" Of course, as another friend noted, we don't have that authority. We can expand lessons but not contract them. So, whether it makes sense or not, we're going to hear the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on the water and then find out on which part the preacher will focus. I bet that in nine out of ten churches the walking on the water isn't mentioned or is barely mentioned in the sermon.

Jesus walking on the water is recalled in John 6, Mark 6, and Matthew 14. Luke decided to leave it out. Our lectionary gives us Matthew's version in Proper 14A and John's version in the latter part of the gospel reading from Proper 12B. There is no telling of the story in Year C. In Year A, we hear only the miracle of the walking on the water. It is not tied to anything else, which means that once every three years we get to focus on that miracle alone. As I prepare to preach this Sunday, however, I'm looking for a way to use this gospel lesson as the once-every-three-years opportunity to see the link between the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on the water.

In Matthew, Mark, and John, these stories go together. Never is the story of the walking on the water told without telling the story of the feeding of the five thousand immediately before it. They go together. In ways that don't easily work in a Sunday sermon, these passages go together. I don't know that I want to focus on that particular connection, but I want to understand it before I try to preach on anything.

Why are the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on the water linked together? Maybe it helps to step back even further. In all three gospel accounts, these two stories occur at a moment when Jesus has withdrawn from the crowd after the beheading of John the Baptist is recalled. So, that means that in all three cases, we have 1) beheading of JBap. 2) Jesus retreating, 3) crowd following, 4) feeding 5,000, 5) disciples sent away, and 6) Jesus walking on the water to them. Maybe the pattern of retreat and pursuit is important.

In all three accounts, this episode also precedes the demand for a sign by the religious authorities, and in the synoptic accounts, it precedes Peter's confession of Jesus as God's anointed one. In Matthew and Mark, that happens after some additional teachings and miracles, including the feeding of the four thousand. In John, it happens during the Bread of Life discourse that we will read over the next four Sundays. In all cases, however, the feeding of the five thousand heightens the reader's sense of the religious authorities' hard-heartedness. The walking on the water to the disciples is, in effect, Jesus' way of coming to them, reaching them physically and intellectually, as his closest followers try to make sense of the sign.

Maybe these two stories are linked together because this is a moment when Jesus' ministry begins to spread geographically beyond the region of Galilee as he makes his way toward Jerusalem. In some ways, the feeding of the five thousand is a climactic moment of his localized ministry before setting out--literally walking on the water--for new territory.

Or maybe they are linked because the reader is supposed to notice how foolish it is that the disciples would be afraid of Jesus after participating in the feeding miracle. Of course Jesus would come to them. If he fed them in the wilderness, a sign of God's abiding presence, naturally he would stroll out across the waves and come to them in their distress.

I don't know. Like Philip, who was asked by Jesus, "Where are we to get bread for all of these people to eat?" I don't know how it works. But I want to embrace the Spirit's intention of holding these stories together enough so that when I preach--even on just one of them--the connection shines through. I want to hear the gospel lesson read on Sunday and hear the Spirit holding them together in my mind and heart and in the mind and heart of the congregation. So I'm sticking with it--even if I don't fully understand and even if it might be easier to cut off these seemingly extra verses.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

St. James: Submit to Suffering

July 25, 2018 - St. James

I wonder if the real reason that the other disciples were upset with James and John is because their mother got to it first. On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus takes the twelve aside privately and says to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised." And, immediately afterwards, as if she had been politely waiting on the side of the road to kiss her boys goodbye before they left for the holy city, Mother Zebedee comes up to Jesus, kneels before him, and implores him to let her boys sit at his right hand and at his left hand when he comes into his kingdom. It's a crass and self-serving request, but you have to give her credit: at least she recognized Jesus for who he really was--the king of God's people.

Throughout the gospel, Jesus' followers struggle to figure out who he really is. He spends time with sinners and outcasts yet proclaims the coming of God's reign with religious zeal. He flouts the religious rules about sabbath and fasting, yet he performs the kind of miracles that show that God is surely on his side. He spends most of his time scooting from town to town, refusing to put down roots, yet the people seem to want him to claim some centralized religious and political authority, rivaling the powers of Jerusalem and Rome. What sort of rabbi is he? What kind of leader will he be? Some figures are too radical for any sort of official authority. Other leaders often struggle to make room for someone whose voice is primarily a critique of the status quo, and prophetic leaders like that often lose their voice when they accept a place at the table of power. Just as a prophet rarely makes a good priest, it must have been hard for those who really knew Jesus to imagine him succeeding as a king. But Mother Zebedee saw it, and she wanted to embrace it on behalf of her sons.

As followers of Jesus, we proclaim him as our king. We have the benefit of Easter. We have seen Jesus raised from the dead. We have seen God's great vindication of Jesus and God's triumph over the forces of evil that crucified him. In the light of the resurrection, we see what Mother Zebedee saw: that Jesus' outside-in, upside-down ministry among the poor, the neglected, and the powerless is the very heart of God's reign on the earth. In his victory from the cross, we see that the kingship of Jesus unravels the royal robes that clothe the powers of the earth and establishes through Christ God's perfect reign on the earth. We see what the mother of James and John saw, but, unfortunately, that is often all that we see.

"You do not know what you are asking," Jesus said to her. Turning to the two disciples, Jesus asked, "Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" The road that leads to Jerusalem and the kingship of Jesus and the establishment of God's reign also includes the cup of suffering, the path of rejection--not as a detour or as an obstacle on the way but as the very destination to which the king of kings and those who follow him will journey. We recognize in the life and ministry of Jesus how God's reign means good news for the poor, the oppressed, the weak, and the sinful. And we recognize in his death and resurrection that God has the power to overcome any and all who would stand in the way of that reign. But it is easy to forget that the renewal of the world and the reordering of its powers and our participation in that transformation require our suffering, our loss, and our death.

Yesterday, I saw a meme on Facebook that quoted the Rev. Fleming Rutledge, saying, "The church is always talking about building the kingdom, but it seems to be a kingdom without a king." Have we forgotten what it means to follow Jesus as our king? We seek to establish God's reign through our work and our ministries, but have we forgotten who it is that we are following? Have we lost sight of the path down which he leads us?

Today, we remember the life and witness and Christ-proclaiming death of James, the son of Zebedee. He was the first of the twelve disciples to be martyred and the only one whose death is recorded in the New Testament. He did drink the cup that Jesus drank. And his place is beside Jesus in his kingdom. And we celebrate his memory because, like all the saints, like all of those who are made holy by God through Christ, he traveled the path that leads through suffering and death into God's reign. That is our path. It is the road that all who follow Jesus must travel. It may not mean martyrdom by the sword, but it means a death no less profound. If we believe that Jesus is the one who comes to establish God's reign on the earth and to establish that reign by reversing the power structure of the world from one where strength and violence and wealth rule to one where the meek and mournful and forgotten are redeemed, then we, too, must be reversed. We must be stripped of our earthly status, crucified with Christ, and raised with him to new and different life. Yes, we want to go with Jesus into his kingdom. We've seen that much. We've figured that much out. Pursue, then, the strength of God and the faith in Christ that is needed to follow him where he leads us.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Victims Without A Voice

I have decided to alter the way I talk about marriage in premarital counseling. In my first session with a couple, I like to get to know them and give them a chance to know me. I want to hear about how they met, about their first date, and about the proposal of marriage. I want them to hear how the process of premarital counseling will proceed and see that I am not there to interrogate them in order to test whether they are worthy of marriage but to guide them in a conversation about marriage and what life together might be like. In that first session, we talk about marriage itself and why a couple would bother to get married in the church and what the church teaches about marriage. I mention that the whole story of scripture portrays marriage as a gift from God that is not manifest in its storybook perfection but in its lived and breathed reality. I cite examples from the Old and New Testaments, showing that the beauty of marriage is not always easy: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah. I used to mention David and Bathsheba, but I won't do that anymore.

On Sunday, if you're reading the Track 1 lesson (2 Samuel 11:1-15), you will hear part of the story of David and Bathsheba. The lesson ends before Uriah is killed, before David takes the widow as one of his wives, before their child is born, before David fasts and prays for the child's life, and before the child is taken from him, but that's not the part of the story that is omitted that grabs my attention. The part that isn't read isn't found in the pages of scripture. The part I want to hear is Bathsheba's voice in the narrative.

We read, "It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful." A man sees a woman and stares. He ogles. He lusts. He decides that he must have her. "Who is she?" he asks. "This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite." She is a woman. She has a name. She has a family, a father, a husband. David does not care. He is the king. He has seen a beautiful woman, and she is an object that he must possess. "So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her."

What did Bathsheba think about all of this? If our instinctive response is to imagine a woman caught up in the romance of a tryst with the king of her people, giving herself willingly over to passion, we betray our societal conditioning. I have grown up in a culture that objectifies women. I have grown up in a society that chokes off women's voices when it comes to sex. Why would Bathsheba have engaged in the relationship willingly? Such consent is impossible when the king calls upon you. David is powerful enough to have Uriah murdered and get away with it. Bathsheba gets no say in this. She has no voice in this. When the messenger comes, she is terrified. She is devastated. She loves her husband. She dreams of starting a family when he comes home from battle. Like any military spouse, she waits eagerly for a word from the battlefield, but, instead of a message from her husband, she gets a message from a lecherous, adulterous, pig of a man, who won't take no for an answer and who won't live up to the consequences of his actions but covers them up with a scheme of denial that sounds as thin as a modern-day politician's.

In truth, David ruins Bathsheba's life, and we never hear what she has to say. This passage is full of reasons to hate David. He's in Jerusalem while the troops are in battle. He tries to cover up his transgression, but Uriah stands firm and pure. At the end of 2 Samuel 11, we read that many of Israel's troops were killed in battle and that Uriah was one of them, and the king's response is to send word to the general, "Don't worry; these things happen." Buried in the text is a sign of Bathsheba's humanity. In 11:26, we read, "When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him." Her grief was real. David stole him and their life together from her. And we never get to hear what she has to say.

The church has silenced the voice of victims for too long. Some of the victims have been violated by representatives of the church, and others have had their pain and suffering exacerbated by a church that will not listen to them. In the Roman Catholic Church, attention has fallen on pedophile priests who have abused boys, and many of those victim's stories have come out. In the Episcopal Church, there are some minors who have been abused, but there are also many women and men who have been victimized by members of the clergy and lay leaders. When a priest or a spiritual director makes an advance on a parishioner or a directee, there is no possibility for consent. When a member of the clergy or lay staff is inappropriately touched by a senior warden or asked out to dinner by a major donor, there is often no opportunity for them to say no. And, when the victim finds the strength to speak out, she or he is often ignored or hushed. And, when the church actually responds, it often finds it easier to quietly encourage the priest to find a new job, a new community, a new parish and diocese where someone else can deal with the evil pathology. But those stories are beginning to come through. Those victims are beginning to be heard. We heard from some of them at General Convention this year, and, for the sake of our church, we need to continue to make it safe for victims to share their stories, and we need to be sure that offending clergy and lay leaders are named, removed from ministry, and given the treatment, counseling, and support that is reasonable and appropriate. We need to do this now, and it starts by giving voice to those we have silenced for too long. It starts by acknowledging that the heroes of our faith--biblical and otherwise--are often people like King David, whose sexual crimes go largely dismissed.

General Convention acted to suspend the statute of limitations on clergy abuse for proceedings that are initiated from January 1, 2019, until December 31, 2021. Of course, there may be civil and criminal proceedings that are appropriate outside the Title IV process. But, if you are the victim of clergy misconduct, you have the opportunity to voice your concerns in a way that is not time-limited. If it is safe for you to do so, I encourage you to contact your priest or the Intake Officer for your diocese. You can see more about the clergy disciplinary process at titleiv.org. And I hope that all clergy will take time to discuss sexual misconduct, harassment, and abuse in their churches, assuring congregations that we are a safe place for those whom the church has made voiceless now to speak.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Same Story, Different Voice

Each of my children, at some point in their life, has enjoyed the story of the three little pigs. Usually, I tell the story at night, right before bedtime. Occasionally, if I'm feeling particularly enthusiastic about my role as storyteller, I will change my voice to match the different characters. As one would expect, the little pigs have a high-pitched, squeaky voice, and the big bad wolf has a growling malevolent voice. Of course, I'm the only one speaking, so the difference isn't as dramatic as it would be if someone hid in the the hallway outside the bedroom and, when it was time for the wolf to speak, knocked on the door and bellowed out the wolf's lines in a terrifying tone. That might add some dramatic authenticity to the story, but it would probably give my children nightmares, so they're stuck with just me.

This coming Sunday, as we often do throughout the lectionary year, we jump from one gospel account to another. Since it's Year B, we've spent most of our time in Mark's account, but this week we will leave Mark and head into John for the feeding of the five thousand and a several-week exploration of the bread of life. What's particularly strange to me is how similarly John and Mark record the sequence of events yet how differently they tell the story. Often John's account diverges from the synoptic accounts pretty dramatically, so, when there's considerable overlap, it's worth paying attention. You can compare the two readings (Mark 6:30-52 and John 6:1-12) here.

Notice how closely they follow one another. Both begin with Jesus and the disciples setting sail in search of some quiet. Both are set in a deserted place. Both include an exchange between Jesus and the disciples about providing bread for the crowd and an estimate of the cost to do so. Both show that Jesus had the disciples get the crowd to sit down. Both include the same meager provision of five loaves and two fish. In both accounts, everyone was sated. Both mention the gathering up of leftover fragments and that the leftovers filled twelve baskets. And both are followed immediately by the walking on the water, Jesus' declaration of "It is I," and the stilling of the storm.

Clearly, they were recalling the same episode. Most scholars think that Mark was the earliest gospel account written and that John was the latest, which means that John probably had Mark or some of the other synoptic texts available to him when he wrote his account. Or, to put it more plainly, the story of the feeding of the five thousand was so critical to the Jesus tradition that John, who often leaves stories out or changes them to make them fit his own narrative, preserved it almost perfectly. Almost.

Notice how John adds details to fill out the story in his own way. John reminds us that the crowd was following Jesus "because they saw the signs that he was doing." John tells us that the Passover was near. John puts the question of where the bread will be found on Jesus' lips, not the disciples, and then explains to us that Jesus was asking Philip about it in order to test him. In John's account, Andrew volunteers the bread and the fish without being asked, but Mark makes Jesus the instigator of that search. John tells us that there were five thousand people in all, but Mark tells us that there were five thousand men, and Matthew later clarifies that there were additional women and children present. John places the command to gather up the fragments on Jesus' lips instead of as the natural act of the disciples, emphasizing that "nothing may be lost." John shows us that the crowd concludes that Jesus is "the prophet who is to come into the world" and that they were going to make Jesus king, but Mark ends the story by sending Jesus and the disciples on their way without such attention.

Part of me wishes that we had stayed in Mark's account. Mark is my favorite gospel writer. But I think switching to John is a gift. We get to hear the same story in the same place in the lectionary, but we get to hear it through a different voice. John's voice adds extra drama, symbolism, and depth to the story. John has taken the synoptic tradition of the miraculous feeding and added layers of meaning: Passover, fragments, prophet, king. I don't know whether they will come out in a sermon, but I trust that they will come out in our shared hearing of the gospel. And, given that the next four Sundays are from John 6 and the discourse on the bread of life, we'll have more than enough opportunity to explore them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Aliens And Citizens

People joke about it, but meeting someone for the first time and then asking that person where he or she goes to church is a very real way to make conversation in the south. Church is who we are. It's what we do. Even people who do not belong to our congregation apologize to me when they see me wearing a clerical collar in the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon. Last night, I was talking with a friend about a mutual acquaintance and, wanting to know some background on that person, I asked where she had grown up going to church. Seriously, it's how we define ourselves and others.

Because church is such an integrated part of our culture, I find it hard to understand the dichotomy of alien and citizen that Paul (yes, I'm going to call him Paul) writes about in Ephesians 2:11-22. He's writing to those members of the Christian community who were once pagans, and he's reminding them that their transformation from outsider to family, from slave to heir, from alien to citizen, is a fundamental part of their faith: "Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth...were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." And, for Paul, this is more than a statement about the Gentiles. This is a statement about who God is and what God does. He writes, "For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us...that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two." In other words, it's not only the effect that Paul is focused on but also the source, the cause.

In my own journey of faith, I experienced a moment of clarity when God's love became real to me. Before that, I didn't feel like I belonged. I wasn't confident of my place in God's family. But that was an internal struggle. No one turned me away because, with magical x-ray faith glasses, they could see that I had doubts. No one shut me out of the fellowship because they sensed that I didn't belong. To my parents, my friends, my classmates, my Sunday school teachers, and everyone around me, I represented someone who belongs in the family of God. Yes, my experience of reconciliation was real and powerful, but it does not capture the real alien-become-citizen transformation that Jesus Christ represents. Instead, I need to pull from a different referent, an experience that isn't my own, to understand how God works.

God is in the citizenship business. The gospel is a gospel of amnesty. In Jesus Christ, God declares to those of us who were outside the promise that the promise belongs to us as well. Those of us who came out of the womb assuming that we belong, that we have access, that we have power, need to hear the gospel from the perspective of the undocumented immigrant, the convicted felon, or the mentally ill neighbor. God grants to those who never dreamed that they could belong that they are members of the family of God. If that's what God does for us in Jesus Christ, who are we to exclude others from this family? We, too, were accepted not because we belong but because God is the one who gave Jesus in order to bring us into God's family. If we will not welcome strangers and aliens in God's name as our sisters and brothers, we deny the work that God has done in us and for us.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Stitched Together Story

Sunday's gospel lesson (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56) is a mess. It starts with Jesus receiving a report from the disciples about what they have accomplished and Jesus inviting them to come away and rest. Then, on their way to a "deserted place," they are spotted by the crowds, who follow them. Then, the lectionary breaks off from the story and jumps ahead to verse 53, in which Jesus and the disciples are described as having finished their trip across the lake and are again met by large crowds who touch the fringe of Jesus' cloak in order to be healed. That's no so bad until you stop and read what we've missed.

After that first boat journey, Jesus and the disciples come to a "deserted place," which is to say a place without a name, an unincorporated spot along the sea. But the crowd, which saw them, met them there. Presumably Jesus ministered to them until it got late, when Jesus' disciples urge him to send the crowd away because they need something to eat. After a brief exchange with the disciples and the procurement of five loaves and two fish, Jesus miraculously feeds the 5,000+. 

Then, Jesus sends the disciples across the sea to Bethsaida, staying behind for some time for his own rest and recovery. But, in the middle of the night, a storm arises, and the disciples struggle on the water, so Jesus walks out to them. There's the dramatic response by the disciples, who think it must be a ghost, and Jesus' words of reassurance--"Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid"--and then the stilling of the storm. When that episode is over, we pick back up in the lectionary with the arrival of the crew in Gennesaret, where Jesus is rushed by the crowd and worked hard all over again.

Skip the feeding of the 5,000? Omit the walking on the water and the stilling of the storm? Why the strange lectionary pattern? Good question. Next Sunday (July 29), we will have the story of the feeding of the 5,000, but we'll read John's version. There is no walking on water or stilling of the storm. The two encounters of Jesus and the crowd in this Sunday's reading are usually separated by some major miracles, but the lectionary wants to strip those away and leave us with the struggle for rest. What may have been a minor point in Marks' gospel account becomes for us a big deal: we must seek out rest.

Steve Pankey wrote a piece this morning on the struggle for sabbath, and it's a great, personal account of the collision of worldly and godly priorities that I encourage you to read. Even if we don't own a grocery store, we face that struggle in our own lives. Rest is, by definition, unproductive--at least in measurable ways. To pursue rest, we must sacrifice profits, accomplishments, returns, progress. There's a positive side of that trade-off, however. I don't know how Chick-fil-A measures the lost revenue from being closed on Sunday against the added benefit of being an ostensibly Christian company, but I'm sure it's more than a religious calculation. Still, in the last month, my family and I have wanted Chick-fil-A on Sunday twice, so I know they're giving up something. What about us?

As a clergy person, whose job is never-ending, whose calling is to respond to the never-ending needs of others, I have a hard time putting those demands aside for self-care. In my mind, I know it's important. I know that taking care of myself is a critical way for me to do a better job of taking care of others, but it's not easy to play golf while someone is in the hospital, to spend a day with my family while a stewardship program is on hold, to go for a run while a sermon still needs to be written. You have that struggle in your own world. It's real. And the need for sabbath is real. Jesus himself seems to struggle with it, which confirms for us that it's not easy. This week, the lectionary takes some time away from the story to teach us something outside the narrative. It's also my one week of unprogrammed transition from St. John's to St. Paul's. If I can just get all the things on my to do list finished, I'll have time to sit and think about it. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Echo Chamber?

Today is the last day to hear the dulcet tones of the Secretary respond to the President's question with, "The matter before the house is the Legislative Calendar. The next item on the Calendar is Report..." I love those words. Those words mean that we're getting something done. We've gotten a lot done, but there's still more to do, which is why we're starting at 8am today.

Today will be tedious. Most of the exciting, eye-grabbing work is done. We're finished with prayer book revision. We're essentially finished with access to same-sex liturgies. We've passed a budget. But there's still a lot of important work to do: the Book of Occasional Services, safeguarding issues, plenty of canonical amendments, and a host of other things. Still, it's probably safe to begin summarizing our work and reflecting on the substance of this Convention.

Despite what might grab headlines and get discussed back in our parishes, I think the most important work we have done is make space for individuals to tell their stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault. We began that work liturgically with a service designed by a group of bishops for stories of abuse within the church to be given voice and to be lamented by the congregation. They were terrible stories of clergy and other church leaders using their power to subject individuals to physical, emotional, and spiritual assault. And they were just a few stories. Everything I have heard leads me to believe that there are more stories like that throughout the church than anyone could count.

We also responded to this in the legislative process. We voted to suspend the statute of limitations on Title IV offenses for a three-year window so that victims might bring their stories to the clergy disciplinary process. We voted to make the omission of material facts by a postulant, candidate, or ordinand from the ordination process a Title IV violation. We are preparing to vote for a study on the vocations of women and minorities to try to explain why "there has not been adequate investment in [their] career development." And we voted to make the demographic data of all nominees for bishop elections available for study and publication in an attempt to address the lack of women and minorities in the House of Bishops. Those are important steps toward a safer church, but they aren't enough.

The treatment and value of women is one area in which I think the General Convention is in danger of becoming an echo chamber. Our home parishes will be interested in prayer book revision and same-sex marriage. They will want to know about budgets and liturgies. Will we stop to talk about the church's role in sexual assault and in covering it up? Will we likewise make space in our parishes for people to tell their stories without retaliation? Will we address the deeper issues of misogyny and patriarchy that upon which these acts and their shielding have been built? Just because the General Convention has voted to suspend the statute of limitations does not mean that anyone will tell their story. A canonical change does not suddenly make it easy for a woman to talk about the priest who abused her, the priest to admit how her bishop spoke to her, or the church worker to talk about the boss who treated her in subhuman ways. That requires a culture shift. It requires the unraveling of decades of patriarchy. It requires that the power structures of the church be turned on their heads. Will we take that back with us, or will this be a moment for the Church to pat herself on the back for spending a few hours pretending to take sexual assault and harassment seriously? In other words, we still have work to do.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Dancing With All Our Might

There are a few special moments in life when joy spills out of us in uncontrollable ways. I laugh uncontrollably whenever I am on a roller coaster. I remember smiling until my face hurt when each of my children was born. I danced around the room when the Cubs won the World Series. Just as trouble or sorrow brings uncontrollable tears, moments of deep gladness cause us to celebrate in ways beyond our control.

When David and his company went down to get the ark and bring it into the house of the Lord, the king was said to have "danced before the Lord with all his might." I would like to see that. I want to see King David so full of joy that he danced before the procession with every ounce of energy he had. Not just a cautious, polite dancing, but full-on, jumping, twisting, hooting, hollering, arms-waiving dancing. That's joy.

The ark was a complicated symbol of history and triumph and God's presence among God's people. It had been carried out in battle by the army. It had been captured by the Philistines and then returned. Saul had ordered it carried with his army, but then it was tucked away for safekeeping. In Sunday's reading from 2 Samuel 6, David goes down to Abinadab's house to get it and bring it back to the house of the Lord. This was a time when David's reign over all Israel was being established and consolidated. The ark needed to be brought back to a place of central authority. It was an old symbol of God's dwelling among God's people, and David understood that his reign was animated by God's very presence in his life and amidst his people. So, as they brought the ark back to the city, he danced, making a joyful, holy spectacle of himself.

When might we dance like that?

At every General Convention, we reach a point when the House of Deputies realizes that it has more business to do than it has time to do it. Last night, as we gathered for an unusual evening session, we began to acknowledge that fact. People groaned when procedural motions were made. Lines of people to end debate formed before debate even started. The big-ticket items have mostly been dealt with, and now we have to push through the little things. All day today and tomorrow, we will be in legislative session, considering one resolution after another. It's tempting to think that we will dance when we've finished the mind-numbing work ahead of us, but I hope we'll find other reasons to dance.

There's a difference between dancing and dancing with all our might. David danced with all his might because he knew that God was with him and his people as they entered a new chapter of their national life. We had a small moment that got close to that when we welcomed Cuba back into the Episcopal Church. Apparently, we kicked them out back in the '60s when the revolution happened, leaving them to their own devices, and welcoming them back was an opportunity to acknowledge the wrong we had done and seek to restore the relationship. There wasn't any dancing, but there was clapping and singing and shouting for joy. That's a moment that matters. That's a moment when the church sees God coming home. What are the other moments?

Even though the debate was long and the mood was antsy, the amended resolution last night calling for a task force to study the church's response to deaf and disabled individuals felt like that. Even though the amendment had errors in it and seemed to fail to take into account the procedural requirements for establishing a task force, we knew it mattered. The tearful and impassioned debate helped us see what really mattered. We didn't dance when it passed, but maybe we should have. What else?

At this point in General Convention, it is easy to get worn down by the work. It's easy to get hardened to the process. It's easy to get frustrated at lengthy debate. But where is God at work? Were is God coming home? What are the issues still to come before us that give the church an opportunity to dance because we see in those issues signs that God is coming again to dwell with God's people? I'll dance when it's all over, but I hope to dance in the middle of it, too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Where Is Your Passion?

One of my favorite things about General Convention is spending time with friends I only see every three years. Occasionally, I will bump into a Convention friend at a conference or meeting, but, like a  dormant cicada, most of these relationships go into hiding for three years before emerging to flourish for two weeks during our triennial gathering.

"Where are you?" is a common question. "How's your family?" is another. A few days ago, one of my Convention friends asked me a question on which I am still meditating: "What is your passion?" He meant with regards to this Convention--what topic, what issue is important to me--but it's a good question to consider beyond the work of this body. What is your passion?

For the last three years, I've been on an interim body that has, among other things, focused on the Church Pension Fund and whether it is meeting the needs of the wider church. I've spent hours on the phone or responding to e-mails from people throughout the church for whom the answer is no. "The 18% assessment is crippling our congregations," one diocesan staff member told me. "Health insurance premiums and mandated parity have led me to lay off staff," a rector told me. "Our parishes rely more and more on lay staff, but the pension system for lay employees does not reflect their value to our churches," another diocesan staff member said. "Too many of my colleagues who worked in small rural parishes or poor urban churches for their careers are now impoverished in retirement," a retired priest said. "Clergy who are women and minorities get stuck in part-time or under-paying positions, and that disparity haunts them in retirement because of the pension system," another priest noted.

I've also spent a good bit of time responding to calls and e-mails from rectors of large parishes who were worried that our committee would break the financial solvency of the Pension Fund. "It would be illegal for you to change the benefits I have been promised during my career," one rector claimed, hoping that I would be intimidated at the thought of doing something illegal. "There's not enough money as it is in the Pension Fund, and we can't afford to use that money to start new church projects that Executive Council wants to complete," another rector said to me, apparently misinformed about the work our committee was doing. I noted with interest that the people who called me to caution me about not tinkering with the Pension Fund were all like me: white men with big salaries. None of those calls came from women or minorities or rectors of small, struggling churches who were worried that there wouldn't be enough money in the Pension Fund to pay for their meager pensions.

Yesterday, the House of Deputies passed resolution D045, which both urges parishes and dioceses to take steps toward parity in pension contributions for lay and ordained church workers and calls upon the Church Pension Fund to study the steps necessary for true equity in lay and ordained pension systems. It isn't perfect. It doesn't do enough. But it advances the cause for equity in a way that can pass both houses of General Convention.

What am I passionate about? I am passionate about pensions. (Can anyone use "passionate" and "pensions" in the same sentence?) I am passionate about pensions but that's primarily because I've been working with them for the last three years. They are important. For all of human history, money or its equivalent has been the currency with which we express value. But pensions aren't the only thing I'm passionate about, and my friend's question awakened that recognition in me. I haven't spent time working on legislation related to gun reform, but that matters to me. Until I got here, I hadn't been engaged in conversations about liturgical reform and prayer book revision, but those certainly matter to me. There are lots of things that I am passionate about--things that show up inside General Convention and throughout the rest of the Church. I am passionate about the transforming love of God in Jesus Christ, and there are countless ways that we are a part of that transformation. Getting back in touch with my passions has helped me keep that in focus. Why are we here? Why do we debate these issues? Because, in one way or another, they are part of the work of God's reign coming more fully into our lives and into this world. That's something worth being passionate about one debate, one amendment, one vote at a time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Inside and Outside

I must confess that I like to hang out with snarky colleagues. I like to sit on the back row and roll my eyes and mutter under my breath unhelpful, destructive, sarcastic comments. A former colleague used to remind me that the root for "sarcasm" is to "tear flesh." She's right, but that's exactly the kind of comment that makes me roll my eyes and say something snarky. When it comes to General Convention and the work of the wider Episcopal Church, I'm likely to hang out (in person and through social media) with skeptics. Many of my colleagues regularly remark that General Convention is a waste of time, that the decisions it makes have almost no connection to real parish ministry, and that the people who go to General Convention care more about getting a fancy trip and the prestige of being a deputy than doing real work for the church.

I'm biased, of course. This is my third General Convention, and I love being here, and I love the work we do because I think the whole thing--the process, the legislation, the worship, the collaboration--is all good for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm not always happy with the outcome. In fact, pretty often, when I speak out on the floor of Convention, whatever side I'm advocating usually loses. (Otherwise, why would I bother speaking?) But, here at Convention, when things don't go the way I want them to, I don't feel a sense of panic, dread, or loss, which I sense that many of my snarky colleagues back at home are feeling.

I want to focus in particular on the issue of prayer book revision and resolution A068, which passed the House of Deputies in amended form and has been sent to the House of Bishops, where it is being debated. In short, this resolution authorizes the process for the revision of the Book of Common Prayer. There's a lot more to it than that. In fact, it may be worth noting that the plan that has been recommended involves three years of conversation about a new prayer book (2018-2021) before actual revision can begin (2021-2024) and then be approved (GC 2024) and adopted (GC 2027). And it may take longer than that. But I opposed the resolution for several reasons.

I support getting access to same-sex marriage to all of our congregations. I don't think our polity works when bishops decide which forms of worship that have been approved by the General Convention are allowed in their dioceses. If it's officially sanctioned by the church, it's up to the rector or clergyperson in charge to decide whether it gets used in the congregation. The bishop doesn't get to decide whether we use Rite I or Rite II. The vestry doesn't get to decide whether we use Holy Eucharist or Morning Prayer on Sundays. That's the rector's job. But I don't think wholesale prayer book revision is needed to make that happen.

I support gender neutral expressions of God. God does not have a penis. Except for the incarnate second person of the Trinity, God is not a man. God is not an actual father. Nor is God an actual Son. I affirm that those images and metaphors are helpful, useful, and godly. But I also affirm that God isn't always "him." I think that, when we begin our worship, it is ok for us to say, "Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," but I also think it's good for the congregation to respond, "And blessed be God's reign, now and forever. Amen." There are lots of ways that our prayer book needs to be updated to provide where appropriate additional gender neutral expressions of God. But I don't think it's time to start over from scratch. It's possible to make a bunch of small changes. It's possible to change the rubrics or the information at the beginning of the prayer book to allow gender-neutral expressions of God. But we don't have to throw out the whole book to make that happen.

I support deeper theological revision in the prayer book. Our baptismal theology isn't fully represented throughout the prayer book. Our Eucharistic prayers could do a better job articulating what we believe about the economy of salvation. Some of the collects and prayers and thanksgivings are theologically sloppy and could be tightened up. Liberation theology, our commitment to creation, and other important theological claims are notably absent or underrepresented in our prayer book. All of those things need to be incorporated when the prayer book gets revised. But I don't think this is the time to do it. Our theology of marriage has changed remarkably over the last decade. The role and value of lay ministry in our church has deepened substantially over the last decade. To write a prayer book now might capture some of the theological shift taking place in our church, but I think a six-to-nine-year delay before the process begins would help that substantially. Plus, by that time, maybe we'll be at a point when we can stop yelling at each other over same-sex marriage and women's ordination. Maybe we'll be able to work together on a prayer book revision instead of seeing prayer book revision as a massive way to fix some tiny issues. It's not, of course. And those who support prayer book revision aren't trying to use a wrecking ball to do some bathroom renovations, but, to traditionalists, it feels that way. And that's part of the problem.

So for those reasons I opposed prayer book revision. But the resolution passed the House of Deputies. There were some helpful amendments about honoring ecumenical commitments and respecting the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. I voted against it, but it passed. And that happens. It still remains to be seen what the bishops will do with it. I have strong doubts it will pass as that house is always more conservative than the deputies. And, even though I didn't support prayer book revision, I don't think the decision to pass A068 represents a massive failure on the part of Convention. But my skeptical, snarky friends seem distraught.

I don't get it. People are taking about General Convention as a "dumpster fire." There are posts about how terrible this is, about how people are thinking of quitting parish ministry, about how every three years the General Convention ruins everything. Really? I don't get it. The process is faithful if imperfect. People were heard. Some amendments weren't considered. Some testimony was cut short. But it seems that the will of the House of Deputies as a whole was expressed by the adoption of A068. Again, I didn't like it, but I still like the work that Convention is doing because, in my experience, people who voted for it aren't triumphant. They aren't insensitive to me and my perspective. They haven't written me and others like me out of the process or out of the church. We might disagree about the best way forward for the church, but we all agree that we want the gospel to be spread and God's reign to be established more fully in our lives and in the earth. This isn't a dumpster fire. This isn't terrible. Actually, it's a pretty beautiful thing--even for those of us who are disappointed. Maybe I'm biased. Maybe I'm out of touch with my snarky friends. But I find a lot of reason to hope and to stay connected. I hope others on the outside, especially those sitting in the back row rolling their eyes, can see that, too.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Under The Radar

Yesterday at General Convention, we spent a lot of time doing very little and a little time doing a lot. Most of the legislative session yesterday was spent voting. We needed to elect 12 trustees for the Church Pension Fund as well as members of Executive Council, the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, trustees for General Seminary, and some other officers of General Convention. Because of the complexity of that process, it took hours to do that voting. Several deputies made comments about "watching paint dry," and they were right: it was tedious. But sometimes that's the nature of General Convention's work.

We also spend some time debating resolution B012, which proposes that same-sex marriage liturgies be offered to all parishes in the Church at the discretion of the local clergy instead of the diocesan bishop. There's a compromise contained in that resolution. It doesn't go as far as some progressives had hoped it would, and other more conservative deputies were disappointed that it goes too far. For what it's worth, I like B012. I think the way we've been handling this issue in Alabama and throughout the Church has been thoroughly unAnglican. We are united by the principle of common prayer, common worship. If the General Convention has decided that same-sex marriage liturgies are part of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of our Church, then they should be available to all. And diocesan bishops and parish vestries shouldn't get to decide what worship happens in each of our parishes. We don't let the bishop decide whether Rite 1 or Rite 2 is allowed. We don't let vestries approve whether morning prayer or Eucharist will be the principle worship service on Sunday morning. We've been doing it wrong for a while, and I'm glad this cleans it up. And I was even more grateful that, after voting and voting and voting, the Convention spent some time debating something that matters.

Underneath all of that, however, the Convention did some remarkable things that hardly got a mention, and they are on the consent calendar, which is the way that we deal with a large number of resolutions that don't need debate all at once. At the last General Convention, the House of Deputies changed the way that things go on the consent calendar. Instead of needing to act in order to add something to the calendar, we automatically put everything on the consent calendar and have to act to take something off of it for debate. Yesterday, we acted on 59 different resolutions all at once. There was conversation on each of them back in legislative committees, but, in the House of Deputies, there was no debate. In one quick voice vote, several important pieces of legislation became the policy of the church.

Here are some of them. (You can read all of them here.)

  • We called for the development of a requirement that all clergy be trained on issues of substance abuse as part of ordination training. (D057)
  • We invited Executive Council and Church Pension Fund to study their relationship in order to clarify their respective roles in that relationship. (A060)
  • We mandated that all dioceses review their current provincial structure and participation and consider realigning. (A072)
  • We decided to study whether clergy may need liability insurance to adequately defend a Title IV complaint. (A181)
  • We amended the canon on safeguarding to make it clear that ordinands need to be trained in how to prevent sexual misconduct to both children AND adults. (A108)
  • We directed the Recorder of Ordinations to develop a plan for gathering information on clergy race so that a study of compensation by race could be undertaken. (C029)
  • We reiterated our position that Jerusalem be a shared capital and openly criticized the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. (B003)
Most of our attention goes to the big and controversial things, and it probably should. One of the best things about General Convention is our ability to debate openly the really sensitive issues facing the church. We could not have these conversations constructively in most parishes or dioceses. This is good work. But we also do a lot of good and important work without much public debate. I'm grateful for the consent calendar. Without it, I don't think we'd get our work done. But it's up to us to look at it and study it in order to see what Convention is really doing. It may not get much attention, but this is where most of what we do happens. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

What Do We Know About God?

Yesterday, General Convention left our usual convention site and went to the Palmer Event Center for Texas Night. It included worship and dinner put on by our host diocese. We began with worship in the context of revival before adjourning to a dinner of local barbecue and Tex-Mex items served from food trucks. But, before we could even get into the Palmer Event Center, we were met by a handful of protesters.

Several people at Convention have posted pictures of and comments about the protesters who are from a notorious Baptist church in Kansas. I choose not to identify them by name or image because I am convinced that they do what they do--protest military funerals, demonstrate at church conventions--only to get attention. They aren't interested in conversation about God. They don't want to teach people the Bible. They might scream at people about repentance, but they have shown absolutely zero interest in conversion. I think they thrive on attention, not religion, and I choose not to give it to them.

What was most remarkable to me, however, was the contrast between what was proclaimed inside the Convention's revival and what was proclaimed outside in the protest line. As one might expect, the message that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivered was one of love. Using the end of John 20 (as well as John 3, 4, 6, 10, 14, etc.), he told us that God wants us to live: "But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." God came into the world as Jesus Christ, living and dying and being raised from the dead, in order that we might have life. God wants us to have life. That's the theme all the way through John's gospel account. That's what we heard. That's what we know.

Outside, however, it was the opposite. Their signs declared that "God hates fags." They called our preachers "liars." They proclaimed that "God hates proud sinners." Although I don't buy into it, I understand the strategy of scaring someone with a description of hell in an attempt to get them to accept God's love. But this group of protesters has no message of love. There's nothing to turn to. They don't care about repentance, only damnation.

PB Curry never mentioned the protest, but his remarks, whether intentionally or not, were very clearly connected to what was happening outside. At one point during the revival, he reminded us that, if we know nothing else, we know that God loves us. And I have thought about that for a while and believe that he is not only correct but is also touching on something extremely important for The Episcopal Church. What do we know about God? If we know nothing else, we know that God loves us. On everything else, we might be wrong. But the principle of God's love, which is the message of the gospel, should motivate everything we do.

We might be wrong about prayer book revision. We might be wrong about same-sex marriage. We might be wrong about women's ordination. We might be wrong about worshiping in English. We might be wrong about not requiring circumcision or deciding not to keep kosher. We might be wrong about the resurrection. We might be wrong about the Trinity. We might be wrong about a lot of things. I don't think we're wrong about any of those things, but I will accept that we might be. And, if we are in error, God will sort it out. God will not abandon us because God loves us. We might be wrong about all of those things, but we cannot be wrong about God loving us. Because, if we are wrong about that, nothing else matters. I won't matter what we get right and what we get wrong, because, if God does not love us as we believe that God does, we are lost once and for all.

What do we know about God? We know that God loves us, that God loves all of us--the whole world--and that God's love wills us into a transformed relationship with God and with one another. Everything else is derivative.

PB Curry told us that hate is not the opposite of love. Selfishness is the opposite of love, and hate is a derivative of selfishness. That makes sense. Love is self-giving, self-yielding, self-sacrificing. The opposite of that is to prioritize the self above the other. The protesters last night made it clear whose side they are on. They might think that they are on God's side, but the inward, self-serving work that they do belies their real motive. They are on the side of evil. They are my brothers and sisters, but they are working against love. Are they right about marriage? About women's ordination? About heaven and hell? I don't know. But I do know that they aren't right about God because God is love. And that's all that matters.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Process Redeemed

Two nights ago, I went to bed frustrated. As I wrote about yesterday, our legislative committee acted to discharge two identical resolutions that sought to expand paid family leave for lay and ordained church workers who need to step away from a parish for a short time when a child is born or adopted or when a close family member is sick or dying. Admittedly, it's a complicated issue. Typically, one's employer provides for that, but there are many churches that don't have the money to pay two priests or two administrators while one is giving care to a family and the other is filling in. Who will pay for it? Will the Church Pension Fund? Will there be some sort of cost sharing throughout the church? In each diocese? We all agreed that paid family leave is important, but we couldn't find the answer, and, when we saw that the last General Convention had already asked Executive Council to draft a policy but Executive Council had apparently forgotten to do it, because it was the end of a long day, we acted to make the issue someone else's problem and move on. And that was frustrating.

I woke up yesterday, wrote about it, and went to my legislative committee meeting. I didn't say a word, but, even though we had already decided to move on, the chairs of our committee stopped our work, reminded us that we have a sacred duty to respond to the needs of the church, and asked us to try again. A working group was formed who drafted from scratch a new resolution that called for Executive Council to do its work of drafting model policies and for all dioceses to review them and develop their own. It's not perfect. We still don't know who is going to pay for it. But a good night's sleep and an openness to the Holy Spirit's inspiration led our group to try again. I was heartened. I was encouraged. That's how the process is supposed to work. Well done!

In yesterday's Daily Office reading from Matthew 22, Jesus was approached by the Pharisees who wanted to trap him by asking him a question about paying taxes. Jesus surprised them by giving a perfectly imperfect answer: "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's and to God the things that are God's." Of course, that helps us get the right perspective, but it doesn't really help us with the problem. Jesus was ok with that, and the crowd was, too. In today's continuation of Matthew 22, the Sadducees come to Jesus and ask him a confusing question about the resurrection, in which they did not believe. It's the trick question about a woman marrying each of seven brothers in turn and then going to heaven and wondering whose husband she will be. The Sadducees wanted to use the law of Moses to reveal a problem with the resurrection. They wanted to show that resurrection doesn't make sense. Of course, the law--the process--doesn't enslave God and God's will. Jesus said to them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." Sometimes, we have to let go of the process to get the right answer.

Yesterday, when the committee chairs brought back up the issue of paid family leave, someone could have objected and said, "We already discussed this. The matter is closed." They might have been correct, but they wouldn't have been right. I'm a policy junky. I like procedure. I like rules. Sometimes, however, they get in the way. Our committee's decision to try again despite what the rules said is an example of how Convention works. It works because God is with us. It works because the Holy Spirit animates us. It works because the deputies and bishops and staff and volunteers are all committed to letting God's will become manifest through our efforts--and sometimes despite them. May God continue to show us the way toward the fulfillment of God's promises so that Jesus Christ may reign in our hearts, in our church, and in our world.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Imperfect Process

Most of the debate of General Convention happens not in the large legislative sessions, in which all deputies or all bishops gather to debate particular resolutions, but it legislative committees. Every piece of legislation is given a public hearing, at which anyone is welcome to testify. Every piece of legislation is debated in committee and then acted upon, and that action--actually a recommendation--is then brought to the whole House. Many resolutions then end up on the Consent Calendar because the committee feels that all the debate that is fruitful has already taken place. Other resolutions get debated again in the House, but then it's usually for no more than thirty minutes--more often closer to six--before a vote is taken, and the House moves on to something else.

Because of that, if you want to see where the real clash of opinions happens, you should go to a committee meeting. But which one? Last night, the legislative committee that is dealing with liturgy and music heard testimony on the resolution authorizing a change in the prayer book. But I was in my own committee meeting, hearing testimony on several resolutions, including one that calls for the expansion of paid family leave. In that moment, I encountered two limitations of this legislative process. First, I could not hear or take part in the debate on prayer book revision. Instead, I'll have to try to piece together an understanding of how it went through conversations and by reading social media posts. I'm sure it will come up on the floor, but that debate will only be a tiny sliver of the rich conversation that takes place in the committee setting. The other limitation that I encountered, one that I find even more frustrating, is the fact that the fruit of the process isn't always best, and I have to learn to live with imperfection.

In particular, we debated resolutions C004 and C052, which, except for their title, are identical. They call, admittedly in a rather awkward fashion, for the expansion of paid family leave. Here's my take on how the debate went. At the last General Convention, we also heard calls for the expansion of family leave, though those calls centered on parental leave. Birth mothers can get short-term disability coverage, but other parents, including fathers, co-parents, and adoptive mothers, are not necessarily entitled to any leave. There are many in the church who would like to change that, and here is the resolution that passed at the last General Convention. But here it is before us again because nothing has happened.

Initially, the debate in our committee made it clear that we wanted to do something. It wasn't good enough for us to kick this can down the road for another three years and call for a study. We wanted something with teeth. We proposed some amendments to do more than study but to try to implement something, at least in part. Then, before we finished, we put it aside so that we could move on to another topic. Then, last night, a hearing happened on C004 and C052. In the midst of that, a representative from CPG rightly noted that the resolution as it is drafted is clumsy. How can CPG pay for something that isn't an insurance benefit? Where will the money come from? Are we calling for a study? Do we want a church-wide policy? Do we want to ask dioceses to develop a policy? The debate stalled. The tide shifted. Suddenly, someone found the resolution from the previous Convention. Then, someone else noted that resolution C019, which belongs in another committee, calls for the creation of a task force to study the matter. It's a neater resolution, not as messy as ours. There was a motion to discharge and not act on our version. Partly, that was because it was someone else's job. Partly, that was because it had already been addressed. Partly, that's because we didn't have an easy answer. Partly, that's because it was 9pm, and we were tired, and we were ready to go. And so we let it go. It may come up on the floor. It may not. There wasn't an easy answer, but it seems the best our committee will say to the church workers who need paid time off for a birth or to care for a loved one whose parishes cannot afford it and who have been asking for help for at least three years is that you should ask your diocese to help. It's not our problem.

In today's gospel reading from the Daily Office (Matthew 22:15-22), the Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him a question: "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus knew their malice. He knew that they were asking him a question for the purpose of catching him. So he asked them to bring him a coin. "Whose head is this, and whose title?" It was, of course, the emperors. "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s." In a sense, it was the perfect answer. They were amazed. But, in another way, it was imperfect. What does that mean? How does that help? What belongs to the emperor when everything belongs to God? Jesus' answer may not have solved the problem, but it addressed it fully and in a holy way. I can live with that. Today, I'm struggling to live with moments when the Convention gives an answer that neither solves the problem nor addresses it fully. And I'm asking God to help me know when the struggle is my problem and not someone else's.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Convention's Gospel Work

Yesterday, I made it halfway through a blog post, but I never found time to finish. Considering that it was the Fourth of July, when life typically moves at a slower-than-normal pace, that's kind of funny. At General Convention, it's not really a surprise.

Lots of people worked yesterday. Firefighters, members of law enforcement, doctors, nurses, soldiers, and other members of life-saving or life-protecting professions. Housekeepers, baristas, line cooks, taxi drivers, grocery store cashiers, and other members of service industries. Many of us at General Convention were working, too, but I don't think it's fair to compare the work we do with that of ambulance drivers or newspaper deliverers. It's important, but is it essential? It's a responsibility, but it's it also a privilege and a joy?

Yesterday, we hardly stopped to acknowledge that it was Independence Day, a major feast in the Episcopal Church. Partly, that might be because, as was pointed out a few times, the collect for the day, which proclaims that on July 4 our founding fathers "won liberty for themselves and for us," only speaks for white Episcopalians. It was also because the principle act of worship for Convention yesterday was a listening session, in which the sin of the Church in the sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation of women was acknowledged and lamented. But I think the main reason we didn't bother to stop long enough to celebrate is because Convention thinks its work is too important to take a breath, enjoy a holiday, eat a hot dog, and watch a baseball game. It is? Maybe.

As President Gay Clark Jennings reminded the legislative officers in our orientation, the work of General Convention is gospel work. Sometimes I struggle to communicate that to others in the church, especially fellow clergy who are skeptical of the bureaucracy that is the General Convention. On the one hand, they're right: the money, time, and effort spent in Austin could be translated into paid evangelists, disaster relief, investments in environmental sustainability, or training for clergy or lay church workers. In a way, however, the work of Convention is all of those things. Convention is the apparatus by which those things are enabled. Convention has the power to move money around. It has the power to name the priorities for the work of the Church. It has the power to determine whether the money held by the Church Pension Fund shall support the work of arms dealers or peace makers. And I believe that it's important for deputies and bishops to remember that we aren't here because of what happens in Austin but because of what happens for the next three years all over the Church.

As outlined in our Catechism, we believe that "the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." That's our "why statement." That is why the Church exists. You can say that in your own way, but your "why statement" for your parish, for your ministry, for your "branch of the Jesus Movement" will almost certainly be something like that. We exist because God loves the world in Jesus Christ, and we want the world to know that transforming love. We exist because the death and resurrection of Jesus are an end to the power of sin and death, and we are called to share that victorious love with all people. We exist because God's love has no limit and the good news of Jesus Christ is life-changing love for the whole world. That's who we are. And that's why we're here.

Yesterday, I testified in support of resolution A060 because I believe the Church Pension Fund needs to do more to be responsive to the needs of the Church so that its work, its holdings, and its business methods will reflect more clearly the gospel as the Church understands it. I believe that is gospel work. Yesterday, our legislative committee debated the extent to which paid family leave should be provided when a child is born or adopted so that clergy and lay church workers in small congregations can have the support they need to take care of their family and their congregation. I believe that is gospel work. Yesterday, I listened to stories of sexual abuse and sexual harassment and asked God to forgive me and my Church for its sins of omission and commission in them so that we, as a Church, might more clearly represent God's pure love for all people. I believe that is gospel work.

Sometimes the debate gets a little silly. Sometimes we lose our focus. Sometimes we seem to care more about being here than about going home. For the most part, however, the work we do here is about the work the whole Church is doing back home--back in everyone's home. We're here to make that work a priority. We're here to enable that work and share it among us. We're here to celebrate it and learn from it. That's gospel work, and I'm glad to do it...even on July 4.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Boasting of Weakness

Sunday's reading from 2 Corinthians is a little strange. The part that usually gets the most attention is the mysterious "thorn...in the flesh, a messenger of Satan" that Paul confesses had been given to him to keep him humble. Scholars, preachers, worshippers, we all wonder what that thorn could be. But the more we worry about the specifics of that thorn the easier it is to lose sight of what this part of Paul's letter is all about.

Paul is laying out a theology of weakness. He returns to this theme several times in his writings, but this may be the place where it comes together most clearly. He mentions someone whom he knows who was "caught up to the third heaven" and "caught up into Paradise." Paul is willing to boast on that person's behalf, but Paul doesn't want to boast on his own. Be clear, he writes, that he could boast on his own behalf and do so without looking like a fool. In Philippians 3, he provides a lengthy list of his boast-worthy qualifications (e.g. "Hebrew of the Hebrews") that he likewise counts as loss. Instead of boasting of his accomplishments and credibility, Paul boast of his weakness, and the "thorn in the flesh" is a sign of that.

God used the "messenger of Satan" to bring Paul to the point where he could hear God say, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." That's not just a bumper sticker. It's a bedrock of Christian theology. God does what we cannot. God perfects what we screw up. God redeems what we have lost. God's grace is the only thing that matters, and the more we try to matter on our own terms--whenever we boast inwardly or outwardly about our worthiness--we undermine the power of God. For real power is made perfect in weakness.

Because it is full of human beings like me, the Church forgets this on a daily basis. Because the world's perspective clouds our judgment, we think that weakness within its members undermines the power of God. In fact, such weakness reveals God's power most fully. We put our clergy on a pedestal, and, when they inevitably disappoint us, we feel that the Church itself has let us down. Clergy, too, buy into this false framework and do horrible things like cover up scandals and sweep abuses under the rug, believing wrongly that letting such failures out into the light of day will defeat God's work in the world. In fact, shining the light onto them is the only way for the Church to participate in God's victory over those sin-filled failures. Almost 1600 years ago, we fought over the Donatist schism and the wrong belief that clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be authentic, and we still fight over it every time a priest tells an off-color joke, every time a pastor forgets to come by the hospital, every time a bishop fails to stand up for the cause that matters to us, and every time The Episcopal Church assembles for its triennial General Convention.

To those of us taking part in the 79th General Convention and to those of you who will watch to see what is done these next two weeks in Austin, Texas, know that the whole Church, including the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, is broken. We're imperfect. We're weak. We make mistakes. We fight over stupid things. We get so caught up in the legislative process, in the resolutions that matter to us, in making sure our cause is championed, that we lose sight of the gospel. If we pretend that what we will do at GC79 will be perfect, spotless, and holy, we are lying to ourselves and denying the real power of what will happen here. This is an opportunity for God's work--for the Holy Spirit to use our weakness to reveal God's true power. But that's more difficult for us to see if we're boasting in our self-styled accomplishments than in our weakness.

Right now, my context is GC79. It's non-stop, all-in for the next 11 days. But this isn't the only place where weakness matters. Paul wasn't writing to the deputies in Austin. He was writing to Corinth, and the Holy Spirit has given that text to the whole church. How are you boasting in weakness? How is your church boasting in weakness? We must not be afraid to confront our failures honestly and openly. Only then can we see what God is already doing to use our weakness as a vessel for God's power.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Age Matters But Not Like That

“David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for forty years.”

In 2 Samuel 5, we read the story of the second anointing of David as king. The first was our Old Testament lesson a few Sundays ago, and it took place in private, in Jesse’s house, out of sight because of the threat of Saul’s jealousy. This Sunday, we read the story of Jesus’ public acclimation as king. Of course, it didn’t start in 2 Samuel 5. By this point, the boy who slayed Goliath had been a leader of God’s people for years. God had chosen him back when he was only a shepherd boy. The Holy Spirit came upon him when he was a kid, and he was led by God to do powerful things from an early age. But it took him until he was thirty before the people of God were ready to officially acknowledge what they already knew.

I haven’t spent much time this year blogging about General Convention. Partly, that’s because this year doesn’t seem to hold the same level of urgent controversy that recent Conventions have held. There’s no election of a Presiding Bishop. We’re not considering same-sex marriage for the first time. There isn’t a groundswell movement to restructure The Episcopal Church. (Actually, each of those things, in one way or another, is an active issue at this Convention—the role of the Presiding Officers, whether to add gender-neutral language to the marriage rite as contained in the prayer book, what funding for the Church’s mission will look like over the next three, six, or even twelve years.)

Plus, I’ve been a little busier than usual saying goodbye to a parish, preparing to greet a new one, trying to get a house ready to sell, and helping my family prepare for the move. Yesterday was my last Sunday at St. John's, and today feels strange. The last few weeks have been a full-on sprint to make it through the saying goodbye. After a full Sunday morning and a beautiful send-off reception, I changed into work clothes, went to Lowe's, and continued the work of painting, cleaning, and straightening that are required to sell a house. I went to bed in the wee hours of the morning, and then I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to leave for Austin. And, now that I'm here, it's time to focus on Convention.

When it comes to General Convention, age matters. At Convention, the legislative officers will be the youngest group ever to serve in that capacity. Among those officers, 45% are under the age of 50. That's pretty significant considering that deputies in positions of leadership usually collect General Convention pins as if they were trophies. There are deputies who have served for 10, 11, 12 different Conventions, representing more than three decades of having a seat at the table for each one. Although I am about to move to a diocese where I have earned no status, I can attest that once one is elected a deputy, one is far more likely to be elected again. Leadership typically perpetuates itself. Historically it has been hard to break in as a young deputy, but Gay Jennings and other leaders in the House of Deputies have worked hard to change that.

Because of that shift to empower younger leaders, which has been taking place for several triennia, I perceive that a generational power struggle is moving more and more from the background into the foreground. I don't have data to back it up, but I perceive that older generations of deputies (Baby Boomers and older) are more likely to advocate for complete prayer book revision than younger generations (Gen-Xers and Millennials). Perhaps counter-intuitively, I think younger deputies are more attached to traditional expression of orthodoxy (e.g. catechesis, baptismal ecclesiology, creedal doctrine, and traditional marital fidelity) than older deputies. Last time, it was a groundswell of younger deputies who interrupted the effort to enshrine Great Cloud of Witnesses as the official sanctoral calendar of the church because it was not clearly grounded in a theology of Christian sainthood.

That's not to say that younger deputies are traditionalists in the typical liberal-conservative divide. Younger deputies are as committed to marriage equality and gender equality as older deputies, but I find that they approach the question from a different perspective--with an explicitly historical, biblical, and ecumenical foundation. I could be wrong, and I am certainly biased, but I think questions about access to Communion, marriage, prayer book revision, evangelism, structure, and budget will expose these differences.

Why do I think that? Some of the clergy colleague groups I participate in repeatedly express this generational divide as foundational to their experience of the church. It's too simple to say it's all about age. There are plenty of young deputies who are eager to throw out the '79 prayer book, and there are plenty of older deputies who think that's a terrible idea. But I've experienced my own share of age-based discrimination. It happens less often these days, but my first several years as the rector of a church were filled with comments about how young I was and how surprising it was that I knew what I was doing. Over and over, I've heard older clergy speak of younger clergy as if we were some monolithic demographic who all want U2-charists and centering prayer workshops. That's not at all what I want. What I want--and what I think others in my generation want--is a healthy balance of historical and contextual authenticity.

As we prepare to begin our meetings this evening, I am thankful for the story of David. It reminds me that, as the people of God, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit regardless of our age. It reminds me that sometimes it takes the church a generation before the gifts and contributions of younger leaders is accepted. It reminds me that those gifts and contributions may go unappreciated or uncelebrated for a long time, but that doesn't diminish their value. We'll see what unfolds over the next two weeks. I'll have an eye out for the different generational perspectives, and I'll share what I see here. Again, this is my perspective, and it's full of bias, but it's a bias I seem to share with other colleagues my age. Let's see what shows up in Austin.