Monday, September 27, 2010

A Small Act Of Mercy And Its Unforeseen Consequences

A few years ago a woman who had served in the Iraq War came home. The war had done something to her psyche and she could not cope with civilian life. She found herself on the streets of Las Vegas where she was taken in and supported by one of our Episcopal Churches.

I don't know exactly what happened next, but somehow by the grace of God, she got her life together. She is now in Rochester, New York working with the Episcopal Diocese there. This is her project: They have remodeld an old rectory into a home for women soldiers returning from war, a place to help them make their way back. Substance abuse counselling is part of the program for those who need it. Bishop Katharine, who has a daughter in the military, recently dedicated the new home for women veterans.

A delegation from the Diocese of Rochester is here in Canton, Mississippi this week for our annual meeting of the Domestic Missionary Partnership. They told the story of how an act of mercy in Las Vegas is bearing fruit in their midst today.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Live From Phoenix 5 & 6: Africa, Immigaration, Evangelism, And A Ceremonial Paper Weight

Things have just gotten busy and intense the last couple of days – too much for me to really do more than skim the surface of a few key points.

Yesterday was more education on evangelism – more experts. Really good stuff. If we want to share the good news with a world that needs it, we have some major retooling to do. Exciting possibilities for those who want to take on this mission.

Last night we heard from the Suffragen Bishop for Anglican Communion Relations and also a Bishop from Africa. Very interesting. They stressed that most African Anglicans value their relationship with us. Diocese to diocese, parish to parish, and person to person relations are where the Anglican Communion is communing. They said 90% of the African bishops want to preserve our relationship and some of them act on that at real risk to themselves because of the hostility of their archbishops. It turns out that one African parish is in partnership with the Diocese of New Hampshire (home of Gene Robinson) but it isn’t public because that parish would be in major trouble with their archbishop if it were known. While hostility is in the press, partnership is going on behind the scenes. The hostile archbishops are nearing the end of their terms. What we need to do is just be patient and wait. Most African Anglicans disagree with us on matters of women’s ordination and gay inclusion. But they want to remain in relationship anyway.

Today, we painstakingly worked on the Pastoral Letter on Immigration. It passed unanimously along with an in-depth theological resource document to explain why we take this position as a matter of faith. Another Pastoral Letter on the Environment also passed unanimously.

The most agonizing issue was a Resolution calling for the resignation of the Bishop of Pennsylvania who was convicted of conduct unbecoming a bishop by the Ecclesiastical Trial court but his deposition was set aside by the Appeals Court because the case was barred by the Statute of Limitations. The facts surrounding the brining of the case based on events that happened so long back made it a complicated thing. The political situation in Pennsylvania is a tangle. But the strong majority of bishops felt this action was required for the good of the church and to make clear that we have zero tolerance for some kinds of misconduct. It had to do with the bishop’s failure to respond adequately to a report of sexual abuse by a youth minister when the bishop was a parish priest. The youth minister was his brother. Our resolution has no legal force. It just says what we think. We had no authority to do anything more.

We have had two more Bible Studies, two more Eucharists, several Morning and Evening Prayer services and Compline. It has been good to worship together and to explore the Bible together.

Tonight we closed with a formal dinner. The graduates of the College for Bishops were recognized and given paper weights to evidence our accomplishment. Now that I have my paper weight I suppose that must mean I now know what I am doing. But some of the old hands say episcopacy is a mystery. One never figures it out. That feels right.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Live From Phoenix 4: Sunday In The Valley Of The Sun

I forgot to tell you the high point of yesterday. Actually, I didn’t tell you about our worship and Bible Study at all. The Bible Study was good. The worship was impaired by bad liturgy at the offices but was great at Eucharist, as always. That’s when the high point occurred.

Bp. Pryor of Minnesota read the Gospel with just the right pause and inflection. Jesus told this series of parables, all of which were pretty paradoxical and strange as parables tend to be, culminating in the parable of the net with all kinds of fish, then someone sorting the fish when they get to shore. “When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to the crowd, ‘Have you understood all of this?’ and they said, ‘Yes.’” That’s when the congregation erupted into laughter.

Today we worshiped at Trinity Cathedral, nice building, great organ, great choir – packed pews. Worship attendance had doubled in the past five years, thanks in no small part to the leadership of their tech-y social networking, blogging Dean, the physicist Nick Knisley.

After Eucahrist, there were wonderful Mexian folk dancers in the garden. The Cahtedral already had a good Latino/ Hispanic Ministry going. Then after the passage of AZ 1070, local law enforcement set up shop next to one of our smaller Latino/ Hispanic Congregations. That itimidated that congregation virtually out of operation. But now Latino/ Hispanic Ministries is all the livelier at the Cathedral. The performance was both beautiful and fun.

Tonight we met to go over the draft pastoral letter and teaching document on Immigration. The teaching document is particularly important because it deals with faith and citizenship in a nation. That has broader implications than immigration. The Roman Church is making a concerted effort to educate their congregations in “faithful citizenship.” For us, that means the Church does not tell the people who to vote for, but Christians should vote and their voting should be informed by their faith.

The conversation was intelligent and conscientious. I was once again impressed with the House of Bishops. There was a change in the quality of pastoral letters a few years ago. In the troubled 80s and early 90s, the bishops apparently liked to pound their chests and shout irreconcilably righteous stands on left and right. Then toward the beginning of this decade, the Bishops began reasoning together. It all goes back to the College For Bishops. Now we collaborate to try to say something to build up the Body of Christ, not tear it apart.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Live From Phoenix 3: Sex, Money, And Hoop Dancing

Today began with Morning Prayer as usual, only it’s not the BCP. They are doing this innovative stuff that even the most progressive bishops hate. Instead of the Creed, we had an Affirmation of Faith that said Jesus loves children, but it omitted the creation, the fall, the birth, life, and ministry of Christ, the atonement, the resurrection, the Church, the sacraments, and our hope for everlasting life. If I had any hair, I’d tear it out.

Then we met with the Liturgy and Music Commission who reported on their work on same sex blessings. They’d have had a lot more credibility if it weren’t for the liturgical atrocity we had just endured. But on same sex blessings, they told us their process so far, their plans for future process, and the principles they plan to follow theologically, liturgically, and pastorally. We discussed it all in small groups and gave them written feedback.

In the afternoon we heard reports on:

Reform of the General Ordination Exam

The formation of The Episcopal Community – loyal Episcopalians who feel pushed out of the Daughters of the King – a good group.

Two groups of bishops separately went to Lambeth last year to consult with the Archbishop of Canterbury – one liberal, one conservative. Today they met with each other and found substantial common ground.

Safe Space For Theological Minorities In The Church – a group developing canonical protection for conservatives in the church generally and also for liberals who live in conservative dioceses – a plan to value and preserve theological diversity in the whole church and in each diocese.

Task Force On Theological Education – a report on improving relationships between dioceses and Episcopal seminaries and on how to know which non-Episcopal seminaries have substantial Anglican studies programs.

College For Bishops Resolution – a plan to separately incorporate the College For Bishops. This College has dramatically improved the unity of the House of Bishops and has improved the leadership of the bishops in their dioceses. Regrettably, the College is on the hit list of some leaders of the House of Deputies. Preserving our good progress may not be easy.

The Church Investment Group reported on a proposal to develop a common investment pool where dioceses, parishes, etc. could aggregate their savings to invest in instruments for higher returns than they could get investing separately.

Project for the Reconstruction of the Episcopal Church of Haiti – the kick-off of a $10 million capital fund drive to rebuild the center of spiritual, artistic, cultural, and academic life in Haiti. Upon touring the devastation in Haiti, Archbishop Thabo of South Africa said, “Africa must help.” We are being asked to join Africa in rebuilding the church in Haiti.

The Theology Committee followed up on its earlier report on Same Sex Relationships. The report has been supplemented by the responses of seven ecumenical and interfaith theologians. It will be published in The Anglican Theological Review to advance the conversation within the Anglican Communion.

Draft pastoral letters on the environmental crisis and immigration reform were presented for study before consideration next week.

There was a lengthy closed session on a pastoral matter.

Then we heard a reflection on our gathering from a guest, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt. Rev. James Jones. He commended us for our commitment to social justice, saying that social justice and personal evangelism are two sides of the coin of God’s mission. He expressed his hope that the Anglican Communion which shares our love of justice will learn the practice of kindness, citing John 13 in which Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. He notes that Jesus was doing a lowly job, a job that would have been done by women in that patriarchal culture. He spoke of how Peter’s challenge was to allow himself to receive this kindness and challenged us, as we try to live kindly, to be open to receive kindness.

He then pointed out something I had never noticed. Just one chapter before, Jesus had received this kindness when woman washed his feet. Bp. Jones said that Jesus needed to receive kindness from her so he could give it to Peter. He noted that Jesus' commandment was not to “wash the feet of others” but to “wash each other’s feet.” It was a mandate to mutual ministry, lest service be an indirect form of one-up-man-ship. He also noted that a woman ministered to Jesus echoing how another woman, Mary, had fed the physical Body of Christ, showing how right it is that women today should feed the spiritual Body of Christ.

John 13 is the only place where Jesus calls himself “Lord” – linking his lordship not to miraculous works of power but to humble service. Authentic service is mutual. It is an exercise in what Bishop Jones called “one another-ness.” He said – now note this carefully as I quote these gracious words of an English bishop – “One another-ness will someday transform the Anglican Communion from an inquisition into each other’s credentials.”

Major standing ovation.

Then we went to a Native American museum and watched hoop dancing.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Live From Phoenix 2: Immigration Reform -- Economic Facts In Search Of A Theology

This House of Bishops began with Bp. Ian Douglas of Connecticut pointing out that we would be dealing with a seemingly wide array of issues from immigration to gay inclusion. But he suggested they are all tied together in that they are part of the changing context in which we do ministry. So he invited us to ask the basic missiological question of contextual theology. Let me unpack that church jargon. Contextual theology is the study of how doctrines are shaped by the situation in which they arise. Missiology is the part of theology that deals with the mission.

So what is the basic question of mission in our context? Someone (I forget who) made the profoundly important observation that “The church does not have a mission. God has a mission in which the Church participates.” The question then is not what our mission is in this new cultural context. The question is “What is God up to?” We are not the ones changing the context. God is. So what is God doing and how can we cooperate?

Yesterday, we dealt with evangelism in general. Today we dealt the Immigration Reform and evangelism with Latino/ Hispanic people. So immigration:
We all have our stories. One of our Nevada Episcopalians who supports Arizona Bill 1070 tells the story of an American citizen rancher who was killed by a drug dealer who came here illegally from Mexico. My story is different. When I was 25, an undocumented worker, at risk to herself and her family, saved my life from two American citizens who had just robbed me and were bent on killing me. Our stories are bound to shape our attitude.

We did not deal with the issue as theologically as I would wish. The Bible Study was not well focused. The texts were not well chosen. We do not do as good a job as we ought in developing the theology behind our social justice stands. This may be why a the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just reported that a very large percentage of Americans say their political convictions on abortion and same sex relationships are shaped by their religious convictions, but hardly any base their views on Immigration on their religion. Yet, the only references to same sex relationships in the entire Jewish law are in 2 verses of Leviticus (actually one verse repeated) while Leviticus alone commands the welcoming of the alien 37 times. The alien seeking asylum and opportunity is a central theme – going from the wandering Abraham, to his descendants indentured in Egypt, to their escape into Canaan – all the way to the Holy Family – Jesus born in Judah instead of his native Galilee, the flight into Egypt, and so on. We did hear one theological statement that is central. I forget who said it. The alien, the sojourner is the “other” who we must dare to know and befriend if we are to befriend ourselves and know ourselves in Christ. The alien spiritually completes us. We needed to develop that much further.

We noted that no one worries much about immigration during times of prosperity, but during hard times we look for someone to scapegoat. That is a major theological issue. Rene Girard argues that Judaism and Christianity are the great spiritual voices speaking against the human impulse to violent blame shifting. That needed more reflection.

What we did learn were some practical and economic considerations. We have 12 million undocumented workers in the US. The cost of deporting them would be $240 billion dollars. That is the deportation alone. The states would then lose most of the $2.4 billion these people pay in taxes, thereby compounding the fiscal crisis in state government. The cost to state government occasioned by the presence of undocumented workers is less than the taxes they pay; so deportation is a net loss to state governments. Undocumented workers have paid $520 billion dollars into the Social Security system which they will never get back. It goes to support us. Economically, the contributions of undocumented workers are a benefit to middle class citizens with high school degrees, and a detriment only to those who have not completed high school. The HOB media brief for today reported:

“Joe Rubio, senior organizer of the Valley Interfaith Program presented an overview of political and economic issues. ‘This country deals with this issue every 25-30 years,’ he said. ‘The last time was 1986 with the Immigration Control act signed by President Reagan.’ While it provided amnesty, it did not provide a means for people to come into this country. Arizona is the main way into this country from Mexico and noted that frustration is on all sides. Arizona Bill 1070 was the flashpoint and he predicts the situation will get more dangerous. He pointed out: ‘There is no way we are going to be able to deport 12 million people’. . . .Immigrants work mainly in construction, hospitality, and agricultural industries. Underscoring the complexity of the issue of immigration, he pointed out, is that there is a benefit to a younger immigrant population balancing the aging population of the United States. His suggestions for the future: ‘We need to work on comprehensive immigration reform. We need to bring 12 million people out of the shadows. It needs to be bipartisan.’ He said the passage of the Dream Act would be significant if it passed. The story needs to be changed to show that ‘people are willing to come here, work hard and educate their children. Immigration has always changed the way this country worked, but in a positive way.’”

The last time we reformed the Immigration System with the 1986 Amnesty, it was a substantial boost to the economy and was part of the prosperity of the late 1980s. Economists project that comprehensive immigration reform would add $180 billion to our Gross Domestic Product.

The Dream Act is far short of comprehensive immigration reform. It is just a chance for children. The Dream Act offers the undocumented workers’ children who have learned English, graduated from high school, and kept clean records the chance to become citizens so they will be eligible to attend college and receive financial aid. That way they can become more productive citizens, earning more money and contributing more to society.

There is no legislative proposal for “open borders;” nor is anyone in the House of Bishops advocating that. But there are more human and less humane ways to enforce the immigration laws. The call for comprehensive immigration reform is largely an appeal for more humane enforcement and a chance for 12 million people already here to come out from shadows. A basic consequence for the Church is that since the passage of Arizona Bill 1070, church attendance has dropped dramatically because the undocumented workers are afraid to drive. Children live in fear that when they come home from school, their parents will be gone. Such fear presents a moral and spiritual issue for the church to address.

So, back to Bp. Douglas’s question: “What is God up to?” What is God saying to us with the presence of undocumented workers? What is God inviting us to do?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Live From Phoenix I

Preliminaries: Here's my emotinoal pattern with House of Bishops. For weeks beforehand, I grumble about having to attend. I have work to do in Nevada. Then I get to HOB and immediately realize how lonely my vocation is. Being bishop is like being ET, the only one of my kind for a long, long way. Then I arrive at HOB and begin throwing my arms around and clinging to everyone I see. It's a community of my own kind. Then a few days into it, I remember I am an introvert and all this bonding makes me feel irrationally depressed and utterly out of place. So this time, I did the first step -- grumbled. Now I am happy to be here. But I'm taking the second step slower, pacing myself to avoid the spiritual equivalent of the pancreatic dump that follows a sugar rush. Still it is very good to be with these folks -- an altogether wise and holy assembly. I still feel that I don't quite fit but they accept me anyway.

About not quite fitting, we are staying and meeting at the Ritz Carlton. I am considerably more at home at the Best Western. But I guess the Best Western didn't have room for all of us.

Today, we had a series of presentations on evangelism that actually turned controversial --though this controversy will never make it into the popular press or the Foxy blogs. On the one side we had the Missioner for Congregational Vitality and the Communications Officer for The Episcopal Church. They presented the first edition of the new Evangelism Tool Kit, complete with all sorts of sociological data about what the unchurched are seeking, what they cherish and what they despise from their previous religous experiences, what they think of us before we meet, how they perceive us on first impression, and if they stay, what makes them stay. It was full of surprises and practical, helpful information. This was such a striking contrast to the persuasive and winsome presentations of two academicians at our last HOB who basically said, "It's over. Just close the doors and cheer for the 'spiritual but not religious'." This presentation was pretty darn hopeful in my book.

Then came the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA who was one of the most powerful and persuasive preachers I've heard in a long time. He didn't have any use for the tool kit or sociology or marketing or any of that. He also thought the seekers were seeking the wrong thing and the finders (folks who stayed in the chruch) had found the wrong thing. He insisted that we need to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ which is the best news ever -- but it turns our lives upside down instead of patching them up as many of the seekers would prefer.

So there it was: one group proposing a medium; the other, proposing a message. As for me, I agree 100% with the ELCA PB that our messsage is Jesus. One could read our Episcopal sociology as advocating our vaguely spiritual message of muddle. I am with the Lutheran voice that we need to state our case boldly and without equivocation. However, rejecting 21st Century communication insights is not necessary to a faithful proclamation of the good news.

We need to know how desperate people are to experience grace -- not a dogmatic sermon but a welcome, an unconditional acceptance. In a nutshell, that was the moral of the story in the Evangelism Tool Kit. People need a safe place for themselves and their children. They need uncondtional acceptance, which is what Jesus is all about but churches are not always about. When we church people are feeling secure about our vital statistics, we are apt not to welcome people at all. When we are nervous about our vital statistics, we are apt to latch onto them conditionally, as pew fodder or pledge units. Grace is welcoming people absolutely unconditionally to show them God's love regardless of whether we ever expect to see them again. Paradoxically, that will win more lasting relationships than a sales pitch for "joining our church." And proclaiming Jesus does not mean shouting about a moral or spititual hurdle for people to jump over. "Believe this or die!" It means proclaiming God's infinite mercy made manifest in a human being who shares our life.

The argument over impassioned gospel proclamation versus engaging the culture where it is goes back to Tertullian vs. Cyril of Jerusalem (3rd C) and carried on into the 20th Century theological dispute between Barth and Tillich. It's a generative tension. God bless it. I pray that we will proclaim the gospel boldly and faithfully to the people who are seeking salvation in terms they can hear and embrace until they are embraced by Christ himself.