Tuesday, June 23, 2009


There is a tradition, particularly among Jewish scholars, called mishnah. It is storytelling based upon a biblical text that attempts to retell the text in a new way. It puts faces and lives on people about whom Scripture tell us just a little. I would like to share with you a mishnah I learned many years ago on this Sunday's gospel from Mark.

There was a young man named Jairus and a young woman named Miriam. Their fathers arranged, as fathers did in those days, for them to be married to each other. Jairus and Miriam were quite please with the match and it was no time at all before they fell deeply in love.

A year after the marriage, Miriam gave birth to their first child. Jairus was so delighted to be a father that he didn't even mind that this first child was a girl. He named her Hannah. Miriam was sure their next child would be a son. But this birth had been a hard one. Miriam suffered from hemmorhages and there would be no more children.

The laws of Israel are quite clear about this sort of thing. The hemorrhaging made Miriam unclean, ritually unclean. Because Jairus was a leader in the synagogue, it was most important for him to follow all the laws religiously. Miriam's problem was not only embarrassing, it jeopardized his own ritual cleanliness. And so, Jairus had to divorce his wife even though he still loved her. He gave back her dowry and set her up in a house with her favorite maid.

For years, Miriam sought a cure. Every quack and magician soon learned that Miriam was an easy touch. She rapidly ran through her dowry, had to send the maid back to Jairus and ended up sleeping on the street and begging for a living.

In the meantime, Hannah was growing up in her father's house. As she grew towards adulthood, she was afraid her mother's disease would also be hers. Hannah thought if she didn't eat, she wouldn't grow up. So she stopped eating. Soon Hannah was so malnourished she became very sick, so sick she was close to death. Jairus was beside himself. First he had lost his beloved wife and now it appeared his daughter was going to die.

A servant told him that the Teacher was nearby. Jairus knew all about Jesus. He knew that synagogue leaders weren't supposed to have anything to do with this man. But Jairus believed that Jesus really did heal people. He ran to find Jesus. He begged Jesus over and over to come heal Hannah.

Miriam had also heard that Jesus was there and she rushed to the square in the hope that this man could do what no one else could. There were so many people crowded around Jesus. It was hard for Miriam to work her way through them all and when she finally got to the front of the crowd, she was shocked to see Jairus on his knees begging Jesus. She was more shocked to hear that her daughter was dying.

Miriam followed Jairus and Jesus, keeping back far enough in the crowd that Jairus would not see her but not so far back that she couldn't reach out and touch a corner of Jesus' cloak. She knew that was all it would take to heal her finally.

As she touched the hem, she felt the disease leave her. Jesus stopped and asked his disciples who had touched him. But they pointed to the size of the crowd and said it could have been anyone. So Jesus asked the crowd the same question.

Miriam was afraid to tell him but she knew she had to. Jesus compelled her to speak just by his quiet presence. So she stepped forward and knelt to beg Jesus' forgiveness. Jairus couldn't believe it was her! Jesus simply said, "Your faith has made you well," and then he began walking again.

Now a servant of Jairus' household broke through the crowd and told Jairus that Hannah was dead. Before either Jairus or Miriam could cry out, Jesus said to them, "Do not fear. Only believe."

When they came to the house, Jesus took three of his disciples inside along with Hannah's parents. When they came to Hannah's room, Jesus took her hand and said, "Little girl, get up!" Hannah got up from her bed and walked toward her parents. "Give her something to eat," Jesus told Miriam.

In a fairy tale, this is when I'm supposed to say they lived happily ever after. That's only partly true. Jairus was glad to have his wife and daughter back but he couldn't imagine leaving his prestigious job in the synagogue. He thought his happiness was there.

Miriam was glad to see Jairus and Hannah again but she knew that her life was different now. She wasn't too concerned about happiness. She had been healed because of her faith in the Teacher and she knew that she had to follow Jesus.

Even to the foot of the cross.

[I first saw this story more than twenty years ago on a preaching listserv. Alas, I did not save that original message so I don't know who the author was. I have added a few touches of my own but the original is not mine. Thanks to the woman who originally wrote it.]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

the run up to General Convention

It's been quite a while since I posted anything here. My excuse is that I've been reading all 400 pages of the report from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. I'm down to reading through the lessons proposed for particular commemorations. Some of them work well and others leave me scratching my head. Of course, some of the lessons assigned to existing commemorations also leave me scratching my head! I can't complain too loudly, though, as I have no desire to or expertise for assigning more appropriate lessons.

There are many weighty matters that will come before the General Convention in July. I think that the most important one is returning ourselves to a mission-oriented church. We have become so overwhelmed by program - Episcopalians love writing and reading, after all - that we have lost sight of the purpose of program. If it doesn't directly result in or support mission, then perhaps we can do without it.

We also like to reinvent the wheel or at least make it better. This is a concept borrowed straight from capitalism. The notion that streamlining the bumpers or adding cruise control will get consumers to buy the new model when there really isn't much, if anything, wrong with the old one. Our commissions and committees, though, must come up with something to do or they may find themselves dissolved.

So I propose that we suspend the work of almost every single commission, committee and board for the next three years unless the work is clearly missional. I also believe we can do most of this kind of work electronically. Face to face meetings are really great but conference calls, emails and skype will drastically reduce expenditures. Consolidating efforts - for instance, information gathering which is done well by Church Pension and the State of the Church group might join forces and produce one report - would reduce duplication and save hundreds of trees.

And then when we come together for the General Convention of 2012, we can consider whether we have managed nicely without certain CCABs or whether they need to be reactivated. Would it be so bad, for instance, if the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music didn't produce a new addition to the Enriching Our Worship series or revise The Book of Occasional Services? Can we manage to survive with the current Book of Common Prayer, the five EOW books, Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the current Book of Occasional Services for three to six years? I think the answer is probably yes.

Of course, the hardest thing in the world is to stop a group from meeting after they have gotten used to doing so regularly. And there just might be groups whose work we would miss. But we will never know unless we try to get along without them and redirect our focus outward.

And that's my nickel's worth!