Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Third Sunday of Advent
The Second Day after the shootings in Newtown, CT

Several years ago, my daughter Heather was a student at Tulane University.  She emailed me one Monday about her weekend.  She had been in the French Quarter with friends until the wee hours of Sunday morning and had taken the streetcar back uptown to the campus.  Now the only problem with that statement is that the streetcar doesn’t go anywhere near the dorms on the Tulane campus.  There is a long stretch of unoccupied classroom buildings to walk through first and it is not all that well lit.  So you can imagine my reaction.
“What do you think you are doing walking across campus at 3:00 a.m.??  It’s not at all safe!”

Not long after that, another coed did exactly what Heather had done and was raped and murdered.  The morning after the news broke, I emailed Heather and told her I hoped she was proud of me for not coming uptown and snatching her home to stay.  It was the first thing I thought to do when I heard the awful news.

I suspect many people wanted to rush to schools and snatch their children home last Friday.  Or got on the phone just to talk to grown children and see how the grandchildren, nieces and nephews were.  Our first response to such a tragedy as occurred at Sandy Hook is to make sure our own are safe.  We are horrified that something like this could happen at all.  But, as our president said on Friday, “As a country, we have been through this too many times.”

So it seems almost obscene to hear words of rejoicing and safety in the Lord in our first three readings this morning.  We want to jump over them all and get to, “You brood of vipers!  Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees.”  We want words of vengeance and anger.  We want to interpret the collect –Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us – as meaning that God will swoop in and devour the evil ones while we stand by and applaud.

Alas, that is not what the collect is imploring.  It is calling on God to instill in us, despite our sins which sorely hinder us, the strength to be God’s hands.  We are asking God’s grace and mercy to help us and to deliver us from our sins so that we can do the work we have been given.  It is not a prayer for militant response but one that, when answered, brings joy.

And here’s the interesting thing about John the Baptist’s diatribe about vipers and raising up sons of Abraham from stones and cutting down trees that do not produce good fruit.  The people to whom he is speaking do not seem to cower in fear of jeer this crazy man dressed in ragged furs.  Instead, they ask John, “what, then, should we do?”  And John does not tell them that they need to set out on a great journey, visiting many holy places, slaying dragons and seeking hidden symbols of power.  He doesn’t tell them to dress in sackcloth and ashes and deprive themselves of food and drink.

No, John tells them to do things that can be done right that very minute.  “If you have two coats, give one to someone with none.  Share your food with those who haven’t enough.

John doesn’t tell tax collectors to quit their jobs but says they should only collect that which is prescribed.  Soldiers, too, were told to be satisfied with their wages and not to intimidate and bully people into giving them extra cash.

If this world were a more equitable place, where we didn’t talk about the 2% or the 47% but considered how we can make it possible for everyone to have a chance to have enough, then we will have done what John asked.  As a community, we began that journey when many of you started cooking and delivering meals for Meals on Wheels.  Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked continues to be a significant part of our ministry here.  And we know that we are called to continue until there is no longer any need.

We do not have to travel to Newtown, CT to grieve with the town that lost 27 people to senseless violence last Friday.  There is nothing we can do to turn back the clock and restore life to those who died and, while some of us may have the experience to understand what it is like to lose a child, we really don’t have any words to offer that will ease their hearts.  They need only know that we are praying for them, today and for many months to come.  A letter to the Newtown Bee or to the local Episcopal Church expressing our love will let them know our continued support in prayer.

But then we must pay attention to the rejoicing in the first three lessons.  Do not think that rejoicing and sorrow are on different planets.  We cannot have one without the other.  If we never suffered pain and sorrow, we would not know what rejoicing felt like and the converse is also true – a world of only rejoicing is meaningless and dull unless we have something to contrast it with.  I don’t know why that it is or should be but I know it to be true.  The joy I will feel at seeing my son out of prison on January 3 is greatly increased by the fact that he was there in the first place.  It will be a resurrection moment for my family.

There will be resurrection moments for the people of Newtown.  I don’t know when or how but I am confident that God has those people held close and, just as we have been delivered to the other side of grief and sorrow on many an occasion, so will they.  One day, they will again say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again, I say, rejoice.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

God and politics

Jesus said, "The first commandment is this:  Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God is the only Lord.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this:  Love your neighbors as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these.
--Mark 12:29-31

I think I have preached some form of this passage in almost every sermon.  I suspect almost all of my fellow clergy have, too.  It is at the root of everything Jesus teaches us.  A follower of Christ  is to exemplify the love of God wherever he or she is.  All the time.  Of course, none of us manages to love God, self and neighbor all the time.  But we know that is our goal.

It seems to me that pretty much all politicians have forgotten this foundational teaching - a teaching that is not limited to Christianity.  Rather than speaking on policy or social justice, those running for office spend almost all of their time slamming their opponent.  Where is the love in that?  How does this reflect one's own self love?  Hasn't winning at all costs become like a god to these people?

Then there is the money spent to run these angry campaigns.  In a country that is still fighting its way out of a recession, imagine how many ways all of the money raised for campaigns could benefit the jobless, the homeless and the hungry!  Isn't our mandate to care for these people first?

Yesterday, I heard a media pundit say that regardless of whether we pay attention to them or not, political ads affect the way we think.  Frankly, I don't want to be exposed to the negativity and fear I hear in these ads.  I may have to turn off the television until after the elections in November.  I have already stopped listening to the news except for NPR occasionally.

What do you suppose would happen if every candidate for office was only allowed to speak in one debate and send one letter to constituents describing what legislation he or she would work to pass if elected?  What would happen if we only had a campaign season that lasted six weeks instead of two to six years?  What if Congress were to spend more time being legislators and less time being campaigners?  And what would happen if no one was allowed to speak about their opponent at all?

I don't have answers to those questions but I would like to see us try a new system.  I would love to be excited about elections again.  I would look forward to knowing exactly where the people I vote for stand on all issues and where they would like to help take this country.

And wouldn't it be really exciting if other nations could look at our nation and see something different:  a nation that really does love one another and takes care of those who need our help.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

It is over for another three years

Dear Ones, I do apologize for not blogging earlier about the last few days of General Convention.  The combination of no computer and a raging sinus infection had me heading for bed right after dinner both nights.

Wednesday was Budget Day.  We heard the presentation on Tuesday in a joint session of the two Houses.  The budget is structured to support the Five Marks of Mission (I'll get to those in a minute).  Dioceses are being asked to give 19% of each year's budget for the next three years.  That is what the current level is.  There was talk of reducing the asking to 15% but it was not possible this year.  New to the budget are block grants in each of the five mission areas and an increased rate of debt reduction - debt incurred by the renovation of the Church Center - and a development office.  All funding for Formation and Vocation were restored.

We spent some time talking about the budget within our deputation and then comments, amendments and points of inquiry began to fly.  The Program, Budget and Finance chair and her committee answered questions for at least 30 minutes.  All amendments were turned down and we passed the budget as presented.

Thursday was Crunch Day.  We spent the morning passing resolutions we wanted the House of Bishops to concur on and the afternoon doing our own concurring as well as passing resolutions the House of Bishops probably didn't get to before they recessed.  I would say that these resolutions fall primarily into two categories:  care for ourselves or statements on national/international issues.

Among the resolutions in the first category was a resolution allowing bishops to give permission to those congregations who wish to use the lectionary originally printed in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  We are all supposed to be using the Revised Common Lectionary as of 2010; however, there are many clergy and parishes who prefer the BCP lectionary - mostly conservative congregations but probably not all.  Allowing them to return to the BCP lectionary is a pastoral response.

Another was to make available liturgical materials that were prepared by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for Care of Beloved Animals.  There are many who have asked that we, being a liturgical church, create prayers and rites for use with our pets.  The decision was to make them available but not to authorize them so they are not official liturgical resources.  We also agreed to make available the Daily Prayer for All Seasons.  This is a series of hours to be prayed individually and in groups during each season of the church year.  Again, these are not official.

Perhaps an odd resolution to find in the "care for ourselves" category is one to study the possibility of creating an Episcopal credit union.  I'll be interested to see what happens with this one.  We also created a task force for the study of marriage - there have been a few changes in our theology of marriage since Abraham's time - and passed several resolutions supporting indigenous ministries within The Episcopal Church.

Statements on national/international interests have been a bugaboo for me since my first General Convention in 1985 when anything like this had a resolve attached stating that we would send copies of the resolution to any and every leader of the countries involved.  I began to think of these as "motherhood and apple pie" resolutions, those that made the proposer and a few others feel good about raising their pet issue in the forum of General Convention.  But before I left almost two weeks ago, Jim Wilson sent me an email convincing me that General Convention is the right place to raise issues of moral conscience and that only General Convention can commend these issues to parishes and dioceses.  So, while I understood the folks who  stood to argue that we do not need to be telling Congress how to do their business, I now think we do need to give the Episcopal Public Policy Network, our lobbyists in Washington, direction and we do need to lend our voices to those who may well be voiceless.

Therefore, we join with others who also speak to these issues and for these peoples:
   - ending the embargo against Cuba,
   - advocating reform for credit reporting and mortgage lending practices,
   - supporting and celebrating the Sudanese communities in our Church,
   - encouraging every diocese to establish a camp for the children of those in prison,
   - seeking reform within the prison system, particularly those owned privately (East Tennessee resolution),
   - standing with indigenous peoples everywhere to protect their rights,
   - raising awareness of and working against human trafficking,
   - advocating for maternal and infant health,
   - establishing the Church as the moral voice of health care,
   - continuing to address Christian Anti-Judaism,
   - supporting the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza.

And now it is time to return to the real world of Kingsport and St. Christopher's.  Lest you think that all we did was attend meetings and vote on all manner of things, I assure you that East Tennessee had a lot of fun together at lunch and dinner most every day.  Most of us connected with old friends and made new ones.  We shopped in the exhibit hall and learned about new programs for our churches there.  We laughed a lot and shared some sadness, too.  We snacked between huge meals, tossed crayons at each other and made lists of silly things that were said - or that we thought we heard.  And we decided that the ratty coonskin hat that has been our "mascot" for the last hundred years needs to be retired for a more suitable East Tennessee representation.  Perhaps a nice black bear with a fish in his paw?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Most Amazing Day!

This day began with a Prayer Book etc. meeting at 7:30.  The topics for discussion were the prayers for companion animals and the Daily Offices for All Seasons.  Subcommittees had taken these two sets of prayers and reworked them, considerably in one case and some in the other.  Both reports were welcomed by the Committee and will be voted on soon by the House of Bishops.

I went to my Dispatch meeting at 9:15 with the news that the Deputies on the Prayer Book committee were in favor of concurring with the House of Bishops on same sex blessings and we scheduled a special order of business for this afternoon.  Then I confess I went to breakfast rather than church - Father Cutie was preaching (google him for the headlines he created three years ago) for a reason I cannot fathom.

The morning session began with routine business (minutes, certification of deputies, messages from the House of Bishops).  We adopted some changes in our Rules of Order and changed the Canons to reflect the change we made in the Constitution yesterday.  That change is that bishop elections will no longer be consented to by General Conventions.  Each election will go through the same process of gathering consents from sitting bishops and Standing Committees - my, isn't that a funny image! 
We passed a resolution affirming our desire to remain in the Anglican Communion and another that said we are not yet ready to sign onto the Covenant but will continue to study it.  This is, in part, a response to liberal Anglican bishops in Africa who are signing on and our need to support them - and they us!

My favorite resolution - Engage in Conflict Resolution on the Korean Peninsula - was on the consent calendar this afternoon as were many other resolutions that don't need debate/discussion.  The amended resolution turned out pretty well, commending the Anglican Church of Korea for its leadership toward the goal of Korean reconciliation and ultimate reunification, urging all governments with troops in the area to minimize exercises that escalate tensions and to uphold human rights.  That is good work by the National and International Affairs Committee.  Likewise, the resolution to end the embargo against Cuba turned into a resolution commending the work of our Presiding Bishop and the U.S. government in easing tensions between the two countries.  Churches and individuals are encouraged to engage in mission work with the Episcopal Church of Cuba.

A resolution that I don't think I had seen before calls on Executive Council to study the possibility of establishing an Episcopal Credit Union.

And then came this afternoon.  We heard the substitute resolution from the Structure Committee about how we are going to go about restructuring The Episcopal Church.  The crux of the resolution is that we establish a task force with 24 members appointed jointly by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies.  This group is to reflect the diversity of TEC and will be completely autonomous - not under any other committee, commission or Council's thumb.  They will report from time to time to the entire church and come back in three years with their report.

There was debate, there were amendments, there were points of order and points of information.  We had to interrupt the proceedings to vote for Executive Council members (set for a particular time).  When we came back to the resolution, we ended debate, approved no amendments and then voted on the resolution.  This is the fifth General Convention I have been a part of and I have never seen this happen before.  When Bonnie Anderson, President, called for the vote, she said "all those in favor, say aye."  And everyone, I mean every single deputy on the flor votes yes!!  There wasn't a single nay vote and the House erupted into applause.  Bonnie jumped out of her chair and we all followed suit.  Then we sang a wonderful hymn - new words but old tune (Come thou fount) and cheered some more.

After a 15 minutes recess, we came back for the next special order of business.  We took up A049, Same Gender Blessings.  Side Bar:  here's something I learned at this Convention.  Sex means what we are born as - check M or F in the box on the form.  Gender means how we identify ourselves.  So you can actually have same-gender couples of opposite sexes.  As much as possible, the Prayer Book committee changed same-gender language to same-sex.  There were very specific rules for 30 minutes of debate, amendments were made and defeated and we finally voted by orders about 75 minutes into the discussion.  Sharon Lewis from the Diocese of SW Florida asked that we not react on the floor out of respect for those who would not wish a celebration.  I am glad she said that.  While most of us would be sensitive to the feelings of others, there are 40% of the deputies who have never experienced a vote like this at Convention and might not think about that.  78% of lay deputies and 76% of clergy voted in favor of the resolution.  I understand that we will have a statement from Bishop Young before Sunday morning for church.

I have told my congregation before that this is a difficult pastoral moment for liberal clergy in parishes that are not very liberal.  I hope that we can engage in discussion and study - there are some fine materials available in the Blue Book, for instance - this fall.  The goal is not to change anyone's mind but to listen to other points of view and begin working on how we are going to live together regardless of how we feel about blessing couples of the same sex.  It will be a challenge and I hope we will not shy away from it.

All right, good people.  I am going to go to bed after making a phone call.  Tomorrow is the last day I have a meeting at 7:30!

Peace and blessings upon all of you!

Monday, July 9

Yesterday was so exciting, I didn’t even blog.  Most of you already know that the House of Bishops approved A049, Provisional Use of a Rite for Same Sex Blessings.  The Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music rewrote the original resolution and amended it in its session yesterday morning, adding language that makes it clear that clergy and bishops who cannot, in good conscience agree to these blessings, cannot be punished under canon law for refusing to officiate.
I would urge all of you to see this as a measure of inclusion and equality.  We have not approved a marriage rite but we are saying to our gay and lesbian parishioners – and those who have turned away from the Church, feeling that the Church has turned them away – that we acknowledge the faithful love of two people of the same sex.   At the same time, there is no attempt here to exclude those in the Church who do not approve of same sex blessing.  I hope that all of you will plan to attend the post-Convention meeting at St. Christopher’s on August 15 to hear from deputies and Bishop Young on this and many other matters approved by this Convention.
In other news of the day, we passed two resolutions about supporting our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ and added language to the Canons that disallows discrimination against transgendered persons.  A transgendered priest from Oregon spoke eloquently to these two resolutions.
The big snafu yesterday had to do with the translation of resolutions into Spanish.  Several resolutions have been heavily amended/completely changed in committee.  There is often not enough time to get the translations out quickly.  Lest you think this affects only a few people, you would be surprised at the numbers of Spanish speakers in the room.
In fact, I have to say this is perhaps the most diverse group of Deputies I have served with.  I believe about 40% of the House is women and there are a good number of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans represented as well.  Many dioceses, including ours, have deputies and alternates who are under 40.  Remembering my first General Convention in 1985 where almost all of the Deputies were white men - most all of them retired - I am quite pleased to see the change.
And now I must head back to the floor for our afternoon session.  I am sorry I didn't get this out last night; however, I was under the weather (sinuses) and went to bed very early.  You are always in my prayers as I trust I am in yours.
May God continue to bless us all and show us the way.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I know why God rested on Sunday

Saturday was so busy that I didn't even have time to blog.  We started at 7:30 and ended about 8:30.  Lunch was the only real meal of the day.  Breakfast was a cup of tea and a Zone bar in the room before the first meeting.  Dinner was cheese sandwich crackers and a glass of water.  But lunch was Jambalaya spaghetti at California Pizza Kitchen.  I think we will be going back there again.  We did end the day in the bar for drinks, food, sharing of information and a lot of laughter.

While it seemed to many who were sitting in the House of Deputies yesterday that we did very little other than nitpick one or two resolutions, the Journal of actions taken indicates we were ripping right through the legislation before us.  We dealt with aid to the Horn of Africa where there is terrible drought, committed the Church to continue interreligious talks, funded covenantal relationships of longstanding with dioceses in other parts of the world, increased funding for mission in general and missionaries specifically.  We voted to financiallly support the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, restored some funding to Christian formation for youth and children, passed a resolution raising awareness of the ubiquity of human trafficking throughout our geographical area and, finally, elected twelve trustees to the Board of the Church Pension Fund.  There were many other resolutions dealing with changes in both canons and the rules of the House.

You can find all of these reports and the full texts of the resolutions on the General Convention website:

This morning was a no-meeting morning for most of us so we got to sleep a bit later, eat a more leisurely breakfast and then go upstairs in our hotel for the UTO Ingathering Eucharist.  This service is often the highlight of our daily services.  There was a combined choir from three Indianapolis churches - including a children's choir from the Cathedral - brass, organ and tympani.  Oh my!  The music, needless to say, was sublime and marvelously sung/played!  Bishop Katharine preached and celebrated - in English and Spanish alternating.  Her sermon was a call to action based on Ezekiel 2:1-5 - Stand up!  Stand up (and we all did!).  Get out there and go to those impudent and stubborn people.  Let them know there has been a prophet among them.

After church - a congregation of about 2,000 - most everyone went across the street to the baseball field again where the Diocese of Indianapolis set up ballpark food and fun and games for everyone.  There was a chance to be part of an Indy pit crew - I think all one could do is change a tire but I'm sure that was enough! - or play a game and win a prize.  It was still sufficiently hot - a mere 97 degrees - that I returned to the hotel after about an hour.  I do think a good time was had by all and Indianapolis really did put on a fun party.

Suzanne Smitherman and I traded off this afternoon and I spent my time in the exhibit hall.  The first stop was the Church Publishing/Cokesbury store.  The good news is that I got $100 off on my book purchases.  I'll just say that everything was 37% off and let you all figure out the bad news. :-)  I did some Christmas shopping, looked at wonderful stoles and decided I didn't need to spend that kind of money when I already have more than I need  - want being another matter.  There are some beautiful crosses and icons, too.  I may go back for an icon but I think I won't add to my cross collection, particularly since I wear the same one every day.

This evening, our Bishop took all the East Tennessee folks out for dinner.  Now, you are thinking that this would just be the 8 deputies and three alternates.  But there are three young adults here for the Young Adult Festival and two ladies here for the Triennial meeting of ECW.  Gordon Brewer is here for Episcopal Appalachian Ministries, Stephen Askew and Vikki Myers are here from Diocesan staff and Claire Keene and Ben King - along with year-old Fred - are here with their spouses.  So we were a room full of people.  And now we are people with no room left!  It was a wonderful dinner - other dioceses kept stopping in to visit and see what all the hilarity was about, I guess - with good food and fabulous company.  We did laugh a bit, I confess.

So it's off to bed at a reasonable time - 11:00.  Tomorrow begins with switching seats with Cal Calhoun at 7:15 (we take turns having a day off) before both of us head for committee meetings.  At the moment, it is only a four meeting day for me, ending with the Integrity Eucharist, another highlight of every General Convention.

Peace to you all.  Please know that we in the East Tennessee deputation are dedicated to the cause of re-imagining General Convention; new ways to do what needs doing with a fresh emphasis on The Great Commission to go forth and spread the Good News to all the world.  What will that look like?  None of us knows but many of us here are determined to step out in faith and see where the Spirit will lead us, letting go of everything so that we can discover what is really necessary and what has just become "what we have always done before."

Good night!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Session, Commitees and Dispatch

Here's today's schedule:
   7:30-9:00 - Prayer Book Liturgy and Music
   9:30-10:30 - Dispatch of Business
   9:30 - 10:40 - Eucharist
   11:15-12:45 - Legislative Session
   1:00-2:00 Diocesan caucus over lunch
   2:00-4:00 - Prayer Book Liturgy and Music
   4:14-6:30 - Legislative Session
   7:00 - Dinner with friends
   Very soon now - going to bed!

From my room to the first meeting is about three blocks.  Dispatch is at the far end of the Convention Center, the House of Deputies is at the near end,  Lunch is close to the room for Prayer Book stuff and dinner is right by the elevator to the room.  Even still, it is safe to say that most of us walked at least a mile and a half today if not two.  Part of my Dispatch job is making sure papers get picked up and/or taken to the House of Deputies Secretariat.  It takes me 20 minutes to walk from Prayer Book's meeting room to the Secretariat office and back.  If it wer

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Real Day One of General Convention

You might think that being here for two days prior to this one would make this Day Three but you would be wrong.  Lots of legislation was proposed before we ever got to General Convention, mostly by Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards in the Blue Book.  But the Houses of Convention cannot consider legislation until it has been vetted by legislative committees.  The good news about that process is that committees that have an equivalent in each House meet together as one so that each resolution assigned doesn't have to go through two legislative committees.

The committee I serve as a liaison from Dispatch of Business is a good example.  Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music meets as one great big committee with two chairs, one from each House (in other words a Deputy and a Bishop).  Most of these first meetings have involved a hearing on a set of resolutions.  For instance, anyone wanting to speak about resolutions dealing with Holy Women Holy Men and related calendar commemorations came to the meeting this morning to speak their piece about the resolution that most interests them.  Once the hearings have been held, the committee begins to debate each resolution - all very Roberts Rules of Order with a few rules that are unique to Convention.  When the committee have said all they need to, each committee votes  - and here they "separate" into two committees - on whether to recommend adoption or rejection (there are other options but it gets confusing even for us).  All resolutions have to be reported out of committee. 

Prayer Book resolutions begin their trip through the voting process in the House of Bishops.  So Bishop Smith, chair from that House, signs each resolution's message report.  It gets filed in the Secretariat Office and placed on the Calendar by the Bishops' Dispatch Committee.  Once the Bishops vote on the matter, a report comes to the Deputies.  If the Bishops haven't made any changes in the resolution and have passed it, the Deputies' Dispatch of Business puts it on our Calendar for debate and action.

That is probably more than any of you want to know but the truth is that this is a critical part of what we do here.  Is it the best way to handle all the business of the Church?  I suspect most of us would say that it is not.  It is very hard to turn pastoral or missional issues into legislation.  As much as I fussed about the resolution to "engage in conflict resolution on the Korean Peninsula,"  there is someone in the Church who is passionate about that and may well be working in that area.  If we turn down the legislation, we may be saying that we don't care about their ministry or their relatives who remain in Korea.  If there were some way we could, perhaps, issue a pastoral letter speaking to the need for peace and resolution of the conflict in Korea, we might find ourselves speaking pastorally to an issue of justice.  Is this what Jesus would do?  Well, it's probably closer than passing a resolution.

I won't keep you any longer tonight except to say that we have been doing all this committee work for two days so that, when the Houses did finally begin meeting officially this morning, they would have more to do that say hello to their neighbors and twiddle their thumbs.

Also a hats off to my friends who willingly offered me computers with which to communicate on this blog.  Two days of blogging on my phone's email was about to send me around the bend!