"Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this." Rev. 1:17-19.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sacramental Buttons

The first few days of Convention, I was an enthusiastic button collector. I combed the Exhibit Hall for the latest clever button that I could pin onto my name tag, filled with the same obsessive satisfaction displayed by my children as they doggedly piled up Beanie Babies all those years ago.  I felt good about myself as I added virtuous causes to my identity. After several days, however, I began to develop an increasing pain in my neck. When a colleague told me that she had removed all of her heavy buttons for that same reason, I found that acting as a walking billboard could be detrimental to one’s health.

So often the Episcopal Church is criticized for lacking in theological substance, for choosing political agendas and legislation over prayer and deep thinking. As one who holds theological depth in high esteem, I have been sensitive to this criticism. I am already easily discouraged by the legislative process, with all of its power-plays and posturing, so unbecoming of the Body of Jesus Christ. I used to read all of the “politically correct” resolutions that came out of Convention and feel that they are nothing but buttons on our identity, a collection of facile sentiment, easy to pin on until they become painful, and then easily discarded. 

What I have discovered at Convention is that our slogans and our causes are not ends in themselves—nor are they merit badges that prove our dedication to the Kingdom of God. While they might be created with the lesser goal of swaying legislation, God can, and does, turn them into a kind of "sacrament"—into an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The slick words that I wear only hint at the depths in which God is stirring within me and without me, when the Church gets it right and when we get it wrong. But God is definitely stirring, and I have seen it this week! I have been overwhelmed with the Spirit of God that is truly at work in all the hearts that beat underneath the buttons and the silly deputy ribbons with which we adorn ourselves.

For example, we have been wearing “Black Lives Matter” buttons. We debated and voted for important legislation on dealing with racism in our church and our society. What the buttons don’t describe, however, is the merciful grace that fell over the humble pleas of a thousand Episcopalians marching down the streets of Salt Lake City and chanting, “Out of the depths we cry unto Thee, O Lord. Hear the prayers of our longing hearts.” What the buttons don’t describe is the intelligent and exegetically sound testimony of the black ex-policewoman-turned-priest who explained that gun legislation alone will never be sufficient to solve the problem of violence in our country. Both those who oppose and those who promote guns are longing for safety through legislation, she pointed out. Jesus moves us beyond laws. The only thing that will bring about real change is a change of the human heart, brought about through Jesus Christ.

We have also been wearing buttons with the slogan “Love wins!” in order to promote marriage equality. These words filled with grace beyond the slogan when I watched a young Episcopalian in his late teens engage a group of  homeless men and women on a street corner near our hotel. He turned around and flashed the group a friendly smile, chatting and inviting them to come to the Episcopal Church sometime and check it out. Even as they bellowed at him and at religion in general for its intolerance, he never stopped smiling or inviting: “Come see how great this church is! Come see how full of God’s love!”

I still have my buttons, but as Convention comes to a close, I no longer need to wear them around my neck in a painful attempt to make myself look as if I have laudable goals for our Christian life together. God is the one with the goals. No matter what slogans we use to describe God's love in Christ, no matter how we form it and channel it through our legislation, it will fill our words up to the brim and then overflow into the places beyond our control. As Bishop Michael Curry, our new Presiding Bishop-Elect, said just after his election, “We have challenges before us, but nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in the world.”

Can you believe it? Maybe we should put that on a button ….?

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

At Convention: Fear and Joy

Last night, I attended an open hearing on the proposed resolutions on marriage that will come before our Convention this week. The dissenting voices (or those willing to speak) were fewer than I expected. I couldn’t help but notice that most of these voices were cloaked in some degree of fear: fear of what a too-sudden change would do to society, to our parishes in parts of the country where today’s Court decision is unpopular, to the reputation of The Episcopal Church, to our polity, to our theology, to our relationships with other Christian bodies. I can’t see fear, but I can feel it in a room. It is a low-lying shadow that creeps along the floor and slithers into your body through the feet, making the heart race and the mind freeze. Last night, fear, not passion or antagonism, wafted from the “what if’s.” 

Fear made a brief appearance today as we remembered the victims of the terror attacks in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait. Even in prayer, fear can hover in the corners. But, oh my, today it didn’t linger long. Today there was palpable joy in the air at Convention. There were more smiles in the hallways, more clever repartee in the House of Deputies, and more voices singing during worship than I noticed earlier this week. It was another 97-degree day in Salt Lake City, but the news of the Supreme Court decision on marriage started to spread like a whispering breeze through the crowds lined up for early morning coffee. It pushed through the heavy metal doors of the worship area and, gaining momentum, wrapped itself around the jazz ensemble playing the prelude. Those who stood in drooping solemnity during yesterday’s Eucharist started clapping along to an impromptu, “We are Marching in the Light of God.” Young adults, grey-haired bishops, and collared clergy started dancing down the aisles, all waving their arms like a bunch of Pentecostals on fire. The funny thing was, the show of emotion didn’t seem forced or staged. There was none of that, “Oh-look-at-us-we-are-Episcopalians-but-we-know-how-to-be-cool-too” air that often accompanies mandatory innovation in worship. It was all authentic today. In the hallways, I didn’t notice any of the self-congratulatory back-slapping that can accompany a political victory, either. It was just pure joy, an exhaling of breath held in too long.

I don’t know how Convention will vote when it is our turn to vote on marriage later this week, and I don’t intend to debate the issues tonight on Facebook or on my blog. I intend only to celebrate a joy that I see too little of in this world, even in the Church. Fear is too familiar. Tonight I pray to borrow just a portion of my LGBT brothers’ and sisters’ sudden sense of the freedom to soar, the freedom to love.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Writing What I See at General Convention

I am serving as a deputy to the Episcopal Church’s General Convention for the first time this week. I thought that this would be as good a time as any to “write what I see.” So instead of sermons, I offer here my off-the-cuff impressions of life at Convention. If you’re looking for substantive reporting on the issues, there are other much better blogs to read! If for some reason you want to know what’s going on in the heart and soul of one inexperienced deputy, then this blog is for you.

While other deputies and bishops have been working out the intricacies of legislation, I have been serving as the “TSA agent” of Convention, checking the credentials of deputies from the dioceses beginning with the letters “M” and “N.” (Including the “North” and “Northern” folks, there are quite a slew of them.) For the first and probably only time in my life, I wielded the heady power of the command, “You need to show me your picture ID.” But the best part of the experience was that, from my perch behind a high counter, hidden from view except for my eyeballs and the top of my head, I was quietly able to watch Convention participants in all of their infinite God-given variety as they arrived and began their journeys in Salt Lake City. It was like filming an episode of Candid Camera, as I watched the faces of tired travelers gape slack-jawed with exhaustion, squint in confusion, scowl in annoyance, and break open with joy upon seeing old friends. I will try to remember this warm feeling of our sacred humanity as my introverted heart is challenged for the next 10 days to interact at close quarters and for long hours with my fellow Episcopalians.

After two whole days of shuffling small squares of personal information in triplicate around dozens of manila folders, I was excited about beginning the first legislative session today. Finally, a chance to dive into the meaty issues confronting the Church. Unfortunately, after the first day in the House of Deputies, the image that comes to mind has nothing to do with a hearty stew. Instead, I am reminded of the writing process at its worst. You know, you have a sermon or a paper to write—a long and important one, one that will require a great deal from you as you dredge words up from your deepest and most hidden places. So what do you do? Do you sit down at the computer and start to put words on paper? No! You find some files on your computer that need arranging before you can get started. Then you decide that you absolutely have to clean out the junk drawer in your desk. Then you allow yourself to read what everyone has posted on Facebook. Then you wonder about what to cook for dinner and decide to look up and catalog some new dinner recipes online. And so on. And before you know it, a whole day (or more) has passed before you have written a word or even engaged your topic to any extent. Convention seems to be set up in such a way that we start by doing everything we can possibly imagine in order to stall getting down to what matters. 

“Let’s just clear this little detail up before we begin ….. Let’s just get some things in order…. Let’s just do all of the easy, “technical” stuff, and when our desk is completely clear, then we can get to work on the “adaptive” change.

“Will the desk ever be clear enough?” I began to fret at about 6 p.m. tonight. I pray that it will.

I know, I know. To follow proper parliamentary procedure, we probably have to do it this way. I just hope that we will have time to debate any of the things that matter while we still have some wind in our sails.