Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rain in the Desert

     It does not rain too often here in the high desert. When it does, it tends to be a pretty spectacular event. This afternoon, the clouds gathered, thunder was heard in the distance, and then the warm breeze carried the wet smell of sagebrush. The regular schedule of the birds at my feeders is interrupted as they all gather to get one last meal just in case they’re stuck in the shelter of the trees for the night – wrens, pigeons, blue jays all grabbing a quick bite. In the summer, we worry about those thunder-storms that come bringing no rain. Dry lightning, as we call it, starts brushfires. Thunder seemed to crash right over the house, and then a nice, hard rain came down for just a few minutes leaving the air cooler and the earth washed.
     "Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass?”
                    – Job 38

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Archbishop Reflects on General Convention

     I am an unashamed fan of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. His words in Ray of Darkness opened to me the generosity with which I can accept differing points of view and paradox; Rowan’s book Ponder These Things gave me a new appreciation of iconography; it was his book Where God Happens that led me through the desert of a friend of mine being in an Emergency Ward at the local hospital and the subsequent surgery. This is just a partial list of the impact this good man has had on my own theology through his writings. I once joked that if Rowan Williams were a rock star, I would be one of the groupies throwing my collar up on stage.

     On Monday, the Archbishop responded to The Episcopal Church’s latest actions at General Convention in Anaheim, California. Although mentioning other important business accomplished there, the focus was clearly on two resolutions: D025 entitled “Commitment and Witness to Anglican Communion” and C056 entitled “Liturgies for Blessings”. The letter is divided into twenty-six convenient bite-sized sections.

     At the beginning, he recognizes the Episcopal Church’s honest desire to remain a part of the Anglican Communion.

No-one could be in any doubt about the eagerness of the Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church at the General Convention to affirm their concern about the wider Anglican Communion.
     He then goes on to state the honest reality that these resolutions will, in all likelihood still increase anxiety. Letters had been written by our Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, (Re. D025 and re. C056) reassuring the Archbishop that despite the resolutions, there were no major changes forthcoming – we were simply following our own canons and studying same-sex blessings. In addition, a paper now known as the “Anaheim Statement” was put forward by the Bishop of West Texas in which some bishops, including Nevada’s, stated they would honor the moratoria and would engage in the ongoing Covenant process. The Archbishop, with perhaps a clearer sense of the mood of the Convention, disposed of both overtures in two concise sentences in section 2:

The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour, although a significant minority of bishops has just as clearly expressed its intention to remain with the consensus of the Communion. The statement that the Resolutions are essentially 'descriptive' is helpful, but unlikely to allay anxieties.
     It is in Sections 5 and 6, the Archbishop states the issue has absolutely nothing to do with civil rights or human dignity or how valued gays are in the church. He even steps aside to apologize for times when the church has been an instrument of prejudice. Rowan then claims the only issue is the question of blessing same-sex unions and its implications should one become a priest or a bishop.

     To say this has nothing to do with “respecting the dignity of every human being” expressed in our Baptismal Covenant is at the very least na├»ve. This is a very real and personal issue that addresses who we are, whom we love, how we answer God’s call to service, and whether the church values all members. The Archbishop finely-tuned legalistic reasoning allows him to somehow split the value of human beings away from how he talks about them, their relationships, and their vocations. Real human beings do not separate quite so gracefully into neatly compartmentalized segments like some kind of Florida grapefruit.

     The Archbishop goes on to say that changes in how we have traditionally understood Christianity need to have biblical exegesis and broad consensus among churches. I guess the only questions are how much exegesis and how broad a consensus? As a first-rate theologian, Rowan must be aware of the many fine exegetical efforts that have already been accomplished, but if he were not, certainly he is aware of his own conclusions:

"I concluded that an active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had the about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness." - The Telegraph, Aug. 6, 2008
     Three times, the Archbishop refers to being gay as a “lifestyle” choice, as though lifetime committed partnerships were of no more gravity than whether one chooses to decorate the living room in Art Deco versus Classic Americana. It must be inferred from this that Rowan is also able to ignore the vast majority of scientific findings that sexual orientation is innate.

     So how broad does the consensus have to be? Rowan states, “What affects the communion of all should be decided by all.” Oddly, after finding serious fault with the Archbishop’s reflections on human dignity and gay partnerships, I am chagrined to find I agree with him to a degree. It’s doubtful anyone thinks allowing “local” entities to make arbitrary decisions about the fundamental nature of Christianity is a good idea; this is the reason for the Episcopal church’s very Episcopate and representative General Convention. There needs to be leadership and consensus. What the Archbishop refers to as “local churches,” however, is not some place like my dad’s hometown of Parkdale, Oregon deciding to go off down a rabbit trail, but the collective wisdom of entire national churches: the United States, Canada, Scotland, and New Zealand among them. So, he waits for even broader consensus to somehow magically appear, before he can follow his own beliefs and become a leader. He fails to see that broader consensus often comes from leadership.

     Sadly, the letter ends resigned to the possibility of a two-tier church of those who sign on to a future covenant with its exclusionary language, and those who won’t. The Archbishop tries to put the best face on it, by saying it might be a great opportunity, but from bitter experience, we know what it really means when all the kids on the bus who look alike and agree on everything move to the front and those who are different are left in the back. Whatever he intended, this doesn’t sound like the Gospel to me.

     I believe the Archbishop to be a deeply good and honest man. I also believe that in his attempt to preserve unity, he is only preserving a vanishing status quo. It is hard to be disappointed by one’s heroes. Guess I’ll have to hold onto his concert tickets a bit longer and keep my collar on.

     You can read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s entire letter entitled “Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future” at his website: The Archbishop of Canterbury

Sunday, July 26, 2009

So, Who’d You Run Into Today?

     On Friday, I was involved in a fender bender in the parking lot of a local grocery store. I guess it would be more accurate to say it was a fender-scuffer more than a fender bender. An older woman backing out of a parking place wasn’t watching in her rearview mirror and pulled out slowly into my front right bumper. I was at a complete stop and saw her coming, but could not back out of the way, so I honked, but it was too late. It really gets your adrenaline going the first few moments. She was very calm as was I (breathe-breathe!) After looking at the minor scuffing, we both decided it wasn’t even worth exchanging insurance information. I waved as she drove away.

     To my knowledge, I have never met this woman before and likely never will again. We both behaved well, but I couldn’t help but wonder later, “Did this ruin her day?” “Likely, she is on a fixed income; did the thought of car repairs frighten her?” “Was I gentle enough with her?” She reminded me of my own mother, so I think I took extra care to be kind. These questions bothered me enough that I prayed for her Friday night.

     So, who’d you run into today? I’ve been wondering since the accident how often we only cross paths with others once in this world – we only get one chance. Was I a blessing to her or an added burden in an already burdened life? I’m not sure, but I think this week I’m going to be especially aware of people I’ve never met who cross my path – the grocery store clerk; the construction worker paving the road; people on the street. It may be the only time I get to meet them this side of heaven.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Communion Your Way

     I’m absolutely appalled by the development at Blackburn Cathedral in England where they allow those who do not recognize their female priest as legitimate to receive from the reserve sacrament previously consecrated by a man.

     One has to ask at what point we are respecting one another’s honest differences in a classically Anglican manner, and at what point are we directly enabling people to do violence to the “dignity of every human being” we promise to respect in our baptismal vows?

     In addition to enabling congregants who have contracted an apparently lethal case of misogyny, you have to wonder if they have given a moment’s thought to the theology of the Eucharist. The priest’s role is simply to point to Jesus present in the sacrament of the wine and the bread, but it is the Holy Spirit that does the consecrating. My goodness or lack thereof, my gender, or my political party as a priest does not affect God’s ability to make holy. To argue otherwise is pure Donatism, an archaic heresy that said if you found out later your baptizing priest was a scallywag, you were never really baptized.

     It’s been said, “In bad times there is a run on the little gods". What a small god such folks must have.

     Read the entire article in the Times Online here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is My Cat in Heaven?

     Of all the great theological questions facing Episcopalians and the Anglican Communion, the question of pets in heaven probably is not at the top of the poll. It is a question, however, that means a great deal to me and to anyone who has ever loved a pet.

     During our Sunday prayers of the people when we get to the part where we remember our dead, I quietly pray for my dad, my grandmother, my brother, and for a few names you might not expect: “God, hold Dot and Jordan and Teddy Bear and Merlin and Lassie close to your heart.” Dot, Teddy Bear, and Merlin were my cats; Jordan and Lassie were my dogs. I do not think they need my prayers, but it is important to me to speak my love for them.

Romans 8:19-21 states, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

     Now, Harvard Divinity School is not incessantly calling trying to hire me away from Trinity, Reno, but “the creation itself will be set free” sounds an awful lot like cats and dogs and hamsters and birds and pine trees and… well, you get the idea.

     Just one more scripture:

Eph. 1:8-10 – "With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."

     All things are being gathered back up into God… you, me, people we love, people we don’t even like… everything is being gathered back up into the One who gave us life. That would include, in my mind, our animal companions whom we love, but see no longer.

     So, when you get to heaven – that place outside space, and time outside of time where God has called all things back into God’s self – don’t be surprised by a furry rubbing against your leg or a wet nose nuzzling your hand. In fact, they’ll probably be the first ones to meet you at the gate.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

June 22 - St. Mary Magdalene Day

     She never talked much, but she was strong, and when she looked at Jesus, you could see the gratitude and devotion in her clear brown eyes. Nothing was beneath her. If the disciples needed food, she cooked; if washing was needed, Mary Magdalene would gather up the clothes; she drew water from crowded, noisy public wells in town squares. What money and goods she had were given to make sure the message was spread. Her feet were as calloused and dirty from the miles they walked as any apostle. Mary was not timid; she could haggle in the marketplace with the best of them if the disciples needed provisions. The only time she became shy was if you asked her about her past... that time before Jesus gently touched her and brought her back to herself. Her eyes would drop to the ground, hidden behind a veil of dark lashes, and her voice would become soft, tentative. She would say only that it was Jesus’ voice that had called her back to life after years spent wandering in the darkness. Only his voice.

     When other disciples fled in fear, it was the women who stood as witnesses to their Lord’s agony, Mary among them. Grief and anger warred in her and steeled her determination that she would not leave him alone.

     One last thing to do at daybreak on Sunday… say good bye. Go to the garden… see the place, and then leave. One last act of love.

     He met Mary there. Her terrified eyes full of visions of lightning and angels and hope. The last of her strength and control lost, she collapsed and wept, shaking as she held onto his feet.

     “Mary, don’t be afraid… go… tell them!”

     Mary ran.

Huge New Blot on Jupiter!

     There is so much more going on in the universe at any one moment than we can comprehend...

NASA has confirmed the discovery of a new hole the size of the Earth in Jupiter’s atmosphere, apparently showing that the planet was hit by something large in recent days... New York Times Link

Great Day for a White Wedding

     Saturday, I presided at a wedding of a delightful young couple. They met in high school and have been dating five years. Seeing how they look at each other makes you believe in love and rainbows and unicorns all over again. The families were excited. The groom was okay, but the best man was so nervous about passing out, I had to keep reminding him not to lock his knees; I was seriously becoming concerned that we were going to lose him. Standing on the lawn* in front of the church after the service with their friends, I felt so lucky to have been part of this milestone in their lives.

     I know the divorce statistics; I know we don’t yet have marriage equality for all people. Setting those truly important issues aside just for a moment, if you find you are becoming cynical or weary of this world, stop in to see a wedding of a young couple in love. You can’t help but fall a little bit in love with love all over again.

* You knew I had to work the lawn into this somewhere, right?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Praise All Day Long

My bishop once commented that on Sundays, the earth is wrapped in twenty-four hours of praise and worship around the globe. Each country and people pass it along as the earth turns until it makes a complete circuit. This is an image that has stuck with me. It is a beautiful thought that you and I are all part of that great communion keeping God’s worship in the air for one complete rotation of the earth. Others begin earlier in the day, and then we rise up and do our part. We say our dismissal, the last notes fade from our worship, and we pass along the divine song to be picked up and carried by others.

     So, well done, Fiji, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, and Eastern Russia. Thank you for getting us started today!
     Good job picking up the worship China, Australia, and India!
     Slovakia, Greece, and South Africa: You came in right on time!
     Impressive enthusiasm Dubai, Turkey, and Finland!
     Brilliant singing today, England, France, Senegal, and rest of Western Europe!
     The Azores did superbly today keeping prayer aloft and tipping it off to the New World!
     Good catch, Greenland and Brazil!
     Cuba, Eastern US, and Ecuador began perfectly in synch!
     First-rate praise today, Mexico and US Midwest!
     Heads up! It’s our turn in Nevada! Grand organ music and harp this morning!
     Here Alaska and British Columbia, take it!
     Thank you for doing such a fine job finishing out our twenty-four hours of praise, Aleutian Islands, Hawaii, and French Polynesia!

     “Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.”

                    – Psalm 35:28

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Eyes of All Wait Upon Thee

     I admit I am a morning person. Not just the kind that likes to get up early, but the kind that gets up at the crack of dawn and is insufferablyThe wrens get first crack. cheerful. My poor parents who are pretty much night people say it was easy to get me to go to bed in the evening as a child, but that I was wide awake by 5:30 AM chattering and happy. Amazingly, this sort of behavior is not much appreciated by my own children. I’ve learned, therefore, to “hide my light under a bushel” if for no other reason than to avoid a poorly aimed shoe being thrown in my general direction after I sing out, “Good morning!” I quietly get up, savor a rich, strong cup of coffee made from ground espresso beans, say my prayers, and then peruse the day’s news.

     One of the great advantages of being a morning person is getting to enjoy watching the Breakfast Flock in my backyard. I have a very civilized group of birds who have taken it upon themselves to organize their visits to my two feeders in shifts. The quail.At dawn, the tiny wrens get first pick; after awhile the quail show up with their echoing cries; finally the pigeons come lumbering in like bulky cargo planes to fill up. Now and then, I get more exotic birds: a screeching blue jay will stop by and bully everyone for awhile. Soon, however, the Breakfast Flock returns to its feeding schedule. About once a day, a squirrel I’ve named Bandit, sneaks under the back fence and helps himself. Often he shimmies right up the thin metal pole of the feeder and perches on top, reaching right down into the tray to snatch the best sunflower seeds.

     It’s probably not important that any of my visitors make the connection between “that clumsy human who lives at the house” and their feeders being regularly filled. The pigeons get their fill.Sometimes, especially in the winter when I haven’t realized the feeders are empty, the cheeps and chirps change and take on a prayerful, pleading sound. I don’t think they’re trying to send me a message, but I suspect they are pleading with the One whose eye is on the sparrow. Bandit gets his fair share.As I watch them this fine summer morning, they aren’t thinking about far away winter; they just speak of their own excitement and gratitude at finding food for the day.

     The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season.

– Ps 145:15

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hymns & Hand Watering

     Yesterday’s high was 98˚. Today’s was 97˚, and the next two days aren’t going to be any cooler. One of the nice things you can do for your lawn and for yourself is to indulge in a little hand watering. Professionals call it syringing – sprinkling a little water on your lawn after a really hot day to cool it down more quickly and let it rest through the night. Deep-watering is best done in the morning hours.

     When I was a teenager, an older lady from church asked if I’d water her lawn and take care of her cat while she was gone on a trip for a couple weeks. I rode my bike to her house every afternoon and first fed her brown cat. He had light beige stripes along his thin body, and appropriately was named Peanut. There was no automatic sprinkler system in those days; I was the sprinkler system.

     You might not expect to meet God while hand watering a lawn, but every afternoon as the sun began to set, the fresh water would arc out of the hose onto her beautiful emerald grass, and I’d hum some of my favorite evening hymns –

Day is dying in the west, heaven is touching earth with rest…,
The day thou gavest Lord has ended, the darkness comes at thy behest…,
Abide with me fast falls the eventide…,
If I have wounded any soul today, If I have caused one foot to go astray….

     Peanut would cock his head and look at me, unafraid, curious. God always seemed somehow nearer, and peace would fill my soul.

     Need a break this evening? Looking for some peace? Go outside while the sun sets and do a little hand watering. Hum a couple of your favorite hymns. You never know who might stop by.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And on to Blessings!

     With the work of clearing away the chilling effect of B033 completed, the House of Bishops at the Episcopal Church's 2009 Convention in Anaheim now turns its attention to the question of how or whether to bless same-sex unions. Yesterday’s discussion of Resolution C056 got bogged down, but they’re coming back to it this afternoon.

     In a number of states there is already recognition of committed same-sex relations. It’s a bit embarrassing to see the US courts and government ahead of the church in some places. All C056 is asking for is “pastoral generosity” in allowing bishops in states where gay marriage is already a fact to bless such unions.

     Committed relationships are hard enough to maintain for either traditional or same-sex couples. What makes a difference in whether such relationships survive are the support systems in place for the couple. Straight pairings have numerous societal supports already in place to prop them up. There is everything from instant family support and joy to bridal showers to niche cable TV shows to wedding planners to full church ceremonies. Just look at how many times you’ve seen a guy make an extravagant engagement proposal in public – the Jumbotron at the football game suddenly says, “Sara, will you marry me?” She says, “Yes!” The cameras zoom in, and people go “Awwww,” and applaud.

     Gay couples, however, go it alone in many cases. If we care about our dental work, we usually don’t go the “Jumbotron at the football game” route with our proposals. There are no societal supports, often not even family support. We can and do create our own families through our friends, but not having the support of the families that raised you can be a devastating blow.

     The old Captain & Tennille song says, “Love, love will keep us together…” The reality, as anyone who has done pastoral counseling with a young couple will tell you, is that love is not enough. There have to also be support systems in place. The blessings of our faith communities should be one of those.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Come to Me, All…

     The General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting in Anaheim this week has reaffirmed our canons saying, God has called and may continue to call gay and lesbian people “to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church; and that God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.”

     It's a good day, huh? It feels wonderful. Once again, we in the Episcopal Church continue to listen to the Spirit’s promptings to present a radical welcome to all.

     Even before the confetti settles, I wonder about repercussions. There will be people and relationships in the broader Anglican Communion affected. This is a victory. More than that, however, it is a way forward to witness in Christ. That has to be done in humility.

     That having been said, today the early morning sun was shining on my little patch of lawn, and while I sipped my morning coffee, I was grateful... so grateful.

     Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. - Matthew 11:28

Come to me, all… all, all, all, all... All!

It's Not Easy Being Green

     Kermit the frog said it best, "It's not easy being green." This has never been truer than when you try to keep your lawn even vaguely green in a high desert environment like Nevada. The ground is hard and seems to literally grow rocks. It's dry and there are watering restrictions. Even if you water in the early morning, the constant wind has dried out your lawn by evening. Nevada also plays host to the most incredible spectrum of weeds found anywhere on earth. If you eradicate one type, another will certainly take its place next week.

     So what does my lawn have to do with me being a priest? I’ve come to suspect that my struggles with my grass have become a metaphor for my life and the lives of others. Life requires constant tending, and the world around us is not always kind to people trying to grow. It sometimes seems easier just to give up, go brown, and let the weeds creep in. Still, faith says the effort is worth it. Just like those special early summer evenings when the green smell of a freshly mowed lawn fills your senses and water sparkles on it, there are times in our lives and the lives of others whom we serve and love where we see the true beauty of the Spirit growing in us. Then we know without a doubt, God is good.