The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Thursday, July 31, 2008

High noon shoot-out??

The "topic of the day" for the bishops at the Lambeth Conference is "Listening to God and to each other: the bishop and human sexuality". As such, many have assumed that today would at least begin the time of contentious debate (or in the eyes of many media outlets - a way to get the audience's attention!). One news report from Canada described today as "global Anglicanism's high noon shoot-out over homosexuality."

In reality, however, it has been something of a slow news day so far. I overheard one reporter who was in one of today's press briefings skeptically reporting that the bishops doing the briefing were entirely too positive about the discussions that are happening - the reporter, recognizing what many are considering the nearly palpable tension around the conference, could not imagine that it was an entirely honest representation of the closed door sessions taking place throughout the day.

If the Globe and Mail news report is accurate, many of the bishops, themselves, are denying that the experience of the Lambeth Conference is quite as warm and cuddly as the press briefings have intended to indicate.

Reflecting on the third installment of the Windsor Continuation Group report, Bishop Michael Ingham of the Diocese of New Westminster had this to say: "If this becomes the position of the Communion, it will put the Anglican Church of Canada in the position of having to support and defend irrational prejudice and bigotry in the eyes of our nation."

The dominant pattern seems to be emerging that news is more likely to break late in the day (as opposed to the earlier morning bishop's briefings), so do stay tuned to Walking with Integrity - your best source for news related to Integrity's presence at the Lambeth Conference. Also be sure to read our daily analysis (in conjunction with our allies in the Inclusive Church Network) in The Lambeth Witness. You can find it at the top of the Lambeth Conference LGBT Anglican portal.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A little not-so-breaking news

Released at last night's press briefing: the third in a set of three installments from the "Windsor Continuation Group". It's something of "old news" now, because I couldn't blog it in the moment. It was more pressing for me to support our allies here in Canterbury in releasing an official response.

Those official responses can be found in a couple of places:
  • The Lambeth Witness, our daily newsletter, produced a special insert covering the breaking news. It is a bold statement signed-on by all of our allies here in the Inclusive Church Network, working together in Canterbury. You can find it online HERE
  • The official press release from Integrity can be found online HERE
All three releases from the Windsor Continuation Group are available as a single document HERE, but the biggest news (and that which was new last night) comes toward the end of the document. It's titled, "How do we get from here to there?"

In some senses, this report is nothing new. What newness there is, is in two parts.

The first bit of newness is in that it is a restatement of previous policies from the Windsor Report that were bad to begin with. They are punitive and coercive against LGBT people around the Communion and against The Episcopal Church (US) in particular.

The other bit of newness - subtle though it may be - is in the use of the word "moratoria". In fairness, in the hallways of The Episcopal Church it has always been understood that the Windsor Report was calling for "moratoria" on future consecrations of partnered gay and lesbian people as bishops of the church and blessings of same-sex relationships. But the word was never before uttered in this context except as a word to be avoided.

I distinctly remember the conversations that happened at our last General Convention - both in the back rooms and on the floor of the House of Deputies. "Moratoria" was a deal breaker - no response to the Windsor Report could be accepted by both Houses concurring if it included explicit "moratoria".

So this presents an interesting dynamic as we look beyond Lambeth. What happens here is perhaps most significant in that it has the power to shape General Convention 2009. Will The Episcopal Church recoil in fear at offending other part of the Communion as is our occasional pattern? Will this continue to be the deal breaker? Is explicit "moratoria" the dying blow to our patience for the "Windsor Process"? Will the exclusion of +Gene Robinson, a duly elected and ordained member of our House of Bishops, anger the American church to the degree that we finally stand up to the Communion hierarchy in a prophetic way?

There is a lot happening. And a lot LEFT to happen. We only really begin to explore the contentious issues in an official capacity at the end of this week.

Continue to pray for the church. There is big work to be done before we leave the Conference at the end of the week.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sabbath time for Jon

"Hail Mother England"

We had an honest-to-God day off yesterday!

Beacause we're housed in a Parish Hall, we have to take apart the Communications Centre on Saturday evenings so that the parish can use it on Sunday mornings for Coffee Hour. Last week we set everything back up on Sunday afternoon, but this week, we decided to just take all of Sunday off, so we set back up today (Monday morning).

With the day off, I had the chance to really get out and have a nice time.

Like all Feasts of our Lord, my Sabbath began on Saturday evening with the Inclusive Church Network Eucharist. The Archbishop of Mexico presided and the Rev. Canon Lucy Winkett preached a brilliant sermon.

One of the highlights of my time here in Canterbury happened there. I ran into Martha Gardner at the Inclusive Eucharist. I mentioned to her how I'd been wanting to meet Jenny Te Paa. Jenny is a layperson from the Province of New Zealand and was the first woman to attend Theological School in that Province. I think she's one of the most important voices in Anglican Theology today. Martha said, "Oh, I've known Jenny for years, let me introduce you!"

I was so excited. I've been a huge fan of Jenny's since she preached a fabulous sermon at our General Convention in 2006 - one of those rare sermons that I still remember and think about even after all this time! And she was very gracious and gentle. I asked her if she'd be coming back to preach for us again in Anaheim, and she said, "Oh, I hope so!" So perhaps I'll hear her again!

On Sunday morning I worshiped at the Cathedral. It was very nice. The Dean preached a humorous sermon (but admittedly rather bland - now a day later I don't remember what it was about) and the Archbishop of Canterbury presided. As a matter of particular interest to me, he was using a crozier from the 12th century that I had seen just a couple of days before in the Treasury Crypt.

After the service, the Archbishop was mobbed by people asking for photos. Without shame I joined the throngs. While I don't necessarily like +Rowan's politics, it was special to have this opportunity to meet him. After praying for him daily for low these many years, it was nice to make him a little more "real". And he was very gracious to all of us seeking his attention, and kindly waited until we'd all had our chance, even though he must have been quite hot in his chasuble and mitre - it was a bit of a muggy day...

After church I had lunch with my friend Michael (the videographer from a previous post) and Rowan Smith, the Dean of Capetown, South Africa.

When we all parted company, I decided I run to the train station to see how difficult it would be to get down to Dover. I was actually not really planning to go. I was tired and thought I might be better served by spending more time in Canterbury. But I'm so glad I went!

The train ride was only about a half an hour, and it was just a lovely scene. I hired a taxi from the train station, and my driver was really great. I told him I just had a little while, so he took care of me - helping me to get the best use of my time.

We first drove to an overlook where I could see the Dover Castle and the famous "white cliffs", and then he took me up to the castle. I didn't really know what to expect, but surprised myself to find how much I enjoyed my time there.

I spent most of my time leisurely strolling around the grounds. I called a few family members to check in.

There's a lovely little Saxon era church up there called St. Mary in the Castle.

Also, next to the church you'll notice the remains of a Roman era lighthouse - it is the only Roman lighthouse left in the world.

The Castle itself was also great - beautiful views of the Dover valley and the Channel, and very faintly in the distance, you could see the tips of the cliffs of France.

On returning to Canterbury I met another friend, Gregory, for a dinner of Belgian Mussels before we met Michael for drinks and pub crawling.

All in all, it was a great day!

Now back to work - saving the church! This week should be a bit more eventful than last week. The last couple of days of the Conference get into the sticky issues: the authority of scripture, human sexuality, and the proposed Anglican Covenant.

At Saturday's press conference the Conference Organizers tried to pull a slick one on us. They advertised an entirely uninteresting press conference. Being the end of the week with everyone so tired, and being that it was billed as so uninteresting, very few people went. At it, however, a bound, proposed version of a set of Anglican Communion Canons was released. Wow! They thought we'd just let it slip by!

So be on the lookout for backlash from that this week. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, July 25, 2008

We've hit the big time now

Check out the Colbert Report covering the Lambeth Conference... Truly priceless...

Life is just a bowl of cherries

My day in the Communication Centre has been a little slow. There's a flurry of activity around - with continued planning for newsletter production and distribution, and the Archbishop of Canterbury appearing in a Press Conference this afternoon, but somehow, my work has slowed quite a bit. I've been blogging some on Walking with Integrity and generally trying to support the work of those around me, but mostly it's been quiet.

So I thought I'd take this opportunity to show you some of the ways I've been keeping my sanity. I've set up something of a little office here, and I've been surrounding myself with things that can make me feel good when there's a bit of stress!

The picture above is of some fresh cherries that I picked up in the corner grocery near the church. They tend to have them each day. I've learned that Kent County (where we are) is England's largest producer of cherries. I've enjoyed having that as a pretty healthy snack from time to time throughout each day.

I've also really enjoyed this - I've been calling it "grandmother candy" because it reminds me so much of the candies that my grandmother used to keep around the house in little crystal dishes or colorful tins.

And though I can't find my picture right at this moment, someone has secretly been placing lovely little wild daisies on my computer when I step away. Every time it causes my heart to soar! While I don't know who it is, I have my suspicions... I think it might just be HER

I hope to make it up the hill to the Conference Marketplace today... A chance to get out of the office, and to get my grubby little hands on some official Lambeth Conference crap. Woo hoo!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Checking in from Canterbury

Today is London Day! ("Wait a minute", you're saying, "that doesn't look like London to me....") You're right!

While many people have been bubbling with excitement about visiting Lambeth Palace and Buckingham Palace and having tea with the Queen, I have been bubbling with excitement at having something of a day off. Well, not a DAY off, but some time off; and with everyone gathered in London, Canterbury is a bit quieter than usual. Or perhaps, more usual than it has been during the Lambeth Conference. And our Communications Centre has been VERY quiet!

I decided to take some of this time to see Canterbury. The picture just above is Canterbury Cathedral - the "Mother Church" of the Anglican Communion. I knew that it was a sight worth seeing, but I actually surprised myself at how moved I was to be in that place.

To make it a little more special, I ran into +Gene while I was there. I didn't want to be a nuisance, but I did say hello, and we had a nice hug and a few minutes of good conversation together. When I left him, he was busily greeting cathedral pilgrims who were clamoring to express how proud they are of him.

A few minutes later, while trying to get a picture without disturbing pilgrims, I saw +Gene again. This time he was praying in front of the site of the Martyrdom of Thomas Becket. It was here that my emotions nearly broke out. Seeing him, the icon that he is, in that place; and, having seen him greeting his many supporters. It was just too much. Not that +Gene is a "martyr" (thank God!), and not even that his ministry has been "martyred" by this exclusion - his ministry has already been too important for his exclusion from the conference to matter in that way, but even so, there was something there. He must have paid a great emotional price by being excluded. How difficult it must be for him not to share with his brother and sister bishops in so many of the experiences that they are having.

It was a special moment for me.

After visiting the Cathedral, dropping entirely too much money in the Cathedral Shop, and then wandering through the shops around the gate in Canterbury, I met a friend for lunch before heading back to work. It was there that I discovered the "Shandy". The "Lager Shandy" to be specific. It's this delightfully refreshing beverage - half lager, half lemonade. I know, it sounds a little nasty, but it's actually quite nice. And on a warm day, like it has been today in Canterbury, it was a nice compliment to lunch. I'm told that bar tenders laugh at men who ordered them, so my friend taught me that if you lower your voice a lot when you order, you won't feel nearly as vulnerable. :)

And just to prove that it's not ALL play time here in Canterbury, some folks have been capturing images of me working. Believe me, that's the normal image of me in Canterbury - today was the exception!

This is the most common image: me in the Communications Centre, sitting at the computer. Be sure to check out THIS POST from Elizabeth Kaeton, in which she's entirely too kind to me.

Also, as an example of how I just never know what I'll be doing from one moment to the next, here's an example from SUSAN RUSSELL where I was operating the boom mic for a Fringe Event that we hosted last night. Which leads me to another tick on my skill set list - HERE is a blog I posted today on Integrity's Walking with Integrity about the event last night. You just never know what I'll be up to...

Stay tuned for more updates! This Sunday is worship in the cathedral. Peace!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I get by with a little help from my friends

It couldn't have come a moment too soon...

My mood last night was made a bit better by dinner with friends at the lovely little pub just across from our Canterbury Communications Centre.

Here's picture of me, Michael Sniffen, Elizabeth Kaeton, and a new friend, Allie Graham from the Diocese of New Jersey, having dinner together and enjoying some important debriefing time.

Thank you for all of your support!

Clearly my work is having an impact

I had a bit of a tough day yesterday. I was feeling a little down. Being so far behind the scenes and with such limited communication with home, I was feeling a little isolated and as though my work was lacking any significant impact.

Fortunately, those who oppose my work here in Canterbury have come to the rescue to help me see just how valuable my contribution is.

An important aspect of our work here in Canterbury is in our trying to contribute to the Listening Process that has been called for (and as yet unsuccessful) since 1978. One way that we are hoping to contribute to this process is by the daily distribution of a newsletter called The Lambeth Witness. All of the organizations of the Inclusive Church Network, the Chicago Consultation, etc. are contributing articles and photographs to bring a voice to the causes about which we are advocating.

After arranging with Conference Organizers prior to arriving, we secured permission to have our friendly and smiling volunteers hand them to the bishops as they left the Eucharist each morning on the way to breakfast.

This worked for one day. Then we were chastised by conference organizers for handing them out without permission. When we explained that we had permission, we were chastised because it was intended to be a "green" conference - additional paper was not allowed. We had been, of course, sensitive to environmental justice issues, and though post-consumer recycled paper was not available, we did purchase carbon offsets in our attempt to be as environmentally friendly as possible.

But conference organizers insisted that the newsletters would be more "green" if they were not handed out, but left in stands for people to take their own. (No, we haven't figured out how that equation works...)

So this is where I come in. I constructed these lovely stands using the logo and posters of the Inclusive Church Network. There were 10 of them placed in high traffic areas around the campus.

Evidently, there are forces at work around the conference who are resistant to our message - they are determined to ensure that the Listening Process fails for yet another decade.

This is what we found this morning while trying to restock our stands with today's issue.

One of the stands had been vandalized and our copies of The Lambeth Witness had been removed and placed in the refuse bin nearby.

While this was, of course, disheartening, in some ways it lifted my spirit. I know that my work is important and having an impact if it is being resisted this strongly.

If you'd like to read The Lambeth Witness each day, CLICK HERE to download in PDF format.

Also, check out WALKING WITH INTEGRITY to read the official "party line" from Susan Russell, President of IntegrityUSA about the vandalism.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Quick update

Sadly, I've been entirely too busy for many updates. As I predicted, my work has been confined to administrative tasks in our Canterbury Communications Centre. I've enjoyed my work a lot, but it has been grueling hours (about 7AM to 12:30AM each day) and I haven't seen much beyond these four walls.

But I did have a chance for a "celebrity" sighting today... I got to help +Gene print a lecture that he was giving at the Law School. Here's some of the fruit of my labor!

Thursday is London Day - all the bishops head to Buckingham Palace for tea with Her Majesty. I'm hoping to take a little time that day to see Canterbury - up to now I've only really seen our office and my hotel. I hear there's some kind of Cathedral here that might be interesting... :)

See you soon!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Integrity/Changing Attitude Eucharist

The big items on the agenda today were:
a) the opening Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral, and
b) the Integrity/Changing Attitude Eucharist on the Beverley Playing Field

An interesting topic of conversation around the "water coolers" was one of the songs sung at the Eucharist at the Cathedral -- they actually sang "All are Welcome"!

Ironic, because it was a ticketed Eucharist. Only Bishops, their spouses, conference stewards, conference volunteers who are ordained, and regular members of the Cathedral parish were allowed to attend.

Ironic also, because +Gene was not allowed to attend.

The rumor is that many attendees refused to sing that song because it was so untrue. I heard several people express their anger that it had even been chosen.

The Integrity/Changing Attitude Eucharist, however, was another event altogether. All people really were welcome. We had a little under 200 total in attendance, and more than 30 bishops, including +Gene Robinson and my own bishop, +Mark Beckwith!

We really had very little idea how many people to expect. This is the first time that there has been any such presence at the Lambeth Conference, so it really was something of a radical event.

It was difficult to get pictures without interrupting worship, but I did try. Here's a look...

Bishop Alexander (Atlanta), Bishop Singh (Rochester),
and Bishop Beckwith (Newark)

Davis Mac-Iyalla reading the Epistle

The Rev. Colin Coward, presider
The Rev. Susan Russell, preacher

Susan+ preaching

BBC covered us live!

Another major story from the day is that +Gene will not be allowed to attend a meeting on Tuesday of the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church. There is time set aside in the conference for each House of Bishops to meet among themselves, and Lambeth Conference organizers have decided that +Gene being allowed to participate in his own House of Bishops meeting might make him appear "too official" in his participation. It's important to remember, however, that this decision was not made by any official of The Episcopal Church. Would it be fair to say that this was an incursion on the part of the Anglican Communion leaders into our province? Can we expect more of the same if there is to be an Anglican Covenant?

Big questions lie ahead....

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Canterbury Arrival

Sorry, no pics yet, but I have arrived in Canterbury.

The train ride down from London was lovely. Rolling hills, sheep... very English!

I've already had my first +Gene sighting. We had lunch in the same pub today.

There's a documentary team here filming a "year in the life" kind of thing - tracing his steps between Canterbury and Anaheim.

I'm currently sitting in our Canterbury Communications Centre (3C for short). Folks are still gathering, so I'm spending most of my time just getting acclimated to the space. It's been good reconnecting with some of my friends from Columbus from a couple of years ago. The Conference Calls have been nice, but it's good to be together!

Continue to stay tuned for updates! And I promise, more pictures soon!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

The last day of playtime before Canterbury!

Well, it's been another truly beautiful day in the neighborhood. The kind of beauty that only England could provide (the cold and rainy kind!).

I spent today in Oxford. The trip really had two major purposes. First, my brother spent some time in Oxford a number of years ago, so he really wanted me to go so I could see some of his old stomping grounds. Also, a friend of mine who I had met in Jerusalem a little over a year ago. He is a retired Vicar and Professor at Exeter College in Oxford. He still lives there, and invited me to lunch with him and a visiting Polish Orthodox monk who was staying with him.

This is a picture of the Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalen, where Canon Hugh was vicar before retiring.

I hadn't spent nearly the time studying my maps in advance of my stay as I did with London or Canterbury, so I spent the first part of the day utterly lost! I was looking for the Oxford Union to pick up a souvenir for my brother, and must have walked past it four or five times before I actually found it! And no, I wasn't being stubborn and refusing to ask for directions - I was just so lost that the directions didn't help! But even so, it was a beautiful time spent wandering though lost.

After finally locating Oxford Union, my first stop was at the Christ Church Cathedral (pictured on the right). I decided to enter first as a tourist for photos and such before returning for Evensong that evening. After that it was off to Canon Wybrew's for lunch!

As things often go with friends, lunch lasted several hours. I eventually just had to peel myself away so that I'd have a bit of time left to see more of Oxford before heading back to London.

Evensong at the Cathedral was just lovely. I've read that Christ Church has the unique distinction of being the Church of England's smallest cathedral. I don't know if it's because of it's size, or perhaps because it's not one of the major "tourist" destinations like St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey, but the volunteer staff at the Christ Church was absolutely astounding. While on my tourist visit, a lady saw me looking at a window of St. Michael that most don't look at, and she took an interest in me. She told me all about it's history, then proceeded to take me on an individual guided tour of the cathedral pointing out just about everything along the way.

Then, later, when I returned for Evensong I was early, so I sat in the narthex while waiting for the church to open. The usher began talking with me. She is a Dutch woman, but told me that she had lived in Oxford and that she and her husband had worshiped at the Cathedral for 40 years.

When she learned that I was an American and a member of The Episcopal Church, she reached over, hugged me, and thanked me for the work that the American church has done in pushing the communion toward inclusion - she mentioned specifically for Gay and Lesbian people and women.

She passionately exclaimed her belief that our work was much more important than any effort at maintaining peace and concord in the communion. She said, "It's fine if we have to fight for a while. Some may even feel that they need to leave. But our worship makes us Anglican, not any institution. And whether or not the Communion survives the current fighting, we'll always be one church. We'll always be Anglican. So keep pushing us. We need you to, very much!"

It was a really humbling experience. And in an odd way, it put me in the right frame of mind, both for worship, and for beginning my work tomorrow in Canterbury.

Continue to pray for me and for the church. This is an important time. The church needs it's members to be steadfast. Let's see what the Holy Spirit can do when She descends upon the gathered Communion!

As a testiment to my eclectic taste in music

I've really loved attending Evensongs in Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. The Choral Eucharist and later organ concert in Salisbury moved me deeply.

And then there's my latest BritPop find...

Maybe I just have an unusual penchant for gay, British, glam rocker, singer/songwriter types who are a little acoustic and a lot theatrical (you may know about my thing of late for MIKA), but I've stumbled across someone that you really must check out if you don't know him already. (Admittedly, I don't know if this guy is gay or not, but upon listening to the rest of the album, I'm guessing so) This album that keeps making my socks roll up and down was released last year, but I've only found it in the past couple of days and I have just about worn my iPod out listening to it.

The band is called The Feeling and the album is Twelve Stops and Home. It's truly brilliant.

Here's the song that got me so hung up. I hope you enjoy it, too!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Holiday time continues!

Wow! It continues to be such an amazing time!!

Remember that Choral Evensong that I was planning to attend at Salisbury Cathedral last night? Well, it was actually a Choral Eucharist -- so even better!

We were celebrating the Feast of the Translation of St. Osmund. Admittedly, this isn't one of the big ones that makes the news in The Episcopal Church, but it was a fun time in Salisbury at the Cathedral. Osmund was the second Bishop of Sarum and was instrumental in the building of the Cathedral there. I visited the ruins of that original cathedral today. In this photo, you can see the footprint of the cathedral as it is viewed from the ruins of the city and castle.

This was a particular highlight in my holiday time, since I had studied the liturgies of Sarum in an Anglican Liturgical Traditions class in my last year in seminary.

So the Feast of the Translation of St. Osmund commemorates the moving of Osmund's remains from the abandoned cathedral at Sarum to the "new" cathedral (consecrated in 1258) at Salisbury in 1457 - just a few months after he was canonized.

Being a festival of significance for the cathedral itself, they put on quite a show. There was a visiting choir that was spectacular. (Unfortunately I didn't catch where they were from, but they were relatively local) There was lots of incense and a truly splendid sermon by the Very Rev. June Osborne. She artfully weaved together the story of the Translation of Osmund in the context of the prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah that had happened earlier in the day and even in the context of our current strife within the Anglican Communion. It was sensitive, but firm. Progressive, but not at all strident. I'm really hoping that the sermon will be posted to the cathedral website so I can read it again, link it, and perhaps post some excerpts!

Then of course the organ concert by Patrick Russill was spectacular. The program included Messiaen, Bach, Franck, Vierne, and Tournemire. I really felt like I got a good taste of that spectacular instrument. I look forward to talking about it with some of my organist friends!

Today was spent reviewing the previous several thousand years of the area's history. As I mentioned, I visited Old Sarum. And again, wow...

After Old Sarum, I headed up to Stonehenge. I really approached that things I "had" to do since I was so close, as just one of those but was not nearly as excited about it as I was about the church history stuff. What can I say - I'm a church nerd!

But Stonehenge surprised me in how amazing it was. I'm a sucker for "old stuff" and Stonehenge is iconic for that! Add to that the fact that it was likely used for some kind of worship, and I'm sold.

To make matters better and more interesting, I decided to take a taxi on this little journey instead of a bus. The bus would have been much cheaper, but I thought it would be nice to have the one on one time with a local to learn more about things that I might not notice from the bus.

What a good decision!

My driver was a delightful man in his 70s whose accent was very much like that of Jim Trott from the Vicar of Dibley, but thankfully without that stammer! When he learned of my interest in all things church, he decided to take me by way of the back roads so that we could take in a few parish churches. As such, I also got some great views of 12th and 13th century homes with thatch roofs. He even pointed out Sting's house! And it was all accompanied by a wonderful history lesson about everything that we saw. He grew up a short distance from Old Sarum, so my tour of that site was accented with tales about his sister falling off of walls and the like as much as history of the community that was once there.

So finally, as much as I hated to leave, my time in Salisbury ended and I headed back to London - just in time for Choral Evensong at St. Paul's Cathedral. Another splendid worship opportunity.

Tomorrow, I'm headed up to Oxford for lunch with a friend that I met in Jerusalem last year. My brother has given me a long list of things to do - hopefully I'll squeeze some of it in!

Stay tuned for updates!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Greetings from England!

Well, I've made it! I've had one incredibly sleep deprived and jet lagged day in London, but filled with many exciting activities. Here are a few pictures to get us started!

Here's the Houses of Parliament and "Big Ben". I got to hear it chime noon while I was waiting for it to be late enough to call my mother to let her know I had arrived safely. :)

And here I am having a pint. A necessary first step for the weary traveler.

Having a mince meat pie in Black Friars Pub. Certainly NOT the "worst pies in London"...

Here's the amazing Salisbury Cathedral. One of the highlights of my tourist time! I went through as a tourist earlier and I saw the Magna Carta and a stunning collection of late 15th and early 16th century Eucharistic silver. Tonight I'm going to Evensong and an organ concert there. Tomorrow, I plan to visit Stonehenge and Old Sarum. Oh yes, and last night, before dinner, was Choral Evensong at Westminster Abbey.

So much to do!!

But alas, I'm getting eager to get down to Canterbury for my work!

Look for more updates soon!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"A sower went out to sow..."

July 13, 2008
Pentecost 9A, Proper 10
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“A sower went out to sow…” It begins so simply, with words so familiar. We all know the parable of the sower. If, somewhere, there were a list of the Bible’s “greatest hits”, the Parable of the Sower would certainly have made the cut. It’s one of the earliest stories we learn as children, gathered on Sunday School floors, and we hear it again and again throughout our lives, in part because it’s so simple and so familiar.

Perhaps that’s part of why this is one of our favorite parables – for once, after centuries of hearing, we can hear the lesson of the parable in much the same way as our first century predecessors. That crowd, gathered on the shore, listening to their teacher speaking from a boat, must have felt the resonance of these words as they were spoken. Why would he say something so simple? There must be more.

Fast forward a few years. The earliest members of the church, gathered in houses for their weekly remembrances of the life of Jesus, retelling their stories, retelling his stories. They must have recognized the deep insight conveyed in this simple image. They had sown seeds themselves, or at least had seen them sown. They could, in an instant, picture the story as they heard it. They knew the fate of the seeds before the punch lines could be said: seeds that fall on a path will not grow – birds will eat them before they have the chance. Seeds that fall among the rocks may grow, but their growth can’t amount to much – they would need deep roots to support them, and they’ll never have that among the rocks. Seeds that fall among the thorns and weeds will probably take root and grow, but they can’t be relied upon for the harvest. A lifetime of competition for resources makes one weak and weary. No, seeds need good soil. Loose, black soil. Rich with nutrients and room to break into the earth to grow deep and tall.

The idea must have seemed simple and familiar to them, too.

But there must be more.

The problem with simple and familiar stories, however, is that we do tend to fill in the blanks before we take the time to learn their lessons. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I’d bet that at least a few of your minds went into something like autopilot as soon as those opening words were spoken: “A sower went out to sow…”

To tell the truth, mine kind of did, too. Earlier this week, I read “A sower went out to sow…” and I thought, “Oh, it’s the Parable of the Sower. I can preach about that.” A couple of days later I began to realize, I was preparing for a sermon without having actually read the appointed text!

It was not until I stumbled across a few other simple and familiar words from Alfred North Whitehead that I allowed the Parable of the Sower to take root in me. Whitehead said, “The essence of life is to be found in the frustration of established order.”

While we don’t share the agrarian context of first century followers of Jesus, imagine this familiar parable with through the lens of Whitehead’s insight:

The seed that fell on good soil could break into the earth. Its strength was perfectly matched with the resources of the earth and its yield returned those resources. The rocks would not budge. The thorns greedily consumed all that the seeds would need in order to grow. The path left the seeds vulnerable. But the seed that fell on earth could “frustrate the established order” that surrounded it to find and bear the “essence of life”. The other seeds fell short.

Our lives are often that way. We find ourselves planted in places of vulnerability, or rigidity, or scarcity. In our fear we refuse to “frustrate the established order” that surrounds us. Our fear paralyzes us, and prevents us from breaking into the abundance that is available. Or worse, in our fear we may capitalize on the vulnerabilities and fears of others and hem them in on the path, or among the stones or thorns. Those individuals who climb the ladders of human history by trampling on those around them are not great leaders but superficially successful bullies. Like the seeds that take root among the stones, they may rise, but their lives will bear no fruit. Like the thorns that surround some of the seeds, they grow and thrive, but only at the expense of more fruitful lives.

You may have heard this week that the Church of England has voted to allow for the appointment of women as bishops. Many seemingly strong individuals and organizations within the Anglican Communion have vehemently opposed this move. They fear that the elevation of women will compromise their own strength. They fear that the Church of England is “frustrating the established order”. And they’re right.

Just as the sun must pierce the night sky to squeeze out a new morning, so, too, must we “frustrate the established orders” of the world to make room for the coming kingdom of heaven. It’s not anarchy. But it is tilling and fertilizing and sowing in such a way as to make use of the resources and stability that are available to us.

Even in this world plagued by fears of vulnerability and rigidity and scarcity, we are called to bear witness to the abundance of God – to bring forth new life in the face of a world that says that it is not possible, a world whose faith is placed in scarcity.

In the few verses that we skipped over in this morning’s reading, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do you speak to [the people] in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘[though] seeing, they do not perceive, and [though] hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand’.”

When we view the world from the perspective of recognizing and embracing the abundance of God, more and more abundance becomes apparent. Conversely, when we plant ourselves in positions of scarcity, that becomes all that we can see.

If our vision of the world were defined by scarcity, it would make sense to fear frustrating the established order. We might even recognize that the established orders of the world fall short of the vision of God. But our fears would paralyze us. And in that paralysis we would cling to the only stability we could imagine, no matter how exposed or rigid or barren that pseudo-stability may be.

But we have been planted in fields of abundance. We nest in the loose, rich, black soil of God’s abundance. It provides us with the stability we need to grow tall and the flexibility we need to grow deep. It frees us from fears of scarcity. It frees us to frustrate the vulnerable, rigid, and barren established orders of humanity and to break through perceived scarcities with the essence life.

There will always be a degree to which we are vulnerable – and the birds will be tempted to snatch us up in those moments. There will certainly be moments when we fear that we are encased in a sarcophagus of rigidity with no room to grow, as we feel called. And there will even be times when the thorns of greed and selfishness encroach upon us and threaten us. But, “to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance”. Remember, “The essence of life is to be found in the frustration of established order.” So with an eye to that abundance, frustrate those orders that restrain you from realizing the fullness of God’s vision for you. Make room for the abundance that is being offered. Amen.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Shed a little light

Light shining into Canterbury Cathedral

As I prepare for Lambeth, here's a little anthem that's been stuck in my head - James Taylor's "Shed a Little Light"

It seems appropriate.

"There are ties between us, ALL men and women....
We ARE bound together by the task that stands before us
and the road that lies ahead".

I have a recording of this song as it was performed by the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto Choir that's truly inspired. I couldn't find it to link to this blog, but I encourage you to seek it out.

Lots of folks are on their way to Canterbury to try to make the church a better place - the kind of church that won't hurt people in the service of oppression. There are lots of folks who are on their way to Canterbury in fear of the developments that may happen there - both conservative and progressive.

"There is a feeling like the clinching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest."

I'll be on my way on Monday.

***** ***** *****

Let us turn our thoughts today
To martin luther king
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest

Shed a little light, oh lord
So that we can see
Just a little light, oh lord
Wanna stand it on up
Stand it on up, oh lord
Wanna walk it on down
Shed a little light, oh lord

Cant get no light from the dollar bill
Dont give me no light from a tv screen
When I open my eyes
I wanna drink my fill
From the well on the hill

(do you know what I mean? )
- chorus -

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest

Oh, let us turn our thoughts today
To martin luther king
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Another nail in the coffin, another sprout in the earth

Well, there's a new ingredient in the stew leading up to Lambeth.

There's new fodder for Anglicans on the right in their ongoing search for cause in their weeping and teeth gnashing.

The Church of England - the "mother church" of the Anglican Communion - has, in its General Synod, finally joined most of its counterparts in the West in assenting to the appointment of women as bishops in the Church of England. Reactions from conservatives in the church are just beginning to emerge, but this promises to be a point of great concern for the leaders of Anglican churches in the Global South.

It does represent, after all, yet another nail in the coffin of sexism.

As such, it promises to be fuel for the fire - if there is to be fire at all - at the upcoming Lambeth Conference.

There are a lot of great sources for learning more about the C of E's move. I offer these two for your consideration:
  • This New York Times article is a good introduction to what happened and the context in which it happened
  • I would also suggest this post by my friend and mentor Elizabeth Kaeton particularly because she explores the relationship between heterosexism and sexism in the context of the Anglican Communion
And for my two cents worth, that's where I'd like to begin.

I do firmly believe that our current strife within the Anglican Communion is due, almost entirely, to the ongoing stranglehold that sexism has on much of the church. Furthermore, I believe that the greater our success is in releasing the pressure of sexism, the more likely it is that our homophobia and heterosexism will simply decay into nonexistence. The logical structures of homophobia and heterosexism have no leg on which to stand when their false premise of sexism is cast away.

Plenty of people smarter and more articulate than me have explored this more than I will today, and I encourage you to study them. But as anecdotal evidence of my thinking I'll direct you to the reported comments of the Bishop of Fort Worth:

I read a blog recently (I can't find the citation at this moment or I'd link it) that reported that Bishop Iker of Fort Worth, while in an educational setting in one of his parishes, declared that he would more likely receive communion from +Gene Robinson than from ++Katharine Jefferts Schori. His reason? He said that while +Gene is a "sinner", at least he is "proper matter for ordination" (read: male), therefore the Eucharist would be "valid".

Thank you Bishop Iker for making my point!

So pardon me, as I celebrate with my brothers and sisters in the UK as they take the next step in alleviating sexism, and as such, heterosexism!

In my preparations for preaching this Sunday, I stumbled across this quote from Alfred North Whitehead:

"The essence of life is to be found in the frustration of established order."
(Modes of Thought, page 119)

The Gospel text appointed for this Sunday is the parable of the sower and the seeds. You know the story, some fell on rocks, some fell on the path, but that which fell in the earth took root, etc.

I have always thought of this as a call to use judgment - to carefully discern where you spend your energy and resources, so as not to waste even the abundance of God's gifts.

I still think that's a valid lesson, but Whitehead has me thinking about it with a different slant. Perhaps another lesson is not just with an eye to where we should sow, or how we should be sown, but a rather simple lesson about the nature of the sowing.

The seed that fell on rock could not "frustrate the established order" that surrounded it. The rock was too impenetrable.

The seed that fell on the path could not "frustrate the established order" that surrounded it. It would be trampled down before it had the chance.

The seed that fell on the earth, however, was able to germinate, and take root, and maybe even bear fruit! But none of this would have happened if it had not "frustrated the established order" that surrounded it.

So perhaps one of the lessons of this parable is that we should not so deeply fear "frustrating the established order". Perhaps it is precisely in that "frustration" that we are able to break in and make room for new growth.

Through the weeping and gnashing of teeth that will undoubtedly come out in the weeks ahead, one of the battle cries (be it spoken or implied) will be that the Church of England has frustrated the established order. Indeed, they have. But our call as Christians is not to uphold the status quo but to frustrate it - to till it and to disturb it and to loosen it so that it CAN support new growth.

Some will complain. I have no doubt. They always do.

But I commend the Church of England for opening its doors a little wider. I commend them for making space for new growth, and for helping to bury injustice.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Oh dear.... not "ungracious"?!

The Sunday Mirror (UK) is reporting this:

The Archbishop of York yesterday launched a bitter attack on rebel members of the Anglican church.

Accusing them of "ungracious" behaviour, Dr John Sentamu said he had been "deeply grieved" by criticism of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

Many Anglicans, especially in Africa, are angered by the prospect of women bishops and gay clergy and believe Dr Williams is too liberal.

"The accusations and inferences of what has been said by some are ungenerous and unwarranted," Dr Sentamu said in a presidential address to the Church Synod in York. He added, to clapping and cries of "Hear, hear" that Dr Williams was a "seeker after truth and love."

As you can see, the rhetoric is really heating up (as only the British could "heat it up") in advance of Lambeth. I'm beginning to wonder if it's going to be a boring Lambeth after all...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Packing for Lambeth...

That's right friends... Two weeks from now I'll be in London (well, actually, at this moment in two weeks I'll be in Salisbury attending an organ concert at the cathedral) and enjoying a couple of days of R&R before beginning my work in Canterbury.

So with only two weeks out, I thought it was time to start packing. And where better to start, than right here on the blog?!

Many of you have told me how much you are looking forward to hearing my perspective on the goings on at Lambeth. My role promises to be limited to minimal and administrative engagements, but I look forward to sharing whatever insights I happen to stumble across.

In the meantime, and between updates, I've set up a set of "Lambeth Links" just to your right. Go on! Take a look!

There are several resources there that should be good links to news, and much of it about the news that I'll be a part of. Additionally, we'll be producing a daily newsletter and I'll try to find some way to get it linked as well in a PDF.

I think you'll be particularly interested in Luiz Coelho's work while he's at Lambeth. In case you're not familiar, Luiz is from Brazil, a prolific blogger, an artist, and discerning a call to religious life. I don't know him now, but I am hoping to have a chance to meet him and get to know him in Canterbury. I've known about him for a couple of years now and have been really impressed with him.

While he's in Canterbury, Luiz will be producing art thematically centered on the daily Bible studies that the bishops are doing. This work will be posted on the blog that I've linked. You can follow along with the Bible study (if you are so inclined) by downloading the documentation from the Lambeth Conference website (also linked).

In addition, for more "official" news sources, I've temporarily moved up the ENS feed to just below the "Lambeth Links" section and I've added an ACNS feed, too. Both of those sources should be covering Lambeth pretty heavily!

So I've started packing the blog for the trip. And I've started packing my bags, mentally. I'm sure it'll just be a few days before the suitcase is formally laid out on the floor of my bedroom to begin receiving its duty.

Continue to pray for me in my travels, for the bishops in the difficult and important work that they will be facing, and for the global church as we struggle to redefine Anglicanism for the 21st century.

P.S. It's not too late to donate to the Canterbury Campaign! Help support my work in Canterbury! Support the full inclusion of ALL of God's children in the life of the church! Thanks!