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

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Covered Dish Suppers and Knowing the love that surpasses knowledge

26 July 2009
Proper 12B
John 6:1-21

In the name of God. Amen.

So, in just a few weeks I will have lived in northern New Jersey – with the tri-cities of Madison, Chatham, and Morristown as my locus of operation – longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life. Even after these five years, however, I continue to experience culture shock. No matter where I go, or how long I’m away, I’ll always be a kid from Louisiana out on a wild adventure in a strange land.

Culture shock presents itself in some unusual ways: being chastised for holding a door or saying ‘yes ma’am’, not finding the spices or coffees or foods that I require in my local grocery store, driving anywhere…

But lately I’ve been noticing another kind of culture shock: Potluck Suppers. They’re a staple of church life in the South. We call them ‘Covered Dish Suppers’, but the principle is the same: everyone in the community agrees to come together to share a meal. Everyone brings a little something and it adds up to a feast. Perhaps there’s some programming or event around which the meal is centered, but not usually. Usually, it’s just about the meal and the community and the miracles that abound when the two are allowed to blossom into a celebration.

I guess the primary difference between ‘Covered Dish Suppers’ in the South and ‘Potluck Suppers’ in the North is that y’all seem to feel the need to plan it all out. Potluck Suppers, as least as I’ve experienced them in New Jersey, tend to involve sign-up sheets and pre-planned commitments about who will come and who will bring what and – God forbid – sometimes even a collection basket for those who didn’t bring anything.

Covered Dish Suppers, on the other hand, tend to be a bit more informal. Sure, we all know Miss Eula Mae is gonna bring her 7-layer coconut cake, so we don’t bring that, but everything else just kind of happens. Yeah, there may be two trays of deviled eggs, but everyone’s deviled eggs are a little different, so it can’t hurt. And it’s true, tuna casserole with that corn flake topping doesn’t really GO with pot roast, but who cares?!

Covered Dish Suppers aren’t about planning a meal; they’re about making space for grace. It doesn’t work out as neatly as if it had all been planned ahead of time, but works out all the same.

It never really adds up. Everyone is asked to bring enough for themselves. Some people don’t bring anything. Everyone eats more than their share, and there are always leftovers. It just doesn’t add up. We can’t know how it works, but we know it works.

This is Paul’s prayer for the church: that we might “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”; that we might know the unknowable.

For me, this is the function of the miracles in the story of Jesus: they remind us not just that there are unknowables in this world, but that through the grace of Christ, they can be known. In our post-modern, western culture we compulsively try to explain away the unknowables in our lives. We can be pretty imaginative in our attempts – explaining how the parting of the Red Sea might have been a drought followed by a flash flood, or explaining away the empty tomb by saying either that Jesus didn’t really die or that his body was stolen.

We do this because miracles make us uncomfortable. Miracles are unknowable and nothing makes us quite as uncomfortable as those things that surpass knowledge.

As Elizabeth told you last week, she and I spent the previous two weeks at the triennial General Convention of The Episcopal Church. One of the highlights at every General Convention is the Integrity Eucharist. Integrity is the organization that lobbies the church for the full inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Episcopalians. At every General Convention we gather to give thanks for the witness and ministry of LGBT people in a festive celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Over the more than 20 years that this celebration has been happening, the Integrity Eucharist has grown from a nearly secret gathering of about 40 people to this year’s grand affair with more than 1,200 worshippers boldly proclaiming the grace of God’s inclusive love.

One of the most moving moments of the service for me happened during the administration of the sacrament. No one had expected such an overflowing congregation, and there simply wasn’t enough planned music to cover the time necessary to get everyone fed. Probably without really thinking about it, and maybe even out of a little desperation, the music director began playing “Jesus Loves Me” on the piano. With the accidental nature of a Covered Dish Supper the congregation erupted into the most spirited singing of that Sunday School hymn that there ever was. These once-upon-a-time outcasts who had once begged, “Jesus loves me” as a plea to the church, were now singing, “Jesus Love Me” as a proclamation to the church.

Of course most of this congregation isn’t Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender. And neither is most of The Episcopal Church. So it might be tempting to abandon the work that Elizabeth and I did at General Convention as “just political”, or even worse: “too political”. But it’s not. Our work was political, but it was also a lot more. It was about knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. It was about every member of this church having the chance to know the truth that “Jesus Loves Me” even when the sum of those words doesn’t seem to add up against the whole of any of our lives.

Look within yourselves. In those loneliest and quietest moments of the night, aren’t there times for you, too, when “Jesus loves me” sounds more like a plea than a proclamation? Aren’t there times when doubts and fears seem overwhelming and the love of Christ seems unknowable?

Andrew, looking at the five loaves and two fish available for the feeding of the five thousand, said to Jesus, “What are they among so many?” Or as one commentator paraphrased him, “How can the tremendous need we see be met by so small an offering?”

Who among us does not often feel that our offering is too small and insignificant to meet the needs of our own lives, much less those needs of the world?

But here is the secret: our offerings are always small. The needs of the world are always great, and our offerings to meet them are ALWAYS small in comparison. But through God, as revealed in community, our offering, though seemingly insignificant, is sufficient. It doesn’t quite add up, but the unknowable becomes known.

Like a proper Covered Dish Supper, we don’t need to plan out all the details. The end result almost certainly won’t be perfect, but it will always be sufficient and even abundant. And sometimes it will even be perfect.

Like the abundant love of Christ showered on all of us who don’t deserve it even a little, life doesn’t always add up right, but it divides up just fine. Amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

General Convention 2009 - from my perspective

Well, I'm back in New Jersey after two weeks in Anaheim, California for the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. My body isn't quite ready to be back on East Coast time, and I'm not entirely sure my heart is either.

You see, I'm one of those weirdos that REALLY likes the church's political life. I think the chaplain to the House of Deputies, Frank Wade, said it best when he reminded us that political and liturgical share similar etymological roots - they both have to do with the work of the people.

So I mourn the close of GC2009 - the legislative accomplishments, the relationships renewed and newly formed, the thrilling worship, and all the rest... And while it's still fresh, I'll offer some reflections.

I didn't have much time for posting during the Convention - only a few quick posts here and there. So now I'll offer a recap of my experiences through some pictures and captions.

I hope you enjoy!

Here's the sight from just outside the House of Bishops on the third floor of the Convention Center in Anaheim. Palm-lined streets and mountains just to the west. I need mountains now and then, so it was therapeutic for me to have them so handy! When I got tired or frustrated, I just spent some time with the mountains.

Wherever there is General Convention, there, too, shall be fundamentalist protesters. I don't actually mind protesters. At one level I think they're funny. At another, I find them oddly inspiring. It takes real commitment to go to a convention of thousands of Episcopalians to argue that The Episcopal Church is of the devil. I mean, this was a gathering of some of the most committed members of the church. You'd think there'd be a slightly less tough row for them to try to hoe!

I took several pictures of the protesters. This was my favorite - their message of hate juxtaposed against the "The Episcopal Church welcomes you" sign. And they were welcome. In all the times I saw them, I never saw anyone treat them with disrespect. They were strongly disagreed with, but they were always welcomed and respected - at least as far as I saw.

This was my favorite response to the protesters. Some of the youth at the convention organized around the protesters and started an "Adopt a protester" campaign. They were collecting money for one of the AIDS advocacy organizations in the church and gave the donations in the names of the protesters. They were holding a little contest to see which protester would raise the most money. I gave a little bit in the name of the guy holding the +Gene Robinson sign!

One of the highlights of convention is always the daily Eucharist. It's just thrilling to worship with thousands of Episcopalians all at once - an experience most of us don't get that often! Early in the convention the Archbishop of Canterbury joined us and preached in the liturgy. Here's my best picture of him. He's in there, I promise!

In response to the ++Rowan's visit, Integrity organized its supporters to have 500 multi-colored t-shirts worn in worship that said, "Here I Am, Send Me! I am a witness to God's inclusive love". The message was that we are not in the church as an albatross, but as witnesses to the love of Christ.

So this picture is of none other than the blessed Marge Christie - long-time Deputy from my own Diocese of Newark and fierce, early advocate for both women's ordination and LGBT inclusion.

Speaking of LGBT inclusion - here's the reception for the Integrity Eucharist. It's one of the most highly anticipated events at each General Convention and this year it broke all the records! We were actually on-site at the Convention Center and drew more than 1200 worshipers.

Here's my friend, mentor, and new (again) boss, the Rev'd Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton, signing autographs at the Integrity Eucharist reception.

Here's my friend, the VERY Rev. Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, brand new President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, doing an interview with the team from Reveal Productions - a company doing a major documentary on Bishop Robinson that will be aired on PBS in 2011.

The day after the Integrity Eucharist, we made headlines in all the Episcopal media (we're really getting mainstream, huh?!).

Bishop Gene Robinson presided at the Eucharist and Bishop Barbara Harris (first woman to be ordained a bishop in the Anglican Communion) was the preacher.

And did she preach!

Whenever Bishop Harris decides to say something, you'd be wise to listen, and this sermon was no exception. You can watch the full sermon HERE (and soon on DVD from IntegrityUSA).

Though I've already blogged the "money quote" of the sermon, it's worth blogging again! Bishop Harris said:

"If you don't want GLBT folks as bishops, don't ordain them as deacons.
Better yet, be honest with them and say we don't want you, you don't belong here,
and don't bestow upon them the sacrament of baptism to begin with.

How can you initiate someone and them treat them
like they are half-assed baptized?"

On the Sunday that is encompassed by General Convention is always the principle Eucharist of the gathering. Thousands of visitors come from the surrounding areas.

Elizabeth will probably tell you that she was standing on her chair to see over the crowds in this shot, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she was actually becoming slain in the Holy Spirit. I think that if my flash had not distracted her, she may well have begun pew running!

But General Convention was not ALL worship and beautiful scenery. The vast majority of the time was spent inside the Convention Center at Legislative Sessions and Committee meetings. Additionally, we on the Integrity team, did a lot of work in every spare moment we could find.

Here's the Rev. (and very-nearly-Canon) Susan Russell blogging from the gallery of the House of Deputies.

And here's the Rev. Dr. Cameron Patridge, of TransEpiscopal working on some background to help one of the committees he was working with to understand and communicate about issues related to transgender Episcopalians.

This guy is SO smart that it takes TWO computers to keep up with his mind!!

And here is some of the leadership of TransEpiscopal caucusing with Bishop Thomas Shaw, SSJE and Bishop Barbara Harris.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a big ole legislative nerd. I really love this stuff! So just to prove it, here's a picture of me with the House of Deputies in the background.

Yep. That's gonna be my primary profile photo for a while to come...

Our work was very successful. With a team of 30 full-time volunteers, countless other part-time volunteers, and throngs of supportive Bishops and Deputies, Integrity was able to achieve all of its legislative goals. We have successfully moved beyond 2006-B033 and its de facto moratorium on the election and consecration of additional openly-gay and partnered bishops for our church. We have made MAJOR strides forward on the road to marriage equality. In addition, we also helped to pass legislation to guarantee non-discrimination in lay employment in the church, legislation that puts The Episcopal Church on record in supporting LGBT equality in immigration regulations and practices, and a few pieces of legislation specifically in support of transgender rights in the church and society.

So with all of that success, we needed a night of celebration! We had some great time for debriefing, a nice dinner, and even more time for enjoying our last night together after it was all over.

Among others, we had one particularly special drop-in guest. Bishop Gene Robinson, despite missing the last day of Convention because of a flu, stopped by to thank us for our work and to offer courage for the road ahead.

It was a good General Convention. Now I can't wait for 2012!!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

My IntegriTV debut!

I was interviewed for today's edition of IntegriTV - our daily video about goings on at General Convention. Take a look!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Integrity Eucharist!

A recap from our friends at IntegriTV!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A meeting of the firsts...

It was an incredible night last night in Anaheim! At every General Convention the Integrity Eucharist is widely recognized as one of the biggest highlights!

This year was different, only in that it was even better than before. The official count from Integrity is that we had more than 1300 people in attendance.

Bishop Gene Robinson presided over our gathering with gentleness and humility.

Bishop Barbara Harris brought a word. And how!

So here's her money quote from the night:

"If you don't want GLBT folks as bishops, don't ordain them as deacons.

Better yet, be honest and say, 'we don't want you, you don't belong here' and don't betsow on them the sacrament of baptism to begin with.

How can you initiate someone and treat them like they are half-assed baptized?"

Now tell me that won't preach!!!

And to bring an incarnational presence to her words, dozens - maybe more than a hundred - of us who are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender bishops, priests, and deacons crowded around Bishop Robinson for the blessing.

As a church, we are blessed beyond measure by the ministries of these two giants of the faith.

Follow all of the news from General Convention via IntegriTV at the General Convention Portal. Rumor has it that I'll be interviewed for it early next week, so keep watching!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


From IntegriTV - the source for news and video related to LGBT advocacy at General Convention