Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Alone on the Beach

It was a brisk and somewhat chilly morning when I went out for a stroll this morning on the boardwalk. The sky was overcast, the waves, choppy, my soul, yearning.

It's not yet really winter here...heck it is in the 50s this morning. So, I went for a walk over to the Ocean Grove Pier. On the way back to my apartment, there were two Canada Geese that went zooming over my head. The geese hang around Asbury Park almost all of the year so it's not too surprising to see them here in December. They are usually in really plentiful gaggles though. This pair was really boogieing as they flew towards the AP Convention Hall. I figured they had become separated from their flock and were racing to find their feathered companions.

It was really interesting though when I walked on the other side of the hall. I heard this lone gander loudly honking. I looked onto the beach to see this rather large bird standing in the sand by himself. Alone. I wondered if he was pleading for companionship. I pondered if he was one of the pair that I'd seen airborne a few minutes before. I felt sad for him. Had he been left behind, deserted? Canada goose family units are quite strong. Why was this bird alone? Why is anyone or anything ever alone of their own choosing?

Then, I looked over my left shoulder back towards the road when I then saw a large gaggle of geese feeding in the tall grass between the road and the beach. How odd. Why is this single male standing and honking all by himself when there's a gaggle of his breed less than 30 yards away?

I thought to myself. Isn't that how life is sometimes. We stand isolated for one reason or another when we are not so far from loved ones or hopeful opportunities. We race to get to a place with someone and wind up separated anyway. We cry (honk) out for help when the companions we need are not so far away at all. God is never that far away or at least that's the essence of our faith.

Here in Advent, I find myself restlessly pondering God's presence once more. I struggle with Winter's approach. My soul desires to cry out for companionship, reassurance, concrete answers. I listen for God nearby the ocean's tides and wispy breezes. I want Christ and the Church to come and rescue me rather than continue my search. I don't take the necessary time that it takes to gaze upon the whole landscape of my life to observe all that is thankfully taking place in nearby and unseen ways.

The extraordinary moment of Christ's birth isn't here yet even as extraordinary moments are taking place right now... Watching, wandering, and sometimes wallowing... onward into Advent we go - not necessarily or ever alone.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent 1

We need a savior. We need God to come into the world and offer us Divine love so that we can similarly love one another. The wonder of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that God is both immanent and transcendent. Jesus is born as we are born even as the Creator God resides at the fertile core of our galaxy.

These are just a couple of thoughts I shared in my Advent 1 Sermon. May you encounter Christ in a especially holy way this week.

Blessings Along The Way,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This Thanksgiving

President Obama in his Presidential Thanksgiving Day Proclamation states:

This harvest season, we are also reminded of those experiencing the pangs of hunger or the hardship of economic insecurity. Let us return the kindness and generosity we have seen throughout the year by helping our fellow citizens weather the storms of our day.

I totally concur with the President. I listened last night to parish representative after parish representative speak to the efforts they are taking to feed the homeless and offer a Thanksgiving meal to people in need of both shelter and food. +George Councell thanked all of us in the convocation for our acts of kindness and service to Christ's gospel.

Here's something that frustrates me though... as I'm sure it has frustrated Christians down through the centuries. Why does the common person have to take care of another common person when wealthy institutions and organizations pay so little attention to the needs of the poor. Robert Scheer writes:

The assumption of both the Bush and Obama administrations was that what was good for the banks would be good for the general economy, but just the opposite has happened. While the financial sector flourishes, the economy stagnates. As The Wall Street Journal reported in its story on the release of the Fed minutes: "Federal Reserve officials downgraded their outlook for the U.S. economy ... projecting that the jobless rate could exceed 8% for two more years and that it won't return to its former vitality for five years or more."

Jesus Christ offered his life to people in need. His acts of mercy, his rejection of Pharisaic oppression, his opposition to Caesar's taxation, his death on the cross, his resurrection from the Easter Day tomb all point towards the creation of a Reign of God that stands in such a marked contrast to what contemporary capitalism stands for today. A friend of mine commented on my Facebook page:

The Corporate world has replaced the Tzars, Kings and other powers who had the royalty and the peasant. We now have the corporate world with the rich and the rest of us. We get what falls from their table. Even with better economic conditions for us generally, we are still people who live and behave strictly for our self interest.

Is Ben+ correct? Is CitiBank the new Caesar. Is the Church the present-day Christ who stands in opposition to the economic rules governing our financial behavior? Is the Church the present-day Christ who cries out for the poor among us and calls for institutional change as well as for individual acts of kindness? I have a credit card. I will enjoy the security of a job in the warmth of worship in a parish tomorrow morning. We will collect perishable food items to share with our neighbors. Nonetheless, the system on a broader scale will seemingly not change.

Jesus, in the Gospel According to John, says: For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

We need Christ's bread more than ever these days. We need his presence to push back as best we can with calls for justice and fairness. We need his desire to care for hungry people. Many of our neighbors, need us to give thanks of what we have by offering it to them. We need corporations to think of their stakeholders in a different way - a way that keeps people in their homes, skilled laborers employed, children in school, and forgiving debts to those who have been mistreated. These changes in capitalistic behavior may not come quickly; so we who are The Church, must bridge the gap as Jesus the Christ does for us with hopes for a better and more holy tomorrow

Blessings Along The Way and Best Regards for a Happy and Holy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How do I know?

People of Faith, especially clergy, spend a great deal of time wondering about what decisions they should make for the benefit of those they serve and/or more meaning in their lives. Where should I work? What does God want me to do with my life? How can I make my life be more than it is? What can I do to make a difference in the world?

These questions bump up against what we desire to do for ourselves, for our own yearnings, desires, "passions" (if you will). Should I accept a call to ____? What do I intend to achieve in the time I have left with my vocation? I love ___ is it ok for me to pursue that goal? Which cliff do I have to jump off of in order to get what my heart desires?

Dr. Phillip Cary recently wrote an interesting Christian Century article (subscription required) about this vocational topic. Therein he wrote: We shouldn't be praying to discern the Lord's will in our situation; we should be praying to learn how to discern good from bad. That's the kind of prayer that makes us co-workers with the Spirit of Christ, who is working in us, reshaping our hearts so that they will be hearts of wisdom. (para. #23, Sept. 21, 2010).

Cary recalls that Solomon didn't ask God for wealth or fame; Solomon prayed for wisdom, an ability to discern what would be the best use of God's resources and Solomon's own skills for the benefit of the people of Israel.

I can't recall where I was reading about this theme earlier today but that thread prompted me to think about the amount of energy I have been spending on discernment: Where to go, what to do, how to "do it." Ultimately, as much as I would really like to have one - God doesn't provide us a crystal ball for our lives. God does provide us a brain to reason with as well as a heart to guide our path. The Spirit moves within us in such a way as to provide a compass for plotting a course for our pilgrimage of faith.
I believe that each Christian's "ministry" is to strengthen everyone’s else's body, heart, and soul to love God and love their neighbors. The Church accomplishes its mission by strengthening these bonds through its incarnational witness to Jesus Christ’s gospel message of compassion, and Grace. Everything else that we do as The Church flows from these commandments. If true, I'm learning in my faith quandary that vocation and call are not so much about "where and when" as they are about "how and how much." Our Lord (in the sense of Messiah, Teacher, and Guide) commands us to use our wisdom, talents, and resources to offer thanks and honor to God even as we strive to bring God's reign of justice, humility, and compassion into being. Figuring out how to live into that mission demands commitment and trust in our abilities to live out Christ's commandments regardless of time or place.

May our landings be soft and our confidence be strong.

Blessings Along The Way,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Losing or regaining a Sacramental Sense of Marriage

I woke up early this morning and turned on the television to MSNBC. The talking heads were conversing around the usual themes of Washingtonian politics, the 2012 election (we're so far removed from the '10 election) and other stuff. Then they came on with this story: A collaboration between Time Magazine and the Pew Foundation where the experts studied the "State of our Unions." One of the studies key findings is:

A new “marriage gap” in the United States is increasingly aligned with a growing income gap. Marriage, while declining among all groups, remains the norm for adults with a college education and good income but is now markedly less prevalent among those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. The survey finds that those in this less-advantaged group are as likely as others to want to marry, but they place a higher premium on economic security as a condition for marriage. This is a bar that many may not meet.
(Pew Charitable Trusts, 18 Nov. Para. #2)

The speaker in the MSNBC story claims that marriage has become an institution for the wealthy rather than the less wealthy. Also, men benefit more from marriage than women do. (happier, live longer, more prosperous). A higher percentage of women are suggesting that marriage is no longer a prerequisite for their happiness as it has been in the past. All of these facts are changes that have taken place from the last few decades.

More and more people, since the recession started, believe that they can't afford to get married. Here's another head scratcher -- 60% of the young people under the age of 30 believe that marriage is obsolete but 95% of them want to get married. There are 8 times as many out of wedlock births as compared to 1960. Americans are accepting broader definitions of family: single men living with children; Unmarried couples living together. According to Hope Yen, study participants said that "
Three out of five people said a same-sex couple with children is a family."

These are radical shifts, if true in the emergence of a new understandings for sacramental and pastoral relationships, church community, and Christian life in the broader world that go well beyond creating blessings of unions for same sex couples. How will established parishes welcome couples, regardless of gender, who are living with one another with no immediate intention of getting married because they can't afford it or don't think it is necessary? What can we do to provide affordable day care, weekday schools for single parent families, including men, and their children? We say that we desire to welcome more young people into our midst. The study suggests: "The changing views of family are being driven largely by young adults 18-29, who are more likely than older generations to have an unmarried or divorced parent or have friends who do. Young adults also tend to have more liberal attitudes when it comes to spousal roles and living together before marriage. (Yen, 2010, Para. #9)

I don't have the data but my inference is that many Episcopal Churches are primarily composed of "traditional" families (mother, father, children, grandchildren). We certainly welcome divorced and remarried people much more so than in the past; nonetheless, I don't know of many congregations who intentionally open their doors to economically disadvantaged single parents with children or to younger singles and couples who are not necessarily interested in marriage.

How shall the sacraments change to reflect the changing values of the culture. (relativism or new means of evangelism?) I love the idea that the culture's understanding of "family" is broadening even as I wonder about the potential disadvantages for children who are raised without a primary mother or father figure and/or must work through the difficulties of living in a stepmother/stepfather scenario. The Church has many roles to play in these situations with Christ's love for the outsider being at the center of the Church's intentions and programs.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shadows and Silence

The recent issues surrounding Don't Ask, Don't Tell are reverberating in my head and soul these days. I find it increasingly difficult to understand and cope with our society's inability and unwillingness to deal with "difference." The policy of DADT is prejudicial and degrades the quality of life of servicemen and women and alike. It's a "path of least resistance" solution. If we ignore something, it isn't real, it really isn't important, or it really, really, really says something about how we feel about ourselves and our dislike for someone else who isn't like us. We don't want to admit we have issues with "the other." This truth holds fast for oppressed people and oppressors alike.

I recall some years ago, after I suffered the consequences of DADT, how I moved home to Arizona and had to row my way through some tough waters to become reconciled to myself, The Church, and the world. It was a period of immense transformation and tremendous struggles. I began a process of "openness" that wasn't, and isn't easy. LGBT people, like people suffering with addictions, homeless people, people of color, un(under) employed and other marginalized individuals and communities constantly have to decide when, where, how, and why to unmask their personal situations, and/or "come out" to their friends, classmates, church congregations, (pastors/priests). The norm seems to be one of avoidance rather than disclosure.

Jesus said "For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open." (Luke 8:17) . Nonetheless, AA groups continue to meet in safe, but separate locations, as alcoholics remain intoxicated behind the security of the walls of their home. Homeless people stay in congregational shelters even as they worry that someone they know will discover their homelessness.

There are a myriad of ethical issues regarding homelessness, sexual orientation, addictions and the boundaries we put into place around these matters of difference. Faithful people and congregations alike wrestle and work around integration and interaction between members of different races, socio-economic class, generations, and sexual orientations. I'm saddened, but not surprised, by the fact that young people feel a heightened sense of shame because of their economic situation or the fact that they are lesbian, bi, and gay through no fault of their own. I empathize with people to the sense that, at one time, I was gay, unemployed and alone. I didn't want anyone to know. This sense of shame and secrecy leads me to wonder how can we work towards creating better understanding between people and relationships when we decide that the best "win-win" is to avoid one another. I don't have any ready-made answers but it certainly seems like there have to be some ideas out there worth consideration and response.

The reign of God does not exist in the shadows of society's inability to cope with otherness. Jesus the Christ physically and spiritually touched (touches) the outsiders of his day in broad daylight. Can't we work on methods to manifest his compassion today? We should work on one-on-one as well as systematic and institutional methods to become more transparent. There's a difference between hanging out a "welcoming congregation" sign and actually inviting someone into the life of a spiritual community. "Victims" as well as privilege people have to be willing to embrace one another without shame and fear. Otherwise - the institutions of our society will either avoid issues of discrimination and/or not bring them to a vote at all. Shadows of shame and separation will continue to lengthen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Open House

What does it mean for a "liberal" church such as the Episcopal Church to "cross borders?"

I'm struck by the fact that we, acknowledgedly, aren't very good of getting outside of our walls. Some things such as exclusivity in The Church haven't changed much since I was young. Lots and lots of gay/straight teens and young adults don't know that we have something to offer them that's meaningful. Church leaders focus on other priorities or they remain silent for any number of reasons while hoping that Christianity will remain relevant to people in their teens and 20s. Younger people aren't going to show up on their own, especially if they aren't already members of the community. They especially will stay away if they believe The Church is full of nothing but hypocritical and mean-spirited people.

White Episcopalians gay and straight alike need to get out from behind their Sunday worship services and get into the marketplace, literally and figuratively. How are we manifest on the "commons" of life for younger and more mature Hispanics, Haitians, African Americans, and other people of color as well as LGBT people? When do our parish walls become the borders that we're stuck behind?

Many Episcopalians think that we should be more inclusive but somehow it takes too much energy to get it done. Why is that true? Here's a thought.. let's have an "Open House" once a month. Let's especially invite people who aren't precisely like us. Let's take some tips from the successful Realtors in our midst and advertise (Facebook, Twitter), "stage our home" and be prepared to be cordial and answer questions. One thing that many Episcopal parishes are good at is serving refreshments and offering enjoyable music. What would it look like to have an event on a week night @ 10 pm that was just for young adults? How would we open our doors to that community? Maybe it wouldn't take place in our parish hall at all.... maybe it would be in a downtown coffee shop or pub.

There's lots and lots of talk about diminishing Christian congregations in America. What steps are we going to take? The Way exists - let's walk it with Jesus into our communities to welcome folks not like us.