Friday, June 22, 2012

Budgeting - Getting into the messy details in a contemplative yet pragmatic way

It's been so long since I've been able to post something here. I wish that I took more time to keep my blog current. I'll work on that project during the summer when life should, at least hopefully, slow down a little bit.

I recall that I first started blogging when I was going through the ordination discernment process. I was very interested in The Episcopal Church's life, mission, and processes. Thus, it's not surprising that something that is presently going on in The Episcopal Church (re)captured my attention.  Episcopalian leaders will be gathering in Indianapolis for this year's (77th)  General Convention in about two weeks. Lay persons, priests, deacons, and bishops will work separately and with one another to work on and resolve hundreds of issues. The  Blue Book details all of the various committees, councils, and agencies working throughout the convention. Unquestionably, the most pressing and controversial issue facing the bishops and deputies is the work upon the denomination's 2013-2015 budget. The processes leading up to the adoption of this budget have been convoluted and unsettling. Many observers, including me, were shocked by the proposed cuts to Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministries. One of the church's brightest stars and a St. James parishioner made an excellent video explaining the impact a 90% budget reduction would make upon her, her family, and other Episcopalians. The Dean of Bexley Hall wrote a very penetrating and meanigful commentary about the entire process on his Crusty Old Dean blog.

Here's the deal, last night, I made some comments about this whole budget thing on The Rev. Scott Gunn's Facebook page.  I did so after learning that The Presiding Bishop had decided to submit her own budget. That felt odd to me because she's a member of the denomination's Executive Council and certainly should have had a major stake in their budgetary decisions and debate.  On some level, it feels like Presiding Bishop Schori was very unhappy with what happened with the Executive Council's activities so she is consequently using her organizational authority and leadership status to adopt a budget, that's probably better, on to the General Convention's docket. Top-down decision making and influence scares me, probably because of my military background. Then I read some more comments on Bishop Kirk Smith's blog this earlier today. I wrote some comments there that I won't repeat here.

Here's what I do want to say .... We continue to be in the midst of numerous reformations, within and outside of the Church. Reformations evolve through technical and adaptive changes. Technical changes are about managing and reallocating resources. Technical changes require managers, "leaders," or resource controllers to make rapid organizational or institutional decisions. They often if not always produce new results. That are rarely, if ever, transformational. Adaptive changes hold a greater possibility for truly reforming people, communities, and hopefully Christ's Church. They are messy, protracted, and usually more organic than disciplinary. Ronald Heifetz writes: "Leadership is about mobilizing people’s capacity to sift through and hold on to what’s essential from their past. (Leaders) sift through their organization’s past, or from their family, neighborhood, or community’s past, and hold on to what’s precious and essential from that past (in order) to)hold onto what’s essential. They carry that forward, and discard and let go of that which is no longer essential so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that are generated from these cross-boundary interactions and from contemporary life. 

I hope that The Episcopal Church's deputies and bishops will not get too bogged down in only figuring out technical solutions for our church's budgetary and canonical processes. I pray that they and we as a Church will venture out on to that longer and unforeseeable path like the early disciples and apostles did. I understand that we are by far more institutional and concretized than Sts. Peter and Paul. However, the General Convention, at least from my perspective is hardly post-modern and typically concerned with preserving the status quo. We Episcopalians speak publicly about desiring to become more organic but most of our responses and actions are truly more technical than adaptive. Those persons exercising leadership need to boldly, faithfully, act in an integrated manner. There is an important maxim that I am in the process of learning from Hugh O'Doherty through the Clergy Leadership Project.   It is: "People only take responsibility for those things and actions that they help to create." I am striving to live into such leadership behaviors as a priest, pastor and person. I pray that the Holy Spirit will be present in Indianapolis, especially as Episcopalians discuss the budget and other life-changing and hopefully transformational challenges/opportunities that will be present there.  

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+

Thursday, May 24, 2012


You can read more of my thoughts about Pentecost in our parish's newsletter, St. James' Weekly Epistle. Let me know what you think or how Pentecost will transform you this year.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+

Friday, March 30, 2012

Reflection for Passion Sunday

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ

This Sunday we will read Mark's entire Gospel account of Jesus' Passion as well as celebrate the Liturgy of The Palms. We don't necessarily think of scripture as being "dramatic" but it is. This Sunday's reading encompass the entire range of human emotions: excitement, anticipation, allegiance, anger, rage, fear, betrayal, loneliness, friendship, compassion, despair, respect, and many more that aren't mentioned here.

I wonder if it isn't worth it to listen to the various voices of the gospel narrative to truly live into what is actually going on. What are the characters actually saying and how do their words impact us as we hear what's going on. How is it that a crowd of people move from exulting Jesus of Nazareth upon his entry into Jerusalem to a place where they scream out for his execution just a few days later. How can someone so loyal as Peter swear his allegiance to his rabbi only to completely abandon him in just a few matter of hours. (the photo is Welcome Home by Gurdon Brewster)

Perhaps most important, observe and admire how God responds throughout each and every scene. When and why is Jesus the Christ silent? How does the Incarnate God act in contrast to Pilate? I find myself amazed at the differences between the two even as I wrestle with the scene's meaning for me as one of Jesus' disciples.

We read the Passion narrative because people may or may not be able to share in Holy Week's liturgies later on. We shouldn't bypass any of our Lord's steps from Palm Sunday's triumphant Entry to Easter Sunday's tomb. Golgotha's Cross and Jesus' mortal death are as much of the narrative as is Jesus the Christ's appearance to Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday morning. Each dramatic scene is necessarily connected to the others. These emotional and spiritual truths leap off of scriptural pages into our own experiences, our own dramas. Jesus, the Living Word of God is inscribed onto our souls as well as our Christian faith.

Holy Week begins this Sunday. Come, listen, and live into Christianity's more meaningful drama once again.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lent 1B

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:12-13)

A week ago, Fr. Gil Stafford preached about how Jesus often sought solitude so that he could pray with God. Such solitude provided sacred space for Jesus to better understand what God’s will was for him. This time alone was especially vital as he approached his mortal death on “Good” Friday. Seclusion brings us closer to God and to ourselves. It can also be very scary. Isolating. Silence cracks open doors to voices we strive to set aside from ourselves. Murmurings inside of our heads and hearts discomfort us, especially in times of uncertain pain. It’s crazily silent and discomforting in the Wilderness times of our lives. It’s also when and where we can be most close to God. The Holy Spirit draws us there, most typically kicking and dragging our heals into the dust of our day to day experiences.

On Ash Wednesday – Fr. Howell Sasser told the people of St. James that the Ashes of Lent literally fly into our face. The smudges of ash hold potential power to transform the way that we see God. The blackened sign of the cross on our foreheads can’t help but change the way that people view us. You’ve long since washed away those ashes. Perhaps you’ve forgotten about them, or didn’t even receive them. It may be that Lent’s moments of recognizing your mortality haven’t driven you into the wilderness experiences of fasting, repentance, and reflection just yet. It might even be that you’ve been experiencing Lent’s isolating experiences long before this past Wednesday. Regardless, Lent is here, now – providing the presence of God in opportune yet awfully visible, dusty, visceral ways of being Christian that we more often than not would rather avoid.

The wilds of Lent bump up against the world’s emphasis upon ourselves and the noise of our surrounding political and economic complications. The Holy Spirit’s rough invitation in this season of Lent beckons us to examine our faith. God calls once again to communion with God's self and one another. The Creator’s angels and demons alike wander around with us for 40 days. We determine during these difficult days whether or not we truly desire to deepen our commitments to our Christian lives.

There’s a variety of ways to “do Lent” – Traditionally, people give up something. We swear off on eating chocolate even as we proclaim that we won’t swear at terrible drivers as we normally do. We set our hearts and minds to spend more time accomplishing charitable acts just as we dedicate ourselves to spending less money on gasoline or going to the movies. All of these actions however place the emphasis of our Christianity upon ourselves. We become the center and source of personally decided upon commitments. Listen to what Ash Wednesday’s Gospel says. 5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Jesus didn’t joyfully go racing into the Palestinian Wilderness. God directed him there. Seemingly Jesus’ human personality didn’t comprehend what he should do following his baptism. He wasn’t yet ready to proclaim his presence of God’s Kingdom to the people around him. First, God’s Son, our Lord, goes into the desert because God’s Spirit tells him to go. The desert Jesus entered was and still is a stark and desolate place. Jesus could have fallen in to any number of deep ravines. He spent many nights in cold caves. It’s in the desert of Jesus’ life where he confronted temptations, abided with wild beasts, and lo and behold – was attended to by angels. Fear and love are much more primeval during Lent, especially when we, like Jesus don’t set up the landscape on our own terms, but, on God’s.

I think it was in the Wilderness where Jesus first learned to pray – Our Father – you are holy – Your Kingdom Come – Your Will be Done. Lent isn’t specifically about the good that we can create of our own accord. It is a season of trusting God, waiting for God, and being open to God intentions for us. Lent enables us, however harshly, to be Christ’s followers in our day. These are rarely easy, glee-filled exercises.

This season of penitential solitude is often shrouded in the sufferings of our own personal tribulations as well as those of the people near us. Our response should recognize that suffering is embedded in our human nature. We can’t and shouldn’t oppose it. Rather, we need to find God’s presence and our faith in and through it.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God's holy Word. May God transform you and may you be born anew in the midst of the unknowable but blessed adventures of your Lenten wanderings

Blessings Along The Way - Jim+

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 15, 2012--Listening–Have you got the time?

Here's my Second Sunday after the Epiphany Sermon.

January 15, 2012--Listening–Have you got the time?

I look the whole notion of "call" -- especially in our day and age when people search for a job, or yearn for success. Is it more difficult for us than it was for Jesus' 1st Century CE disciples? Are we more preoccupied than they were?

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of call is facing our own sense of fear and failure. Maybe we are too selfish. Nonetheless, people, young and old continue to search for meaning. Many believe that God is beckoning them to search beyond themselves to the needs of other people and causes. God is beckoning some people to be more prayerful. Generally, I think, God is calling us all to dig deeper, search more broadly, love one another more compassionately. Jesus calls us to follow in his manner of life and continue to offer the Good News of God's reign, boldly and unselfishly.

There are three "steps" to any call process. The first is to listen; to have open ears for God's voice in the midst of the babble and noise of daily living. The second is to respond; to affirm with the people around us that we are not listening to our own egos but to the Will of The Divine who yearns to draws us nearer to God and to the world around us. We must "Go and See." Finally, we being the pilgrimage of discernment, a journey that never ends and is hardly ever, direct in nature.

I hope that these words and sermon bring you encouragement as well as send you further along the path of holiness and happiness.

Blessings Along The Way, Jim+