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Use your words

I’ve been at CREDO this week.

CREDO is a delightful program put on by the Church Pension Group in which clergy are whisked away for a week at a time to contemplate their vocations, their ability to care for themselves, and to get in touch again with their initial call to ministry. 

Also, to accumulate more CPG swag than you can outfit a small army with.

My CREDO is taking place about an hour northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, without cell service, or reliable internet, and so I was late to the news of the Charleston massacre.  9 people, murdered at Emmanuel AME Church, by a white gunman— a man who sat through Wednesday night bible study beside his victims before he opened fire.

It’s been three days now and I am still having a hard time with words, with language.  Thursday morning, when I saw the news on Twitter, I didn’t have words either—all I did was go to our faculty and ask that we begin in prayer.  So we had calming words.  We had soothing words, flying away, this bright morning.

They were fine, those words. We prayed for peace, for reconciliation, for comfort in times of fear.  All good things, that I am glad we prayed for. 

But perhaps this is not what we needed. 

What we needed was confession, and repentance. 

It strikes me, sitting here in the Florida sunshine that despite all these words that have been flowing, that flow so freely each time something like this happens (and let’s be honest for a moment—this happens.  This has been happening for a long, long time.  Sometimes it’s the police, sometimes it’s the neighborhood watch, sometimes it’s a man who dislikes loud music, but it happens way too often than it should in 2015 America.)

And each time it happens, there are so many words we don’t hear.  There are words we don’t say.  There are stories we don’t tell.

Yet we must.  We have to tell them.  And I say “we” very deliberately, because the problem of racism in this country isn’t a problem that the Black community needs to solve all by themselves—the problem of racism is a problem that the White community needs to solve.  Me.  People who look like me.  This heritage of hate that my ancestors built and I continue to profit from.  That’s my problem.  That’s my church’s problem.  We started this fire.

For as long as we pretend that the only people most affected by racism are also the only ones tasked with ending it, we will get exactly nowhere. 

So we need to tell the truth.  We need to tell it all.  We need confession and repentance in this country.  We need to start recognizing and naming the truth of the racism all around us, infecting the very ground of our country, the institutions we rely on.  If racism is our besetting sin, then only confession will help get us on the road to healing. 

We need to acknowledge that for generations, until the last 40 years, most white Americans did not believe in the humanity of Black people—this despite the fact that Black people literally built this country from the ground up. 

We need to tell the truth about the fact that if you have White ancestors who lived in this country prior to 1865, they either owned slaves, or profited in some way from the practice.  (This is to quietly gloss over the fact that lots of folks also profited from Jim Crow laws and redlining, by the way.)

And, we need to be honest about the fact that people are complex.  Just because someone is nice, or a good conversationalist, or makes hilarious jokes, doesn’t also mean they can’t also be virulently racist, or divide humanity into “human” and “less than human”.

We need to tell the whole truth.  We need to use all our words.  Not just the placid ones that comfort in times of trial, not just the ones that cry out for peace, but the ones that name the conflict.  The ones that bewail our aching wounds.  The ones that call for justice and lament our brokenness. 

Those are the words we need. Use them. 

Red Shoes’ Guide to General Convention

It’s that time again:  the ComicCon of Ecclesiastical Polity, the Family Reunion of church geeks, the Carnival of Pious Delights.

It’s time for General Convention 2015!  (Motto: Someone’s got to teach the LDS about scotch and Starbucks.)

Numerous tips and tricks have been flying about the interwebz on how best to attend to this EpiscoFest.  The esteemed HoB/D listserv has many recommendations, for example.  These include such gems as 1.) wash your undies in the sink 2.) bring high energy bars 3.) be sure to wear shoes best appropriate for mountain hiking, since the conference center may become mountainous at ANY MOMENT. 4.) Convention involves many of the following things for which one should be prepared: walking uphill many miles in the snow/rain/deadly heat/swarms of locusts, etc,  endurance trials the likes of which many lesser beings do not survive, lengthy tales of How Things Were in Ye Olden Days When All Was Sunshine and Joy. 

They are not entirely correct—though far be it from me to discount the word of an Episcopal listserv (the Wave of the Future!!)  However, there are several more pressing concerns that might be of interest to you, if by chance, you don’t buy the theory that General Convention is a slightly more polite gladiator contest.  Thus, I give unto you:  The Red Shoes’ Guide to General Convention!

1.) Portable power packs are your friend. 

You will, of course, need your smart phone and your laptop.  You will therefore never be able to find an outlet when you need it.  Invest, therefore, in a solid portable power source. 

If you’re very industrious, charge others for the service.  Or, if you’re running for something, this is a great way to build goodwill.  “Vote for me, and I’ll give EVERYONE POWER!!!!”

2.) It’s not the Exhibit Hall—it’s the EpiscoMall.

Want a new clergy collar?  Want all the buttons to be found outside the Summer Olympics?  Head to the Exhibit Hall, where every blessed group in the Church has come to set up a booth.  EVERYONE.  No matter your political, theological, or culinary leanings, you’ll find someone to hang out with in there.  And they will probably give you free swag. 

For that, you should be leaving extra space in your suitcase, otherwise that new crocheted fair trade stole from Guatemala is getting shipped home,

3.) This is not the Hunger Games.

I mean—it’s not.  Though at times, you will be so busy that you forget what day it is, and whether you believe in the Real Presence or not, much less whether you’ve eaten in the last day.

Therefore, please do take meal breaks.  If not those, take coffee breaks (I’m assuming that like a good Episcopalian, you’ve staked out all the good coffee shops already). 

4.) This is important

While General Convention does frequently feel like a giant summer camp, we do have an important job to do.  It is General Convention that is tasked with running the church—not the bishops, not the PB, excellent though they may be.  It is us.  This matters.

As a side, this is why, when you see me, I’ll be wearing nice shoes and somewhat nice clothes.  Because this is important, and, for me, when I want to take things seriously, I wear nicer shoes and nicer clothes. 

But, you do you.

5.)  This is fun.

Lots of people hate experiencing the councils of the church.  All the Roberts Rules of Order, all the arguing, the arcane debates, the endless politics and vote-getting.

Me, I love it.  Because one of the charisms of our church is that we enjoy each other.  We have conga lines of the floor of the House of Deputies, we establish running jokes, we initiate Bingo games to liven things up. 

The work of God in the world is serious—nothing is more so.  But neither is anything more joyous. 

So, if you’re here in Salt Lake City, and you see me, come over and see me.  But most of all, have fun in our wild little carnival.  We’re lucky to do this.

Christ is risen; the elevator is broken

One thing I learned from my mother, the hospice nurse, is that chaos never goes it alone.  Chaos is seasonal, and the full moon has that reputation for a reason.  Ask any emergency room nurse (ignore the ER doctors–they’re sweet, but only the nurses know what’s actually going on.)–nothing brings out the chaos and the outright weirdness like a full moon.  Or the holiday season.

In the church, the same is true.  Is it Christmas?  Batten the hatches–the boiler will probably die.  Is the bishop about to visit?  Then your alb, which you always put back in the same place every time, will mysteriously vanish on you.  Is it Holy Week?  Then the copier will most certainly give up the ghost, just as you must print All The Bulletins in 2 days.  And at least one parishioner will probably need a funeral by the time Easter-week is out.

People new to working in the church are unprepared for this phenomenon.  Perhaps because it has few parallels (outside of a MASH unit, and there are few carryovers from the church to a MASH unit).  A friend of mine was lamenting to me that he had plans for such an organized Holy Week–bulletins all printed 2 weeks ahead, services all planned, everything all finished–only to discover that the day before Maundy Thursday, the rector wanted to change the order of something. Cue the usual mad panic.

I’ve been working in churches now, in one way or another, for about 14 years.  Here is what I’ve learned:

All Holy Weeks are stressful.  All of them are chaotic.  All of them will go sideways at one point or another.  People, for whatever deep, primal reason, go through transition around these times.

You cannot prevent the chaos, you can only survive it.

And really, that’s pretty much the case for ministry in the Church as a whole.  It’d be great if the Church could be predictable, if it could always act like it’s supposed to and hold to its boundaries and always conduct itself like a community of spiritually and emotionally mature adults.

It, however, doesn’t do that.  And instead we’re left with what we have:  an institution full of fallible people.  People who frequently panic, and confuse brick walls for tunnels, and act out and reverse themselves, and fall apart, and do everything except what the gospel calls us to.

However, that’s also the glory of ministry.  I, for one, have little interest in a predictable church, or a church where people always have things figured out.**  I want the church to continue to be a haven for the confused, the restless, the broken, and the disenchanted.   Church works best as a refugee camp, not as a country club.

To that point–St. Paul’s Holy Week started off a bit early, when a parishioner died suddenly and we hosted his (large.  complex.) funeral.  Everyone from all over Kansas City came.  The choir he founded sang.  The three foundations he started collected donations.  The Roman Catholic priest his family insisted on led the rosary the night before, Fr. Stan and I did the service, and an ELCA pastor did the committal at the graveside.   It was a gorgeous service, and went off beautifully, but behind the scenes, from a logistics standpoint, it was a waking anxiety dream.  (Literally.  The mayor and his entourage walked into the packed, standing room only church just as the opening hymn was starting.  I HAVE NIGHTMARES ABOUT THIS.)

But what made me happiest was not when the deceased’s partner commented to us that it was the service he would have loved, and it wasn’t when wave after wave of Catholic Kansas Citians came up to receive communion from me.  It was when I ran downstairs to stick a sign on our decrepit elevator declaring it broken.  Our usher for the day greeted me, “Ok, Megan!  I got it!”

It was Jack.  Who started coming to our parish when he was sleeping on our front steps last summer, and now works in the food pantry, was baptized on Sunday, and is the proudest church usher in the history of ushers.

Who better to welcome the elite of Kansas City into the church than Jack?

Welcome to our messy camp here, friend.  We got you.

 

**Full disclosure: I have to repeat this to myself each time the church makes me angry.  Which is often.

 

The Gospel of Pawnee: Theology of Parks and Recreation

This past week, my favorite television concluded its run.  “Parks and Recreation” has survived for seven seasons on network television–a staggering feat in an increasingly cookie-cutter landscape of multi-camera sitcoms, crime procedurals, and shows about doctors being very bad at medicine.

In the midst of all these things, Parks and Rec managed to stake out ground all by itself–optimistic, but not delusional; romantic, but not twee; quirky, but not so meta that you felt it should have a beard and hipster glasses.  And most of all, genuinely funny.

There’s nothing overtly religious about the show.  (Well, that’s not entirely true–there is a cult called the Reasonablists, who believe the world will end when a giant lizard god named Zorp comes to eat the planet.  As you do.)  But the world and point of view of the show is incredibly strong, which is a gift when pop culture so influential on how and what we think.

I discovered the show about halfway through the second season.  I knew I was sold during the hunting trip episode, when Leslie takes the blame for accidentally shooting her boss, Ron Swanson, in the head.  She’s questioned by the local ranger, who has decided that this accident was inevitable, because of course, women are so easily distracted that they’re prone to shooting people. Leslie sort of frowns, and goes off on a spiel of sarcastic reasons why she shot Ron, all based on sexist stereotypes.  “I just get emotional when I don’t have a boyfriend and I feel like shooting something!  I think I saw some chocolate? I’m bad at math, good at tolerating pain, and bad at concentrating.”

It was hilarious, but most of all, it introduced Leslie as someone who was passionate about lots of things most people on TV aren’t passionate about:  women’s rights, the positive role of government, public policy, the minute details of pretty much everything.  And while Leslie’s passion and intensity was frequently presented as intimidating to others, it was never presented as a psychosis or something she needed to lessen.  It was the source of her strength.  In Leslie, we had a role model for how to be passionate and effective, in the middle of a system that was confused by your presence.

Meanwhile, while Leslie sees the glories of government, one of her dearest friends is an avowed libertarian, who works for the city expressly to stop its functioning.  Eventually, her team comes to include a failed teen mayor, a misanthropic intern, a possibly-brain-damaged guy who lived in a pit, and a man who’s life’s ambition is to live inside a rap video.  These people are wildly different, with little in common.  Mostly, they’re a dysfunctional hodge-podge of Fail.  But when they unite around a common goal, each finds their own way to be effective.  Turns out, the libertarian boss was also a strong feminist.  The pit-living guy performed in a half-way decent rock band.  Over the course of the series, these odd people form a tight-knit community, based on their love and support of one another.

Which is probably the biggest thing I loved about Parks and Recreation.  The show presented a world in which the characters were motivated by love.  Despite its plethora of weird inhabitants, odd customs, atrocious history, etc, Leslie loves Pawnee like she would love a child.  Her passion for the town drives her decisions–even when the citizens are yelling at her (The frequent town hall meetings are a delight, just for the problems of the townspeople.  “I found a sandwich in one of your parks and I want to know why it didn’t have mayonnaise on it.” ) even when they make incredibly dumb choices, even when they eventually turn on her entirely.  All the characters do.  The show itself treats the characters with deep affection–even the wackiest of them.  Everyone has their quirks, but Pawnee is a place where odd ducks and weirdos are celebrated.  It was such a warm and affectionate world that gloried in the weirdness of its people.

I’m sorry to say goodbye.

 

 

 

Sitting on the floor of the airport

Several of my Acts 8 compatriots have written about the Church and what that means in the past few days, so I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

At present, I am sitting on the floor of the Cleveland airport.

This is not a euphemism for anything. My flight back to Kansas City is delayed and the shoeshine stand guy won’t let me sit in in his empty booth and I need to charge up my iDevice, and so, here I sit, on the floor, underneath the laptop work station, returning from a meeting where I rewrote the disciplinary canons of the Episcopal Church.

So, naturally, my thoughts turn to the status of the Body of Christ in a post-Christendom age. (I imagine this happens to all of us when our flights get delayed, right?)

And in this sense, writing this from the airport floor seems like a rather good posture.
(NOW it’s a metaphor.)

At one point, the Episcopal Church rated shoeshines, and seats at the bar, and free drinks in the first class lounge. And probably, at one point in our living memory, we can even remember when we had plentiful chairs to sit in.

Those were heady days.

But we aren’t there anymore. Right now, there’s a feeling in the church that we are firmly planted on the airport floor. With lots of closing churches, a rapidly aging population, and none of the social caché we used to command.

None of that feels great. The floor is not a fun place to be if you’re used to sitting in a comfy chair at a plush bar.

But here’s the interesting thing:

For all of our nostalgia about the good old days, as I look around this airport–
—there’s no one at the shoe shine stand
—there’s no one in the lounge

During this delay, everyone has ended down here on the floor with me, charging their devices. Or clustered around wall outlets, with their phones plugged in.

We may long for the olden days, but that’s not where anyone else is. Even if we could go back, there’s no ministry to be done there.

So while we’re down here, what if we stopped longing after the things that aren’t coming back, and started figuring out what we can do with where we are?

What if we gave up on our safe places where we had become comfortable, and moved out to where we saw the greatest need?
What if we started doing ministry, not just where we thought we could make lots of Episcopalians, but in any place where people needed food, clothing, justice, empowerment and encouragement?

What if we put ourselves out there, to spread tangible signs of the reign of God (all of us–everyone who got sprinkled at baptism) and went out to be salt, light, yeast in the world–little oases in the desert where people can experience Christ?

What if we saw our job as the church as to get down on the floor with people, so we could be where the Spirit is, instead of up where the privilege is?

Becoming a missionary society church will require many things, but mostly, it will require us to embrace where we are.

The new world down here on the floor.


This post is a participating post in the Acts8 BLOGFORCE on “What does it mean to be a 21st century Missionary Society?”

Other BLOGFORCE member posts on this topic

The Acts8 Moment is a missionary society whose purpose is to “Proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church.”

Uncle Sugar is Bad Theology, as well as creepy.

Last week, I was at a meeting for about 2 hours.  When I wandered back to my computer, the Interwebz were spinning themselves into a tizzy.  A politician of a certain stripe had said this in a speech:

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government then so be it! Let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee argued that Democrats “think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have the government provide for them birth control medication.”

“The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender,” Huckabee said.

(Emphasis mine.)

source: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/huckabee-dems-tell-women-they-can-t-control-their-libido


And this is how he defended his comments later:

My whole point was that the women I know are intelligent, thoughtful, educated, capable of running things, capable of making big decisions – and they didn’t need the government to hold their hands. They were not victims of their gender. (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/25/huckabee-defends-comments-as-miley-cyrus-cosmo-weigh-in/)

Ah.

Well, then.

Let’s agree, shall we, that there are a few problems with his line of thought (birth control doesn’t work like that, Uncle Sugar sounds like a nightmarish cartoon villain, that’s not how apologies work, biology was taught in his school district, yes?, etc) the one that really caught me was the last line.

‘To empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.

That, right there.  That’s the real kicker.

Because this implies a worldview where my gender, by virtue of it being a girly one, might attack me.  Might sneak up and bludgeon me with a candlestick, smother me with a pillow while I sleep, make me snuggle a kitten, do all manner of unspeakable things to me.

But it definitely renders me less-than, second-class, vulnerable, somehow.  I must fight my gender, lest I become a victim of it.*

In Mike Huckabee’s world, if you weren’t born a man (or white, or straight, or rich, or any number of things), then you’re already a step behind, you’re already a problem, and you better fight like hell not to fall entirely victim to your unfortunate lot in life.

And the minute you say it out loud, you should hear the problem here.  (If you’re not Mike Huckabee, whom I’ve decided was wearing earplugs during this speech.)

If women all might fall victim to their gender in your mind, then there’s no way women are created equal in your mind.  Especially when compared to men, who, curiously, are not described as needing to corral their gender.

Women are then just imperfect, incomplete men–It’s Thomas of Aquinas’ theory, back from its medieval casket–and as such, they can’t be trusted or treated as equals.

Why, oh why, oh why, does this nonsense get trotted out by modern-day Christians?  Mike Huckabee is a Baptist pastor.  He should know better, in at least 17 different ways.**

I understand that Thomas “T-Bone” Aquinas is amazing, and well-loved.  He was very smart.  But a.) He was one guy. b.) He lived in the Middle Ages.  Picture what he would have done with an iPhone. c.) Even he was aware that he was frequently wrong.

Which brings me to my final point.

God created male and female in the image and likeness of God.  All genders. Everybody.  God wasn’t working through some issues, or working out some kinks in the system.  God is God, and doesn’t make trash.  (And I’m surprised I have to point that out to folks who rely on that EXACT POINT when it comes to evolution, but irony is fun for us all, I suppose.)

If you’re convinced that 51% of the world’s population is made faulty in some way that they must be on guard against, then that’s a really awful slander against their Creator.  I mean, yikes. Either God is really bad at his job in your mind, or God is just getting a bit sadistic with a whole lot of people.

No God I know would do that.  No God I read about in the gospel does that.  No God whom Jesus describes would do that.

The God I know made me as I am on purpose: an opinionated, sarcastic woman who is very fond of shoes and waves her hands around too much.   The God I know makes each of us, like a different fingerprint, on purpose, because this God is tickled by variety.  Each different person, a new facet of God’s image.  Like a new side of a prism, shining in the light.   And each side, a gift.

I wrote last week that nothing convinced me more of an all-powerful Creator than being reminded of the diversity of people.

To flatten this variety into ‘better-than’ vs ‘less-than’ is to flatten God out, too.

So, while Gov. Huckabee is worried about women being ‘victims of their gender‘, he should be worrying about God falling victim to his poor theology.

*I’m not sure what this entails in Mike Huckabee’s mind.  Buy a switchblade?  Stop wearing heels?  Take up kickboxing?  He doesn’t elaborate. HOW SHOULD I DEFEAT MY GENDER, GOV. HUCKABEE?!

**and that’s not counting the fact that in any local church, women have kept everything running since Jesus learned to walk.  Seriously, Mike Huckabee.  Cross the Altar Guild or the ECW one day and see what happens.

They are the ones who knock, Governor.  Mark my words.

Christmas with South Sudan

St. Paul’s hosts a Sudanese mission congregation every Sunday at 1pm.  Their priest, John,  comes in, and leads worship for them every week, after most of us have left.  I pass them in the halls as they enter, and we say hello.  But normally, for the congregations, the most contact we have with each other is to wonder idly how an Arabic Bible ended up in our pew.
But in the last months, the world has watched as the newly formed nation of South Sudan has been ripped apart by violence, in what feels like a bad replay of the Sudanese civil war of the 1990s.  For our Sudanese congregation here, the violence was happening to brothers, sisters, parents, neighbors.  Everyone they’d left behind in South Sudan to come here.  Pastor John would call the office, with accounts of late-night phone calls from South Sudan: people heard from, and people still missing.
It’s been our practice to unite the two congregations for the late Christmas Eve service.  This year it seemed to me to be especially appropriate, as we traded song verses and prayers, back and forth, English and Dinka.  Fr. Stan, Pastor John, and I stood side by side behind the altar at the consecration, singing the sanctus and the Lord’s Prayer in our own varied languages, as we asked the Holy Spirit to come among us.
The vastness of nature as a barometer of God’s transcendence I’ve always thought was overrated.  Nature is lovely, very big, but also impersonal.  Nature doesn’t convince me of God.
What always impresses me with God’s vastness is people.
In our complexity, and our infinite diversity, and all the myriad ways we come up with to damage ourselves and creation.
And all the myriad ways we come up with to do better, and be utterly amazing.
So here we all of us were, on Christmas, all together in all our variedness, praying for Kansas City, and Bor, for those killed and those missing, and those doing the fighting.  For the refugees, and the politicians.  For everyone here and everyone there.  Such a rising chorus of prayer.
And at the heart of all of those prayers–a little helpless Divine Infant, who came to share in our vast, marvelous human diversity.