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New Structure, New Church, Same Jesus

Last week, before I left on retreat (Beautiful Authority Conference, which was amazing) I received in the mail a book from the President of the House of Deputies.

Now, I love to read, and I love books, and so I am disinclined to question when free books start appearing in my mailbox.  But this book was an actual, physical BOOK #1, and #2, it was explaining to me the glorious history of the governance structures of The Episcopal Church, and how it makes us who we are.
And, it does.  But the problem is, who we currently are, in all its vast complexity, is not all we ought to be.
Like I said last time (or the time before the Trinity Break), currently, we’re doing an excellent job pretending to be some odd corporation.  Occasionally, on smaller scales, we like also to be a country club.  And, at points in our history, we have also tried to be a full-on kingdom.
We aren’t good at any of those things, nor are we called to be any of those things.
We’re called to be a church. The embodiment of Christ at this time and place on the earth.  We are called to be turned outward, and serving the world in Christ’s name, like chaplains to the world.
In almost no way are we currently set up to do that.  We’re set up to form committees, and to issue recommendations, or build stuff, or argue.  (We are fantastically good at arguing.)
But as far as dealing with a world that is not predominantly Christian, and not so inclined to listen to our recommendations, learn our language, or venture into our amazing buildings, we are not set up for that.
We need to build a servant structure: and not just servant in terms of “serving the mission of the church”, but servant in terms of serving the world.
And (brace yourselves) but the first thing we need to do is combine the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.
Each diocese gets their active bishops, two clergy, and two lay votes.  I didn’t come up with this brilliant plan; Tom Ferguson+ and others explain it quite well. (We can keep the Presiding Bishop to play with the other primates, for however long we get to stay in the Anglican Communion, and to organize annual Bishops’ Gatherings.  Otherwise, the presiding officer of the new Joint House should be elected from any order of ministry, for the term of the General Convention, banging the gavel and whatnot.)
There are several practical advantages to this plan: it decreases the cost of General Convention dramatically, it lessens the financial pressure on individual dioceses, it decreases the silo effect between House of Bishops and House of Deputies.
Also, it forces us to put our money where our mouth is with regards to ministry of all the baptized.  Since the 1979 BCP came out, we’ve worked hard to establish that you do not receive special powers when you are ordained.  However, neither do you lose your baptismal powers and obligations when you are ordained.  I am bound to respect the dignity of my fellow human beings just as much now as I was prior to donning the plastic collar, if not more so.  When we say everyone is equal before God, then everyone really does need to be equal in the eyes of the church’s structure, and that should include being in the same room to hash out how we’re going to be church together.  And if you’re too intimidated by your bishop to vote a different way, then may haps you, and your bishop, need another lesson in baptismal theology.
So now that everyone’s in one room together, we really no longer need doubles of the committees.  Hooray!
And, we’re going to impose two new rules to guide the work of said committees:
1. Don’t Say it, Do it.
2. Everyone is 3 years old.
Rule #1: Don’t Say it, Do it. 
The first rule is stolen gleefully from Scott Gunn+.  In essence, we need to get out of the mindset that we still run the world, in the manner of Coca-Cola, or Constantine, and that, via efficacious speech, the world will bend to our righteous will.
The Korean Peninsula will not reunify just because we pass a resolution saying we are in favor of that.  The Cuba embargo will not be lifted either.  Nor will a two state solution be reached in Israel/Palestine through the power of our paperwork, EVEN IF we send a copy to the president.
What we should do instead is ACTUALLY DO THINGS.  Want a two-state solution?  Disinvest in Caterpillar, Motorola, and companies that do business in the Occupied Territories.  (This worked to end South African apartheid.)  Want to help heal the planet?  Ask churches to convert to those swirly lightbulbs, and give them incentives to do so.  Ask them to investigate solar panels, and give them incentives.
We can’t just state what we think about things any more and assume people care.  We need to do things, and then explain why we are doing them.  Any committee that can’t fulfill its mandate in actionable steps needs to reconsider its mission.
Speaking of that:  Rule #2!  Everyone is 3 years old.
 We need to explain why.  All the time. Why do we care about global poverty, and universal healthcare?  Why do we care if everyone is included in the church?  Why do we care about transparency in the budget?  Why?  Why? Why?
We need to pretend that the entire world is populated by extremely cute and lovable toddlers who keep asking us, “Why?”
We cannot assume that people understand the connection between Jesus and taking care of the poor.  We cannot assume that people understand the connection between Jesus and loving your neighbor.  We cannot assume that people understand who in the world Jesus Christ, as portrayed in the gospels and as we know him, actually is.  We need to remember that for many, many years now, there has been a concerted effort to use the name of Jesus to bash people who are different, and to justify all manner of hateful actions.  To begin to undo that is perhaps one of the most powerful acts of mission we can engage in.
Last night on the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert had on his show both Sr. Simone Campbell, who heads NETWORK*, and Martin Sheen.  Both are devout Roman Catholics, and both have been noted for their activism on behalf of peace and poverty issues.  (It was an awesome Roman Catholic grand slam.)  What struck me is the audience response.  When Stephen Colbert (who teaches Sunday School at his church, mind you) asked Sr. Simone why nuns were such ‘radical feminists’, and spent so much time serving the poor and sick, she came right back at him.  “That’s the gospel. That’s what Jesus taught us to do.” The crowd burst into sustained applause.
Ditto when Martin Sheen came out.  “Why are you such a liberal commie-type?” queried Colbert, “Well, it pretty much is about that gospel that the sister was talking about.  I’m following Jesus and this is what Jesus taught me.”  Again, the crowd went nuts.
In a period of less than ten minutes, an actor and a nun evangelized a non-churchy audience much better than most Episcopal churches ever do.  Why are we doing this?
Because of Jesus.
Ultimately, the structure we need is answered in that.  Make a structure that serves the world, and invites the question, so that everything we say, do, and are is answered by, “Because of Jesus.”
*NETWORK is an progressive Catholic group which “educates, lobbies and organizes for economic and social transformation.”

Living with Ghosts


Arizona has been a state for 100 years this month.  And it seems that the state legislature is attempting to set some sort of record in their centennial year.

Earlier this year, the state passed a law (HB 2281) that cuts off up to 10% of the school district’s funding if the school provides any class that ‘promotes the overthrow of the US government, promotes resentment toward a race or class of people, is designed primarily for pupils of one ethnic group, or advocates ethnic solidarity.’ (a quote from the law.)
Shockingly, the one school district in the state that offers classes like this is the Tucson school district, which had a Mexican-American Studies program, integrating Latino history into its curriculum.  They also have a majority Latino student population.
And now that’s gone.  Under threat of losing $15 million dollars of funding from the state, the Tucson school board ended the ethnic studies program on February 1, and boxed up the offending books.  These included The Tempest, by William Shakespeare.  (Nothing gives kids ideas of revolution like ye olde English.)
All this, because the state decided children should not be exposed to any history other than the generic old-dead-white-guy variety. (Also, they really dislike Shakespeare.)
I went to a meeting in Flagstaff last week, about how best to show our support for the beleaguered, book-deprived students of Tucson.  It was heartening to see so many people so fired up.  And I knew going in about the issue, I knew about the legislature, I knew about the books, and the ethnic studies.
But nothing had prepared me for reading down the list of banned books, and seeing so many of the books I had read, and related to, as a teenager.  Two books by Sandra Cisneros, a book by James Baldwin, a book by bell hooks.  (I suppose it’s a small comfort that they appear to be equal-opportunity in their disdain?)
One of the fallacies about ethnic studies programs, or multicultural studies programs, is that, like the bluntly-written law suggests, they break people into ethnic groups.  That they only address people of minority status.  Teaching about Black History Month is only of interest to Black kids.  Teaching Women’s History is only important to girls.  Mexican-American literature is only valuable to Hispanic kids.
Which is ridiculous.
Teaching everyone’s history, everyone’s art, just insures that everyone gets to be a voiced part of the larger story.
I grew up in southeastern Virginia, in a neighborhood with a plantation marker at the end of my block.  History, of all sorts, was under my feet.  The story of the owners and the slaves, the story of the rebels and the Tories, the story of the native peoples and the colonists.  Everyone was already there.  The question was, who was going to get a voice, and who would remain silent.
The more stories that got told, the more stories I learned, the more I realized that I owed a debt to all of these people.  Not just the ones who looked like me, thought like me, or spoke like me.  My life, my world had been affected in some way by all of these diverse people: the ones who left powerful legacies, and the ones who died nameless.  All the little histories that get stuck in the margins were really bound up in the big, ‘master narrative’ of American history we like to tell.  You can’t tell one without the others.  They’re inter-dependent.
On Ash Wednesday, we pray the Litany for Penitence, which makes a point of talking about our interdependence, both on creation, and on other people.  We ask forgiveness for our abuse of creation, our prejudice toward others, and our exploitation of other people.  (Actually, read the litany sometime in the BCP.  It’s virtually all about what we’ve done to other people.)  As a rule, we tend to really hate dwelling on that part, because we like to believe that we are Individuals! (Complete with nifty Boot-Strap Lifting action!) We are all John Wayne all over here, rugged and needing no one, only casually strolling in to save the day*.
But this is not the case.  We’re social creatures, bound one to another.  We’re stuck together, all of us.  Your story is my story, and vice versa.  And to silence either one of us is to disfigure the story beyond telling.
So, for the next while, I’ll be working on the (unofficially-dubbed) “Flagstaff <3s Tucson” project, bringing attention and support to the banned ethnic studies programs in Arizona.  Call it a Lenten side-project.  I shall keep the blog updated as things progress.
In the meantime, I ask your prayers/thoughts for the kids down in Tucson and for all of us in Arizona.
* and building an airport, putting our name on it, not having any feelings….I’ll stop now.

Rent, Transfigured

In seminary preaching class, we had an assignment towards the end of term.  Thirty minutes before class, we were given a sealed envelope with a text in it, and a 3×5 card.

The assignment was to take the thirty minutes and come up with a 3-5 minute sermon based on the text given, and preach it in class.  (I’d like to see you try this, Top Chef people.)  The idea was that at some point in our lives, we would show up at church, all calm and happy, and be called upon to preach a sermon at the last minute.  Best to start practicing now.

My text was from Ezekiel, where the prophet addresses the people of Israel in the voice of God and says “I shall be your God, and you shall be my people.  And you shall be my people…” and something else happens in the verse, but all I could think of was Finding Nemo, and Dory speaking to the jellyfish:   “I shall call you Squishy, and you shall be my Squishy!”

Free association in the postmodern age can be tricky. And not without a sense of humor.

But, since the relationship between God and God’s people is, in fact, not unlike that between Dory and the jellyfish, it worked out.

This week, I read the texts (Elijah/Elisha and Transfiguration!) and all I could think of was that scene from Rent with the angry homeless lady yelling at Mark.

Now, this could have been because some friends of mine had been discussing it on Twitter earlier in the month.  Or it could be because God was messing with me.

Either way, each time I read Peter’s comment, and God’s comeback “This is my Son, the Beloved.  Listen to him!” I heard the Angry  Woman singing in my head.

If you know Rent, you understand the tension here.  Almost nothing in her scene is sermon-appropriate language.  But I couldn’t find another illustration.  Despite the fact that I was still really unclear why/how the Angry Homeless Woman was related to the Transfiguration,  I decided to take a stab at it.

Here’s what happened.


February 19, 2012

7 Epiphany (Transfiguration), Year B

Mark 9: 2-9


In the musical RENT, a sort of modern read on La Boheme set in New York’s East Village, early in the narrative, the main starving-artist characters are hanging around a vacant lot late at night, observing a homeless woman being harassed by some cops.  She hasn’t done anything wrong–they just want her to pull up her tent-city dwelling and head somewhere else for the night, when one of the ‘artists’ comes over with his handy-dandy video camera (This is all set in the late 1990s, so forgive the absence of cellphones).

Realizing he’s being caught on tape, the officer heads off, and Mark, with the camera, turns to the lady he’s just ‘rescued,’ clearly expecting to be gratefully thanked, when she  instead starts cursing at him.


What, exactly, she screams at him is not church-appropriate language, so I shall heavily paraphrase.

Basically, she asks him who in the world he thinks he is, she didn’t need to be rescued in the first place, and she doesn’t exist just so he can make a new movie, or feel better about himself.


She stomps away.


See, this woman, She wanted to be engaged with.


She wanted to be listened to, not just seen, not just treated like a problem, or even a heroine.  She wanted to be listened to.


Peter’s comment in the gospel today up on the mountain is a very human one.  Very understandable response.  He’s all confused, clearly,  one minute he was out for a nice lesuirely stroll with his friends– the next, there’s a cloud, there’s a light, there’s visions of long dead prophets appearing.  He’s having a bit of a day.


So he’s overcome.  He’s blown out of the water by what he’s experiencing.  And he seizes on the first thing that pops into his head which possibly has bypassed the filter between brain and mouth– I know none of you have ever done this.


He says– “lord!  It is good we are here!  Let us build three dwellings for you!  One for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!”


He doesn’t want to build mansions here– what he wants to build is more like tiny houses– or tabernacles.  It’s a word in Greek that gets kicked around in the OT anytime the people of Israel are out wandering in the desert, and want to build a resting place for the Presence of God.  It denotes something like a dwelling place , or a tent.

So Peter wants to build homes for Jesus , Moses and Elijah.  He wants to keep them there.  He wants to freeze the moment.  The moment is so overwhelming, so wonderful and inspiring and awe-producing that he wants to freeze it and stay with it forever.


Leave Jesus and Moses and Elijah living up there on the mountain top forever like living museum pieces.  Frozen.  Waiting.  Perfect and beautiful and lovely.


But Peter doesn’t get to do that because this voice comes from the heavens, and God says, “This is my Son.  The Beloved.  LISTEN TO HIM.”


I’d imagine it must be a pretty awesome experience for God to tell you to shut it, essentially, and that’s what happens to Peter.


Peter gets told, not to honor the stillness and perfection of what he saw, but to listen.  To engage.  To risk shattering the perfection of the image, and head back down the mountain.


Peter, really, I’m guessing, and most of us too, would have loved to stay up on the untainted mountaintop with those booths and Jesus, just hanging out, and staring.  It would have been great.  The Christ, with Moses, the giver of the law, and Elijah, the chief of the prophets, and you, to sit and absorb their wisdom, forever and ever, and just relish their nearness and their transcendence and the bliss of it all.


Because there’s not much better than a mountaintop experience.  Those moments when we feel God’s presence so close, and everything sort of sharpens into clear focus, and we get it.  Those are great; those get us out of bed on the bad days, those keep us going, those little glimmers of light in the darkness.


But those are also few and far between.  Life is not a mountaintop.  We don’t get to live up there in a booth with Elijah.  We come back down the mountain.  We live in the valley, for the most part, where things are murkier and dimmer.  After this scene on the top, Jesus and the disciples head down the mountain, and they head straight for Jerusalem.


These glimpses of God, this transfiguration wasn’t so much so Peter and the others could feel good about their life choices in following Jesus, really, and it wasn’t to cement their faith for the trials ahead.   They’re still going to wimp out in a few weeks.


These flashes of God we experience give further shape to our relationship with God.  They illuminate our wrestling in the dark.  Like flashes of lightening in a dark room, they cast light over what we’re already doing.  Visions alone don’t make a relationship– engagement does.  Listening does.  Visions only help explain what you’re listening to.


What keeps you going down in the valleys, between those mountaintop flashes of clarity, is engagement with God.  Listening.  Peter, James, John, they believed in Jesus before they saw him transfigured. They had a relationship with him, following him, listening to him, before Moses and Elijah appeared.  They absorbed his words his wisdom, they watched how he lived in the world, how he treated people.  They will continue to do that in the days to come, as the church forms.


What forms the church is not so much the blissful surety of the Transfiguration– it’s the plodding engagement of the valley. It’s the listening.  The listening that is sometimes hard, sometimes easy.  The listening we are called to do every day of our lives as we embody Christ  in the world around us.


As we begin to walk the valley toward another Lent, may we hear the words of God speaking to each of us, and calling us onward.





If my geeky brain serves correctly, there was an old form of preaching in Judaism wherein a rabbi would take the given text for the day, which was somewhere in the Torah, and begin his sermon somewhere entirely different, on a totally random verse elsewhere in the Tanakah.  Like if the assigned text was the calling of Abram into covenant with YHWH, you would start out by quoting something off the wall, like Proverbs 5:15 “Drink water from your own cistern; and fresh water from your own well.”

And from there, you’d basically leap-frog via associations both linguistic and theological through the scriptures until you arrived at the assigned verse for the day.  The farther away your starting point was, and the more associations you made, and the more verses you included, the more brilliant a preacher you were considered to be by the congregation.

I’m not about to try this out anytime soon (any more than I’m about to improvise jazz singing in the pulpit.  Other people’s art forms, as much as they might impress me, generally just make me look like a crazy person if I attempt them, especially out of context.)  But there’s something about the exuberance of the enterprise that I enjoy.  I like the idea that nothing at all, is off limits in preaching, and that we should silence the voice in our heads which pipes and says “Are you allowed to talk about THAT in a sermon?!”

To that end, I offer the following YouTube clip, for all things are better when performed by Legos:

And here is the sermon:

January 22, 2012

3 Epiphany, Year B

Mark 1: 14-20

In the movie, “The Princess Bride”, the villianous mastermind Vizzini kidnaps the princess Buttercup, with the help of the master swordsman Inigo Montoya and the giant Fezzig.  As they are escaping on their ship, Vizzini declares any chances that they shall be caught ‘inconceivable.’  And yet, as they continue to head for a neighboring country and safety, the pursing ship begins to catch up with them.  “Inconceivable” declares Vizzini!  Then Buttercup dives overboard, in a desperate desire to escape.  “Inconceivable!”  cries Vizzini!  Finally, upon reaching land, the band of miscreants ascend straight up the cliffs with their captured princess, only to be pursued again by the captain of the other ship.  Again, Vizzini pronounces this turn of events “Inconceivable!”  Inigo Montoya turns to him.  “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

As Christians in 2012, we come quite a bit after those who first constructed the language of our faith–about 2,012 years after, to be exact.  Words like “repent!”, “grace”, “believe”, “faith” all started out meaning one specific thing, with specific connotations and allusions built in, and now, to us, they mean something different.  They sound different.

And this isn’t a bad thing.  It’s an effect of time, and Time, as Jesus points in the gospel, is not apart from the workings of God.  Time builds up, Time accrues for us down the line of history, and those of us who come after the earlier disciples and generations before have a lot more of this linear history to sort through–some helpful, some not as helpful.  But all of it there.

And so, when Jesus appears, after the arrest of John the Baptist, in today’s gospel, declaring that the Time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, so we should Repent, and believe the Good news….what is it that we hear, today in 2012?

Whatever it was they heard back then, evidently it was enough to inspire all these fisherfolk to immediately abandon their promising careers on the sea, their families, their homes, and tramp around in the wilderness after Jesus.  It was enough to make them get up and change their lives.  This declaration of “the time has been fulfilled, repent and believe the good news.” was some sort of freeing magic.

But for us today, sitting on the opposite end of the timeline….. Well, for me at least, it doesn’t seem that motivating, that inspiring.  It doesn’t sound like the sort of message that prompts all of Mark’s gospel– it sounds like a rather good bumper sticker on someone else’s car, or the title of a pamphlet someone would stick under my door.  Not something that’s going to motivate me to head anywhere at all.

Maybe the weight of time has squashed the message a bit.  Or maybe these words don’t mean what we’ve come to think they mean– all bumper sticker slogans and catch phrases.

And if that’s the case, then we should find a better way of explaining ourselves.  We should find some new words. Because if all we have to tell our story is advertising catch-phrases off the TV and slogans stolen from radio talk shows, then no one is going to be leaving their nets anywhere.  So maybe we need some new words.

Ok.  Let’s take a swing at that.

“the time has been fulfilled.  The kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news.”

For starters, “time” has two words in Greek.  Chronos, which is the linear sort of historical time that I’ve been talking about so far.  The sort of time where I can tell you that this service will probably take up 1 hour of your time– the very mundane sort of time marching forward.  But Jesus is talking about kairos, which is the sort of time in which God operates.  Time which isn’t on a line, that sort of thing we experience through our memory, or in our imagination, when past becomes present and merges into the future.  Time that bends and shifts depending on what is happening.  That’s what has been fulfilled.

The realm in which God works, where God is actually fully in charge, the kairos, has now broken through into our mundane timeline.  The kingdom of God, where the poor are taken care of, the outcast are welcomed, the sick are healed, the lame leap for joy, the oppressed set free, is emerging in our own world.

So we should do what?

“repent” has started to become associated with guilt, and shame, and feeling very bad about oneself.  Repent literally means turn around, to go back.  It’s an action, not a feeling.  It’s not a command to feel something, it’s a command to do something.  It’s a command to come back.  Come back home.

Come back home, and believe in the good news of what God is doing.  Participate in the emerging world that God is creating, right before our eyes.  Participate in the good news of a world made whole, where all are cared for, all are welcomed, all are loved, all are fed.  Because it’s starting right now, in the actions and person of this guy, Jesus, and you, you personally, are needed.

Imagine what would happen if we took that message into the streets.  Imagine what would happen if we went far and wide, proclaiming that God had jumped into our boring, broken, unfair world in order to make it whole, just and loving, and that everyone’s talents were needed in this new project.  If we really proclaimed that message, and backed it up with how we lived, how many people could stay in their boats then?

Could anyone stay as they had been before? If we really lived out the call?


Tebowing the Bible

I don’t follow football, or any sport, really, with the occasional exception for college basketball or the Olympics.  (This, and a specific disregard for the Phillies and the Eagles makes my parents wonder if I was switched at birth.)

Tim Tebow, circa high school, I think
However, even I have heard of Tim Tebow.  Tim Tebow, who plays for the Denver Broncos, who played for Florida in college, and who makes a habit of mentioning his devout Christian faith repeatedly during every interview.
It’s not the football, so much that attracts my attention as it is the last bit.  It’s the conflation of Tebow’s faith and his football that has gotten people’s attention, so much so that “Tebow-ing’ is now a thing–a new word to describe his habit of dropping to one knee in a prayerful pose of gratitude when he scores a touchdown.  (Which is awesome, because we needed a neologism for genuflecting.  Thanks, guy!)
When he was in college, Tebow had a habit of inscribing Bible citations in his eye black–that stuff football players smear under their eyes.  John 3:16 was his favorite.
And this got me thinking.  John 3:16 is an insanely popular one-off verse to cite.  You want a Christian pop-culture slogan or a 2 second TV ad, a specialized handshake to assure the members of your crowd that you’re ‘one of them’ then dropping the 3:16 bomb is the way to go.
But is it the best one?
John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever should believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Bam.
Well, ok. That’s pretty good!  It’s short, it’s pithy, it’s to the point.  Strong language, no passive voice.  (Well, it’s translated from some pretty fancy Greek, which does use the aorist tense, but we’ll gloss that for now.)
But, because I like to deconstruct things (I have a ‘Team Derrida’ t-shirt, and if you got that joke, I’m going to buy you a commiserating cup of coffee.*) I have some questions.
Mainly, is John 3:16 the best verse?
Because, ok, God loved the world, that’s a good message right there.  But if I’m a newbie (and let’s assume I am, because this is who messages in eyeblack are aiming at, right?), then how am I to understand the rest of this verse?
  • I don’t know what ‘only-begotten’ means.
  • Does ‘everlasting life’ mean literal ‘you-never-die’, or something metaphorical?  (Because that actually does matter. And should be discussed/explained.)
  • And how do I believe in him?  (also, which him are we talking about?)
  • Do I believe in the historical reality of Jesus, or something more specific, and if the latter, then what, specifically?
  • And, the verse says nothing about what I should do, in the next moment.  Nothing about how I should treat the woman sitting at the desk beside mine, or the guy sitting on the sidewalk outside the door, or the kid wandering down the street, who stole my GPS last year.  None of that is addressed.
I’m just told to believe in a guy, and live forever.  I’m not told what to do about the people around me, the problems I have now, or anything else.  Hmmm.
So, is there another option for Primary Christian Slogan Verse?  Because this one seems confusing and incomplete.
Here are some options I came up with.  Now I’m just spitballing here, so bear with me.
1. Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O Mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
  • Good, pithy, strong verbs, etc.  Covers the ‘here’s what you do!’ aspect well.  But the question format might leave some doubt as to the fact that, in fact, God does want you to do the justice, kindness, humble-walking bit.
2. 1 John 4:21 “The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
  • In reality, I’d nominate all of ch.4 in 1 John, mainly because it goes on at length about God=love. (Seriously.  Read 1 John, whilst skipping over the bit about the antichrist.) But entire chapters of the Bible, especially of Johannine epistles, are not pithy.
3. The entirety of Romans 8
  • Again, brevity is a problem here.  But it’s just so good…..
Any other suggestions?
Or…. is it just possible that Christianity doesn’t fit easily into a slogan?  Is it possible that it’s something that requires a conversation, a relationship, an entire lifetime to explain even close to properly?
*At which, we can discuss why Derrida would probably not have a team, so much as a collection, a smorgasbord of people, a gathering, per se, because a team would still need to be interrogated further, their motives taken apart.  “Why are they there?  Who is on this team?  Who is not on this team?  What prevents them from being there, and why?”  
Possibly, the coffee should be switched to decaf.

“When we arrive, sons and daughters…”

The ordained are no strangers to projection.

A colleague once commented that the reason Episcopal clergy wear white albs is to provide clearer screens for our projection-happy parishioners.
There are classes and groups in seminary where serious-looking professors and guides talk to you about how projection works, why it happens, and most importantly, how you can avoid buying into it.  “Don’t become everything they see in you,” these well-meaning sages urge. “That way lies madness.”
It is good advice.  If you want a quick trip to an identity crisis, try to buy into every single word someone says about you, after you’ve spoken publicly.  In my experience, roughly 80% of what is said (being conservative here) isn’t about you at all.  It’s whatever they associate with you, or what you said, or the shoes you wore, or a sound they heard, or how they woke up feeling that day.
In recent weeks, I’ve been listening with great attention to what has been said about ‘young people these days’ both inside and outside of the church.  Now, as I am a youngish person myself, I have always heard a lot of this sort of talk. (I’m unclear as to why.  Maybe people think we have a club?  That I can carry the good word back and reason with the rest of my people?)
I’ve kept a bit of a list in my head, through the years of the ways we are defined by others–right now, there’s been an uptick in ‘young people’ talk, both inside and outside of the church.  Tons more things have gone on that list.  Church officials have amped up the effort to explain who these young people are, and pretty much everyone in society wants to explain why these young people are currently out in the streets of every major city in the country/world, and seem disinclined to leave.
Don’t be shocked, but that list in my head is overwhelmingly negative.  Young people don’t like religion, and have no faith; we are inept at social relationships–bad at community and responsibility, but addicted to the internet and social media at alarming rates.  We’re uneducated, yet drowning in debt, (because we’re bad with money!)  We’re lazy, selfish, and immature, choosing to stay in a perpetual state of adolescence rather than get careers and move out/leave grad school/Americorps/Teach for America.  We’re perpetually trapped in a web of media, consumption, and shallowness from which we shall never escape, because we are too blissed out on cell phones and privilege to know any better.
See?  Negative list!  (Also, somewhat contradictory.  But no matter.)
I should point out that with the exception of some truly enraging articles in the Washington Post and, the people who have made off-handed remarks along these lines to me, know me.  And they like me. (The gentleman who told me that people under 35 only understood retributive justice and physical violence, because our brains hadn’t fully developed, also made a point every week to tell me how inspiring he found my sermons.)  These aren’t thoughtless or mean people by any stretch.
It’s not that they look at me and think, “My God, there stands the most spoiled narcissist ever conceived on this planet, and someone should immediately deprive her of all technology post-haste, lest the problem get worse. WHY IS SHE SPEAKING?!”
(At least, I sincerely hope not.  Otherwise, I’m going to get a serious complex.)  For almost everyone I’ve interacted with, after a few minutes of talking, their images of ‘Young Person’ soon give way to the reality…partially.
Problematically, though, many people also hold onto their image of this mythical ‘Young Person” who dwells out in the ether.  So, despite the fact that they can know, standing in front of them!  many awesome, hard-working, intelligent, (and broke, and jobless, and overeducated-for-today’s-economy) young people, this perception remains.  And it’s not helpful.
Driving back from diocesan convention a few weeks ago, I asked my students to make a list of their own.  I asked the them to make a list of songs that would define their generation for themselves.  To explain to someone else, in your own way, what you care about.  Define yourself.  We’ve been trading songs on Spotify ever since.  The results are fascinating. (If y’all want, I can ask them for permission to post a list.)
The #occupy movement is giving rise to a lot of things: a serious widespread conversation about our economic structure, a reconsideration about the unchecked power of our financial sector, and a lot of people learning how to be megaphones.
But I hope that something else that it’s enabling is a way for our generation to define itself, for us to start that process of putting aside others’ projections of us and voicing our own definitions.
Baby Boomers, ya’ll had Vietnam and Civil Rights for this.  The Greatest Generation (and I remain unconvinced that you didn’t give yourselves that name, btw), had World War II.  In each case, there was a transition between events happening to you, and events you actively caused and defined.  (Full disclosure: I’m not sure where Generation X’s event was.  Want to jump in on this one?  Or did you have your own, and I’m unclear on it?)
While we participated and lived through Columbine, 9/11, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, those were events defined, and triggered by others.
That was someone else’s list we got handed.
Here’s hoping we’re now building our own list.

One of these mornings, you’re going to rise up singing

 I’ve been following with interest the various church-based reactions to the #OWS movement around the world.
      St. Paul’s Cathedral, London has been a weird, ongoing train wreck of a reaction.  From the outside, it looks like they thought the protest would go away soon, so they didn’t try to engage systematically.  They just sort of tolerated the protesters’  presence, until they didn’t anymore.
        It’s difficult to tell what caused the problem–tourists were getting upset?  (and see, that just makes everyone look bad–the cathedral charges tourists, and that’s a source of income.  So let’s hope it’s not that, shall we?)
     So then St. Paul’s decried the protest as a ‘health and safety hazard.’ And closed.  And asked them to leave.
     At which point, one of the canons of St. Paul’s said he would quit if the protesters were made to leave.  At which point, in jump the media.  And then the dean of St. Paul’s said he would resign, and the church would reopen, and no one had to leave, and didn’t everyone just feel dumb now, what with the quitting and stuff?  And also, the Bishop of London was getting involved, and now they were announcing a special task force!  For ethics and financial systems!  Because we should talk about these things, yes, but in y’know, organized ways, in rooms with proper tea, and biscuits and whatnot.  This task force was to be spearheaded by the Church of England and wouldn’t that please make the protesters happy, and couldn’t they please, maybe, go home now?
Unsurprisingly, they were less than impressed.
Today, news broke that after the dean resigned, the Chapter (vestry of a cathedral) met, and decided to immediately drop legal action against the protesters, and essentially slink quietly away, looking foolish.
This whole thing has been playing out in the media on both sides of the ocean for the past week or so,  and Episcopal Cafe has done a bang-up job of covering it here.
I’d also direct you to what has been going on in NYC and our homegrown Episcopal communities.  Trinity, Wall Street (aka: The Church that Owns Wall Street, in a Fairly Literal Manner) released a statement at the beginning of the Occupy movement.  It is here.  Since then….no drama.  No standoffs.  Members of their staff have participated in the protests, have held Eucharists for the marchers. Other NYC area Episcopal churches have done likewise.  Similar scenes have played out in Boston, Philadelphia,  other cities.
It strikes me that this difference of reaction mirrors, in large part, the divide in the church.
     On the one hand, we have the old traditions, and the institutional memory of being In Charge.  We represented the bastions of our civilization, that Is Not to Be Questioned.  We were content in the knowledge that we were in charge, we had the power, and we got to call the shots.  We got to decide who shared power with us, how decisions were made, and how discussions were held (in comfortable rooms, with tea, sherry and cookies, thank you very much.)  We got to decide who was in those rooms, and even what was allowed to be on the table for discussion.  The buck stopped with us.  And who was anyone else coming in from the outside to question our benevolence and our wisdom?  Seriously, how dare they?  (These people shall get no sherry.)
     On the other hand, we have been slowly coming to the realization that the power we had has left us, in many ways. We aren’t the numerical majority any more, we don’t  attempt to select the leaders of countries (unless you’re Pat Robertson, in which case, I have a LOT more to say to you).
So what we preach rings hollow unless it is backed up with action.  No one will listen to us unless we live out what we preach, individually and corporately.  And we can’t get away with preaching a Christ who ‘came to set the captives free, to preach good news to the poor’ while we try to hold on to our own power and wealth, and protect it at the expense of others.  People, generally, don’t buy that.
The good news is, however, that this frees us up to do amazing things.  Trinity gets to open their doors in an authentic way to be a meeting space for conversations about what an ethical economy.  They get to be a prophetic voice without worrying so much about what part of their entrenched support they will be losing.  If you let someone else uphold the status quo for a while, you get to do a lot more heavy lifting in ministry.
The status quo upholding gets really boring after a while.