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Tag Archives: canterbury

Going to the beach for Jesus: Part 1

I am writing this on the flight to the Province 8 Conference for Episcopal College Students (and their Chaplains.). This yearly conference is held at whichever ministry site has the resources and gumption to host it; last year was UCDavis, this year, because none of the sites with staff could do the job, the intrepid band of students from University of Hawaii are doing it.

So I am en route to Honolulu. (Hey, nine times out of ten following Jesus leads to the cross, but that tenth time, turns out Jesus is heading to Hawaii. I am not questioning.)

And I am taking this opportunity to point out the following things:

1.) UH has no staff for campus ministry. None. Zip. Nada. When I find out how to say “none” in Hawaiian, I will add that to this list. Their ministry currently consists of some amazing students who show up to the Cathedral, and other local churches, and who come to this yearly conference, and who do so on such a consistent basis, that they convinced the Province coordinator to let them host this conference themselves.

Which leads to:

2.). Next year, as things currently stand with the draft budget, this conference won’t exist. Likewise the program that will send three of my students to General Convention. So for students like the young adults from Hawaii, or the student from Utah, who is also on my flight, bam! No more contact with young adult Episcopalians.

This is what the wider church provides, in terms of campus ministry. Events like Prov 8, and opportunities like the Young Adult Festival at General Convention (which I went to in 2003, and which 3 of my students are attending this year). The Church Center doesn’t mandate what we do, and they don’t give curriculum, and they don’t tell us what to do and not do– they empower networks without which an already-nearly-impossible-job would be entirely impossible.

Right now, there is a needed conversation happening about the respective roles of denominational structure vs local structure. And that’s fantastic.

But this conversation won’t be fruitful if we continue to misunderstand what the different structures are capable of. Local structures, right now in many places, lack the resources and vision necessary to enable networks that work across traditional boundary lines. But larger structures can do that. In fact, if we’re all going to do our jobs well, larger structures must do that.

Larger structures actually do have a role, especially in a time when local parishes and dioceses are so cash-strapped that they are having trouble keeping the lights on, much less looking to start new ministries. (And let’s face it– any ministry with anyone under 45 is going to be a very long term investment).

My colleague and fellow AZ deputy, the Rev. Susan Snook, has written several excellent blog posts exploring ways to correct the budget problems, at least in the short term*. (Susan+ is one of those people I give great thanks for. To some, God has given talent for math and budgets, to others….sarcasm. And shoes.). The long-term exploration of how to fix the budget process, and the balance between denomination and local levels, continues.

Meanwhile, I head to Hawaii, and if this is to be our last Conference with these amazing young adults, then may it be a profound and joyous experience for all of us.

The Light of Christ…Run Away!!!

This past Saturday, like last year, my Canterbury group inflicted our liturgical whims upon our Lutheran compatriots and joined together for an Easter Vigil.
Being college ministries, we got to hold our vigil at a respectably late hour of darkness: 10pm.

(and look: While I realize that it is TECHNICALLY appropriate to hold a vigil at any time after sundown, really, if you can’t see stars and there are still birds singing, then it doesn’t count as nighttime. Y’all are worse than toddlers in your fear of darkness.)

It looked to be a good Vigil. We had twice as many show up as last year, and no one panicked over the incense smoke. I ran to our local Episcopal church right as their service ended, and stole borrowed their thurible. I even showed a novice Lutheran the esoteric workings of church incense. (Grind it up. Never burn anything other than pure resin incense & charcoal. Don’t hit passers-by in the face with hot thurible, etc.). Our new Easter fire lit in the nearby Weber grill with ease, and there was no wind.

Everything was going smoothly.

So we started the service. Outside, in the parking lot, I lit the mini- Paschal candle from the new fire, declared it the light of Christ and led everyone inside. I was nearly done with exulting in th Exsultet, when there was banging on the front door.

I ignored it. Because I was rejoicing, and singing to the marvelous and holy flame standing near me.

Then there was more banging, this time on all the doors of the building at once. And I noticed that there were flashing lighting coming in the windows.


I kept on singing. Because I was going to FINISH singing the praise of this great light if it damn near killed me, and since this is the night when wickedness is put to flight and sin is washed away, the surely it could work on annoying people who INTERRUPTED MY CHANTING ?!?!?

Meanwhile, Fritz walked on back to figure out what the banging was all about, while I attempted to restore harmony and balance to the cosmos through the power of an-increasingly-intensely-chanted-Exsultet. Finally, I was done, and finally, the banging stopped, and the flashing lights went away.

As I moved to sit down, Fritz leaned over and explained.

It seems that someone passing from the road (a good 100 yards away) had seen us light our new fire, and called the cops. The cops, not being hip to liturgics, had come in force: the campus police, the city police, and two fire engines.

They were not dissuaded by the fact that our New Fire was contained in a grill (off the ground), had been snuffed out at this point, and was sitting in a massive parking lot in which there were no cars. They made a student walk out and dump water on it while they watched, and told him if he ever lit a fire like that again, we’d all be fined.

(It’s been pointed out to me that this could have happened because there had been a red flag warning of fire danger two days before, and that we might have required a permit to light a fire (in a grill?) all of which might be true. For all I’ve been talking about the snowpack being low and fire season starting early this year, I am a Eastern Elitist at heart, and I do not know from the mountainous high desert, really, at all.)

But practicalities aside, how telling is it that a small band of believers gathers in the middle of the night, lights the Light of Christ.,..and the authorities immediately come and tell them to douse it? Douse it! It’s too dangerous!

I don’t know how many Easter celebrations I’ve been to that pose a such a threat to the status quo– where people truly, deeply invested in the Way Things Are would be uncomfortable. But resurrection itself is uncomfortable. It inspires fear, terror, the sort of thing that makes you run away in a panic and not say anything to anyone. It doesn’t let you remain as you are. And that’s uncomfortable, generally.

The language of the Exsultet itself is language of action and change. We are reconciled to God. Pride and hatred are cast out, wickedness driven out,, peace and concord are restored. Joy is given to those who mourn. Death and hell are vanquished, Earth and heaven are joined. God saves God’s people, because that’s what God does. All sorts of tumult.

This isn’t “stay as you are” language. This isnt “warm Fuzzy” language. This isn’t language even about God giving us lots of stuff one day when we die, so hooray, something to look forward to! This is God restoring us on this night, God working to right what is going wrong in this moment, through the redemptive power of Christ in the world.

This sort of language, to live this out, this would get you in trouble with some people. There is quite a lot invested in keeping pride and hatred around these days, (We do have a presidential election to think about, after all.) That one alone might get you stuck in some catacombs, to say nothing of the investment we have in our suffering, and all our varied versions of hell. Pretty tumultuous, scary stuff, to give all that up, even for God. Even for those of us who have been at this Christian thing for a while.

I’ve decided I liked the cops showing up to the Vigil. I have a hunch that this is what post-Christendom church may look like: communities so on fire with the Spirit that the world becomes suspicious, and people that embody the resurrection life and transform the world around them, provoking confusion and panic.

May we all have the courage to live a complete resurrection: complete with tumult, earthquakes, and light in unexpected places.


I know you are, but what am I?

On Wednesdays, my plucky Canterburians join with the Lutherans for a joint evening of discussion, fellowship, and food.  This semester, we’re discussing ‘Modern Saints:” people who have applied their Christian faith in very tangible ways in the not-so distant past (Archbp. Oscar Romero and the martyrs of El Salvador, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Edith Stein, the Berrigans, Archbp. Desmond Tutu and the leaders of South Africa, etc.)

I noticed something in the past few weeks, and it’s the same phenomenon I’ve noticed in every community I’ve ever served: rural or urban, Virginia or Arizona, young or old.
As the students described it, the problem was that ‘Christians’ had taken over everything.  These Christians they described were against gay marriage and civil unions, didn’t like people of other faiths, and also were not fans of contraception, or really women at all, as we had seen in recent weeks.  And this was pretty much why we should keep Christians out of politics.
This is not just a ‘kids these days!’ thing.  I have never served or attended a parish where I have ever heard a majority of the parishioners declare themselves Christian.  (“Christian” borders on an Other-ing term in the Episcopal Church; we are Episcopalian before we are anything.)
In some ways, it’s hard to argue with this.  When several of the candidates for presidents are claiming to speak for the entire Christian faith, it’s difficult not to take them at their word, when there’s no clear voice calling them on it.
But at the same time, those students speaking so articulately of their frustration with modern politics?  They are Christian too!  Those people who fill the pews in every church I’ve ever served?  Also Christians!  (And not the Satan-possessed kind, either.  Sorry, Rick Santorum.)
And if we’re all Christians, and we don’t agree with all that’s being done in the name of Christianity, then…we should probably, possibly, look at this, yes?  Because either there is a small group of zealots doing some crazy stuff in the hijacked name of our Lord and Savior with our tacit permission, or many of us have simultaneously decided to be open, tolerant, loving people on our own, in total opposition to this, the Gospel of Smiting (and two thousand years of received tradition, but who’s counting?)
See, this is what I think.
This is a theology problem as much as it is a PR problem.  The PR problem gets talked about all the time–how we need to reclaim the airwaves, use these here interwebz, LOLcats, we can haz Emerging!Churches, etc.  These things are absolutely true.  Mainline Protestatism lost the past few decades to the fundamentalist evangelicals the moment that first guy bought a new-fangled TV station for cheap in the early 1970s.
But it’s a theology problem too.  We’ve all heard the carefully-crafted theology around fundamentalist beliefs.  In fact, most people today know that theology so well that they can’t tell that not all Christians believe it.  Ask the average person walking down the street about where people go after they die, and they will probably spout something about the saved believers in heaven and the damned in hell and St. Peter at the gate.  Now, ask them about what might be involved in eventual universal redemption, and note their look of confusion and panic.
And that’s our fault.  There’s no answering, well-publicized and widely-taught cohesive theology to the really loud stuff.  (Unless you read Miroslav Volf, or Moltmann, AS YOU SHOULD, but I accept that not everyone has that sort of time.  Also, that stuff is sort of systemic, and not issue-based.)
So here’s my plan:  I am starting a Theology For the Rest of Us series here on the blog.  ::Sound of trumpets!::  It shall be theology that attempts to explain why progressive Christians believe the things we do.  Like: women as full moral agents!  Marriage as something other than Procreation-Station!  Stewardship and care of the earth!  And all other topics as may be assigned.
We, in the wider church, need to become better at talking about our faith in concrete, logical terms, in order to give an “accounting for the hope that is in us”, as the Bible, and my preaching prof both say.
“So, Come!  Let us reason together!”

Wear heels. Dig them in.

Two weeks ago, I got an email from our campus Roman Catholic ministry inviting me to their weekly speaker series.  This week, they were hosting a speaker from San Diego, a woman who had started her own affiliate of the National Organization for Marriage.  She would be speaking on “Re-defining Marriage: How Same-Sex Marriage threatens Religious Liberty for all of us.” *

Oh joy.
My immediate reaction was confusion.  The Lutherans, and the United Christian Ministry were also invited, and all of us had had the “come to Jesus” conversation of progressive Christians with the other Christian ministries on campus over the summer.  This boiled down to:  Lookit!  Be nice to the gay kids, and if you find that you can’t pull this off, then send them to us, and we’ll do it for you, and save face for you.  If you can’t one of the Allies, then at least be Switzerland, for crying out loud.
But, clearly, the Catholics were not being all Swiss about this issue this week.  So what was I called to do in this moment?
There’s a case to be made for staying away. I could plead ecumenical unity, I could listen to the voice of my Paranoid!Bishop in my ear, asking why I was stirring up things again**, I could point out that it’s not like the Catholics had ever done anything to me personally (lately), and we’re all the church, and the church should stick together!
And sure.  Ecumenical unity is fine (though long gone) as is avoiding any theoretical confrontation with the bishop.  They are perfectly nice sorts of things.
But right now, the sorts of things this woman was saying is passing as mainstream Christian thought in much of the country, and I have not elected her my spokesperson.
So I went.
I went, and I sat towards the back in my collar, and my “I’m wearing a grown-up, respectable suit!” suit, and heels. (I had been invited, after all.)  I informed my students of what was happening, and asked if they wanted to join me.  Because they are uniformly awesome, they turned out in force, and asked if they could make t-shirts for the occasion.
I sat in the back and listened quietly and peaceably, while taking incredibly sarcastic notes.  The speaker basically achieved the perfect storm of right-wing social theory.  Marriage is for the sole purpose of creating and nurturing children.  Biological ties only create a family, and these ties cannot and should not be broken.  (This really surprised me–I don’t believe I’ve ever heard someone advocate against adoption the way she did, although she allowed it in ‘special circumstances.’)  Birth control is evil, as is gender neutral language, economic equality between the sexes, and the ‘blurring of gender roles.’  The Obama Administration is apparently out to get religious people, in its requirement that everyone (except churches and other religious institutions) have to provide birth control coverage to employees cost-free.  (The nerve!  Asking women to decide for themselves whether to purchase it or not!)
So she was very thorough.  She even threw in a condemnation of the estate tax (because I think it’s a rule at this point for speaking publicly as a conservative.)
But then came the Q&A.
The questions were pretty benign.  There was really mild pushback from the students, but none that she appeared to hear.
Then I got the mike.
I pointed out that really, her main problem seemed to be with the Kim Kardashians and the Britney Spears of the world: straight people who were extremely bad at marriage.  People who abused their kids and each other, people who were trapped in the cycle of addiction, people who were unfaithful, people who were unable or unwilling to be good parents, people who got married in elaborate weddings then divorced 72 days later, etc.
And none of those things applied to the committed gay couples I knew, people who were lined up, knocking down the doors of my church, asking to make public vows of fidelity and love to each other–the sort of thing my church preached was the sacramental self-sacrificial love that marriage signified.
And since that was the case, then why on earth not encourage these people to get married?
Well, she said, looking stormy.  Marriage isn’t about love.  It’s about children.  There are lots of different sorts of love, and lots of different sorts of relationships, but marriage is about producing and caring for children.
(……..Honestly.  I got nothing.)
That’s pretty much where it ended.
After it was over, several students unaffiliated with Canterbury came up to me and said how glad they were that I had asked my question.  The Catholic priest at the Newman Center came over, and said he was glad I had spoken up.  “I was waiting for someone to introduce the concept of real people into her speech.”
No kidding.
Theology always, ALWAYS involves real people.  Theology is never without consequences, and never exists in a bubble.
Stand in public, and proclaim that “marriage is about children, and not love” and immediately, you have sent the message that people who cannot have children, or choose not to, are not really married.
Stand up and say that biology, and not the courts, create a family, and now you’ve started casting doubt on the legitimacy of people who were adopted.  (Which, really, for a conservative Catholic– is quite a mind bender.)
And each time you say stuff like that, you’ve told people that there is something wrong with them.  You’ve told them that for some reason they may not be able to control, God is angry with them. God is seriously displeased with huge swaths of the population. “Horrible people!” God evidently says “Why can’t they live up to these impossible and unachievable standards that exist out here in the ether?”
By virtue of the Incarnation, if there is one thing in the cosmos God is concerned about, it’s actual people.  Not theories, not pretty dreams about what people should be, but actual, honest-to-Jesus, people.  People as they lived, and died, and celebrated and suffered.
Jesus called actual people to be disciples.  Peter, if you’ll note, was a complete doofus, albeit well-meaning, for much of his life.  Paul contradicted himself enough to rival a pretzel.  There were enough rough-and-tumble arguments in the nascent church to bring succor to the current watchers of the HoB/D listserv and England’s General Synod.  I’m not even going to go into the rumors and issues around the women Jesus hung around with.
The point is, he hung around with people.  Actual people.
His teaching served them; people weren’t meant to serve it.  (Wait, that sounds awfully familiar.)
The Spirit works through people.  Woe betide us when we stop paying attention.
*I’m not linking to her site.  You can Google “The Ruth Institute” if you want, but I’m not inclined to give this lady any more site views than she already has.  Aside from the many (MANY) issues I have with her espoused (ha!) policy positions, the irony is more than I can stand.  Their logo is virtually identical to that of Greendale Community College, of “Community” fame.  Really, I’ve not entirely written off the notion that we were all being punked.
**This is a song in my head now.  It is sung to the tune of “You’re making things up again, Arnold” from “The Book of Mormon.”  It is very catchy.  And features hobbits.  And Yoda.

Have a Carrot.

This week, in the morning, I was back in Holbrook.  They fed me chocolate cake and coffee, and told me stories about when their kids were younger, and lived in town, and went to church.  Now, they’ve all moved to Phoenix.  One is apparently dating a Cardinal!

In the afternoon, I did an “emergency animal blessing,” which is to say that I filled in at my friend’s church, since she had to fly back to the East Coast suddenly.  I was glad to do it–Animal blessings are common around St. Francis Day, in liturgically-minded churches,  and they are one of the perks of the priest-job.  Stand around outside on a pretty autumn day and pet dogs, cats, etc in the name of their Creator?  Yes, please.  And as this particular church has a healthy sense of fun about it, they had also provided ‘doggie snacks’ and animal games, complete with ‘doggie musical chairs.’  (God likes and endorses party games, including bowling, clearly.) Fun was had by everyone.

Clearly, I have an awesome job.

As a side note:  this parable from Matthew about drove me spare.  I appreciate this run of RESPECT MY AUTHORITY!!! parables we’ve been having between Jesus and the authorities in the Temple in their broader context, but come on, now.  Matthew’s supercessionist tendencies get old really quick, and short of taking a homiletic time out to disavow this, it’s difficult to deal with, week after week.

And here’s what I did end up saying.

October 9, 2011

Proper 23

Matthew 22:1-14

In the days since the death of Steve Jobs, there’s been a revival of

heaven jokes, heaven cartoons. And among them my favorite: A man dies,

and he goes to heaven. St. Peter says to him, “Hooray! We’re thrilled

you’re here, welcome to heaven, your eternal abode, let me show you

around so you can choose where you’d like to live.”

They first come to an elaborate banquet hall, filled with delicious

smells, and fine china, as cheerful people chatted happily and ate their fill.

“What’s this?” asked the man. “oh these are the Episcopalians,” said St.

Peter, “mind your manners, but they throw a good dinner party.”

Next they came to a raucous dance party. Even from a distance, they

could hear the music and the sound of people dancing and clapping.

“What on earth?!” asked the man. “Oh, these are the Baptists. They’re

happy they get to dance now. Takes a while for the thrill to wear off.”

Finally, the man had seen everyone there was to see, all the

inhabitants of heaven, everyone you could think of– all joyful and


Then, off to one side, the man was surprised to notice a stone

house, all boarded up, with a wall around it, and a large sign that said

“Quiet! Keep Out! “. He wandered up to it. “Who lives here?” he asked.

“Shhhh!” said St. Peter. “that’s Jerry Falwell’s house. It’s been in there for

years. He thinks he’s the only one up here.”

It’s a funny story. Funnier, certainly, than the parable for today. This is the

third parable about the kingdom of heaven from Matthew that we’ve gotten

in as many weeks, each with some sort of twist, each preached by Jesus

as he’s in the Temple during the last eel of his life. Now, granted, parables

are supposed to be surprising. As one New Testament scholar put it, a

parable is a story that is drawn from normal, everyday events that shocks

you just enough to make you think.

Which is fine, but this one shocks you all over the place. First there’s

this king who wants to give a wedding banquet. But no one will come;

everyone blows him off for various reasons, so he gets so angry that he

invades the local town, kills the population and burns it to the ground.

A slight overreaction, perhaps.

Still desperate for this party, he then decides to do a sort of all out dragnet

operation, and sends his army to the streets of the capital and collects

everyone they can find– young, old, rich, poor, whoever, and force them to

come. Because come hell or high water, this king is having a party, gosh

darn it.

This being accomplished, the poor king is then most distressed to

discover that one of his forced guests has shown up without a proper outfit

on. It’s like the guy doesn’t even realize he’s at a party. So frustrated by

this is the king that he throws him out.

Who, after all, shows up to a party and doesn’t realize they are at


And what sort of king is that desperate to throw a party?

Parables, like I said, are meant to shock. That’s how they work.

Frustratingly, they aren’t meant to answer questions– they are meant to

provoke them, which is probably why Jesus was so very fond of them.

And they aren’t literal. Which is to say that Jesus wasn’t recounting the tale

of an actual king with anger management and party-planning issues, or

giving advice on how to plan events, or rule an actual city-state.

He was trying to communicate something true about the nature of God, and

the nature of humans, and the nature of our relationship to God.

So, then, in this parable, what is striking is a king who really, really wants to

celebrate. To give good things to whoever he can, wherever he can find

them. He’ll drag them in off the street if necessary.

And a people who can’t seem to receive them.

Shhh. He thinks he’s the only one here.

What keeps us from receiving the grace of God? What keeps us from

showing up, ready for the party? What keeps us from realizing we’re at

God’s party?

Frequently, we blame it on stubbornness, pride, or arrogance. This mainly

happens when we are looking at other people, though. Other people are

the ones who should just get over themselves!

I have a hunch, though, that more often, what holds us back is not pride–

it’s guilt and confusion. It’s our conviction that we aren’t possibly good

enough to receive anything this gracious from God. Why should God be

kind to us? We are hopeless cases! We mess up, even when we know

right from wrong! This is so far from what we deserve– surely there’s a

catch. Surely there’s another shoe that will fall right on top of our heads.

Because that’s the way the world works.

So we end up like the man at the feast, confused and speechless before a

God who just wants to love us.

The good news for us is that God doesn’t give up. God chases after us,

time and time again, despite everything we do, and despite our persistent

denial of our own worth. Over and over again, God assures us that we are

loved beyond imagining, and there is not a thing we can do about it.

Whether we feel we are up to it or not, we are stuck in the unending love of


Its like that old children’s book called the Runaway Bunny. In it, a baby

rabbit tells his mother that he is tired of being a rabbit, so he’s going to run

away. He tells her he will become a fish in the stream, so she replies that

she will become a fisherman to catch him. Annoyed, he says he will

become a trapeze artist in the circus, and she returns that she will be a

tightrope walker, and catch him. On and on it goes– he’ll be a sailboat, and

she’ll be the wind to blow him home, etc. Finally he gives up. Well, I guess

I’ll just be your little bunny, then, he says. Ok, she says. Have a carrot.

God’s love and grace aren’t going anywhere, and eventually, they will win

even over our stubborn guilt and unworthiness. So let’s open our eyes,

open our doors, and enjoy the banquet prepared for us.