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Going to the Beach for Jesus, Part 2: FIX. IT.

Going to the Beach for Jesus, Part 2: FIX. IT.

I have now returned from Hawaii, and I understand now why everyone’s nuts about tropical islands.  (I had never been to one before.  I had been to San Matteo in Belize, but that’s an island largely constructed like Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach, plus gated resorts, and desperate poverty mixed in.  The ambiance is odd, is what I’m saying.)

But seriously!  Tropical islands!  Quite amazing!

View from Pali Lookout

This would be why people like Hawaii. This would also be why King Kamehameha conquered the islands and defeated the first wave of English explorers: Pali Lookout (History!)

But all was not going to the beach, drinking boba tea, and quoting ‘Arrested Development’.

Each year, Prov conference is a powerful experience for me.  Each year, when we do our closing group discussion, at least a couple students say something along the lines of “This is the first time I’ve been in church with people my own age.”  “This is the first time I can talk to people my own age about my faith.”  “Campus ministry is the first time I’ve felt welcomed and accepted by the church.”  Every.  Year.

This year, however, it took on a different cast.  Because this year, we also had to talk about what we were facing as the province west of the Rockies.

So there was the possibility that this would be the last Prov conference, as it is incarnated currently.  We’ve promised ourselves that this won’t be the case, but we’ve already lost all of our provincial funding, due to budget cuts there.  (And remember folks, this is the local level that’s supposed to be picking up the slack of the church wide budget cuts.)  And for ministry budgets already strained to the breaking point, more-expensive conferences are going to be difficult to swallow.

But we will make it happen.  Because that’s what we do.

So after a fairly heartening weekend of earnest, dedicated college students, worshipping, learning, and planning together, I was less than thrilled to receive this memo from the heads of PB&F regarding the draft budget.

::deep breath::

On the one hand, hooray, this is much of what Susan Snook+ has been saying for the past few weeks, and now someone with budgetary power has admitted it.

On the other hand….

Look, Executive Council, I understand that this was a new process, but can we all now get around the fact that this process failed?  This is not a process that we can trust.  Because the end result of said process is a budget that contains such grievous errors that it doesn’t balance in several places  and accidentally defunded almost the entirety of Christian formation across the Episcopal Church.  


Aside from my basic questions (did no one have a calculator!?) which, I realize, are not the helpful at this point, what strikes me is the assertion in the memo that the de-funding was a mistake, but no one remembers quite how much they wanted to put there, and besides, to re-fund Formation would take equal cuts elsewhere.

So while this appears to be an accident, it still amounts to de-funding Christian Formation.   Unless PB&F can magically produce the money.

Some of the questions that constantly get asked of me, and others in ministry with young adults, are “What do young adults want from the church?  How can we do more/better young adult ministry?  How do we get young adults in church?”  It happened in Hawaii as well.  The dean of the cathedral in Honolulu asked that we hold the Dean’s Forum on this very topic.

There are many ways to answer this question.  Many different visions.

I can tell you where to start though.



It is a powerful kind of disheartening when you attempt to do ministry, and over and over again, you are told it is the most important ministry in the church, and yet….the budget gets slashed again and again.

And here, it’s worse.  The budget (evidently) didn’t get slashed because they agonized over it, faced a revenue shortfall, and triaged what mission items were most important.  They slashed our budget because no one was paying close enough attention.  It wasn’t a low priority; it wasn’t even on the radar.  They passed a budget that, for whatever reason, hadn’t been checked.

So, here we go, Church.  Here’s what I need, as a certified Young Person.  (I’m 28 years old–I count, despite being a priest.)

Here is what I need from you, My Church. Here’s the answer to that question you keep asking me.

You need to say that you are sorry, that you realize this budget thing didn’t go well this year.  You need to say you’re sorry that you overlooked the crucial part of administration that is budgeting. Part of the leadership you were elected to is owning up when things fall apart, and they just did.  You need to admit it.

And then, you need to Fix It.

Write a letter to PB&F (which looks like it’s happening), outline a better budget that takes into account the actual mission priorities this Church has espoused, and FIX. IT.

And, look, I’ll help you.  I will sit in meetings, I will voice my opinion, I will help write budgets, I will help pass them.  I will even explain the point of Twitter for the ten thousandth time.  I will pull my own weight and then some.  I will help you come up with a better way to make budgets, since this one fell flat.  I fell in love with this church when I was a kid, and I’m not going anywhere.  We’ll work together; it will be great.

But you need to fix this.

Because the secret to getting young people in the church (or anyone into church) is that you actually have to care about them.  Not in a lip-service way, or in a non-committal way, but in a dedicated, flesh in the game, asking what they think and feel, sort of way.   You actually have to honestly care about them.  (Jesus said something along these lines, I do believe.  Smart guy, that Jesus.)

So help me believe that the Church actually cares enough about young people to give us money, and not just lots of anxiety.  Help me convince my students that the Church wants them for their voices and opinions, and not just their life expectancy and wallets.

Please, Fix It.

Hawaii Double Rainbow

Now, to make us feel better, a double rainbow from Honolulu.

Future Present Church

First, a story.
Last week, a retired priest came into the office I share with several other people. He had come out of a meeting, and upon seeing me, typing at my computer, he guestured broadly, and declared, “And here sits Megan, a future priest of the church!”
Without thinking, I responded, “Well, I’m here now.”

Silence fell in the office. He was flustered, and tried to cover.
“Ah, of course you are! A future and PRESENT priest of the church!”

The proposed budget for 2013-2016 for DFMS* was released March 1. It will be voted on at General Convention in July, so nothing is official yet. And you can download it here.

Some preliminaries: staffing was increased by $1.4million dollars, over the next 3 years.

Funding for Hispanic/Latino ministries was cut, as was funding to dioceses with large Native populations and ministries. Funding was also cut to historic African-American colleges (yes! We have several Historic Black Episcopal colleges. Which now have less funding.)

Seminarian grants were zeroed out entirely, as was the line item funding the General Ordination Exams. (Which will conceivably run into some canonical issues. We aren’t Free Will Baptists, folks. We have rules.)

And funding for all Formation: youth, adult, young adult, and college ministry went from over $3 million to about $286,000 over three years. That’s a 90% cut in funding for the young people. (Good numbers breakdown here, for those of us who are scared of spreadsheets.)

No more Episcopal Youth Event, no more Youth Presence at General Convention, no more Young Adult Festival at General Convention, no more funding help for provincial conferences for youth and young adults, no more PLSE program to encourage young people to consider ordained ministry, nope nada.

The given rationale is that this sort of ministry is best done by local dioceses and parishes.

And I would be peachy-keen with said rationale, if I had widespread experience of that actually occurring.

Instead, in my experience, the dioceses, not to mention parishes, are not really any more flush with cash than DFMS is. And my experience is that while they mean well, when push comes to shove, and they face a tight budget, they do precisely what the Executive Committee just did, and they slash funding for anyone under 45.

Dioceses can, when they have their act together, come up with some good ministry for teh youthes. So can parishes.

But, and this is important, so pay attention. THEY CANNOT DO IT ALONE.

COD is right; you cannot dump an unfunded mandate on unprepared and unfunded people and expect them to do it. That is both unfair and, actually, unChristian. It is a setup to fail. It is, for lack of a better word, tea-partying in the Church.

You actually want to empower the grassroots, to devolve ministry to locals who are in touch with their context? Then you have to empower them for real. Educate them, make sure they have the funding. Put them in touch with a network of resources to help them succeed. Put them in a community to support them.

Because youth work, young adult work, work with college students is too important to fail. It gets said all the time, but these people aren’t the future of the church, they are its present, and its hope. To fail so spectacularly to invest in them is to fail at the sure and certain hope to which God calls us.

I feel like I have been saying this at least twice a week since my ordination, but here it is again.

When programs like this are cut, you lose the next generation of leaders, both ordained and lay. We are beginning to see this now, as the Boomers begin to retire. The second-career clergy are many, and they are wonderful, but we are losing the clergy who are able to put in 30-40 years of continuous experience into the church. We lost them once because of massive cuts to funding like this in the 1960s, and now we’re doing it again.

When I was a teenager, I left the church because there was no youth program (among other reasons). But I am a priest now, because of college ministry. I am a priest because the church made an effort to help me discern and decided I was important, and invested in me.

If this church wants young people, like the constant refrain says, then step up.

Investment time.

*DFMS: the official registered name for The Episcopal Church’s non-profit– Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. It keeps me from writing TEC all the time, and is less jingoistic than saying “National Church”, when we include several other countries (Haiti, Ecuador, etc) and much of Western Europe.

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!”

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.

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.