Monday, December 17, 2012

Does an Evil Act Negate the Gift of Being God's Beloved?

Can someone born a beloved son or daughter of God lose that beloved-ness?  Or is it a gift that remains, regardless of how that person lives their life?

In a talk delivered many years ago at the Crystal Cathedral, Henri Nouwen addressed the beloved-ness that we all, as sons and daughters of God, share – and how our very nature and being reflects the four main parts of the Eucharist.  As with the bread, we, too, are taken, blessed, broken, and given.  It is something that links us all and brings us closer to the experience of God on earth as Jesus.  As Nouwen said, "Your spiritual life - your life as the beloved daughters and sons of God - is a life that is taken, that is blessed, that is broken, and given ... If you can live your life as the taken, the blessed, the broken, the given, the world will recognize Jesus in you.”

Over the past several days, I’ve been struggling with the question of whether a person who commits an evil act still retains the designation of “beloved”.  Their life has the same four elements of being taken, blessed, broken, and given – but to me, it seems the aspect of a beloved nature ends somewhere between blessed and broken.  Just as bread is broken apart during the Eucharist, just as the life of Christ was broken through his crucifixion, the life of a person who commits an act of evil is also broken – but not broken as a sacrifice.  It is broken through hatred, or confusion, or mental disability, or any of a number of other reasons.

Our parish rector, yesterday during a discussion of the events in Connecticut last week, made the point that God doesn’t select one person to receive something good while another receives misery and hardship.  As he put it, “It rains on farms owned by good people just as much as on farms owned by bad people.”

Using this, then, a beloved nature is something that is “rained” upon everyone.  We all receive it, the same as we all receive God’s grace.  But by turning our back on grace – on God’s gift to us – and rejecting our status as beloved children, do we lose it?  Despite weeping over the sins of man, does God still look at all as beloved?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Many Missing the Mark on General Convention

Ah, if only it were so easy for all of us to wave our hands dismissively at nearly two million people as it apparently is for Jay Akasie, the ironically named David Virtue, and Rob Kirby. To read their reporting on the just concluded 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, you would think that everyone who stands steadfastly with that denomination - as I do - is going straight to hell.

How dare we consider restructuring the hierarchy to make it a more grassroots-driven denomination!

How dare we develop a budget that focuses on strengthening our capability for effective mission in the world!

How dare we pass a resolution authorizing the development of a provisional rite of blessing for same-sex unions!

How dare we ... LOVE?

Yes, Mr. Akasie, Mr. Virtue, and Mr. Kirby, the point you have missed throughout all of this is that we are a denomination of love. While you have gone in and selectively focused on the crozier carried by the Presiding Bishop, on whether to sell the church headquarters building in New York, and even on your continuing vitriolic (and horribly uninformed, Mr. Kirby) attacks on Bishop Gene Robinson, you have in your mad, blind rush missed the entire point.

Everything - EVERYTHING - accomplished by our deputies and bishops in Indianapolis has been done out of a sense of God's abiding love for everyone (yes, even you, Mr. Akasie, Mr. Virtue, and Mr. Kirby, your best efforts to display your true lack of understanding of who we are and what we stand for to the contrary).

Why pass a resolution authorizing this new rite? Because the Episcopal Church - as Mr. Akasie, a professed member of the denomination, should know very well - has a sign hanging by the door saying "All Are Welcome".  Why would the church not take an action to live into our advertising? For that matter, why do we allow women to serve as priests and bishops? (Thank God that we do!) Why did our church both walking with Dr. King and supporting the Civil Rights Movement?  (Mr. Akasie, Mr. VIrtue, and Mr. Kirby - any of you ever heard of Jonathan Myrick Daniels?)

Because we Episcopalians love - we accept - we welcome.

Christ's love is unconditional - he loved because he IS love - and it never misses the mark. The love of the Episcopal Church is unconditional, and it never misses the mark.

Sadly, the absence of love - even the word itself - in some of what we're reading is full of conditions and misses the mark completely.

So, Mr. Akasie, Mr. Virtue, Mr. Kirby, and others of your ilk - please stop reading everything with a hand over one eye. Stop finding what you want to see instead of looking for what's really there. And remember that, disagree with the Episcopal Church or not, disagree with our actions or not, you're missing the point.

It's not dollars and cents. It's not resolutions and budgets. It's not walkouts or sell-offs.

It's love.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Walk Through the Door, for the Episcopal Church Welcomes YOU!

Two events this week at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis have made me reflect on the famous logo found hanging at every Episcopal parish in the United States.

I have always been proud of the fact that the sign proclaims boldly and clearly that the Episcopal Church welcomes YOU - no asterisks, no exceptions, no conditions.  What has been disconcerting to me is the fact that our denomination has not always fully lived into the message we post on the sign - "It says I'm welcome, but do they mean ME?"  "I'm a poor black woman; do they mean ME?"  "I'm a gay partnered man; can they really mean ME?"  For every class, ethnicity, lifestyle or income level, I'm sure that someone, somewhere has asked, "Does the Episcopal Church really want ME? Will they accept ME?  Will they allow ME to be part of their family and feel the love and compassion that I need?"

In short, yes, we will!

Yesterday and today, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies - by wide margins - each approved a resolution allowing for the creation of a liturgy for blessing same-sax couples.  There are many things this is not: it is not a marriage ceremony; it is not mandatory; it is not something that every bishop will allow in their own dioceses, based on their own beliefs.  But it is a move farther along the path than the church has taken up until now.  And it is one more step down the road for the LGBT community who wants nothing more from their fellow Episcopal parishioners than the same love, acceptance and blessings they have already received from God.

This is a big switch for the Episcopal Church, and as such it makes me view the sign with a slightly different logo - The Episcopal Church Welcomes Change.  With this convention, it's not just change in liturgy; we are headed down the path for wholesale change in structure.  Earlier today, in a overwhelming and - according to friends of mine who are in attendance at the convention - emotional vote, the House of Deputies voted unanimously (that's a unanimous vote by more than 800 clergy and lay deputies!!) to approve Resolution C095.

What is Resolution C095?  According to the Episcopal News Service, "Resolution C095, Substitute, was adopted unanimously by the committee during its July 9 morning meeting. It grounds its action in the belief that 'the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself.'  It creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration."  Should the House of Bishops also approve the resolution, the report of recommendations will be completed this November and will be discussed and debated at the 78th General Convention in a few years.

What will these changes entail?  No one knows - the Spirit is just now beginning to move.  Over the past several days, I've read reports of requests for the church to sell the Episcopal Church headquarters building in New York and use the excess money for mission.  I've seen reports on a move to allow (require?) future presiding bishops to maintain their duties as diocesan bishops while leading the national church.

Whatever the future looks like - a changing hierarchy, an altered structure, a more grassroots level of leadership - the church will focus on mission, even more than it does today.  As the Presiding Bishop said in her opening sermon, "Re-forming and re-imagining ourselves for mission in a changed world is the most essential task we have before us.  We’re not going to fix the church or the world at this Convention, but we can do something to make the church a better tool and instrument for God’s mission if we can embrace that new wind, discover God creating new life among us, and listen and look for Jesus."

Listen and look for Jesus.  With all due respect to Bishop Katharine, I think that last phrase should have a bit of different emphasis.  Re-read it this way:  "Listen ... and look for Jesus."  With the events of the past several days, we're witnessing an Episcopal Church that is listening - listening to those who have been neglected or rejected or ignored and working to bring them through the front door.  And when you change the way you relate to others, change the way you see others, and change the way they see themselves, you open yourself to the face of Christ.

And it is that Christ who is standing in the door of the Episcopal Church, welcoming all, comforting all, refreshing all.  Yes - the Episcopal Church welcomes YOU!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Falls Church Episcopal: A Full Church Remembers the Empty Tomb

Walking through the doors of the Historic Falls Church this morning - our congregation's first day of worship on that property in more than five years - I had no idea what to expect.

Plans were in place for a large turnout, and we even had an option available if we were confronted by someone with a gripe against us and the Episcopal Church and who chose our service as the time to make a vocal statement of opposition. The signage was in place, the nursery was staffed and stocked with activities, and the police officer tasked with getting people safely across the street was stationed on East Fairfax Street.

Everything was ready, and yet I still didn't know what to expect. Truth be told, the whole situation felt a bit surreal. Amy, the girls and I were part of the nearly 80 percent of our congregation who joined TFCE after the 2007 split, and we were all returning "home" to a place we had never attended. Some I spoke with likened it to being tourists who had just been dropped off by our bus and were waiting to enter a historic site to take some pictures and enjoy a tour.

As I stood on the lawn of the church, snapping photos of fellow parishioners and enjoying the spirit of excitement, enthusiasm and joy flowing between and among those who were arriving, I kept hearkening back to some of what's happened in the past. The misconceptions and untruths being circulated about TFCE, from everything ranging from our financial viability to the size of our congregation. Comments from those like Mike McManus who, as recently as three days ago in Virtue Online, claimed that the Episcopal Church is prohibiting the Anglican congregation from the free exercise of religion and who opined, "Shortly after Easter, our 3,000 members must abandon the facility, valued at $10+ million, turn over vestments, prayer books and even our bank account to less than 100 people who remained loyal to TEC. We will have to worship in a high school. This is wrong."

I have been in the communications field long enough - and am enough of a history buff - to recognize and freely acknowledge that all media is slanted, all opinions are designed to favor one group over another, and that all history is written by the winners. As such, nothing that has been said surprises me, no matter how much it pains and disappoints me. And as surprising as this may be to some, I agree with Mr. McManus: this is wrong.

Yes, Mr. McManus, it is wrong - wrong that in the midst of a five-year legal battle, the rumors that continue to be perpetuated and the stories being spread have overshadowed why we are ALL here, are ALL Christians, and are ALL gathering this Easter Sunday: the empty tomb. Easter Sunday should be about the celebration of Christ's resurrection and about the event that makes us who we are as God's people, providing us with the salvation and redemption that God gives freely as the result of the death of His son. Easter Sunday should be about Jesus' triumph over death and the cross.

For me, this Easter Sunday WAS and IS about that, despite what others may say. Plenty of people are anxious - in the words of the Gospel writers - to tear down the Temple, but are reluctant to build it back up. If the last five years have led me to reflect on anything, it is John 11:35.

"Jesus wept."

Yes, the last five years have made Jesus weep. Not for the loss of property or finances or leaving one denomination and aligning with another. Jesus has wept because of the way his children have acted. Jesus has wept because of the hateful words that have been spoken. Jesus has wept because of the way people who were once friends have turned their backs on one another.

All of this was weighing on my mind before this morning's service. But if Jesus wept over the past five years, today He was smiling - and we at TFCE were smiling as nearly 400 people packed the pews ("filled to overflowing", as reported by the Falls Church News Press). Apprehension melted away as nearly 400 voices were raised in unison with the first notes of the processional hymn. Concern about what may happen was replaced by the joy of seeing so many smiling, joyful people. Fear faded as Holy Baptism was held for the newest member of the Christian family. And the tears of the past several years - the tears of hurt and frustration - were replaced by tears of joy as families and friends, young and old alike, were led into the church by 98-year-old Jessie Thackrey, our matriarch and a woman who, despite her frailty, was determined to walk - rather than take her wheelchair - up the front steps and through the narthex door.

And at the end of the day, the real meaning of Easter was as clear and evident as ever.

The tomb is empty.

Christ is Risen.

The Lord is Risen indeed.