Occupy Trinity Wall Street: Part 4 of 4

Sunday, December 23rd, Trinity Wall Street held it’s final forum at the office complex at 74 Trinity Place on “Jesus in the Margins”. TWS’s site states this last session “continues by exploring economic marginalization. Bryan Parsons will look at Situational Ethics, the prophet Amos, and the goals that Occupy and the Christian movement have in common. How does Christ call us, and Occupy encourage us, to look at humanity first when considering another? And what is the place of movements in influencing secular society to create space for all people to live happy and productive existences?”  Those familiar with this blog and the OTWS community remember Bryan Parsons arriving intoxicated one night to trade alcohol for cigarettes. Clergy, Matt Heyd, commented in November that it was time for these people to leave. It was getting cold, after all. It was cold for those shepherds who kept watch, and the parables often read in Advent are about waiting in faith. This is the time of year during which we are reminded that it is God’s decision about what happens in our lives. Our work is to wait in faith. Rather than deciding what’s right for those on the street, it might be the “churchy” or priestly thing to do and bring blankets. a hot meal, counsel for the troubled.

Some of those sleeping in front of Trinity Wall Street are part of the Occupy Sandy efforts – it’s an easy commute to Brooklyn or downtown and the Diocese of New York (not Long Island of which Brooklyn is a part) has forbidden volunteers from sleeping in the churches.  It has been observed that the space in front of Trinity Wall Street could provide a warehouse for provisions, but that space is locked up tight.  This time of year, it’s dramatic and telling – lots of square footage empty, with signs posted about the area being under surveillance, and tourists following red umbrellas touring the adjacent graveyards.

The spiritual illness at Trinity Wall Street has metastasized and those charged with oversight are cowed by Trinity’s wealth. Like so many stories in holy scripture, riches keep a person or an institution sick.  Christmas Eve marked day 200 of Occupy Trinity Wall Street.

OTWS Five Marks of Mission

Real Estate and the church

OTWS under surveillance

Occupy Trinity Wall Street: How it Started – D17

Part 2 of 4

On December 17th (D17) OWS gathered near Duarte Square for a celebration. A number of people climbed a ladder and trespassed. It was clearly street theater and civil disobedience-Santa Claus and Miss America were first over the ladder. One bishop, three Episcopal priests, a nun, and two Roman Catholic priests were arrested with others.

The lead up to the event involved Bishop Desmond Tutu releasing two conflicting messages regarding Occupy Wall Street and generating questions regarding his intentions, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Bishop Mark Sisk. Jeffets-Schori’s and Sisk’s letters on December 16, 2011 can be found HERE.

Reverend Earl Koopercamp crossing the ladder into Duarte Square on D17.

Reverend Earl Koopercamp crossing the ladder into Duarte Square on D17.

Unfortunately some attending clipped wires on the fencing, committing vandalism. Few of the 52 trespassers who were arrested, tried, and prosecuted at the insistence of TWS committed any vandalism. The majority of vandals ran away when the NYPD appeared.

That day the fence was pushed down on the crowd outside the no trespassing zone by the NYPD while other officers kettled the crowd from the street side, thus terrorizing observers.

People who were exercising First Amendment rights were beaten up by the NYPD in the name of TWS and by extension the Diocese of NY. The statement from the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church added an ironic overtone: “Seekers after justice have more often achieved success through non-violent action, rather than acts of force or arms.” The Church remained silent on the violence perpetrated against those who were merely observing non-violent actions.

Collaborating with the District Attorney’s office, TWS and CEO/Rector Cooper began work on prosecuting the trespassers to the full extent of the law. During the course of the most visible trial (held June 10-21) it became evident that Trinity Real Estate, its CEO Cooper and staff enjoyed a cozy relationship with the NYPD as well as the DA’s office. For example, vans of police in full riot gear were parked at the ready for 5 hours in advance to arrest people for “possible trespass”. Will Gusakov, a master carpenter who designed and built the ladder but did not trespass, was arrested blocks away from Duarte Square and put on trial . One of the ways taxpayer money paid for protection of Trinity Wall Street’s private assets.

NYPD protects Trinity Wall Street's private property

NYPD protects Trinity Wall Street’s private property

At the end of the trial, one defendant, Mark Adams, was sent to jail. Adams was the only defendant who is Muslim, born in Pakistan. Adams joined OWS after his home went into foreclosure.

OTWS began in response to Mark Adams being sentenced to 45 days on Riker’s Island. After rallies, vigils, and teach-ins themed around “Forgive Us Our Trespasses”, Jack Boyle, a D17 defendant, initiated the occupation/sleep-in. The occupation gained momentum when Adams began serving his time in prison on Riker’s Island.

Parishioners at TWS were told Adams’ sentence was related to offenses other than trespassing on the vacant lot. However court records show that Adams went to prison solely at the insistence of an Episcopal parish in the Diocese of NY.

Adams served time in the heat of July just as General Convention made resolutions to increase ministry to those in prison and while the 5 Marks of Mission were embraced as a standard to move missionally forward in the 21st century. Trials for trespassing continue today-most recently for Charles Meyers-TWS’s accusations compounding on other “infractions” and generating prison records for young men and women based on inflated charges.

Interviews with those involved with Occupy Trinity Wall Street and who have been sent to Riker’s Island at the insistence of Trinity Wall Street and CEO/Rector James Cooper can be found HERE.

The OWS community has a well-organized, dedicated group who visit those in prison, write them, and provide support. On release, the OWS community finds them shelter mostly in the form of couch surfing and facilitates access to social workers and therapists who donate time.

As of this writing no one behind bars because of TWS has been visited by Episcopal clergy to include the primary colluder with the NYPD and DA, CEO/Rector Cooper. No offer of shelter or of psychological counseling have been proffered despite TWS’s considerable assets.
Duarte Text Box OTWS

Occupy Trinity Wall Street: How it started

 

Trinity Wall Street Moral Gate

“Trinity Wall Street could be the moral gateway between Wall Street and Main Street.”

OCCUPY TRINITY WALL STREET: OVERVIEW

Since June 8th the sidewalk in front of Trinity Wall Street (TWS) has been location central for prophetic witness.  People affiliated with Occupy Wall Street (OWS), calling themselves Occupy Trinity Wall Street (OTWS) are occupying that doorstep 24 hours a day.

WHY?

At least 10 and as many as 30 people are sleeping on the street-an activity completely legal in New York City and protected by the U.S. Constitution. These men and women bear witness to the inequities wrought by the greed of Wall Street calling attention to a deformed capitalism that does not respect the dignity of every human being but looks on all Creation as a source of personal profit and production. For Episcopalians the significance of this sleep-in is sacramental. Yet rather than welcome the presence of these prophets or offer any kindness, TWS has harassed, humiliated, and sent protesters and homeless youth to jail and the hospital. This was done in the name of the Episcopal Church, notably with the tacit acceptance of the Diocese of NY.

 HOW IT STARTED: D17

When OWS was violently rousted in November, 2011 from the encampment at Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square, it lost a home. People were fed, educated, and community was being built. A national voice of outrage was embodied. A new vision of democracy was evolving–inclusive and horizontal-it was oriented towards peace, justice, and mutual aid. Without a home, OWS would have a difficult time working on this vision. OWS approached Trinity Wall Street, particularly CEO/Rector James Cooper, in December to discuss the possibility of occupying one of its many Manhattan real estate assets–a vacant lot on Canal Street and 6th Avenue known as Duarte Square. Like the time when St. Paul’s Chapel was a sanctuary for recovery workers after attacks on the World Trade Towers, Trinity Wall Street, by destiny, was at another a nexus of history.

Encouraged by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, retired Bishop George Packard was asked to facilitate dialog between OWS and TWS. With the exception of token gestures, CEO/Rector Cooper would not enter into discussion. OWS was told ground would be broken on a new building in May, 2012. OWS gathered support from the local Community Board and residents surrounding Duarte Square; made plans for a healthy encampment; and promised it would move out when ground was broken in May. Several members of the OWS community went on a hunger strike to call attention to this prophetic moment and a need for sanctuary. TWS and CEO/Rector Cooper only answered with a corporate line about plans for private property.

Mallory Diego Elliot

 Hunger strikers Malory Butler (19-year-old ballet student) & Diego Ibanez, with supporter Elliot Figman on Day 15 of the hunger strike. Mr. Ibanez was a critical organizer for Hurricane Sandy relief, spearheading a volunteer corps that served over 5,000 hot meals a day in addition to other forms of relief.

Coming up: D17 and Duarte Square

Ed Mortimer Text Box

Turn the other cheek…don’t look the other way

When I called on a friend to sing an original song for my wedding, he asked me about dress requirements. ” Oh…whatever. I trust your judgment.  You should know the Bishop of NY will be there and dressed like a bishop.”

“Should we all wear cardboard boxes on our heads as a show of solidarity?”

There is something inherently comical about bishops.  Their outfits are just the beginning.

Bishops become supremely comical when they take not just their outfits but themselves seriously. To observe the behavior of those with egos that put them in the delusional world – one in which they imagine they have authority outside the priests in their regional management districts—is classic comedy. Rudy Vallee in a Preston Sturges movie without the endearing charm.

The latest edition of The Episcopal New Yorker has one with a head scratch asking “Real…or Onion?” The issue,  released in this post-Sandy/Advent/wealth disparity-financial cliff/climate change crisis/people leaving TEC to find God elsewhere time was devoted to Real Estate!  And it’s not dedicated to actual real estate issues in New York, a city with home health care givers, families, and shop clerks living in shelters; a metropolitan area with a disproportionate amount of empty homes for every homeless family. No, the bulk of the issue is dedicated to diocesan real estate, the problems of its upkeep; the Bishop’s Message culminating with the observation that “the Church’s property can be a problem, but it is a nice problem to have.”

What a punch line! It’s one of those real-life instances that if you heard it in a movie about a clueless, quasi-villainous religious leader, you wouldn’t believe it real.

Coincidence?  On November 17th, I handed out broadsides at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine during the Diocesan convention that told the story of ongoing harassment on the steps of Trinity Wall.  In addition to shining the light on the spiritual sickness that has infected Trinity Wall Street and its staff, the intention was to initiate a horizontal discussion regarding the responsibility the church has when it comes to its properties.

The content of the broadside will be posted on this blog in the days to come. Until then, you can check out interviews with those who have been sleeping on the front steps of Trinity Wall Street HERE.

The broadside was written primarily to give voice to those who have been sleeping at Trinity Wall Street since June 8th and suffered harassment in the form of beatings, theft, verbal insults, and more from the NYPD and the Trinity Wall Street staff. Some have been put in jail at the insistence of CEO/Rector James Cooper. No one – and no one means no one – from Trinity Wall Street parish has offered so much as a glass of water let alone visited those in prison. These people are my friends and comrades. They are the friends and comrades of every person who leads a spiritually intentional life. Naively I thought that if Cooper’s and Trinity Wall Street’s colleagues and supervisors (i.e. bishops) were aware that there were homeless, hungry, troubled people treated like chattel on the church steps they would be held accountable in some way. They would have the opportunity to heal the spiritual sickness that for so long has infected Trinity Wall Street.

More importantly this is a time when the institutional Church has to evaluate honestly and quickly whether the way it maintains itself is sustainable or even Christian.  It has got to realize as so many of us have, that the Spirit-led life of commitment to Jesus includes finding the service on your doorstep. In Trinity Wall Street’s case and the Diocese of New York that is not metaphoric.

You can read the Diocese of New York’s puff piece here, keeping in mind George Orwell’s thought on PR – Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.

As you read, carry with you this protective amulet of The Word from John 18:37 – “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

To whom does Bishop Mark Sisk listen?  To whom does CEO/Rector James Cooper listen?

Jesus would have us turn the other cheek not look the other way.

Episcopal So-Called News

During General Convention 2009 everyone going in and out of the center was greeted by the usual gang of idiots. I’d say they were biker types but that would give bikers a bad name. Just big-bellied, bearded dudes in tee shirts carrying signs about hating “homos” and that anyone going into the building was going to hell.

The appearance of the Phelps Family and other hatemongers is more of a tradition at GC than the seminary cocktail parties where they try to drum up donations from alums.

So I stole an idea for an action I’d heard about. I started a Sponsor-a-Protester campaign. I asked if people wanted to pledge cash for the Protest-a-thon occurring right in front of them. With the help of Utah’s enthusiastic youth group , $120 was raised in less than 25 minutes. We had a blast. People pointed out the angriest–and by now they were angrier than hornets rousted from a nest–protesters and hand the cash over while waving to the protester. We thanked them for their work – they were raising funds for a home for LGBT teens who needed a safe haven. There were about 100 people laughing, donating, joining in.

This would have gone on for hours, but I was approached by a factotum of GC wearing collar and eye-searing shirt that really should be featured on Bad Vestments . He insisted I stop. Naively, I thought he was concerned about my personal safety.  Since I was still a Bishop’s Wife, I followed orders.Turns out I was one step ahead of the law – the protesters had called the police on me.  It’s possible the factotum with collar was trying to control the press.  A Bishop’s Wife arrested during General Convention would certainly get a squib…somewhere.  Too bad. I would have very much liked to appear before a judge in Orange County on charges of soliciting for charity.

The next day’s General Convention news had not a word about that. Outreach, mission, activism is only newsworthy if it has the corporate stamp of TEC. Individual prophetic action is not recognized.

Which brings me to an additional gift from the trial of Trinity Wall Street versus Occupy Wall Street. It confirms what most of us knew all along: That Episcopal News Service, Episcopal Cafe, and Episcopal New Yorker are simply the Pravda/Fox News of TEC. (Well, Episcopal Cafe is kind of the MSNBC wing of the church. But ye fans of MSNBC, remember it is owned by GE.)

A retired bishop and a priest recently active in the Diocese of NY are facing incarceration at Rikers at the insistence of a parish in Manhattan and there is no coverage. Two members of the clergy and there’s not a word about it. None. It’s not surprising, just affirming.

When an institution sets up a PR instrument to talk to the world, what happens is a filter of mendacity.

So what does it say about Katharine Jefferts-Schori that one of the first things she did when she moved into 815 Second Ave was have ENS on the same floor so that it sitteth at her right elbow?

Good Friday 2011

My Lenten discipline for 2011 was to say “I honor the Christ in you” prayerfully, to myself, to everyone I encountered. I slacked off, but it was enormously helpful and humbling at those moments when I tend towards the judgmental and self-righteous. I am my own Miss Bossypants.

Starting with Shrove Tuesday, it became a Lent without a church building to go visit. The early church was comprised of spiritual communities, communities that held each other accountable in study, worship, and action. More of us are finding our community in other places. One from column a, two from column b, a little introspective dim sum and you have a meal. No longer content with the prix fixe banquet dinner choices – chicken, fish, or beef? – offered in the brand-name church.
I remember well the Shrove Tuesday pancake battles. Yes, battles, not batters. Everything cooked with that secret ingredient: resentment. There were years when the cook staff was manned by people who volunteered solely to stand sentry on the kitchen ramparts, ensuring the Mardi Gras and gumbo contingent didn’t pollute the purity of the Anglophilic pancake supper. There is the irony of extra pancake mix, syrup, and butter that goes home after a meal originally intended to clean out the larder.

Taking into account the real tradition of Shrove Tuesday, I made a supper of what was in the pantry. Half of those two-for-one purchases of red sauce, pasta, beans, and Costco discount quality grains, went to a food pantry. Such a simple resolution to the Shrove Tuesday wars. And we can’t all get together and do this in church?  If only….

In our home, Holy Week was marked by daily meditations. Each of us kept private counsel, pondering in our hearts the events that occurred in Jerusalem. We made it a focus to carry those meditations into the mindfulness of our days. The Holy Spirit will call your attention to what needs to be heeded if ye but have ears to hear away from the pulpit.

Today, at noon, we turned off the Internet, phones – even the washing machine – and began by reading the Passion according to John. It was followed by the BCP Good Friday liturgy. Mid way, I was affirmed that it was a good and wise decision to stay far away from church today.

Why? Because for the past two weeks, my prayers had brought me to a place where I wanted to know what Jesus would have me do – specifically – with his sacrifice and resurrection. I don’t think he would want me to leave it at the modern perfunctory equivalent of nard and tears. Facebook was filled with posts like “Good Friday service at noon, then on to MOMA and a terrific late lunch in NoHo!”

For a moment, I yearned to be part of a spiritual community where every Friday there was a liturgy for the social justice and human rights; where the faithful sit in discernment, worshiping with a call to action. If only…

I remembered the rector of a church I attended who did not want to go ahead with tolling the tower bells, prominent in the community, when there was a state-sanctioned murder (execution) without Vestry permission because the death penalty was “controversial”.

I remembered an Easter Eve walk with families when the brutality of the crucifixion was brought home not by words, but by the sound of a hammer on wood. An informal group of children and parents sang “Were you there?” and yes, yes we were. That year, the children from one family went home, retelling their visiting grandparents the most wonderful story they had ever heard – begging them to go to church with them on Easter morning so they could witness how their church made this story live! But Easter morning was the adult-oriented service and instead of parading with Jesus, chanting and drumming and waving palms; praying with him in the garden; standing next to him as he argued with the money changers and Pharisees; and hearing the hammer, there was a formal choir and a trumpet. They apologized to their grandparents during the Easter Egg hunt.  The candy paled when compared to the living story.

We know that 2,000 years out of the starting gate, this story still sets our hearts on fire. Roils our compassion, and opens our eyes to its reoccurrence all over the world. It calls to you – the loudest shout of the liturgical year.  If only….

As our family sat, listening to the prayers from Good Friday’s liturgy, we got to the part where priests, deacons, bishops, and the president were prayed for. Fortunately we weren’t silenced in church pews so we could offer up our own voices in the Good Friday litany:

for those in prison

for those with degenerative diseases who are frightened

for the caregivers

for those who sacrifice for the common good

for those who live with needless shame

for the lonely

for the hungry

for those being tortured – particularly on this day, Private Bradley Manning

for those who cannot tell their story of pain, whose very life narrative has been taken away

for the mothers and fathers who have lost children

for those who die publicly, painfully and without dignity

for those who die alone

for forgiveness as we allow these things to happen around us

On Good Friday, at least, can’t we ask the bishops, priests, deacons, and the president to pray for those who have no voice?   If only….

Long live the Church!

The  Hopeful Episcopalian is delighted at this critical response to a blog post from  June 22, 2009:

It appears you don’t understand the history, heirarchy (sic) and governing canons of the Church. Perhaps you should go elsewhere. Deliberation will never be out-of-date. Elitism is not present when each diocese elects its own delegates. Please – a little more research before you throw out the presiding Bishop, etc., with the bathwater.

No one is throwing the baby out. People are siphoning out the bathwater so the real baby-Christian faith- doesn’t drown.

Delegates to General Convention are typically the same people elected by a tiny in crowd.  Voting is not an exercise in populism: the elite elect (and re-elect, and re-elect, and re-elect) the elite without term limits.

Local parishes can barely recognize their diocesan bishop unless there’s a mitre on his or her head on Confirmation Day. The majority have no idea what General Convention is or who attends. Most Americans  can’t recognize their congressperson. You think they know who Katharine Jefferts-Schori is?  Ask an Episcopalian to provide the surname for “Rowan” and you’ll hear silence or “Atkins”.

Of what use are governing canons if 20,000 people are leaving TEC each year? Who will be around to govern over? And have you asked the faithful church attendees if they are aware they are being governed?

The hierarchy, i.e. the leadership and the elite, is leading the institution in a direction that ensures TEC will be an oddity read about in history books.

Your post indicates that you don’t see church as a home for the faithful seeking God’s face in a spiritual community.  To you, it is a museum where delegates and governing canons are priorities. You want people like me to go elsewhere.  Not to worry – I have and we are! We want to worship, pray, and be part of a Eucharistic community.

And with a drain of 20,000 a year, who will fund General Convention?  The costs are huge: travel, copying, hotel rooms, hospitality suites, salaries of coordinators, etc.  Producing GC is an industry of its own at 815.

You and others like you can take refuge in your “rightness” when we ignorant faithful who haven’t done our research have gone elsewhere.   I’ve witnessed that many times on a parish level.  Those  entrenched in certainty about history and the right way to “do church” –and frequently it was a skewed as Glen Beck’s interpretation of US History–were left with no children, no one with the gifts of hospitality, prayer, prophecy, joy, patience, kindness, or goodness.  Ironically, even self control is absent.

But dad gummit – they sure knew how the governances worked and peppered their conversation with references to the PB! (When PB is used in conversation, most people think the person talking left out “and J”.)

The history of the presiding bishop as figurehead and self-proclaimed primate is astonishingly brief. Primate is as recent as Griswold. What was THAT about?

The presiding bishop was once a bishop with a geographical episcopacy who presided over House of Bishops meetings. Meeting over, everyone went home,  and next year the bishop with the most seniority got to bang the gavel when Roberts Rules of Order went astray.

The luxury penthouse  with terrace on 2nd Avenue and 44th Street, the international travel budget, the personal media machine of ENS were never part of that position until the latter part of the 20th century. Many of us yearn for the old days. This is an entitled baby with a silver spoon in its mouth. We’re willing  to toss her out because we understand that church is local.

Speaking of local and the importance of deliberations: is your local parish familiar with the resolutions about the the military base on Okinawa, or the one about honoring the much-anticipated first Eucharist on the moon?  The latter made it into the House of Bishops for a “yea”  vote. I was there during the deliberations for the former – educated as other significant international issues were discussed.  On returning to my parish, the biggest local deliberation was all about who was going to do coffee hour.

After the approval of Gene Robinson’s election in 2003, the September newsletters from all the local parishes in my area led with a letter from their rectors: Don’t panic! Nothing’s changing in your home parish!  Everything will be exactly the same as always.

For me, the biggest wake-up call regarding the relevance of GC resolutions sounded during a discussion with a fourth-year EFM student who could not be swayed from her entrenched belief that death penalty ought to stand.  She was educated, a big fan of the hierarchy, well-acquainted with the several resolutions about the death penalty, and still wanted state-sanctioned murder. “Forgive us our trespasses as we lethally inject those who sin against us.” – John Fugelsang

Here’s an idea: perhaps the church should be more concerned about changing hearts and nurturing faith.

There are some wonderful, hard-working delegates who have come to similar conclusions:  the church is dead. Long live the church.

Promises to Keep…conflating rights with rites

A blip on the sonar screen of history occurred this week: the synchronous moment when secular liberals stood firm that Elena Kagan’s sexuality was nobody’s business while Episcopalian liberals ensured that the sexual orientation and gender of Mary Glasspool, newly-ordained Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles was everybody’s business.

Historians of the United States Supreme Court have observed that the primary qualification for the life-long appointment is “greatness”:  hard to define with specifics, but an important quality in the consideration process.

What is the primary qualification for a competent bishop? It would be disrespectful to say that gender or sexual orientation ride in the front seat. Then why is this the lead in every TEC news story or grassroots Facebook post about Mary Glasspool?

I maintain that a significant path for Christians parallels the one followed by of John the Baptist: point the way to the Christ. Therefore, the role of a bishop in The Episcopal Church is to live into the specifics of episcopacy, rejecting entitlement, honoring tradition and culture yet responding to it in a vibrant, meaningful way. Thus a good bishop defines the leadership of a servant in order to hand it off to the next person elected.  The cycle continues. Rather than “greatness” as the singular quality for a bishop, a bishop’s duty evolves from prayerful responsive action to time and place. Never from grand gestures.

In the Episcopal Church – as in the case of Elena Kagan – sexuality and gender ought to be nobody’s business. Since 2003, the argument breaking up the church has been over an adverb: Openly.

Note to Episcopalian liberal idealogs – that teeny tiny little circle in the jumbo Venn diagram of liberals in the US -you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t have sexual orientation both private and an important raison d’etre for the future of the church.  It is not responsive, prayerful, nor appropriate to have Katharine Jefferts-Schori show up on a Native American reservation to discuss the ordination of homosexuals while omitting economic justice and suicide issues that scar the community daily.

Some bishops didn’t even try to have it both ways. They said one thing in 2008 then did another in 2009.
Where were you in July 2008? Did your Church pay for your European vacation?

In 2008, the bishops of The Episcopal Church used tithes of the faithful to go to the Lambeth conference pursuing the noble cause of  relationship in the Anglican Communion.  There, they heard bishops from countries where the issue of homosexuality was dealt with barbarically.  They heard of Anglicans around the world who were harassed and beaten because they were part of a greater family that allowed homosexuals to be ordained. They also heard from bishops who weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed… but I’m sure that went both ways.

There’s an interesting phenomenon in the House of Bishops – the ones who talk the most tend to be the ones who think the least.

In July 2008, the elected leadership of The Episcopal Church was faced with a quandary. On one side of the scale were those who suffered physical pain, complete social shunning in small villages, and possibly death because th Americans had consecrated an openly gay man. It did not help that the House of Bishops voted “yea” on Gene Robinson a few months after America illegally invaded a sovereign nation.  On the other side, openly homosexual men and women were denied their life’s true call.  Openly gay men and women who felt that their one true path in life was to be ordained would be forced to live in the closet with all the dreadful soul-killing, potentially life threatening and health damaging, implications.

It was a difficult justice and mercy conundrum.

The TEC bishops looked their brother bishops in the eye during the Indaba (Bible study and prayer) groups, promising there would be a respite from ordaining openly homosexual clergy until the rest of the world could understand to the point of compassion.

It makes me uncomfortable, leaving entrenched, secure notions; but as a liberal who strives not to be an ideolog, there are a few grains that balance the scale towards honoring the promise made at Lambeth.

Grain one: beatings, shunning in community in a developing nation without the mobility- as flawed as it can be – of the United States.

Grain two: Promises are broken, integrity eroded. The bishops vowed to maintain the unity of the Church when they were consecrated.  You can’t get it both ways – can’t promise to hold the church together, enjoy all the entitlements some episcopacies offer and do whatever you want in your diocese.  They took diocesan funds to attend a conference focused on international relationships. They shook hands – no, they prayed – on a promise. Then they broke it.

Grain three: Confusing rights with rites. We are not dealing with suicidal gay teens, we are not dealing with civil rights: There is no right that everyone should be ordained in the church. In fact, there are so many collars and mitres and people confusing collars and mitres with spiritual journey and holiness that it’s like 8 anthropologists tracking one indigenous person smashing yucca root.

Ah..the theology of yucca root! Sounds like a new title for Church Publishing!

We are dealing with adult men and women who think they have a call to be clergy.  Anyone exposed to the discernment process knows that this is more often than not a battle of wills at worst, or acknowledgement of a moment of grace at best. There’s still a lot of red tape, tic marks in plus columns for dioceses and parishes, and shuttling  people into archaic institutions with serious budget problems hoping tuition income will prop them up for the next program year. Somewhere, a human being gets on the seminary conveyor belt and pops out the other side ordained.  (But not trained for the 21st century!)  Confusing call to be a priest or deacon with some God-paved tarmac highway is as disingenuous as saying the U.S. Constitution was written by the finger of God.  There are plenty of people called to do the work of the Lord not wearing collars.

Having the benefit of not having to validate my church salary or my seminary degree, I recognize the quandary. Here’s my Monday morning quarterback solution: solve it locally.  It’s a perception issue.  Bishops, get real. Dioceses are locally based for a reason, the exception are those that are relationally based.  You listened to the pain of bishops caring for their local flocks and at that moment in time made a promise.  You – like everyone else in the church – are working on the John the Baptist level.  Employ some wisdom.

A bishop in the United States is elected – there is nothing sacred about the  process. It can have all the nuances and hard-nosed realities of Tammany Hall  politics. Sometimes the most popular person wins. Or the person with the team  that works the room the hardest. Or one memorable speech – maybe a nifty  one about whales!

The election process is clarified and becomes healthier, when a bishop has      defined the role by acting in the moment that history has offered.  If a bishop  has taken diocesan funds to participate in Lambeth, that bishop has been  centered in a historical moment, charged by the men and women he or she  serves.

When anyone makes a vow to another Christian in another land, that promise  that needs to be honored.

God is stronger than any of this.  In my circle of gay and lesbian friends, I don’t   know of anyone with an opinion about Gene “is my mike working?” Robinson.  But my friends and I are in contact constantly about legislation that will change civil rights the U.S. We pass around petitions, call our representatives, standing firm together.  When the world sees that Massachusetts, a state with legal same-sex marriage, does not get plagues or earthquakes; when partners are allowed to visit each other in hospitals and the sun still shines, the dominos of legal prejudice will continue to fall.

The church is not a political party and if it were it would be hard-pressed to get a mayoral campaign rolling.

Mary Glasspool may be the perfect person to lead the Diocese of Los Angeles in the next decade or so. I hope the bishop that preceded her had wisdom enough to define the assignment, not getting distracted with high-profile projects or making promises he had no intention of keeping.  But as long as the rhetoric is all about her gender and sexual orientation, it will take a long time to determine whether the best candidate was elected.

Happy Easter! Expect the Unexpected

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not yet understood. Henry Miller

My transition from sleep to wakefulness comes as a result of a solid internal clock –courtesy of age – and the ambient sounds of the world around me – birds, the Latino radio station from the man delivering newspapers,  the family stirring. On Easter morning the hotel alarm buzzes me awake at five in order for my husband and myself to attend a sunrise service.

The location of the service is St. Andrew’s by the Sea in Hyannis.   The staff at the motel can’t recall where it is located.  It’s not in the telephone book and online references are fuzzy.  Through the Massachusetts diocese home site we get a street, but no no parish profile or web site. Programming this spare information into the GPS we set out before sunrise on a literal quest for the sole Episcopal church in this town.

Navigating a warren of roads that pass darkened summer homes closed in off-season, we happen upon a police officer who escorts us, headlights on, past the skeletons of privet hedge to the dead-end street where St. Andrew’s stands high on a bluff next to a local beach and yacht club.

We don’t know what to take in first : the location of a church that must have a dramatic view of the Atlantic once the sun is up or the fact that there is barely a place to park.  The road dead ends at a local private club with a capacious parking lot but it is barricaded in off-season. And most likely barricaded in-season to the hoi polloi.

St. Andrew’s is closed as well. At least the doors to the building are closed.  There is a gathering of 60 or so eager to witness and reconstruct in our own humble way the event that shattered the world.  Easter fest 2010!  We wait on a small patch of ground next to the stone building.

The service begins with a lone trumpet leading the hymns.  Everyone sings along.  The invocation and prayers are direct – nothing precious or overly intellectual.  As I say the words out loud in community I feel changed, lighter inside, a greater sense of understanding which quickens commitment.  It is terribly cold on this bluff by the Atlantic and I am not dressed for it.  My husband takes off his jacket, wraps me in it, and holds me firm and strong.  We had argued on the way here. In his loving, intimate action, there is proof of resurrection and healing. I think – no I know – this one of the best Easters ever.

The homily is short and one of the best ones I’ve heard. Here’s what I remember: Expect the unexpected, particularly when the unexpected exposes Christ in others.

The prayer that follows the homily begins like this:
God of such amazing surprise, put a catch in my breath today. Put wings on my heart.

This Holy Week, on the dune and ocean landscape of New England, the site of new buds on thorny bushes has caught my eye. There are rows of these dotted about the small patch of ground next to the closed Episcopal church.  

The church building is still dark as the sun rises over the cold Atlantic. The Church turns to see the morning fog begin its dispersal, chatting about where to go for  a warm breakfast and cup of coffee. Continuing the fellowship.

This worship was hosted by a confederation of Baptist churches in surrounding towns.  The participating pastors will be going off to their respective churches for indoor Easter services. One announces that there will be six baptisms that morning.

In the light, it becomes clear why no one knew where the church was: those who attend it want it for themselves. It is a seasonal church, intended for the people with summer homes. Most likely it is a summer cure for a priest who gets a small stipend, a place near the beach, an honorary membership at the yacht-beach-tennis-dinner club, and regular invitations to cocktail parties.

Peeking through the front window we can see that it is well-appointed: crisp volumes Lift Every Voice and Sing side by side with the 1982 Hymnal.  Although it is possible the volumes look crisp because they are held for a few minutes each week, 4 months out of the year, by people who are used to taking care of nice things.

The week before Easter the House of Bishops met at Camp Allen in Texas. Part of their time together included two days spent on the Emergent Church.  From what I’ve heard there was an amusing awkward tone to all this as the Emergent Church is anti-hierarchical as well as anti-institutional.  The bishops listened to presentations and were given a book to take home so they could read about about the Emergent Church.  The book has two introductions: one by Katharine Jefferts-Schori and the other by Rowan Williams.  The other chapters are written by people who, while insightful about the enormous transition going on in Spirit and Faith as well as the dissolution of the institutional-hierarchical church,  rely on its financial resources for their livelihood.

The bishops were also given two CDs with examples of Emergent Church music.  The music, skillfully executed and even occasionally sincere, was intended for soloists and bands.  Not a single song that could be sung by a congregation on either recording.

The readers of this blog are too wise for me to have to explain the irony of all this.  But two caveats for any bishops or canons or program people trying to understand and evolve:  First, buying the program is not the program.  If you need this verified, ask the hard-working and resourceful director of your formation program.

Second, there is an army of clergy in your diocese deeply invested in the status quo of their seminary training and the reality of parish politics.  The House of Bishops may meet as an International Entity but church is local.

In a culturally synchronous moment, Holy Week was the week that Priest Barbie became a fetishistic fad among certain Episcopalians.  The Facebook page garnered thousands of fans.  Priest Barbie showed up with a bitchin’ liturgical wardrobe, including a miniature sacristy at her imaginary Malibu parish.  People thought a plastic priest with an anatomically impossible figure, the most hated and tortured toy in recent memory, was a hoot, a role model, and a signal of the The Episcopal Church’s “coolness”.

Can’t we stop pretending?

It is a natural human inclination to stave off the difficult but necessary aspects of transition with totemic figures, programs, and magic thinking. During Easter we not only honor Jesus, but the lifetime journey of mindfully, reverently nurturing the Christ in ourselves and others. Miracles not magic thinking. The truth – the Word – is so very near us.  It’s in night blossoms, and buds in thorns, the narratives of our prophets, matriarchs, and patriarchs, our relationships. There are portals of sacred transformation among us.

The Emergent Church has been around for two plus millennia. It is not “out there”.  Unless the leadership of The Episcopal Church considers a confederation of Baptist ministers leading the faithful to worship at dawn “out there”.

More reason to hope: We are not alone

I have heard that Sidney Sanders, former bishop of East Carolina and much beloved faculty at Virginia Seminary, had written about the theology of the Broadway Musical.  Certainly Broadway has given us much more than jazz hands and emo singing cats. It embodies story, hope, social justice, reflection, epiphanies, as well as the glory of the human being fully alive.  Anyone who has been close to the theatre knows that there is no better community for accepting brokenness, and enveloping fellow seekers in the embrace of fellowship.

In the words of one of Sondheim’s most simple lyrics: No One is Alone

This blog began as a kind of personal therapy – a place to detox from the harshness of church work and disingenuous church community.

That season is done.  Today I had a wonderful conversation with Kenny Moore – aka Kenny the Monk.  His book, The CEO and the Monk carries high ratings on Amazon.  I’m embarrassed I haven’t read it, because a conversation with Kenny is a revivifying experience filled with insight, reverent irreverence, generosity, and lots of laughs.

So in the days to come, when this Hopeful Episcopalian reclaims the path of hope rather than its abstraction, look for the deletion of some of those more therapeutic posts, a revamping of  About this Blog, and a chance for the thousands of us out there to start calling out and finding each other.

After all, Anyone Can Whistle.