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….

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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.