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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Institutional Church To-Do List: Interact with tradition

Musical Theatre is calling out – the photos above are from a production of Fiddler on the Roof with an all-Indian cast.

Tradition is the handing down of beliefs, customs, rituals, stories.  This is good news for the observant Christian – we have such a wealth of gifts from the saints who came before.  We can interact with all these solid prayers and practices to enlighten each generation, and nourish our own faith – deepening in response to the Living God who moves among us.

However, what most people encounter on a Sunday morning is not an encounter with the numinous but a museum. Even a canon in a cathedral observed “There are an awful lot of museums in this diocese – museums with floor shows!”  Churches that ignore the tradition of the power of baptism, for example,  preventing a gathering around the font or not discussing the implications of this sacrament.  Or  The Episcopal Church’s tendency to worship the Book of Common Prayer instead of the content.  The canticles that dance through a Morning Prayer service cry out for savoring are read as if they were disclaimers at the end of a pharmaceutical ad.

We put the Living Church in a bottle. When the word tradition is brought up in staff meetings, it is typically used in reference to the chorister tradition, the organ tradition, the tradition of aisles and pews and formality.  And it is almost always used in reference to a “tradition” that occurred for 50 years maximum on a cloudy island in the Atlantic – Victorian England.

Christians have 2,000 years of global traditions to draw upon.  Traditions that don’t require “things” or program.  Traditions like hospitality, holy listening, true stewardship, or the surety of change.

When your foot hits the tarmac at the Honolulu airport, without every seeing an orchid you know you are in a verdant paradise by the smell and texture of the air.  One year I was in St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Honolulu for Advent 3.  There was not a hymn or a prayer that recognized our location on the globe. Even odder was the announcement  that the greening of the church for Christmas would be delayed as the shipment of pine from Seattle hadn’t arrived.  Whose tradition was defining this worship?

I have a personal theory about why the tradition the Episcopal Church particularly draws upon is so limited.  The forty out of two thousand years that make for the narrow definition of tradition are the height of the British Empire.  It is a class and power high for those in the class and power structure and perpetuated solely by the shrinking population of those who benefit from being higher up the food chain.  It bamboozles those seeking a spiritual path, confusing the activities of sacraments and living and studying the gospel with inane arguments about high and low church.

And like all things associated with imperialism and hierarchy, it sends the message that some are better – or at least more in the know – than others.  The disenfranchised are allowed in only if they play by the rules.  Rules made up in a time and place very far geographically and spiritually from the Nazarene Rabbi, Jesus.

The de-churched have rejected – perhaps subconsciously for the moment – this museum/private club with a floor show, choosing more useful traditions such as the pilgrim’s or prophet’s or mystic’s path.  Meet you on the road!

Stop the spin

The Hopeful Episcopalian has a daily struggle not to believe The Episcopal Church can do nothing right because she comes up against so many who believe TEC can do no wrong.

When confronted with the cheerocracy of TEC, it requires enormous discipline to not lose heart entirely.

On December 1st, the first Tuesday of Advent, The top story of Episcopal News Service was a report from the Committee on the State of the Church.  Headline: Committee sees vitality in Episcopal Church despite challenges.

The challenges faced by TEC are cultural and economic, one having a direct effect on the other.  Since 1990, the part of the American population claiming no religious identity in has doubled from 10 per cent of the population to 20 per cent.  As the church involvement declines, so do the financial resources.

I offer the hyperlink to the article for the data on the state of religion in America:

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79901_117454_ENG_HTM.htm

Question for those in the TEC loop:  Does the number of committees, commissions reflect a proportional downsizing?  If not, who exactly are these teams producing reports for?

Matilda Kistler, chair of the of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church and the person who presented, first deflects responsibility by citing data that indicates all protestant mainline denominations are losing congregants. It seems other denominations matter to TEC when they’re all caught with chocolate on their faces from digging into dessert before dinner.  When it’s time for sharing resources or credit, TEC holds them at arm’s length. Witness the other ENS news release this week about online Advent calendars – not a link to anything but Anglican resources provided.

Then Matilda gets on to the optimistic part of the report:  “However, we believe that the committee’s research will confirm what most of us know instinctively — that active, vital and transformative gospel ministry is being done on all levels of the church.”

Matilda and the House of Deputies Committee are not doing their jobs. We can’t operate on instinct and happy talk in times of crises. When you’re in a life boat on open water, you need to actually have flares and rations on hand and know where they’re located.  The sharks are operating on instinctive knowledge.

TEC is in desperate need of emergency room or possibly hospice care. All we get from the top of the food chain is propaganda.  Is it coincidence that the primary generator of this hype now has offices adjacent to the Presiding Bishop?

We are a people of story and hope, not of spin and optimism. The stories of vital gospel ministry are there, happening from the ground up.  When spin becomes the official language of The Episcopal Church, it encourages an disingenuous ethos in parishes that are trying to find or have lost their way in naufragous waters.

This was a week where as I lived into my prayer of watching attentively, I heard news of three more vital Episcopalians with enormous gifts to offer who have stopped going to church. I saw a child’s relationship to learning transformed – possibly for life – through administrators and teachers employing flexibility. At a Christmas pageant rehearsal, I heard 40 children sing new songs of their faith, making promise a reality with their unique gift.

I heard from a friend who is married to a Missouri Synod pastor. After watching the street activity and community life surrounding her husband’s church in a neighborhood filled with cultural, racial, and economic diversity, she has started a community music school.  She is enormously accomplished, with a doctorate in organ and liturgical music and said “What is the point of putting on these concerts where all we do is pay ourselves? Is that what God wants us to do?”

Missouri Synod is notoriously “conservative”. I have no idea what my friend believes about openly gay bishops.  I do know that with a son in the military, who has been deployed in Iraq twice, she does not believe there is a “just” war. I know she and her husband do their best to serve the poor. Maybe political ideology isn’t what gathering on Sunday morning is supposed to be about.  Maybe if we focused on the work of the kingdom instead of producing another press release, we would all be transformed.