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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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”.

Watch in Hope

A new Advent meditation book made its way into my library: Stephen Cottrell’s Do Nothing – Christmas is Coming.

In his introduction, Cottrell makes an  analogy between what seasons like Advent can do in our lives and the de-fragmentation of a computer.  A computer stores new information wherever it can find available memory.  Large files can be stored in a number of different fragments so when the user asks the computer to find the entire file, the read/write part of the machine slows up searching for the fragments. Defragmenting programs rewrite files so they are stored contiguously providing foundational decluttering.

We need to defragment our lives in the same way. The time-tested method is to slow down, be mindful, and incorporate prayerful contemplation of history, scripture, daily events that the Holy Spirit brings to us.  So many faithful say that Advent is their favorite time of the liturgical year and it’s because of this slowing down coupled with mindfulness of the themes of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

On the parish level, this defragmentation process is not always modeled.  Advent becomes a time for ratcheting up special programs, speakers, adult forums, and projects.  One of the most dismaying staff meetings comes in early November when the rector and the organist have their annual discussion about replacing Rite Two with Rite One.

To offer this language because of its formality and distance from the congregant during a time of year when we are vigilant for Immanuel – God with us – and are encouraged go on spiritual journeys that seek out familiarity with chaos, darkness, and uncertainty represents persistence in the delusional by a few in control. It’s like putting snipers on the walls instead of watchmen who tell of the night.

This is the liturgical Christian’s New Year, a time when many of us make resolutions that affect our spiritual journeys. Yet rather than clear the path for us, our churches are cooking up the spiritual equivalent of hospital food.  Either the parish staff goes into hyper drive, colluding with the consumer culture in intention and continuing to send the “don’t bother” message loud and clear, or the small group of church ladies fold their arms to say “We’ve always done it that way.” The one-size fits all sale at Old Navy makes it into the church.

Has anyone out there tried to work with organist/choir directors who tells which hymns are “allowed” to be sung during Advent, for Pageants, and for Christmas?

For more on liturgy and hospital food, scroll down: https://hopefulepiscopalian.wordpress.com/2009/05/10/good-shepherd-sunday/

The churches out there that model the defragmentation process hold the flame of hope as much as Elizabeth and Mary held it in them. They are out there. In those churches….

  • The Advent wreath making takes place on a quiet evening with a family meal. The scent of mulled cider and pine boughs fill the parish hall.  There are no expectations – no production line quota for how many wreaths get into the homes.  And any color candle works.
  • Popularity is not the primary criterion for an offering that relates to spiritual journey.
  • The Advent guest preachers come from the congregation or there is a commitment to interactive sermons and listening to each other.
  • The Christmas Pageant has been replaced with an Epiphany Pageant or Paper Bag Pageant.
  • Lessons and Carols is a community-wide participatory event instead of a show by the “talented” and paid professionals.
  • Instead of special speakers, there are lay-led quiet days. People share their home prayers, liturgies, and other practices – including playlists of Advent music.  The music director listens and responds.
  • Mission and outreach are part of a continuum, not geared up for Advent/Christmas. There are serious discussions about capitalism, the poor, and the Christian faith.
  • A director of faith formation posts a large sheet of paper during coffee hour with the theme of each week of Advent written at the top. People are asked to write their thoughts and memories about Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. These thoughts are incorporated into the worship – including sermons – and life of the parish. The parish musician writes a song for corporate and private worship based on this collaboration.

One more thing to be thankful for…

Episcopal Church To-Do List:

Know the difference between Hope & Optimism

…embrace the former.

There’s been a Facebook challenge since November first to post every day something for which you are grateful.  To read everyone’s personal gratitude lists has given me a few epiphanies about my friends and their lives, offering me new perspectives.

Since reading these, I have begun to muse about the times I worked in a church during this season.

Christ the King Sunday arrives and the plug-and-play organist chooses all the kingly songs, a kingly anthem – maybe the kids sing a zippy “Ride On King Jesus”.  The program in the parish gurgles along in its peristaltic reflexive way – throw in a lot of crowns, kings, reigns, and we’ll be doing right by Jesus.

Then Thanksgiving gets into the mix. In my staff experience, this is a thorny hump in the middle of the week. There are digressions into gossip about the parish fellowship meal which morph into analyzing the history of the community ecumenical Thanksgiving service.  The “positive” aspect of these staff meetings is people imagine they’re focusing on fixing everything while complaining,  idealizing stuff that is always going to be problematic because people are problematic. It would be so much more effective – and spiritually mindful –  to just work together on offering a meal and a worship service. It doesn’t seem worth the energy to try to control who cooks what and who eats what and whether the organist at the Methodist Church is as good as the one at our church. Food, fellowship, music, and prayer.  It’s very simple.

This year, Advent 1 falls on the Sunday immediately after Thanksgiving.  Another staff moan fest  – numbers will be down because people are traveling.  The Sunday School teachers will be a week behind on teaching the kids about…what, exactly… Hope? Everyone will make their Advent wreaths a week later.  And one rector I worked with somehow thought this timing meant more work for her. What the what?

For the faithful who have left the church, we are observing the rise and fall of the spiritual tide, being mindful of the waves on the sand.  We observe the lectionary year prayerfully in our own ways.  We will be decorating for Advent, searching the links between Christ the King Sunday, Thanksgiving, and Advent 1 without waiting to be told what to do or how to do it.

It’s lonely. The faithful are homeless. We dare not go into a church to look for fellow travelers in hope because someone will slap a name tag and a “Smile!” sticker on our lapels.

Christ the King Sunday can be such a tough one to make relevant in the two-thousandies. One year when I was team teaching 6th and 7th grade Sunday School, I was alone with 15 hormonal tweens and teens on this last Sunday in the liturgical year.  Nothing made sense to me in the canned curriculum, which is always a start – unless our teachers, serious catechists, deacons, priests,  bishops, and communications officers, embrace a grounded faith in consort with a willingness to be upended by reality there can be no hope.  We must seek personal transformation, and then the transformation of those around us will happen.

I downloaded about 20 different images of Jesus, and brought in icons and other images I had at home: Jesus the teacher, Christ the king, Jesus the healer, Rasta Jesus, laughing or dancing Jesus, activist Jesus, suffering Jesus, Jesus eating.  Who do you say that I am? We passed the pictures around and talked about which one we related to most.  We talked about what Christ the King is like, questioning if this aspect of Christ was one we could invite into our daily lives.  We laughed when a girl remembered a boy named Jesus in her nursery school who was always hitting the other kids. “Jesus – go to the time-out chair!”

http://www.rejesus.co.uk/site/module/faces_of_jesus/

We never came up with a definitive Jesus for everyone.  It was an enormous gift for me because most of the middle schoolers related to laughing or dancing Jesus. Why? “He seems so free to be himself.”  Now, whenever I see a petulant middle schooler, chip on her shoulder, I remember that dream of those Sunday School kids:  to be free to be who God created them to be. I suspend all judgment and head straight for the conversation.  Had I imposed my own notion of what Christ the King meant, or asked the rector for advice I would never have received this ongoing gift.

A few weeks ago, I saw a montage of a lot of Hollywood moments where the slobs got their recognition.  It included things like rewards to the Wizard of Oz quartet and Han Solo and Chewbacca getting cheered by the crowd as they receive laurels from Princess Leia. This moment is inscribed in our hearts through popular culture time and again – from the justifiable humiliation of Lena Lamont when the curtain goes up to reveal who is really singing in Singing in the Rain, or when Jamal rises out of a pit of offal in Slumdog Millionaire.

This is an aspect of a Christ the King moment.  It’s not only that the Risen Christ rules – or reigns or whatever verb the hymnody spits out at us – it’s that the slobs beat the snobs.  Our King is one of us, we are all victors.

And here is where there’s another light on the road for me:  I can travel from Christ the King to Advent 1 in my own spiritual journey because Christ the King represents not royalty or the One who doth Reign, or golden crowns – but hope.  Jesus as wise, compassionate, deserving King is a core story of hope, the theme of the first week of Advent.

The tomb is empty. The cross is bare.  Are we there yet? Yes we are!

Hope is not optimism.  Hope is anchored in reality, and as a basic human yearning, rises up, infecting our actions so we strive through the pain, and the piles of crap around us don’t matter at all.  Optimism, however, likes to redecorate the crap.  A dead end is renamed a cul de sac.

The greater church is intensely engaged in optimism.  This trickles down, permeating every aspect of how we do business.  Check out whatever ENS has put in your in-box for the week and tell me it’s not optimism.  A Phoenix needs ashes to be a phoenix

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.  In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope the one that can keep us above water and urge us to do good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts is something that we get, as it were, from “elsewhere”.  It is also this hope, above all, which gives us strength to live and to continually try new things even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do here and now.

From the politics of hope by Vaclav Hamel

I wish us all hope on the journey, thanksgiving for hope, and pray for the church that it may find its way in understanding the reality around it – no matter how painful that may be.

All Saints Day 2009

All-Saints

This turning of October to November has always seemed to me a pre-Advent season. Something is afoot in the universe. On Halloween we acknowledge the thin veil between reality and fantasy. We mock the power of fear by hyping it up artificially.  I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.  It’s a Carnevale before the late autumn of the northern hemisphere sets in. If October’s colors are yellow, red, and orange – what are the colors of November?

In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, a character writes “…visitors offering their condolences, thinking to comfort me, said ‘Life goes on.’ What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on; Ian is dead now and will be dead tomorrow and next year and forever. There’s no end to that.”

So on All Saints Day, we acknowledge the forever-ness of death by loving through the veil that separates this world from the other.  There have been All Saints Days during which I have had profound corporate worship experiences.  One was a retreat in New England.  The worship space was high on a hill, with a picture window revealing a view of farmhouse, to meadow, to river.  We were allowed lots of silence, space to pray and contemplate those who have gone before.

During the Eucharist, we sang the Taizé chant “Jesus, Remember Me” acapella – harmonies rising up organically.  We were encouraged to change the words as we wished: Jesus, remember him; Jesus, remember her; Jesus, remember us. At times voices joined together singing the same words, at times the phrases were different. It was a representation of a cloud of witnesses in song. The Anglican equivalent of praying in tongues.

But in the area in which I live now, All Saints Day is simply an excuse for the choirmaster to put on a show.  My In Box must have half a dozen notices from the local churches announcing their afternoon requiem concerts. Duruflé (two churches) Fauré, Mozart (three churches).  All with  precious and precise written bits describing why a particular composer’s work was chosen this year, the history of the piece, how the organ would be and should be used.  There is the promise of reading a parish necrology, but it’s more of an after thought.

I have some dreams about how our worship could be, a place where prayerful Christians, activist Christians, conservative Christians, formation-oriented Christians, all have real reasons to be together on a Sunday morning, nourished to live a life where everything we do is infused with the reality of the spiritual, the holy, of God.

If I want to go to a concert, I’ll go to a concert.  Why would I want to hear a third–rate version of any piece – its compositional greatness notwithstanding – when I can go to a concert hall and hear a bang-up version of Britten’s War Requiem, or John Adams On the Transmigration of Souls?  And even if those performances are sub-par, at least they are being done by music organizations where the mission is to perform pieces.
day-of-the-dead

How about making All Saints Day important to everyone in the parish, and not just show off time for the choir? (Not to mention saving the extra money paid for soloists and instrumentalists.)  Make candles, write a litany, have a feast in honor of those in the parish who have died, explore Celtic or Mexican worship, incorporate music from New Orleans, set up community dialog about death with other churches, mosques, temples, and take a moment to invite some Wiccans to the discussion if only to understand the Christian understanding in comparison.

PolandAllSaintsDay (1)

Candles in Poland burn all day and night around November 1

The Episcopal Church is so proud of its bent towards liturgy.  Yet it seems as if plugging in the collects of the day at the 10 o’clock and asking everyone to come back at 5 for the de rigueur requiem is the best we can do.

Is there anyone out there who can give me reason to keep hoping?  What did your parish do for All Saints Day?

Even wizards rely on a cloud of witnesses….

expectro_patronus_copia

Episcopal Church & Celebrity Culture: The other guys do it better…and it’s wrong

celebrity

After the Sunday morning Eucharist, Katherine Jefferts-Schori recesses down the aisle to a round of applause.  No one is quite sure whether the applause is for her or the two former Presiding Bishops that recess with her. Over one-third of the Convention Center’s worship space has empty seats.  The applause decays as the three of them turn left and go past the powder blue “Refreshments” sign.  

The clapping was the most rousing moment in the service.  The sermon was more explanation than inspiration.  Katharine’s tonal speech pattern tends to produce sleep-friendly delta waves. 

Even if the sermonizing had been so motivational in content and delivery we all walked out committed to mission  instead of blinking our eyes in the Southern California sun wondering where we could get some decent huevos rancheros , Katharine’s exit down the cement floor of the worship space,  is not momentous enough to warrant applause.  Not the equivalent of Elvis has left the building.  The central event was the Eucharist and celebrating sacrifice and community despite the fact that for General Convention 2009 it was shorn of community Bible study.

Church Publishing’s booth has Katherine’s picture all over it and I suppose there are those who buy her books simply because they are her books.  Outside of this small circle of Episcopalians, very few buy books based on the cover art of a woman posing in front of a plane.  That is unless the woman is wearing a bikini.  Anne LaMott sold many books, and in the early days, her readers could only imagine what she looked like.  Anne rose through the ranks based on her writing, broadcasts, and witty, irreverent theology. I’d go on a mission trip with Annie any day, but think twice about a walk to the grocery store with this lady who’s like the kid in the back of the class with her hand up to answer every question.

The former Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, showed up at his last Episcopal Youth Event in Kentucky behaving like a Mick Jagger without the music.  He made a dramatized entrance into the worship space waving and smiling as he hung from the back of a golf cart; big belt buckle and tee shirt tucked in to reveal that he had been to the gym a lot for a guy his age.  You’d think the position of PB wouldn’t give him that much time with his personal trainer.  Unless he felt he needed to get in shape for this appearance at EYE the way a movie star trains for an action flick.  No…couldn’t be…..

Despite the announcement “And now…The Presiding Bishop!” the teens were asking each other “Who is this guy?”  (Interpretation: Who is this old guy?)  It’s been described by those who worked at The Episcopal Church center, that for a number of weeks there was on display a dressmaker’s dummy with a dress on it given to Frank’s wife during a trip to Africa.  People who entered the building saw this homage to someone who happened to be married to a bishop before seeing the chapel, security guard, the map of the Anglican Communion,  before the books on religion.  A dress.

The Presiding Bishop was originally a bishop who presided at meetings, a bishop with diocesan responsibilities but who was willing to impose Roberts Rules of Order.  A historian can better interpret at what point the position got its own salary, staff, and Manhattan penthouse.

A tactician can plan for a future of The Episcopal Church that doesn’t run on the fumes of former grandeur. 

There are the others who play on the class C Mount Olympus of The Episcopal Church, but a bit farther down the slope.  Despite the small audience, they seem quite content to build modest careers by performing or doing workshops just for Episcopalians with stars in their eyes.

Chris Hedges, in a piece on Michael Jackson and the cult of celebrity says: 

The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain. It is designed to drain us emotionally, confuse us about our identity, make us blame ourselves for our predicament, condition us to chase illusions of fame and happiness and keep us from fighting back. 

The CANA crowd has taken the TEC’s cult of family celebrity and run with it to their advantage.  The leadership of TEC gets their knickers in a twist when David Virtue produces his fever-dream-driven screed because there is such a confusion between personality and content. 

(TEC focuses on poster boys and poster girls rather than content. Virtue drains those who buy into this fiction by attacking the poster boys and girls. He successfully confuses the handful – unfortunately those who are in leadership positions – to mistakenly think the identity of the TEC is bound up in people like Gene “I’m ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille” Robinson.  Then everyone on both sides blames the wrong things for the declining membership of The Episcopal Church,  and those at home don’t fight back because they don’t know what’s going on.  They are huddled together waiting for the next blow in a reality that does not involve ABCs, PBs, CANAs, or GCs. )

What’s important in the world is what The Episcopal Church does, not who is doing it.  And let’s face it – we can never be as photogenic as the ones who do this on an international level. 

As we’ve observed with Joe the Plumber,  nothing good comes when you push for that 16th minute of fame.

No one knows who Virtue is either.  So treat him for what he is – a fart in the wind.  Don’t let the s.o.b.s distract you – The Episcopal Church is shrinking because of what happens on the ground level, in small parishes. They’re the canaries in the coal mines and as they go so will the larger parishes with more resources. 

For the sake of the future of The Episcopal Church, and to give those of us watching out there hope, make this General Convention about the work, about empowering the laity, about repairing the chasm that exists between resolutions and what happens in small parishes. 

They’re dying, you know.  Many don’t  have a photo of Katharine Jefferts-Schori in the narthex – they don’t know who she is.  Church is that family that hangs on together on Sunday mornings. They think the only thing happening in Anaheim is Disney. In many cases, these good people have to endure dreary inane  liturgy to make it to the fellowship.

 Hope gets lost when the core of the worship is lost in distractions and projection and needless applause.

General Convention Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music Part 2

messjacket_full

There are a lot of commissions and committees that will be convening, offering formal  reports of their work at General Convention this year.

formal-wear

Let’s check in on the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music. In The Episcopal Church, a Standing Commission begins when the elite in a bureaucracy choose a select group of people – other elite – who then make all the decisions when it comes to how The Episcopal Church worships.

How the Episcopal Church worships is the main experience of church for the Average Joe or Jane. It defines Sunday morning, bringing people in the door. Yet no matter what the purpose of a commission or committee, when The Episcopal Church operates under the assumption that it “knows better”, it is one of the diagnostics indicating a church in stage IV cancer. It’s time for hospice or radical therapies.

Closed groups are passé and obsolete. Eighteen people, no matter who they are or where they came from, are not enough to keep their pulse on what’s happening out there.  Moreover, the flow of communication and power structure is all wrong. The Holy Spirit blows where she wills with chaotic power. She doesn’t know from Standing Commissions.  She continues to inspire writers, poets, singers, preachers, composers, musicians, dancers, artists, and those who sit in holy silence.

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The sun set long ago on the notion that prayers have to be “okayed” by a select group. Yet the gate keeping continues. The results can hurt. Gifts are ignored.  People leave, going where they can grow and be appreciated.

If a Standing Commission truly valued its work, and truly valued the Body of Christ, it wouldn’t spend any time generating liturgies and songbooks, but figure out where the disconnect is happening; working to empower all, working to respect the dignity of all. Its members would value curiosity and keen listening skills over resumes and power connections.  It would be scouring the world for resources, creating a lateral network of relationships and ideas.

The leadership of The Episcopal Church needs to be more grassroots than Astroturf.  More of a scout with an ear to the ground than a couple of generals looking at a map. Isn’t that what got Custer into trouble?

The reality is, people are indeed hungry for ways to make corporate prayer more relevant and responsive. People want a spiritual community in which they can be accountable.  All they need are guidelines and the opportunity for dialog. If these standing commissions were doing their jobs, there wouldn’t be the need to publish any more prayer books or hymnals. A BCP Kindle is a dead idea but I’m willing to bet good money it’s being discussed as an “important next step.”  The last thing we need is more codification.  That’s like Western Union working on an improved Morse Code manual while the telephone lines were being put up.

The new Christianity requires more nimble responses, a leadership that evokes and inspires instead of dictates and explains.

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This is not a generation waiting with bated breath for the new prayerbook.

Prayer happens every day all over the world in the lives of believers, seekers, and atheists.  We are all discovering that when it comes to God and living righteous lives, we have more in common with our Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and secularist/atheist sisters and brothers than we do with some fellow Episcopalians.

Jon Stewart defines shared principles in America more than the obscure leadership of The Episcopal Church. (Would someone please tell Gene Robinson that this is not an invitation to do yet another sound and lighting check?)

Instead of the top-down imparting of prayers, follow the other mainline denominations.  Build sites loaded with resources, interconnected, not set in some virtual Siberia on the ECUSA website. Even better, join the party of poly-denominational boards where prayers, practices, videos of services, and repertoire are shared in the spirit of collaboration.

One wonders: has anyone on the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music been to the Workshop Rotation Model web site?  Educators in every denomination from around the world share curricula and implementation. Sure there’s some sketchy theology, but no commission, bishop, priest, or deputy is my theologian. Like the rest of God’s children, I am working that out with my Creator every single day.

And don’t pass on the guff about standards and theology yada yada yada.  Yes – there’s a whole lot of wacky stuff going on in different churches.  There are churches that don’t have the energy to split, but use the 1928 BCP and have idolatrous relationships with Rite One, sometimes in the shadow of a cathedral spire or a quick public transit ride from 815 Second Ave. There happens to be a system in place to deal with this nonsense: put the bishops to work and actually have them supervise parishes in their dioceses. What a concept. Maybe if parishes had been supervised over the past decade or so, leaving things like pronouncements on sexuality up to psychologists, or do-gooder world tours to Angelina Jolie,  the obituary for the Episcopal Church wouldn’t be on file ready to run.