Tuesday, October 30, 2018

redefining gender and citizenship

A recent memo leaked from the White House (it wasn't 'leaked', it was put out to spur on the President's base before the mid-term elections!) suggested that the President was planning to redefine 'gender' as only 'male' and 'female' based on what was on your birth certificate. He couldn't do that. States like New York have over a dozen categories for 'gender'. It was 'leaked' to stir up homophobes and those who think transgendered and queer people are evil, hoping it would make them vote for Republicans a week from today.

The President also suggested he would put out an executive order redefining 'citizenship' and stripping people born in this country of citizenship if they were the children of illegal immigrants!!!

People who will be heartened by that don't realize that 'birthright citizenship' is part of the 14th Amendment to the constitution designed to grant citizenship to former slaves born in the US.

A President can't give an executive order to overturn an amendment to the Constitution.

If both houses of congress passed a bill to overturn the 14th amendment and the President signed it...that still couldn't overturn the 14th Amendment.

The only way to overturn an amendment to the constitution is to have a 'constitutional amendment' and here's what that requires:

Constitutional Amendment Process

The authority to amend the Constitution of the United States is derived from Article V of the Constitution. After Congress proposes an amendment, the Archivist of the United States, who heads the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), is charged with responsibility for administering the ratification process under the provisions of 1 U.S.C. 106b. The Archivist has delegated many of the ministerial duties associated with this function to the Director of the Federal Register. Neither Article V of the Constitution nor section 106b describe the ratification process in detail. The Archivist and the Director of the Federal Register follow procedures and customs established by the Secretary of State, who performed these duties until 1950, and the Administrator of General Services, who served in this capacity until NARA assumed responsibility as an independent agency in 1985.
The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. None of the 27 amendments to the Constitution have been proposed by constitutional convention. The Congress proposes an amendment in the form of a joint resolution. Since the President does not have a constitutional role in the amendment process, the joint resolution does not go to the White House for signature or approval. The original document is forwarded directly to NARA's Office of the Federal Register (OFR) for processing and publication. The OFR adds legislative history notes to the joint resolution and publishes it in slip law format. The OFR also assembles an information package for the States which includes formal "red-line" copies of the joint resolution, copies of the joint resolution in slip law format, and the statutory procedure for ratification under 1 U.S.C. 106b.
The Archivist submits the proposed amendment to the States for their consideration by sending a letter of notification to each Governor along with the informational material prepared by the OFR. The Governors then formally submit the amendment to their State legislatures or the state calls for a convention, depending on what Congress has specified. In the past, some State legislatures have not waited to receive official notice before taking action on a proposed amendment. When a State ratifies a proposed amendment, it sends the Archivist an original or certified copy of the State action, which is immediately conveyed to the Director of the Federal Register. The OFR examines ratification documents for facial legal sufficiency and an authenticating signature. If the documents are found to be in good order, the Director acknowledges receipt and maintains custody of them. The OFR retains these documents until an amendment is adopted or fails, and then transfers the records to the National Archives for preservation.
A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the States (38 of 50 States). When the OFR verifies that it has received the required number of authenticated ratification documents, it drafts a formal proclamation for the Archivist to certify that the amendment is valid and has become part of the Constitution. This certification is published in the Federal Register and U.S. Statutes at Large and serves as official notice to the Congress and to the Nation that the amendment process has been completed.
In a few instances, States have sent official documents to NARA to record the rejection of an amendment or the rescission of a prior ratification. The Archivist does not make any substantive determinations as to the validity of State ratification actions, but it has been established that the Archivist's certification of the facial legal sufficiency of ratification documents is final and conclusive.
In recent history, the signing of the certification has become a ceremonial function attended by various dignitaries, which may include the President. President Johnson signed the certifications for the 24th and 25th Amendments as a witness, and President Nixon similarly witnessed the certification of the 26th Amendment along with three young scholars. On May 18, 1992, the Archivist performed the duties of the certifying official for the first time to recognize the ratification of the 27th Amendment, and the Director of the Federal Register signed the certification as a witness.

The President also said we were the only country with 'birthright citizenship'. 

Fact check--big fat lie!

Over 30 countries, including Canada and many in the west, have 'birthright citizenship'.
Given the enormity of these two ridiculous assertions--redefining gender and citizenship--do you understand why I have trouble keeping my blood pressure down about this President WHO WILL NOT BE NAMED....?


Sunday, October 28, 2018

72 hours in America

A white man killed to African Americans in a Kentucky grocery store after trying and failing to get into a Black church.

A man in Florida--big Trump fan--sent pipe bombs (not very good ones) to 2 ex-Presidents and 10 or so other prominent Democrats. (A commentator on Fox News said, before the suspect was apprehended, that probably liberals were doing it to influence the mid-term elections.)

A man in Pittsburgh killed 11 people and wounded 6 before being apprehended in a synagogue.

Think hate isn't out of control in America?

Think again.

Then the President--after saying some proper words, I give him credit--blamed the media and 'fake news'.

How long, oh Lord, how long until you, with our help, rid us of this plague of hate????

How long?


On Public Radio's "Ted Talks" today, I heard the best definition of 'laughter' ever.

The show featured stand-up comics and the last one, whose name I missed, suffers from depression. He admitted that as a teen he sat up all night one night with a piece of paper, a pen and a bottle of pills wanting to write the suicide note and take the pills.

But he didn't.

He calls himself a 'survivor' and urges others with depression to survive.

He said that comedy was what saved him. He became addicted to watching comedy and it made him want to live.

He defined 'laughter' as "the tangible expression of hope".

What a great definition. Really.

I watch a lot of night-time comedy on Youtube. Most of the jokes are at the expense of the current Presidential administration.

Given laughter as the tangible expression of hope, that all makes sense.

In this depressing time, laughter can remind up that hope is still alive.

Like on the first Tuesday of this November,.

Vote, beloved.

Vote for Hope.

Maybe Wednesday morning we can have a good laugh.

I pray it will be so.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

D.C. (2nd day)

Loyal or not, I didn't make it back to Mystic for the second day of Diocesan Convention.

Wednesday, I got out of the car and reached back in for something and felt a twinge in my back like nothing I've felt before.

l whined and complained. I've never had back pain and now realize I haven't been nearly as compassionate enough toward those who do!

Back pain is a real pain in the neck--or worse than that. There's not much anyway to move without hurting. But I gritted my teeth and got on with life.

Then this morning I woke up and didn't think I could get out of bed for the back pain.

So, I waited until the Urgent Care place nearby opened.

The good news is, the doctor is sure it isn't permanent or serious damage. No need for an X ray--just muscular and should get better.

Driving 3 hours yesterday probably didn't help, so I asked him if I should go to Mystic today and he said not to do it.

A doctor's excuse!!!

I took an Alieve  and that helped some. I usually don't take pain killers. My blood is so thin that aspirin makes me bruise and doesn't like my stomach.

All will be fine, I'm sure and probably sooner rather than later.

So I missed the second day of Convention on doctor's orders.

Well, "missed" sounds like it was hard on me. I just didn't go.

I'm sure it went as well as it would had I been there.

And I did better than I would had I been there.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Diocesan Convention

Today was the first day of the two day convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (a.k.a. ECCT), It is being held in Mystic. If you aren't familiar with CT, Mystic is near the ocean--as far east as the state goes--and only a few miles from the Rhode Island boarder--as far north as the state goes. Nice centralized location!!! I drove over and hour to get there and people from Fairfield county--down near New York City must have driven 2 1/2 or 3 hours. And CT is a little state!

I think they plan conventions in such places so people will stay overnight in the hotels where the conventions are. But I haven't spent the night since I retired from full-time ministry. Honestly, if I could get a doctor's note every last weekend of October, I would. I personally don''t think retired clergy should be able to vote. We had our chances, now leave it to the younger crowd.

I used to sit near a microphone so I could talk a lot. Now I sit as far back in the room as I can, near a door.

Conventions are tedious to me now--not, as they used to be, a time to do battle for every left-wing thing I could!

Regarding tediousness--on a Resolution about Justice and against racism, someone made an amendment--fooling with the language somebody spent a long time coming up with. Before we could vote on the amendment, someone 'amended' the amendment. And before we could vote on that, someone amended the amendment to the amendment.

I used to do stuff like that--amend the amendment to the amendment. But no more.

We voted on the amendment to the amended amendment. It failed.

We voted on the amendment to the amendment. It failed.

I laughed and the woman at the table beside me asked me why I laughed. "Because this is all so pointless," I told her. She applauded me. "That's what I'd hoped you say," she told me.

We voted on the amendment. It failed.

About 20 people spoke during all that and 45 minutes passed!

I left about then.

I'll go back tomorrow out of some weird sense of loyalty.

But won't be happy doing it.

I do enjoy seeing people I haven't seen in ages and sit near the door so we can go outside the room and share life updates....

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

another thing about 'the irrelevant church' (written sometime around 2008)

The Joy of Irrelevancy
          So, in the midst of the sermon for his ordination I said, “Michael, never forget, you are being ordained into an almost irrelevant office in an irrelevant institution.”
          I said that for two reasons: first, I believe it, and, secondly, it seemed to me it was important for him to hear. He is an astonishing priest and man whose true gifts will shine through most clearly if he can ‘hang loose’ about his role and his relative importance in the scheme of things.
          I learned after the service that the bishop didn’t appreciate my insight into what Michael needed to hear and didn’t agree with my analysis of the church. He didn’t appreciate my ‘diminishing’ the church in a sermon to 400 people—most of whom have a vested interest in the relevancy of the church.
          I must agree that it was perhaps not the most appropriate setting for pointing out the church’s irrelevancy, but it does need pointed out.  The American Heritage Dictionary (2006) defines ‘relevant’ as “pertinent to the matter at hand.” The Merriam Webster Dictionary of Law (1996) clears up for all us Law and Order junkies what is meant when one of the attorneys objects by saying “relevancy, your Honor.” Something is ‘relevant’, according to that dictionary by “having significant and demonstrable bearing on facts or issues.”
          I would content, by either of those definitions of ‘relevant’ that the Main Line Churches are woefully irrelevant these days. Not much about the church is ‘pertinent’ to any of the matters at hand in our lives and culture and doesn’t have any ‘significant and demonstrable bearing’ on the issues that consume us. Almost no one I know pauses when considering the matters at hand each day and asks, “wonder what the Episcopal Church has to say that would be pertinent here?” It has not always been so. For 17 centuries or so—from the Council of Nicea until relatively recently—the church was so enmeshed with Western culture that you couldn’t turn around without bumping into both its pertinence and relevancy. I’m not scholarly enough to pinpoint when that began to unravel. Certainly the Renaissance got the ball rolling, but the church wasn’t dislodged from her role all at once. The horrors of two World Wars and the world-wide depression in between them certainly greased the skids. But, if you ask me, the true death knell of Christendom in the US came with the construction of the Interstate Highway System and the explosion of the mass media.
          Before you think I’m crazy, let me point out that no less a figure than Stanley Howerwas traces the “end of Christendom” to a particular Sunday evening in his home town of Greenville, South Carolina, when the movie theatre was open for the first time during the hours of evening church services. (Resident Aliens, p.---) The explosion of mass media—movies, TV and now the Internet, for God’s sake—replaced most of the entertainment value of Main Line Churches. As late as the early 20th Century, churches were still the center of social life and leisure time (what little of that there was) activities as well as being the formative influence on morals and ideas. The rise of mass media gave the lie to that relevancy. And the Interstates freed people to travel much longer distances to do things than ever before. There are plenty of people still living who remember the time when only a few people on the block…or in the whole town!...had automobiles. (When those people talk about that simpler place and time, they tend to say ‘automobiles’ rather than ‘cars’.) President Eisenhower’s vision of a nation connected together by four lane highways created a booming construction-driven economy, transformed Detroit into the shining city on a hill, put engineers into a whole new class of workers and made possible “the Sunday drive” right past the church and out to the lake.
          There were, it seems to me, two models for the church in the height of her relevancy—the village church and the cathedral. Like Orthodox Jews to this day, most everyone used to walk to church…which insured the church they attended was in walking distance. And in a village before radio and, more malignantly, TV, the church was the center of civic, social and political life. And since the village church was so central to life, generation upon generation of heterosexual couples met and married in ‘their’ church. It was a very different world than the one that came to be after WW II.
          The cathedral model was the village church writ large. Commerce tended to flourish on the cathedral grounds. All those European cathedrals aren’t in the center of cities because they bought the land—the cities grew up around them. There are two equivalents to the cathedral model today—shopping malls and Mega-churches. You can spend a day in a shopping mall—do your banking in the branch there, have meals in the many eating establishments, do some shopping, find interactive experiences for your children, get your hair cut and styled as well as a pedicure and manicure, visit the day spa, see the cars that are always on display in the walk areas, get your exercise, see displays by civic groups, get a drink, go to a movie, visit the health care satellite hospitals have established, get a tattoo, buy insurance—there is actually no reason to leave a shopping mall for most any needs. I keep waiting for some evangelical group to put in chapels.
          The other cathedral clone is the Mega-churches that have sprung up in the suburbs of most all medium sized and large cities. One way Interstates made most Main Line Churches irrelevant is if the church was built before the Interstates were, there is insufficient parking. Mega-churches work “because” of the highways and are islands of holiness in a sea of asphalt. One of the things the folks at places like Willow Creek have done is perfected the art of parking. Sports arenas could learn a lot about how to get cars in and out of a venue efficiently from the Mega-church people. Mega churches also mimic shopping malls by having food courts, gyms, child-care, ‘Christian’ schools, video game rooms and worship that is more like Broadway or Los Vegas than like Canterbury. Mega-churches and sect-like fundamentalist churches are the only ‘churches’ that have figured out how to remain relevant. Mega-churches do it by making themselves indispensable and competing successfully with the larger culture. The Fundamentalists do it by mind control. If I were a betting man I would wager the latter will collapse into irrelevancy before the former.

          Mind control—control of any kind—is something that is becoming harder and harder in our culture. Jimmie Carter once said on the PBS show Speaking of Faith that fundamentalism was the creation of what he called ‘dominant males’. My wife would call them ‘male mutants”—a term, not of endearment, which includes all the men (and some women) on the planet. Those dominant males, according to Jimmie Carter, believe that what they think is what God thinks. “That’s a difficult position to argue with,” he said, in his soft, sweet accent.
          It seems to me that the church, for most of history—at least from the 4th century until the Interstates—had that opinion of itself: what they believed is what God believed. Interestingly enough, the Protestant Reformation took that little caveat with them when they left the Whore of Babylon behind. Church has been based on ‘absolute Truth’—something I’ve admitted I don’t believe in—and used that cudgel to batter people into line for century after century.
          There are people my age, for example, who were told by their Roman Catholic priests that simply entering a non-Roman church was a mortal sin. I ponder what the percentage of people born since 1977 who believe that there is a whit of difference between different denominations would be. One of the costs of irrelevancy is that the denominations have, for the most part, lost their ‘bite’, their ‘scent’, their particular ‘flavor’. Like politicians and Episcopal bishops, denominations, scrambling to stay ‘relevant’ gave up what made them distinct and real. I went to a Methodist wedding some years ago and watched an altar boy with gloves on, along with a red cassock and snow white surplice, come out to light the candles on the altar. When he finished, he did what we Episcopalians call a ‘profound bow’—from the waist, all the way down until he looked like the number 7. Holy moley! The Methodist Church I knew as an adolescent would have fallen to the ground if 1. there had been an altar boy; 2. he had been wearing gloves; 3. there had been candles on the altar; or 4, anyone had reverenced the ‘table’ in front of the pulpit. What has happened to Methodists? They probably drink now too.

          Shortly after I came to St. John’s, I was in the church on a Saturday morning by myself. I was fussing and obsessing about something or other for the Sunday services. Today, I could never find myself alone at St. John’s on a Saturday morning. The ‘Saturday School’ for the Hispanic congregation would be there, the MEEP group (an unfortunate acronym for an adult training program the diocese runs) would be there, Knit One/Purl Two (the Prayer Shawl group) would be there, and any of a dozen or so periodic Saturday meetings and events would be going on. But back then, I could have the whole building to myself.
          I had the doors locked but heard the doorbell from the parking lot. When I opened the door I was confronted with twenty or so Hispanic folks, all dressed up, with a baby in an ornate gown. Many of them were weeping, but one young man, who spoke idiomatic English, told me what their story was. They had scheduled the baby’s baptism at the huge Roman Catholic basilica on the other side of the Green and shown up on schedule. The parents had been through six weeks of baptismal training prior to the private baptism. But when the priest arrived, he asked who the god-parents were. Two women and a man raised their hands.
          “Are you Roman Catholics?” he asked.
          Two were, but one of the god-mothers was a member of an Evangelical Spanish-speaking church. The priest announced he would not do the baptism and turned on his heel and disappeared in the direction of the Rectory.
          “We just want somewhere to pray for a while,” the young man told me. “Our hearts are broken.”
          I ushered them into the sanctuary, turned on some lights and told them to take as long as they wanted. Then I went back to my fussing and obsessing for a while. Suddenly, something else occurred to me. I went back and found the young man who had been the family’s spokesperson. I asked him if they’d like for me to baptize the baby.
          “When?” he asked.
          “Right now,” I said.
          After a short burst of Spanish among the group, he turned to me and have me the thumbs up sign. I gathered water and oil, wine and bread, lit the Pascal Candle, baptized little Maria and shared the Body and Blood with her family.
          I haven’t seen them since, but, to me, that doesn’t matter. That sacrament mattered and made a difference, just don’t ask me what….
          A decade or so ago, I was sitting in the nave of St. John’s being interviewed by a local reporter about some issue or another. Her skin was copy paper white, she had red hair and a smattering of freckles across her nose below her blue eyes (I have a real weakness for freckles). She was 20 something and when the interview was over she looked around the church and said to me, “This is different from Jewish, right?”
          So, two generations ago—maybe even one—Colleen would have been worrying about the plight of her immortal soul, having spent an hour in a non-Roman church talking to an Episcopal ‘priest’. But all she wanted to know was whether Episcopalians were different from Jews.
          I asked her about her family. Her oh-so-Irish father had married at 16 and divorced at 19. When he married Colleen’s mother it had to be by a justice of the peace. His family disowned him and his church excommunicated him (part of the death throes of the church’s relevancy). So, understandably, he was a tad pissed off about things. So Colleen and her brother, Sean (for goodness sake!) had never darkened the door of a church—except when she came to interview me.
          Obviously, she’d never been baptized. I asked her if she’d like to be.
          “What would it matter?” she asked. “What would it mean?”
          I told her I truly believed it would both matter and mean something, I just wasn’t sure what.
          After I showed her the astonishing baptismal font with some terribly interesting iconography carved into it’s marble (a pelican piercing her breast to feed her young on her blood and a stag and evergreen tree along with an Agnus Dei and a descending dove) she was interested in the symbol and myth of it all.
          “When would we do it?” she asked.
          “I’d prefer a Sunday morning,” I told her, “but most any time would work for me—but we need witnesses….”
          She left really considering the possibility, but when I didn’t hear from her for a while I called the newspaper and discovered she had taken and job in Arizona and moved there. Oh those Interstate highways….

          Which brings us, inexorably, to marriages. This subject has gotten horribly complicated by the longing and demand of gay and lesbian couples to be ‘married’ in the church, just like real people. (That’s the point, isn’t it, that the church doesn’t take GLBT folks seriously, like they’re ‘real’? The church tends to extend, for the most part, a modicum of hospitality to the GLBT community—oh, let’s be honest here, to the GL community—the church no more knows what to extend to bi-sexual and transgendered folks than the church would know what to do with a woodchuck who got elected bishop. Though the wood chuck could chuck wood, what on earth would the BT folks of the GLBT community do? Horrors!) But I’ll save that conversation for later. What I want to write about now is heterosexual marriage and how the church has made itself irrelevant to that particular institution…which isn’t doing so well on the relevancy scale itself!
          When I was a young priest and feeling relevant, I had a multitude of thoughts about “Christian marriage”. I felt that “Christian marriage” was reserved for people who had proved both their “Christian” commitment and their heart-felt desire to wrap their marriage in Christianity in a way that would guard and protect them until death did them part. Or something like that was what I thought. Since then, since admitting that Christianity is irrelevant, at least so far as the church of Christ is concerned, I’ve moved to a different place about “marrying people”.
          That’s what they usually say—mostly the bride though the groom seems to make first contact more often than in the past—they say: “will you ‘marry us’.” And the first time I meet with a couple I assure them that I will NOT be ‘marrying them’. So far as I can see, the church doesn’t ‘marry’ people. If the church did, indeed, ‘marry people’ they wouldn’t need a marriage license from the courthouse. Additionally, so far as I can see, the state doesn’t ‘marry’ people either—the state provides a license for marriage that, once signed by a functionary and processed in the courthouse, provides them with certain specific legal rights. What actually happens, it seems to me, in a marriage is that two people ‘marry’ each other. And by the time they’re sitting in the library of St. John’s talking to me, they’re already, in my mind, ‘married’.
          “Nobody,” I tell those, usually nervous couples—nervous because they think the church is going to try to batter them in some way—“wakes up one morning and decides to go see an Episcopal priest about ‘getting’ married.” Long before that happens, I tell them, they have made some decisions and some promises to each other—hopefully not right after especially good sex or a round of bar hopping—that have bonded them together in a way that indicates they fully intend to spend the rest of their natural lives together. What they come to me about is exactly what the good old Book of Common Prayer says it is—‘the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage’. That implies—and I’m an old English major and understand the language’s nuances quite well—is that the “Marriage” has already occurred and what we’re going to gather to do is celebrate that reality and have me, as the representative of an irrelevant institution, “bless” it.
          Then I go on to explain what I think a ‘blessing’ is. I tell them that where I come from, when the family is gathered around the dinner table full of entirely too much food to possibly be consumed at one sitting, someone will say, “Who’d like to say the blessing?” And whatever whoever steps into that breach says is something like this: “Thank you, God, for this food and for those who prepared it and for those we share it with.” And everyone says “Amen” and digs in.
          That truly is what I think I do in a marriage ceremony: I say a heart-felt “thank you” to God for the two people, their love, their commitment, their longing, their promises and vows, their dewy-eyed optimism, their ‘good intentions’, their hopes and fears and wonderings. And I ask God to guard them like the apple of his/her eye and hide them under the shadow of her/his wing. Lord knows, given the way things are these days, they need that protection. And since that’s what I do, I assume that is what the sacrament of marriage (excuse me, Episcopal Purists, “sacramental rite”!) is about. That and that only and that—thanksgiving and blessing and prayers for protection—is sacrament enough…more than enough. That’s the outward and visible act—the inward and spiritual grace part is up to God. I’m delighted to divide up the responsibility in that way.
          I’m also delighted when people come to ‘get married’ at St. John’s. Again, there are two reasons. I truly believe in the objective reality of sacraments and I think anyone who wants such a reality from an otherwise irrelevant institution deserves to receive it. Inclusion is not a ‘privilege’, it’s a birthright as a child of God. And the folks who come for the sacrament are delighted that it is freely given and not tied up in a Byzantine complexity of rules and canon law and inhospitality. Many of the folks whose marriages I bless are Roman Catholics with a divorce or two in their history. Some of them have gone the long, lonely road of annulment to no fulfillment. Most of them have been insulted in one way or another by the priest who may have baptized them and told they are ‘unworthy’ in some profound way. Then they come to me and I’m delighted to see them and will bend over backwards to provide sacramental support to their relationship. It’s one of the things I do to make an irrelevant institution matter and make a difference in people’s lives.
          That’s the thing that I want to leave you with at this point: being ‘irrelevant’ isn’t so bad a thing. It doesn’t mean we can’t ‘matter’ profoundly and make miraculous differences in people’s lives. In fact, being irrelevant might just make it possible for the church to play those roles. What we don’t get to do is control and manipulate people in every part of their lives. What we don’t get to do is to use the Sacraments—which belong, by the way, in my way of thinking, to God and the People of God—as forms of reward and punishment, keeping everyone in their place. The church has a remarkable and wondrous opportunity to ‘get out of the way’ between God and God’s children and contribute to both by bringing instruments of Grace into the lives of those who God loves.
          I always ask people who come to St. John’s thinking I’ll “marry” them and then learn what I will truly do—I ask them why they chose to call me. I tell them there is no wrong answer because I know they expect the church to ask trick questions and then assault them when they answer incorrectly. A perfectly good answer is this: “it’s a pretty place”. That answer works for me because St. John’s is a remarkably pretty place and a place such a holy moment should happen in. But the answer I like most is that they attended a wedding at St. John’s in the past and their friends who got married told them that St. John’s was a place of Grace and Hospitality. That’s the answer this old irrelevancy likes to hear.
          (A closing shot: one of those crippled couples—beaten up by the Roman Catholic church and denied the sacrament of marriage—had their celebration and blessing at St. John’s about 12 years ago. I expect about 1/3 of that kind of couple to hang around in some way and about 1/3 to come back for the sacrament of baptism and about 1/3 never to be heard from again. I’ll take those odds. The wife lost her job at a RC school for being married in an Episcopal Church after a divorce. God help us! This couple disappeared for several years and then—true to my accounting—came back to have Wyatt baptized. Then they disappeared again. But the husband came back—God know why (well, of course, God knows why…)—and started playing guitar for the 8 a.m. service. He’s served on the vestry and his wife and son came more and more.
          Evangelism is a long-range enterprise for an irrelevant institution. We must be this: Inclusive, Open, Hospitable and Patient.

sermon I forgot about, but shouldn't ever....

September 3, 2006
“increase in us true religion…”

          I got on the wrong side of more than a few people when I preached at Michael Spencer’s ordination to the priesthood here at St. John’s.
          The reason for the irritation I caused—with our Bishop, among others—was a line in the sermon I addressed to Michael. “Michael,” I told him, “always remember that you are a mostly irrelevant functionary of an essentially irrelevant institution.”
          On the one hand, I was urging humility in his role, reminding him not to get “too full of himself” because he could wear a collar, dress in rich garments and have people listen politely to him when he preached or celebrated. That is good advice, I believe—it is a warning I take to heart.
          On the other hand, I was also speaking what appears to me to be the Truth—the church is an essentially irrelevant institution. The church is no longer—as it once was—the center of our cultural life. Bishops and preachers are no longer thought of as the spiritual spokespersons of our national life. Nor should they be. Christianity is so fractured and divided on most of the issues of modern life that either side of any debate has Christians lined up to support it. Look at the Episcopal Church as an example. Why would society look to us for moral clarity and spiritual insights when we have broken into warring tribes with all the antipathy of Shiites and Sunnis?
          (Someone is bound to remind me that Fundamentalist Christians and groups like The Moral Majority still have influence on some public policy. But I would suggest that the Religious Right is essentially a “political” movement—not a “spiritual” one. The politicians who encourage and pander to them do so, not because of the profound “spiritual” insights of their positions, but because of their power at the ballot box in certain parts of the country.)  
          But the irrelevancy of the church as a cultural power is not the irrelevancy that is most telling. The church has lost a bigger war than that—the religious institution no longer has a franchise on “Christian spirituality”.
          Listen to what Reynolds Price, a novelist, wrote in a recent memoir called A Serious Way of Wondering: “Though I am not a churchgoer, for more than sixty years I’ve read widely in the life and teachings of Jesus; and since at least the age of nine, I’ve thought of myself as a Christian.” I know it is true for me—and I suspect you as well—that I know lots of people who are deeply spiritual and who consider themselves to be “Christians” who would rather have oral surgery than darken the door of a church.
          If you held a gun to my head, I’d tell you that I think “being a Christian” is defined by being part of the Body of Christ, the worshiping church, the community of faith. And yet, I am surrounded, in my life, by compassionate, moral, spiritual people who have absolutely no use for the church.
          And when someone tells me, as people often do: “I can find God (take your pick) in my garden, on a walk in the woods, by meditating, by living a ‘good life’”—I must admit that they are most likely right. If God is everywhere (as I believe) and if God is always ‘accessible’ to us (and that I believe as well)—then I am hard pressed to disagree with someone who finds God in a sunset or by walking by the ocean or by spending time in silence and reflection.
          Of course God is THERE. God is always THERE, seeking us, longing for us, welcoming our seeking the Holy One.
          The church doesn’t “own” God. The church doesn’t “own” Jesus. I’d think we’d all agree to that. So, how much more irrelevant can we be?
          The question becomes: “what is the church for then?”
          As an institution, the church is bankrupt—all form and no substance, all doctrine and no action, all law and no spirit. (question about “right doctrine v. right action”)
          As an institution, not much….but as a “community”, a great deal.

  1. Church as community offers “relationship” not “individuality”
  2. Church as community invites us to hospitality, not self-absorption
  3. Church as community calls us into “self-giving” not self-fulfillment
  4. Church as community demands “sharing”, not “having”
  5. Church as community requires “loving others”, not narcissism

There’s a story about a little lost girl who goes up to a complete stranger on the street and tells him she’s lost and would he help her find the nearest park.
“Is that where you live?” He asked.
“No,” she told him, “but I can always find my way home from there.”
Just show me how to get to ‘community’. There’s my church. I can find always find my way ‘home’ from there.

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.