Monday, August 29, 2011

Lavish, Economy, Radical = Love

Market personified
 I shudder hearing the market made into a person, aka "We will see if the markets like (don't like) the latest news" or "How will the market react?" It as if we have bowed down and offered our destiny and our serenity to the "market."
The market does serve very useful functions. It creates wealth and capital, funds retirement plans etc.... However it is a man-made creation and as such is fallible. Period. It is not a person. It is certainly not God. It is not a relationship. It is not love, or connection. It is a man-made creation and as such is fallible. 



I get a “daily communique” every morning from Emergent Village which “is a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” In our ever growing economic catastrophe, this one seemed relevant to many recent conversations.  

Strangely, their statement of intent seems oxymoronic to much of what is ongoing today. Many people talk about “mission.” More talk about money…or rather, the lack of it.
I told someone the other day – actually, I told several someones because I was fairly irritated – that I have never been in a parish that didn’t have money problems…AND I have never been in any parish that walked fully in faith.
I am quite clear about the need for money in this world we live in today. I am facing my own possible financial crisis in its ugly face as I write.
I know that salaries have to be paid, clergy pension funds filled, health insurance premiums met and then there are those pesky little things like electric, water and gas. Then there is the monster so many live with, the huge, antiquated buildings that require constant maintenance at normally high prices.
So what difference would it make to a parish assembled for worship if there was no water? Or lights other than candles? Or heat or cool? Or for that matter…clergy?
Yes, there would be many who would complain. But would it prevent the Holy Spirit from being present? Would it change the liturgy? Would fewer voices be raised in song?
In fact, with no utilities, there might be no need for a stewardship committee. Rather than a bunch of people getting up in front of the gathered and telling their personal stories of why they give, the need would already be evident.
Or, if some of the money saved from paying the numerous bills that so often seem antithetical to the idea of a faith experience were to be set aside for when that young couple with the two little children looking for work and a safe place to lay their head for the night…something right about here comes to mind to remind me about strangers…welcoming…if someone asks for your cloak give them your shirt as well…
Somehow suggesting that they walk on over to New Life Evangelistic Center just doesn’t taste the same in my mouth.
Money. It’s all about money.
We talk about God and bow down under the burden of money.
So many predict that the “church” is dying. In many cases, that is a hard point to argue.
We talk about what we can lop off with as little damage as possible so that the body doesn’t bleed to death. Yet how long can the body last with only a head?
The adage says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Thinking of the church as a business is a good intention. But is it? Can it be a business? Can we continue to think first in terms of break down, get rid of, unnecessary, not needed, not breaking even…Free.
This thing that we do is not free. It costs but those costs are not necessarily in dollars. The gospel on Sunday, August 28 was about picking up the cross and following Jesus. That is not a burden. That is the way to life. But when we pick up that cross and follow, other things have to be set down. I think worrying about money is one of those things that has to be set down.
I had the great privilege of watching faith in action this weekend. I spent time with Becca Stevens and two women, Katrina and Sheila, of the community of Magdalene and Thistle Farms. If you do not know of the Rev. Becca Stevens or the Women of Magdalene, I urge you to do so. They are phenomenal gifts from God just waiting to share their love and life with all who are looking for a chance to dance a new dance.
Here are some of the things I brought home with me.
To heal it we have to first deal with it. – name it and own it.
We are called to get our hands dirty. – we cannot dictate from on high, we have to be involved.
We are not called to change the world; we are called to love the world.  – with our love, change is brought about. If we try to change things, we have a tendency to dictate what change is needed. We don’t often really know what that is.
Love heals. It is lavish, economical and it is radical. AND it will always bear fruit.
To worry is a waste of time. We cannot get weary – take a little time to rest and then go do good, do more rather than less. There is no time to be tired and no time to worry.
We need to stand on new ground, understanding that it is Holy.
Little girls do not dream of being prostitutes, addicts or being victims of rape.
“You can’t be willing to die for something if you are not willing to live for it.”
Worthiness is another word Becca used. We gauge UNworthiness on a daily basis. Is that person worthy of a handout? ‘He/she will probably just use it for drugs or cigarettes or booze.’ Boom. Unworthy. ‘They will just sell their bus passes for drugs or cigarettes or booze.’ Boom. Unworthy. ‘We don’t give them money when they come into our building because they can get what they need from other places in town that are in that business.’ Boom. Unworthy.
Determining UNworthiness is just not our job. Declaring all people as children of God worthy is.
Nowhere in any of Becca’s, Katrina’s or Sheila’s talk, was the matter of money discussed in relationship to worthiness. Rather, they spoke of Lavish, Lavish love. It costs nothing to manufacture. It is brand new every time it is given away. It is radical because it goes to the very root of Scripture – Love one another. Help one another. Don’t give leftovers – give what is on your back, give new, they said. Because everyone is worthy of that.
A woman or girl child on the streets is in serious danger of being raped, not once or twice but repeatedly. It doesn’t matter if a man is with them or not. They are in danger.
The questions we have to ponder seriously and intentionally are what are we spending money on? If it is not lavish, economical and Radical, maybe we need to cut it out. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

It is the Journey

Occasionally, quite often, actually, I read something and think, “That is exactly how I feel; I wish I had written that.”

While that may be placed in the category of coveting…not sure about that…it is exactly what I thought when I read Sr. Joan Chittister’s newsletter Vision and Viewpoints. The article is titled, “Too Late?”

“There is no such thing as coming too late to God. All the way to God is the Way.
Clearly, we cannot lose God; we can only prepare ourselves to come to see the face of the eternal and ever immediate God in everything. How long will that take? What difference does it make? The God we find when we do will be the same God however long that takes, whenever it happens. It is the journey, not the end, that counts.
– from The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications)

How many times have I thought I came to this place of answering God’s call to me too late? How many times have I ventured into that dark place where I wished I had continued my conversation with God that I began at a very early age? How I have so often lamented the fact that I ran and hid myself (or so I thought) during my teens and twenties!

I returned to “church” in my early thirties. I say “returned” meaning, I began attending occasionally. I felt the tug to be in community, to be a part of Something when I was in my twenties. I even tried to attend but it was difficult. Everyone was so old and so cold. It wasn’t the way I remembered feeling as a child in the Southern Baptist rural community church setting. So I decided I was just past that stage of church life. Or not yet there.

As I entered the beginning of my thirties, my daughter was baptized. It was a turning point in my life. There were so many such points afterwards.

Yet all along the way, I grappled with the sense of too late, wrong way, too long on pause, too long running away. It seems to be an underlying current that runs within me. What causes it is the unrest that comes from knowing that although I was called early, the church was not ready for me. Now that I am older, I am not sure the church knows what to do with me.

Due to fact that I am far closer to 60 than to 30 and in a church that is actively trying to find ways to recruit younger people, have I waited too late? Is the end near and I still have no answers?

So it is with those thoughts and feelings that I read Sr. Joan this morning.

It doesn’t matter…not really…how long ago I was called, how long I waited or ran away, not even how much I want to just be on the Way. It matters only that I am.

God continues to be God. My way on the journey continues to create stories that others need to hear. The end does not matter. God continues to be with me as I journey. And as Sr. Joan writes, “It is the journey, not the end, that counts.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Saint Louis is SO Gay!" reads the new PROMO tee shirt.




And it is…So much so that one can get really comfortable living here. We have lived in two neighborhoods in the three and a half years we have been here; we have never been the only same sex couple living on the block. We have visited numerous Episcopal parishes in the half of the state of Missouri (geographical boundaries of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri) and have yet to see any type of bias exhibited against us. In fact, many of the parishes are openly welcoming by being Oasis Parishes and/or Integrity Proud Parish Partners. (http://www.theoasismissouri.org/ & http://www.integrityusa.org)

Saint Louis City has had a domestic partnership law since 1997 (pro, not anti). Domestic partnerships registered in other cities are considered valid here when one files a certified copy of the registration with the City Register.

It is easy to forget that people across the globe are discriminated against, beaten, and murdered simply because they are LGBT. It is easy to go to work or home, go to a restaurant or bar, enjoy the company of friends and only fleetingly, if ever, think of those just outside of the city limits who do not do these things, simply because they are not allowed to do so, at least not openly.

But there are those who do not allow us to get too comfortable in our forgetfulness, people right here in this comfortably LGBT city who let us know every day that everything is not all right.It is not alright until it is all right and just. Missouri continues to be a very homophobic state with laws that do not protect its gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender citizens.

PROMO is one of those groups, working for change at the state legislative level and on the home front also. Human Rights Campaign St Louis is another. The work that is being done with Growing American Youth is nothing less than phenomenal. Bus # 10 will take off for Iowa on August 26 in the ShowMeNoH8 Show Me Marriage Equality so that the next group of couples can be legally wed. The LGBT Center of St. Louis recently opened its doors at a new location offering an information center and safe refuge to any and all.

Saint Louis is so gay! BUT there is still so much work to do…here and everywhere else. Even though we are fairly comfortable here, it is good to see all the work being done to promote equality for all.

Please, visit these sites. Check out what is happening in St. Louis. You can find out how to get one of the tee shirts on the link provided under the picture In this city known for its poverty, racial tensions and crime rates, it is very good to be in the top 10 of something good!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dogs and God's Will

My times are in your hands…” regardless
(Psalm 31:15)

I can think of nothing else that fits more clearly where I am in this journey. All along I have thought I was following “God’s will”…at least in my prayers, I continued to ask God to guide me. All I wanted was to do what I thought God was calling me to do.

One of the things I was told while in discernment, both initially with my spiritual director and later with my discernment committee, was to listen to the voice of the community. That voice was a primary factor in us leaving Fort Worth. That voice said we want you as a priest. We believe God is calling you to be a priest.
After a year in Saint Louis, living and working within a divided community as the director of Christian Education for youth and children, again, I heard those same words.

Our “home” parish in Fort Worth, St. Stephen’s in Hurst, has a long history of controversies and splits. So also our much loved second home, Christ the King. It doesn’t take the “gay agenda” to send anyone into a frenzy. Frenzies happen anywhere there are two or more gathered together, in God’s name or otherwise. So, Christ Church Cathedral was no different. Parishes live on the edge of divide constantly. It is rarely one thing; ten other controversies hover at any given moment.

But having come into the Episcopal Church during all the different but constant stream of differences, there has always been one idea in my heart – We are one in the body of Christ regardless of where our minds are. There are always opportunities to gather people into that body and remind them that is exactly what they are, the body of Christ.

So, I sit in the midst of a bit of confusion for this time. Part of the confusion rests with my discernment committee, which often felt as though I was on trial and they the judge rather than in the midst of a discernment which needed the whole of us to work together to discern God's will. They ended up split: two believed priesthood, two diaconate (with lots of accolades for my lay ministry).

Another part comes from the Commission on Ministry. I know that they did not appreciate my answer regarding finances. To the question: ‘Have you thought about the expense of going to seminary should it be determined that you are to go on,’ I answered, “yes I have thought of it but I have come too far trusting that God will give us what we need as we need it to start worrying now about that.”

I was told that another concern they had was my age – how old I would be after going to seminary, if need be. I am not sure what to do with that concern, especially in light of the fact that others have been, are being ordained at ages older than my own. Considering the fact that I already have a Master of Theological Studies, half, at least, of any seminary education is complete. That’s two years less anyone might worry their ‘pretty little head about.’ (a quote from the Congressman Jim Wright when I asked him a question long ago)

I am sure that COM had other concerns but these are the two that were given me.

Two things I know for sure: I will grow older…unless I die and I cannot begin to worry about building up treasures for anything…not even this. My treasures are far too many now. I continue to work at getting rid of these, not acquiring more.

But I also know one other thing. The Canaanite woman in today's Gospel knew what so many did not. Jesus listened to her because he had no choice; her faith was bigger than his opinion. She knew that he did not have to like her, nor did he have to believe her worthy. It didn’t matter that he thought her on the level of a “dog” or that he believed what desire he might grant her would be better served going to one of the chosen ones. (Matthew 15:21-28)

She believed in him. And he realized it. And it was enough to make him realize he was wrong. It was enough.

Just as her times were in the hand of Jesus, so also are mine. I have held back for three years now. I have held myself in check because I didn’t want to offend anyone with my “radical” thoughts or words.  I want to return to my “root”.

I have served myself… and God…unwisely. Writing has always been an outlet, a way to process, a way to share what I feel inside. It is one way that the Spirit speaks to me. Worried more about what others might think, I shoved aside my gifts, concerned that these might be seen as too forward or as an annoyance.

I don’t know what I will do about discernment. I was not told no, merely to wait a little bit. COM heard a call to ministry; they just didn’t hear to which ministry. But the two things won’t change.

But I can. I can return to that root. I can also rest assured that, just as Merton prayed so also can I. By the very fact that I want to do God’s will, God must be pleased. Therefore, I will continue trying to do that very thing.

It is enough.