Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And Christmas Continues

When we first began attending Trinity Episcopal parish across the street from the Texas Christian University campus, it never occurred to us that we might actually become a part of a “family” there. We were hiding, needing a church community but unable to attend our once beloved little parish on the west side of Fort Worth. We needed a place to lick our wounds and heal in seclusion, without interference, yet in the midst. Trinity was large enough to disappear within yet offered a smaller “folk” service where we did not feel totally lost.

It took us some time to realize that we had become a part of this family. Tucker being accepted as a part of the band was a big indicator. He began by just sitting with the singers, then inched his way up to the guy playing the congas so that soon he was asking if he could play after the service. After a few pointers and instructions on his behavior during the service, his natural talent and willingness to do what it took to play made him a regular.

Then there was the extra special part of it all – almost every Sunday, at least two kids and two to four grandkids filled the pew with us…in fact, we easily filled one and one-half pews when all the kids were there. There is something very special about having a family as part of one’s worship community.

All this came rushing home to both Debbie and me this past Sunday, the first one after Christmas. As we sat in the midst of this beloved service, we realized just how much we miss our “family” – both the smaller one and the larger one.

While the lay and clergy leadership of Trinity played a vital part in remaining within the Episcopal Church, the parish itself goes about its business. Had I been a visitor with no insider knowledge, I would not have known that anything controversial was going on. The service was a traditional one with the readings that Episcopal parishes all over the country used that day. Even though the reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians had within it the verse, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian” and the disciplinarian of the diocese in the past is no longer a factor of discernment, the service was all about John’s declaration of “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

C'est la vie.

Yet underlying all the “normal” stuff, I could feel the joy…maybe not as unbridled as at the Faith Community of Good Shepherd’s on Christmas Eve night but there nonetheless. It was an undercurrent, calmly flowing across the faces of all those we greeted. Maybe it was that the tension was greatly relieved as if the relief one feels after a painful injury was healed and what remains is the realization that the pain is gone. There was a sense of wellness.

We were not able to bend our schedule enough to attend the Faith Community of St. Stephen’s in Hurst. However, I have been told that it is much the same there. Then there is the combined community of faith in Parker County – remnants from three different west Fort Worth and Parker County parishes. There are so many more and all are growing rapidly.

Of course, there is a sadness in all of these communities. A part of each one is missing. But one thing is for sure. It is not about the building regardless of what many would like us all to believe. It is about the community of faith itself.

The thing we know is sure – when the community is well and the “gall of bitterness” removed, the work of Jesus becomes a simple task.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas, Fort Worth

The noise was the first thing that greeted us as we walked up to the Women’s Club. The open door allowed a welcoming light to beam out into the dark parking lot. What we heard from outside the building was nothing compared to the sound that enveloped us as we walked into the light. At first, with all my sensory overload problems, I was a bit taken back by it all. What was probably a good sized room for any meetings normally held there already seemed full yet more continued to come in.

Almost immediately someone recognized us and gave us all big hugs and cheerful greetings. More greetings ensued all the while the sound of the laughter and talking grew exponentially. Tired from the 12 hour drive from St. Louis to Fort Worth (and that beginning at 4 am), I worried that I would not be able to stay in the room for long.

But suddenly, the fog in my head cleared to a degree and I realized that all the sound and the people were filled with a great joy. At that realization, the sound became a symphony rather than a cacophony.

It was Joy filling the room and pushing at the seams of the building, tumbling out through the door and into the cool night air.

This was Christ Mass in a Fort Worth Episcopal parish – Good Shepherd Faith Community in Granbury, Texas – a parish that is now so much more of a community than it was when it was just down the road a ways in its stone building.

This was the joy of celebrating one-ness rather than separation; the joy that comes from focusing on Jesus rather than on selfish desires. This was not pious and self-righteous or full of condemnation for those who disagree; this was about love and sharing that love. It didn’t matter that there was no processional cross or that there were no torches. It didn’t matter that it was a little cramped trying to get to and from communion.

It mattered only that there was abundant Joy at the birth of the newborn baby – and a way to be born again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

My Fear and My Love


Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,

for you are my crag and my stronghold;

for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.

Psalm 31:3


Today’s psalm, parts of which are used as a canticle for Compline, always creates a vivid image for me as I recite the words. “My crag and my stronghold” brings to mind pictures of Mt. Everest, a cold and forbidding place that I would never want to be up close and personal.

To think of this image as I recite words spoken to God gives me pause for contemplation. Should my mind picture something so cold, so terrifying and so personally forbidding as I pray?

Climbing up the side of a huge mountain or even a hill is not something that is on my list of things to do. When I read of people climbing Mt. Everest, my first thought is that they either have a desire to tempt death or they are just nuts. Yet what is this God-desire but a mountain? We stare in awesome wonder at a creation that is beyond our imagining; beyond our earthly ability to comprehend. We crave to know it, yearn to feel it, desire to be within it as a part of it. We want to be one with it.

When I think of mountain climbing in that respect, I understand the desire to “conquer” the mountain – the quest that drives a desire so overwhelming that nothing else matters. God-desire is like that. I cringe at the thought that I might wish to “conquer” God…and truly, I don’t believe that I do want that. What would be the benefit? But I can visualize standing as a part of the God-One, wind blowing through my hair and open fingers as I rejoice at the completeness of the moment. To feel that joy racing through every fiber of my being, knowing that I am no longer me alone but God-joined…part and parcel of the One and only One…climbing to the top of that mountain must feel something like that.

As I attempt to hold fast to this “crag” I know that I cling tightly to it if for no other reason than horror that I might fall…or fail. The thing that frightens me easily becomes the thing that holds me fast. But my panic at clinging to the “stronghold” could simply freeze me into a non-action which might result in my dying. It is then, at the moment of that paralyzing fear, that I know I have to depend fully upon that “strong rock” and for that very sake let it lead me and guide me.

It is not for my sake that I do this but for the sake of that Holy name, that I might allow it to lead me and guide me into that Oneness, a relationship that I am called into. Just as a mountain climber stands at the foot of that mountain, staring up in wonder and love, knowing full well that she will go, regardless, so I stand at the foot of this God-thing knowing that it wants me as much as I want it. Regardless of the sacrifice, understanding the fear that lies ahead, it calls to me.

And I will follow.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

So Much -- Daily Bread

So much is happening in both my own world and the world at large that, not only is it difficult to recognize individual moments but also hard to grasp the meaning of so much. I am living in a world of chaos and Aha moments. Of course, most of the Aha moments all come post-chaos. I know I am not alone.

I feel disordered and disheveled. The old adage “a day late and a dollar short” is never too far from my mind. Busy people, busy time of year. One moment melts into the next until all that is left is a stream of the past flowing behind us. No wonder Advent gets lost in the midst of this time. The church itself is no less busy than the rest of the world.

Part of my own muddled feeling comes from the reality that everything I am doing, I am doing for the first time. This is my first year to plan out a calendar according to the church year (and in tandem with the rest of the parish); first time preparing others for Advent; first Christmas pageant to plan; soon it will be Lent and the list continues. Next year should be better…or at least I will have to find another excuse for not being better prepared.

Another problem is that I have had no time to write. Ideas and thoughts flit through so quickly that I don’t make time to write these down. I started this particular piece at least five days ago…maybe more. But it is time to either discard it or write more. So, I am making the time to write more. Hopefully, it will be a process by which an idea sticks and grows into something that I need to read and understand.

One thing that is strongly on my mind at this time is the Cathedral’s search for a provost. It matters greatly who the next leader of this Cathedral is. I only know a little bit of the history of this great, old building and the service it has provided. Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Archbishop Desmond Tutu stood in the ornate pulpit and preached. Madeline Albright recently graced the Cathedral with her presence. The House of Deputies president, Bonnie Anderson, was the guest speaker at the annual Flower Fest last May. These are just a few of the voices that have cried out in this place. Many social services programs have begun at the Cathedral. It remains a vital part of the program that helps care for the sizeable homeless and under-employed population of downtown St. Louis. There is a vast amount of potential for the Cathedral to once again be that “voice crying out in the wilderness.”

A church without mission/outreach is like a book without type. It is empty, meaningless and a waste of space. A church which has the potential for vast amounts of mission and outreach yet under-utilizes itself shouts loudly to the world that its priorities are slanted towards a lesser-god. A church that is worried about money is a church that is worried about the wrong thing.

In times of bad economy, in times of stress and anxiety, where do people turn? Hopefully to the Church. So what if they don’t have money? They have need and the church helps them. One person with 100K or 10 people with 10K or 100 people with 1K or 500 with even less…maybe there is less money but there are more hands…hands that are often willing to work if for no other reason than to give in return for gifts received.

Church is about community. The more people that are in community, the better the church. Hungry people recognize the hunger in others and empathy is born. Empathy is different than sympathy. Sympathy brings about good work; empathy brings about a desire to make changes that alter lives. Church should be about altering lives – not about one group of people altering others’ lives; rather, it is about the community offering a place wherein lives can change.

I am not criticizing those who have money. I love a cheerful giver! But if we want our churches to survive, it seems to me that we are going to have to put those who need us as our number one priority. That includes the homeless, the under-employed, the overworked, those disenfranchised, the elders, the children, the sick, the needy and all the others named in the gospel messages. If we take Jesus at his word, this is really our only way.

I am not saying that we should forget about money. I know that money is a necessary thing but I also know that it is possible to pray to God as a community without it. Look at all the faith communities across the world where people live on less than $1 per day! I fully believe that it is by faith alone that we are supposed to work in this house of God.

I suppose what I am saying is that if we believe, all those things necessary to fulfill the promises of God will be made available. Money helps the world go ‘round but it does not make it spin and it can never ever be the reason for spinning. Decisions cannot be based upon the need of money. Faith makes the decision…then the plans on how to raise the money are made. We may not be able to spend that which we do not have but we also need to remember that there is no profit in zero population growth. Faith and witness grow a church.

As far as the Cathedral goes, whoever the next provost is, he/she needs to be a person with a vision from God and a belief that is as bold as that of a prophet, fully intent upon the Cathedral being a community witnessing its love of God to the people of God. The money will come as it is needed, maybe never more than is needed, but that's all we are supposed to want, right?

"Give us this day our daily bread."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Re: the now vacant post of bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth

I suppose that no one thinks it is over! However, the dynamics have changed dramatically!

"I have chosen to follow this course rather than seeking consent of the House of Bishops to Bishop Iker's deposition for abandonment of the Communion of this Church because I believe it to be a more pastoral response to Bishop Iker's clear expression of his desire not to be a part of the Episcopal Church at this time," the Presiding Bishop wrote in a letter to the House of Bishops. "I believe this course best expresses my hope and prayer that reconciliation in the future can be achieved by God's love and grace." http://episcopalchurch.typepad.com/episcope/

This is the statement from the Presiding Bishop of the Epsicopal Church. She did not "depose" Jack Leo Iker. She accepted his statement as a fact of abandonment. He made that statement on November 24, 2008 of his own will. (http://fwepiscopal.org/downloads/reFortWorthBishopInhibition.pdf)

He stated "Since November 15, 2008, both the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and I as the Diocesan Bishop have been members of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. " No one forced him to make this statement. Not only did he make this statement but the Standing Committee also made a similar disclaimer.

It is not a matter of whether or not the PB has "authority" over him or anyone else. It is fairly debatable as to whether she has that authority at all. It is also a moot question. He is subject to the vows he took. And that is the crux. He has abandoned by his own words the communion of the Church that named him "priest" and "Bishop".

As they say in Texas, "stick a fork in it!"

Monday, December 01, 2008

Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.

Today is World AIDS Day.

It is the 20th anniversary of a day designated as a day when people and organizations around the world come together to pray and bring attention to the fact that AIDS is still running rampant through our world. There may have been a lot done since 1988, still, there is so much left to do.

So, pray. And then do something to make the world a safer place.
http://www.worldaidscampaign.org/static/en/

THE Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth

I would like to write about The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth – the faithful communities of that Diocese (which is, in fact, THE Diocese)…about how it has moved on. I would like to say, Jack, you made the decision. Why can’t you just move on?

I have spoken with my mom about the faith community at Good Shepherd and heard her relaxed joy. I have read the joy-filled emails from my friend at St. Stephen’s. I have heard of the steady stream of newcomers at Trinity. I know these are but the tip. But I have no need to write about it all from my far off status. Katie has already done so. She has several blogs on all the joy and thanksgiving. Read them all.

What else can be said but Thanks be to God? It doesn’t matter what the virtue-less one says…or David Anderson…or even what Jack Iker does.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is alive in this Advent season! Thanks be to God indeed!!!!