Thursday, April 17, 2008

Are we ready to bridge the gap between our reality and God's vision?

I will never forget a very important conversation I had with my father-in-law. We were sitting around the breakfast room table having one of those conversations that happens on a lazy Saturday morning when breakfast is done and the paper has been read.



We were talking about why we go to church. Fred, my father-in-law, has been an Episcopalian since he was a boy in Hooker County Nebraska. I made the statement that the reason I go to church is to help me live a Christian life in a very challenging secular culture.



Fred said to me he had never thought of church that way. He went to church because that is what you do...you go to church. You don't have to try and live a christian life because that is what you do...you live a christian life. You attend services. You give to the church. You work outside the church on behalf of the church. You give your time. You do this because that is what Christians do. That is how Christians are.



This is the gap between where most of our folks are in our church today and where the culture is.

The folks looking to us for help on their Christian journey need us to talk to them about our journey. They need us to be ready to talk about Jesus. They believe we should be able to show them what is in the bible. They want us to be doing work out in our community, not just sending money. The truth is when we are authentically ourselves we can transform the world.

However, we have to dare to engage outside our normal patterns of being church.

I was recently visiting with a young person who was excited about starting up a prayer/bible/ worship service in a local pub. He was worried that his clergy person or people in the church might not think that was OK. He was worried it might even be an initiative that never got any help or support.

Leaders help us bridge the gap between our experience reality, our conversations, and the vision of ministry God has for us. As Paul says in Ephesians, may you be filled with the wisdom of God that you may know the hope God has for your ministry.

We have to bridge the gap by creating bridges into our community, bridges of community. We need a bishop who will understand the work and lead us into the gap and help us create opportunities for these conversations. We need a bishop who will support our initiatives and support the folks out on the front lines of ministry.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What is this election about?

Since my name was put in nomination to be the Bishop of Texas, people have asked me a lot of questions about the issues of sexuality in the church. People have asked me questions about what age a bishop should be. Some people have talked about what it means that there is a woman who is a nominee. Still others have talked about the titles and jobs the nominees have had.

I have answered these questions. The truth is, these are nothing new. These are the same issues we have been talking about for the last four episcopal elections. I imagine people have talked about these issues for decades. If we as a diocese continue to focus solely on issues during this episcopal election the chances are good that the same conversation will come up in ten or so years when the next election cycle comes around.

It is time that we took the spotlight off the same old issues and focus instead on where God is leading us; only then will we have clarity about who we are to elect.

I believe God is leading us to ask a different set of questions. How will we spread the gospel in a radically changing culture? How do we hold the tension of being a Church that both respects our heritage and reaches out to strangers who are searching for deep meaning in their lives? How will we repent of the unconscious racism in our congregations and reach out to people who expect a church that is as multicultural as their workplace? What does leadership look like in the future? How do we use power in our diocese? How do we elect missionary bishops that benefit the mission of our church?

We need a bishop that will inspire us all to answer God's questions.

In order to find real answers we need a collaborative and visionary leader who will help us redirect our energy in ways that will not only transform us but will ultimatly transform the culture around us. It is going to take hope and energy and change.

The reality is that the people who are hungry for truth and transformation --- who are hungry to hear that God cares for them and Jesus loves them --- are not asking questions about the old issues on which we focus. They are hoping that we are following God's lead in finding answers to questions that matter on the deepest level. They want to know that the Diocese of Texas is a different place filled with different kind of congregations. They are hoping that when they enter our doors they will have a life changing experience. That's the experience that they deeply, desperately need.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Gospel and Action

Matthew 25.35ff:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”



Since before there was an established Christian church, Christians have followed Jesus by feeding strangers, healing the sick, visiting those in prison, and bringing good news to the poor. This is not simply about doing good deeds –– it is the Good News of the Gospel, and as central to our lives as worship.

I’ve grown up seeing how much of this vital Gospel work is carried out, in all kinds of places throughout our diocese: small food pantries, Lord of the Streets, Houston, The Cathedral Dunn Center, Houston, El Buen Samaritano, Austin, and Ubi Caritas in Beaumont. But I also know that, in many places, outreach, social justice and mission work are a real point of challenge for our churches.

We as a church often fall into the trap of staying in our heads and not acting from our souls. Too often, we find it easier to let committees talk about social problems, than to actually feed hungry families or serve the elderly and sick in consistent ways. Or, we set up our own bureaucracies, instead of encouraging and funding creative, grassroots efforts. We waste our time talking about it, and not enough time getting personally involved. We act as if outreach is something that should be left to professionals––instead of seeing it as integral to the life of every single member of the church. Our diocese can do a lot more to empower, fund and train members of parishes to actually do Gospel work.

Sometimes this kind of ministry on Jesus' behalf gets politicized. The Diocese of Texas has adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). [http://www.epicenter.org/edot/Millennium_Development_Goals_and_Links.asp?SnID=2061771579] We have people assuming that support of these goals means embracing a particular set of political ideas. Of course, the actions of the church in the world inevitably confront politics....but it’s important for our diocese to make it clear that we are serving God and our neighbors because Jesus calls us into action. Christians help people because Jesus tells us to.

There is a spiritual challenge to ministering to the poor. We tend to talk about feeding the poor, or visiting prisoners, or caring for the sick, as ways for churches to help “the less fortunate.” We act as if “we,” the church people, are doing something nice for “them,” the poor people. But Scripture tells us that our salvation depends on strangers, and on serving others. And Jesus tells us that “we” are “them.”

I know from experience that poor people and rich people alike share a hunger to give of themselves. I believe with all my heart that real Gospel work—hands-on, done with integrity—is essential if we are to catch and keep the attention of young people, who yearn to make a difference with their own hands. And I know that by taking up Jesus’ work and making it our own, our churches will become renewed.

The Diocese of Texas Mission Funding Program was established to meet these challenges. Mission Funding is a diocesan program that was created because the missionary dollars from the churches were decreasing. It increased parish participation in work throughout the diocese. I am proud to have been a part of the Mission Funding Task Force in its early years. After a decade, we have a program that works well. We now have an outstanding Mission Funding Coordinator. But today, people don't just want to send money, they want to go themselves.

I believe Jesus has been waiting for us as a culture to go out into the vineyard where the harvest of compassion is bountiful. It is time to dream again about what we can do together.

I want to dream together about what we can accomplish in the next ten years. Can you imagine a online resource, where you can watch a video or slide show of your dollars in action? Can you imagine information and a map of where in the diocese your missionary dollars go? Can you imagine finding out how to volunteer, take a mission trip, or make a donation directly to the programs in the field? Then, can you imagine going and working hand in hand with the poor?

We have to get better at connecting. We have to get better at connecting the people in the pew with the people in the neighborhood. We must realize that we are, as a whole, rich and poor. We are a diversity of classes. We are a diversity of experiences. We are all poor in very real ways.

As we look at a church enveloped in mission work, we must find ways to work with the poor, instead of for them. It will take vision; it will take prayer; it will take putting energy and resources into developing concrete new programs and redeveloping ones that already exist.

Daring to act hand in hand with the poor will lead us closer to the Kingdom of God, and there we will find the words of the Gospel translated into experiences of grace.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Worship Changes Lives

Worship changes lives.

I grew up using the 1928 Prayer Book. I was confirmed in Mexico using the 1979 Prayer Book. Over the years I have worshipped in many churches and communities. I have worshipped in the beautiful holiness of Anglican chant at Christ Church Cathedral and in the laid back ambience of summer camp at Camp Allen. I have been moved by the the organ at St. Martin’s in Houston and by the jazz of St. James in Austin. I have prayed with people using the '28 Prayer Book, Rite One and Rite Two, in Morning Prayer and the Holy Eucharist.

One of the greatest gifts I receive in undertaking my job is being able to worship and praise God by singing contemporary Christian music one Sunday, swinging incense the next Sunday and singing my favorite hymns the following Sunday.

If the church’s business is to live the Kingdom of God, then our worship must be a clear expression of that life.


Regardless of the style or form of worship, regardless of the size of the congregation or its ethnicity, I have learned that the clearest indicator of a congregations health is its love for what they do and how they create worship together.

That’s why I take my job as a liturgist seriously. I believe that the best way to celebrate the presence of God’s Kingdom is to make liturgy that appropriates the tradition of the church in creative, not nostalgic, ways. In other words, liturgy has to be alive. Liturgy that works is alive with the tradition that we consciously use in the service of God. And because I believe that liturgy must be alive, beautiful and real I believe that we will meet God every time we worship.

When we worship well together we are energized for the work that is before us. I believe that when it is done well (not just right) liturgy welcomes everyone to encounter the living God in the midst of the lively people. This liturgy will prepare people to grow into full, active and conscious worshippers and ministers. I expect that liturgy done well will make people powerful and wise and let them know God in new ways. And this way of worship will tell the truth about who we are, who God is and how we can hold these two truths in prayer. I believe that this way of prayer opens us not just to love for those we worship with, but opens to us the experience of transcendence.

We can be lifted out of our self-centeredness when we worship, and be prepared to serve others. God is present whenever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus; not as a third or fourth in the group, but in the midst of the relationships we share with one another. I believe that worship makes us new as we open ourselves to God and to one another; opening ourselves to those who are like us and unlike us. And in this opening to the other – and to God – we are a part of the new creation that God is making right now. When we worship with the face of our neighbor in our heart and mind I believe that we learn that God loves us all, desires our company and longs to use our gifts for his glory. As those so loved we find the energy to love and serve others.

Our liturgy is like our faith. Faith tells us that God is at work in the ambiguity of human life, in trust and in doubt, in our relationships and our loneliness, in the people we love and in strangers. Liturgy says the same thing. When we embrace this truth we are set free to worship - and to live in God’s Kingdom of love.

Blog Archive

Quotes

  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball