Monday, December 14, 2015

Turn Turn Turn

Advent 3 C brings us to the banks of the Jordan river. What are you looking for? What answers do you seek? And, are you willing to hear them if you don't like them?


Check out this episode!

There is a Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Sermon preached on Advent 2C 


Check out this episode!

You know the Signs


Sermon preached on First Sunday of Advent year C


Check out this episode!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"You Are Almost There"

Sermon on Mark 12.38, the Widows Mite, proper 27b, preached at St. Stephen's in Beaumont and St. Paul's Kilgore, November 8 2015


Check out this episode!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Christian Citizenship Means Creating Cities of Non-Discrimination - We Have An Opportunity in Houston

On November 3, 2015 the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) will be on the ballot. I believe Hero reflects the care I would like for our city to demonstrate for every citizen and visitor. HERO will provide an environment free of discrimination based upon sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status/veterans, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender and pregnancy.

As an Episcopalian, I am in a covenant with God that compels me to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Not to do so dehumanizes our neighbors and our own self. When we discriminate, we show contempt for the basic tenants of Christianity--that all of us are created by God and so, are special to God. We are reconciled to God through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and discrimination dishonors God’s work.

I pray that the Church might become a community of salt and light where people who are the most vulnerable, hurt and hated by the world might find refuge and experience something of the unconditional love of God that I know.


My vote will reflect my baptismal promises even as I pray that our community be strengthened by the way in which we regard one another and by the decency of our conversation about this important ordinance.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Rich Young Ruler


Preached in St. Timothy's Houston


Check out this episode!

Sermon at The Rev. John Binford's Memorial Service

Preached at Christ Church Cathedral, 2015


Check out this episode!

What God Has Joined Together

Sermon Preached on Marriage in Spanish and English. Proper 23b at St. John's and El Buen Samaritano, Austin.


Check out this episode!

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Audacity of God

Sermon preached at baptism and confirmation service at St. Mark's Bay City, Texas; Proper 21B, 2015


Check out this episode!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Seeing the Unseen


Sermon preached for Proper 21 B at St. Mary's Manor, Jesus and the children


Check out this episode!

What Do You Think You Are Doing?


Sermon preached at Lord of the Streets Church at the celebration of new ministry for the Rev. Steve Capper. 


Check out this episode!

Monday, September 14, 2015

From An Acute Care Church to a Palliative Care Church


Sermon preached at St. Francis, Tyler, Tx, Proper 19B Mark 8.27ff


Check out this episode!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Monday, September 7, 2015

Refugee and Immigrant Crisis: What Can I Do?

Sunday's reading from Proverbs 22:1ff:

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
the Lord is the maker of them all.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Here what the Spirit is saying to the church.

As we listened on Sunday to this lesson, we well might have wondered what we could do about the refugee and migration crisis that will have a real, tangible impact. It is the largest migration and refugee event since World War II. The impact of which will have a global effect for generations. What do we do as a people and as a church? We can move from mindfulness to action. Here is an exercise to begin your reflections on how you can make a global difference by acting locally.

Prayer and Mindfulness
The first thing to begin with is mindfulness and prayer. As Christians we pray. So here is a list to pray daily for during the next few days, weeks, and months. You might even print the list and put it on your refrigerator or at the dinning room table or someplace where you will see it regularly.

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. We remember especially the refugees and migrants in our midst and far away, who are looking for your face of love. Help us to be mindful of all those who are in need of care and those who are seeking to help. Heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. 
Pray for the people of Syria - and an end to the violence in the middle east, an end to unjust governments, and for the care of those who are without a country. 
Pray for the 10.8 million refugees. Invite God to speak to you and your church about how you can help offer hospitality to the stranger.
Pray for children of the refugees, the God may give them strength to hold their faith, and to keep alive their joy in this time of crisis, feed them and clothe them from the riches of God's people.
Pray for the Anglican Church in Canada who is taking a three-fold approach to the crisis: raising money, lobbying politicians to demand easier access to the country for Syrian refugees, and committing to provide 10,000 resettlement places for government-assisted refugees; and pray for Anglicans to contribute to the Province’s relief agency. 
Pray for Australia and New Zealand who are calling on their governments to increase quotas and calling on each church to sponsor a family.
Pray for the Church in Egypt and Jerusalem who are providing food, helping to restore churches, including the Holy Family Anglican Church which serves refugees in the Ethiopian town of Dima, and are helping with funds for the towns of Tiergol and Matar.
Pray for the ten Anglican Churches in the Pinyudo area of Sudan where a new camp will house 75,000 people. 
Pray for those working with Episcopal Migration Ministries as they seek to respond on our behalf and help those in need.
Pray for the Anglican Churches in and across Europe as they seek to help settle refugees.
Pray: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth.
Pray: Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace.
Pray: Heavenly Father, you are the source of all goodness, generosity and love. We thank you for opening the hearts of many to those who are fleeing for their lives. Help us now to open our arms in welcome, and reach out our hands in support; that the desperate may find new hope, and lives torn apart be restored. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Your Son, Our Lord, who fled persecution at His birth and at His last, triumphed over death. Amen
(Read more here about the Anglican response to the global crisis.)

Educate Yourself
It is important to have the facts about what is actually happening globally. In a world where there are a lot of memes and news blips, it is easy to believe you know what is going on. Know the facts. Thanks to Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) you can find these articles helpful in understanding exactly what is happening.

EMM writes, "Media are publishing articles on a daily basis chronicling the most recent events and statistics. This crisis is complex geopolitically and historically. The terminology can also be confusing."

Here is a selection of articles that may be helpful:
Archbishop of Canterbury wrote an impassioned statement about the refugee crisis; it begins, 'This is a hugely complex and wicked crisis'.

Violence Has Forced 60 Million People From Their Homes, The Atlantic 
Exodus of Syrians Highlights Political Failure of the West, New York Times 
'Refugee' or 'migrant' - Which is right?, UNHCR 
Crossings of Mediterranean Sea exceed 300,000, including 200,000 to Greece, UNHCR 
One Syrian Boy's Plea, Al Jazeera America
Donate
One of the easiest ways to help is to donate. Every relief organization is overwhelmed by this crisis. However, I urge you to not stop here, but also do some of the hard things as well. Here are some great places to donate:

Compass Rose Society Go to the site and roll the bar over to immigrant crisis in Europe. Then make your gift. All Dollars will go to Joel Nafuma Refugee Center in Rome, and to the Churches in Europe and organizations doing direct work with Refugees through the office of The Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon.
Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, Anglican Refugee Center in Rome 
UNHCR Syria appeal 
World Food Program Syrian emergency fund 
Unicef for Syria
Mennonite Central Committee 
World Relief (donate to provide backpacks for resettled children here - one of my favorite sites) 
World Vision 
Samaritan’s Purse 
Doctors Without Borders: Has three rescue ships in the Mediterranean, on Tuesday alone they rescued 1,658 people
Hand in Hand for Syria: Working within Syrian borders to provide aid. Donations are made via British currency but these are easily converted from US donations during the transaction.
The Southern Baptists who do a very good job at combining service with donation. Take a look at their site here. It includes a text link for donations.
Project: “Save a Life”
Donor: Individual Donors
Major Goal: “Save a Life” humanitarian campaign, aimed at providing support to Syrian Refugees, who escaped the war in Aleppo and moved to Lebanon, to obtain one-way ticket to travel to Armenia. In response to this large-scale humanitarian project initiated by “ALEPPO” CCO, people worldwide continuously raise funds in support of Syrian Refugees. Over 800 Syrian Refugees are registered in the lists of Aid Applicants. On account of funds raised it became possible to obtain one-way ticket for 70 Syrian Refugees. Many refugees were already moved from Lebanon to Armenia. The others will move in upcoming weeks and months if Funds become available!


It is worth to note, that the one-way ticket fee required for relocation of each person from Lebanon to Armenia amounts to:
•           360 – 380$ (one-way ticket for MEA Aircraft from Lebanon to Armenia, including 30kg baggage); or
•           285$ (one-way ticket for FlyDubai Aircraft destination Lebanon, Dubai, Armenia, including 30kg baggage); or
•           265$ (one-way ticket for FlyDubai Aircraft destination Lebanon, Dubai, Armenia, including 20kg baggage).
Including these in-country transfer expenses:
•           50$ (transfer cost per person, including 2 suitcases, by bus):
•           17$ (fee for Exit Visa to cross the border),
•           20$ (taxi cost to reach the Lebanon Airport);
•           8$ (transfer cost from Yerevan Airport).
•           25$ (other costs that should be provided to a traveling person).
The Total amount per person is 488$. This calculation is made taking into account that 1$=290 Syrian Liras.

Each Sponsor will be given a contact information of Sponsored person.
We have already received approximately $40,000 in donations which will be sent to ALEPPO CCO in Yerevan. Donations are being sent as received. We urgently need your help before it is too late. If you want to add your name and HELP, NOW is the time to act:

1) one person ($ 488);
2) one couple ($ 976);
3) one Family with two children ($ 1,952)
4) Any other amount to cover several Families

Please send your check accordingly to ST KEVORK ARMENIAN CHURCH - MEMO : S.O.S. Aleppo - Yerevan. All your donations will be Tax deductible.

Please indicate your first and last Name; your organization if any; your e-mail address; your phone number and your City of residence.


Give Specifically

Help Syrians stranded on the Greek Island of Lesvos, send items from the list below, and mail to:
Hellenic Postal Office of Mythymna
℅ The Captain’s Table
Molyvos 81108, Lesvos, Greece
ITEMS TO SEND for SYRIAN REFUGEES on GREEK ISLAND OF LESVOS:
  • Sneakers, gym shoes for men, women and children (all sizes) are a HIGH PRIORITY
  • Sweatpants of all sizes.
  • Briefs/underwear for men, women and children (all sizes)
  • Men’s trousers (small, medium and large) and shoes
  • Baby powder milk
  • Any non-perishables like nut butters or other long-lasting foods.
  • Diapers
  • Feminine products
  • Sleeping bags
  • Plastic to cover the floor/for shade
  • Tents/tarpaulin
  • Mats (camping or yoga mats)
  • Hats and caps for sunshade (adults and children/light colours because of the sun)
  • Electric Plug for multiple devices (european voltage)

Spread the Word
Everyone who has a Facebook page and twitter account can share these links. Share solid information.

You can Follow Episcopal Migration Ministries on Facebook and Twitter. Share news articles and stories online and through your social media networks. Generate discussions in your community about the issues refugees are facing.

If you're a teacher, use UNHCR's toolkit for teaching young people about migration and refugees.

If you are in a congregation, use the Prayer for Syria or the prayers above as part of your Sunday or daily worship.

You can also Tweet a photo of yourself holding a sign saying “Refugees Welcome” and tag your government and or your government representative #refugeecrisis; #refugeeswelcomehere (This idea comes from Ann Voskamp's website at Holy Experience here.)

You can also copy and share the links and ideas from this article and help get the word out about how to give or share your time.


Get Personally Involved
In 2015, the United States will welcome 70,000 refugees to our country as new Americans. You can get involved in two ways. First by signing up and participating in sponsoring and helping to resettle a family.

EMM works in partnership with its affiliate network, including the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, among other dioceses, faith communities and volunteers, welcoming refugees from conflict zones across the globe. Your local resettlement agency is always preparing for arriving families and in need of support, resources and volunteers. Contact an Episcopal Migration Ministries affiliate near you. If you are in Texas, you can work with Refugee Services of Texas and Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston. Both are local partners of Episcopal Migration Ministries. the links are: Refugee Services of Texas, http://www.rstx.org/, which is in Austin, and Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, https://imgh.org/.

You can personally sponsor a refugee or their family at these other sites too:
Americans, sign home to a Christian refugee family fleeing from ISIS  
Canadians, sponsor a Syrian refugee family to come to Canada through Missionary Christian Alliance 
Canadians, sponsor a Syrian refugee family to come to Canada through MCC 
Americans, Use this US map to find an agency near you and offer to support a newly arrived refugee family. There are 9 Voluntary Agencies in the US that sponsor refugees to come the the United States and build their own local networks to resettle refugees — where is one close to you
Help someone in Germany cover costs in opening up their homes to more than 800,000 refugees 
Americans, help RefugeeOne meet needs of refugees already settled who may have seasonal needs, etc.
The second thing that you can do is be an advocate. EMM writes, "As a global leader in refugee resettlement, the US can and must do all that it can to welcome Syrians to the United States." Reach out to your Senators, Representatives, and the White House and ask them to support a robust refugee resettlement program and significant increase in Syrian resettlement:

Find your elected official (http://bit.ly/1udq4mT) and ask them to continue the United States tradition of accepting at least half of all UNHCR referrals for any given population and resettle at least 65,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years.

Join the Episcopal Public Policy Network to receive updates and policy action alerts to your inbox. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mission is in your DNA


Sermon preached at the Rev. George McGavern celebration of new ministry at Good Shepherd, Tomball.


Check out this episode!

Murmuring and Grumbling on the Way to the Kingdom of God.


Preached at All Saints Hitchcock on 14B, 2015


Check out this episode!

You Can't Fake True Religion

This is a sermon preached at St. Paul's Pfluggerville on Proper 13B


Check out this episode!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Friday, July 3, 2015

Christtrolling: Christian Meanness - A Rule of Life We Reject

Sometimes we think that believing we are right makes us righteous. Sometimes feeling righteous gives us the feeling that we can and should say whatever we think - regardless of the consequences or the feelings of people to whom they are directed.

What does this look like? When we make jokes about people it is a way of demeaning them. When we call people names or ascribe a label to people we make them less than who they are. When we prescribe behaviors to others that we do not know they have, for the sake of bringing judgement upon them by others, is a form of dark mob mentality. Shaming people or groups of people is also a form of meanness.

Social media is a form of communication that has helped the Christian Church with evangelism and telling our story. It is blossoming and growing.

Christian social media also has a dark side. The dark side of media is that it allows us to anonymously and not-so-anonymously say and do things which are mean with very little social accountability. It can give voice to a minority which is a good thing. At the same time it can also give an appearance of a higher authority to voices which may be untruthful or mean spirited. It can create what are called "dark mobs." This is when people ban together in groups and shame and harass others online for their opinions and beliefs.

This is a kind of "troll" like behavior at its worst. Liberals and conservative Christians pop onto someone else's page or into someone else's twitter stream and accuse them of all manner of things. In real life, even among other interfaith friendships, we typically monitor our behavior and words. Online we are a culture that has become free to say what we are thinking and it is mean and uncivilized.

When Christians do this it is Christtrolling. It sounds righteous. It sounds biblical. It may even sound justified. Instead, Christtrolling is hurtful to the Gospel.

When we participate by doing these things we are being unrighteous and we are destroying the character of God's creatures. When we listen or "like" these behaviors, when we allow them to hang on our blogs and on our Facebook pages, and say nothing we allow our silent approval to give these statements power. Feeding the Christtrolls isn't any better. Sometimes they simply have to be deleted from the feed and sometimes in extreme cases they have to be unfriended or blocked.

We have to treat our cyber worlds and cyber church communities the same way we treat our real life communities. We must maintain a standard of behavior that is Christ like. If you are a Christian you are called to live a Christ like life all week long in the "real world" not just on Sunday; and in cyberspace.

Some people call this bullying behavior (cyber bullying) when it is on line. We are all against this of course - as we should be. Most people who engage in Christian Meanness would not believe they are being bullies at all - because they think they have the right to say what they want to whom ever they want. Let me be clear, Christian Meanness is an equal opportunity abuser and is a sin - even when it happens online.

Christianity is always at its worst when it is pointing its finger at others instead of individually walking by the faith we have received. I am not here talking about civil discourse or the importance of taking our place at the table to discuss deep issues upon which we are deeply committed. Christtrolling, cyber bullying, and Christian Meanness masquerades as righteousness and it is not. It is not conversation or Christian listening.

I can promise you that over the last ten days in the wake of events in our nation around the Supreme Court ruling and the events at the Episcopal General Convention I have been on the receiving end of Christian Meanness from every side.

Christian Meanness destroys our evangelism efforts. It hurts people. It ascribes to God meanness which is out of sync with our witness to a God of love.

So, what is a Christian to do?

A friend reminded me of a wonderful book by Richard J. Mouw entitled: Uncommon Decency, Christian Civility in a Uncivil World. (You can purchase the book here.)  In this book Mouw reminds us that true righteousness comes from modeling outwardly what we experience inwardly of the life of God.

I actually heard a priest tell me once that he did not believe that "kindness" was a Christian virtue. I disagree. I believe, like Mouw, that Christian kindness and courtesy is a revelation of our inner commitment to God to treat one another as neighbor.

Mouw reminds us that this is not some kind of relativism. Instead it is holding our faith, belief, and clear convictions as our own and at the same time being inquisitive and admiring of those of another. Christian Meanness is easy. Christian kindness is hard because it requires us spiritually to admire the other person (gay, lesbian, transgender, heterosexual, conservative, liberal, republican, democrat, muslim, jew, man, woman) as a creation of God. (p22)

When we do this we are actually imitating the divine character of God. God is gentle slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86.15) Christians are called to imitate God and God's embrace of humanity and creation. We are to reveal in our actions the actions of God in Christ Jesus.

Church, above all else, is the primary center for practicing this behavior. How can we ever expect to share the love of God with others if we cannot model and reveal it online, and in person, through our words to others within and without our own church. (p35)

Author Richard Beck in an interesting book entitled: Unclean - Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality offers some insights into this behavior. (You can buy the book here.) Beck believes that we are very protective of our tribes, families, belief system, and communities. We are very protective of our church - whatever/whoever we believe our church is.  And, that deep inside our ancient DNA psyche we still believe and act out the reality of the ancient myth that those who are outside of our tribe/family/community/church are monsters. This is the very nature of what it means to incarnate for us the notion that they are "other" than our selves. They are some other race, some other color, some other belief system - literally from some other world. The mythic battle is the predisposition, Beck offers, to shun and rebuke the "other."  To truly welcome the stranger, to truly open up our hearts to another, to be neighbor to those we don't believe deserve our neighborliness is to overcome our predisposition to shun and hurt the other. 

I believe this is so deeply engrained in us that it empowers boldness where there is no accountability and gives implicit permission for us to destroy others. 

Christ came into the world to save sinners. He came into the world to bridge the gap between the other and God. Christ came to embrace and to hold accountable all those who would not embrace the other. 

We are to be at work healing history, living with difference, celebrating diversity and building together a peaceful commons in which all people can live. This is the work of reconciliation. 

Mouw suggests that we model Christian Civility instead of Christian meanness by exhibiting these behaviors: empathy, curiosity, teachability, learning from unbelief/where we disagree, and opening ourselves up to see where the lines are blurred. Here is where we discover not only the other person for who they are but we also discover where God may be speaking to us and seeking to help us find healing. (p58ff)

To do this Mouw says we must zealously stay together, seek peace despite our disagreements, go deep into spiritual prayer, cultivate a spirit of appreciation for others instead of being threatened by them, and make room for others within our family, friendship, and community circles. (p68ff)

It is actually possible to hold deeply held beliefs and be in conflict with our neighbor and at the same time not embody Christian Meanness or to partake in Christtrolling. The two statements by the House of Bishops are wonderful examples of a Christian community holding together despite great difference. You can read the statements here: Minority Statement and Mind of the House Statement.

There may be a lot of things that we are debating in a topsy turvy world. There may be things you are unsure about or wondering about. There may be things you are steadfastly FOR and AGAINST. No matter what any of these things are I am clear that Jesus entered the world in a lowly place. That Jesus was himself humble and embodied God's love.

Jesus was prophetic, yes. He was prophetic against all those who were mean and tried to shut people out of God's house. This is why they killed him. He opened up religion and opened up the heavens by giving away power, love, and himself.

This Jesus has taught me: that there is no room in the Gospel for Christian Meanness or Christtrolling and it is a rule of life we must reject. Christian Civility is a rule of life we must take on for the sake of the kingdom and the God we love.



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bishops' Statement Regarding A036 "Amend Canon 1.18 on Marriage"

Background
The House of Bishops of the 78th General Convention meeting in Salt Lake City, today approved resolution A036, that rewrote canon to ensure that those who wish to bless a same-sex marriage are free from discipline if they have permission of their bishop; allow for use of liturgies with bishop's permission and continued language of fidelity from the previous canon.  Bishop Andy Doyle wrote the following in response:   

Statement from Bishops

Bishop Doyle promised in the Unity and Mission paper published in 2012, that he would not approve the rites of same-sex blessing at the 77th General Convention. He voted no at that General Convention. Following the 2012 General Convention we in the Diocese of Texas together moved forward allowing space for congregations to do same-sex blessings.  We upheld and continue to uphold the 1979 Book of Common Prayer definition of marriage. We continue to use the blessing of same-sex relationships in the congregations who have been approved to do so. 

Bishop Doyle said, "Today when the vote regarding A036 came forward, I prayed and I changed my vote in my heart six times. I was conflicted because of my love for all the people I shepherd in the Diocese. I love you all and your division is a very real division in my own heart. In the end I made a decision that my faithful response to the whole Diocese of Texas was that I could not vote against our LGBT parishioners nor was I willing to vote against our traditionalist parishioners. I discerned then that my faithful response was to abstain. Abstentions count as a "no" vote. The vote on the canon today does not change the definition of marriage as included in the 1979 BCP or in the Constitution of the Episcopal Church."

While Bishop Fisher and Bishop Harrison voted "no" on A036, all three bishops hold the following convictions: 1) the discussion on the issue of same-sex relationships has not, in our opinion, engaged Holy Scripture as it should, 2) our Christian partners throughout the Anglican Communion and the world, and even in other denominations in our own country, have not been properly brought into our conversation, 3) the Supreme Court decision, while lauded by many, should not drive our theological conversations and decisions, 4) we believe any process to revise the marriage canons properly belongs in the context of a constitutional process of prayer book revision and not in an isolated action. (Bishop Doyle's article on the constitution and prayer book can be found here.)

We are concerned about the order and processes of our common life. We believe that the way we respect the differences among us is by honoring the processes upon which we have agreed. 

All three bishops also support all people in our diocese including GLBT parishioners. We value the gifts and contributions of all the followers of Jesus. We are committed to ongoing conversation and pastoral sensitivity to persons representing the entire range of opinion on these matters.

The current policies governing marriage, remarriage, and same-gender blessings in the Diocese of Texas continue in effect.

No clergy person is required by the state or by canon to perform marriages or blessings. What is clear as of the Supreme Court Ruling is that the State will recognize the Episcopal Church rite for same-gender blessing, approved in 2012 and used in the Diocese of Texas, as a legally binding marriage if a marriage license is obtained. All requirements to officiate at a blessing and/or marriages as defined in our canons and in our policy manual remain in effect including counseling and approvals of the bishop where applicable.

Bishop Doyle will work to discern which liturgies will be available for use in the Diocese of Texas. We will both follow the law and we will also discern the appropriate course pastorally for our parishioners.

While some will be elated at this decision still others will be disheartened. Christians are not mean and do not demean one another. Our expectation is that the people of the Diocese of Texas will model compassion and love for one another. We are to care for one another as we take our steps through the days and months to come.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Arena of General Convention



This week many Episcopalians will make there way to our triennial gathering the General Convention. This is an important and awaited gathering of many leaders from around the church to undertake a portion of the governance we use to support our mission.

People are excited. I am excited. At our best we are a family reunion like no other. We are sharing our difference, we are setting aside deference, we are celebrating our diversity. At our best we are creating a church wide commons where ideas, excitement for the story, dispatches from the missionary front, and our love of God are shared. When we are doing this we are all in the arena. We are there with our tribe. We are dancing and singing together. We are working hard and playing together. We are learning from one another and we are sharing the road together. We hear ideas and we wonder about them together. We are belonging. We are creating. We are loving.

But we should always remember that the General Convention is an arena. If you love it you will enter it with ideas, creativity, and a desire to make something. Hopefully that is always to make our governance and structure work for our mission.

When you do this, when I do this, we are daring greatly. We are trusting one another enough to be vulnerable with our ideas and to share them with the body so that we might discern together what good might we be about on behalf of the God we believe in. When we do this we are the one in the arena. Brené Brown uses the speech often called The Man in the Arena to describe this moment - this space we inhabit when we risk.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
This is taken THE MAN IN THE ARENA is an excerpt from President Theodore Roosevelt's speech entitled "Citizenship In A Republic" delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910,
download PDF of complete speech.

Brown reminds us that when we enter the arena it is not about winning or losing it is about showing up and being seen. What we have to know and understand is that the arena - though we would like it to be otherwise - is dangerous. Showing up and being seen means you will as Brené Brown says, "Get your assed kicked." She goes on to say that if "courage is a value that you hold, this is a consequence, you can't avoid it." What you should know is that if the person who is taking you to task is not in the arena with you then you should not be interested in your feedback. Constructive, helpful, supportive, challenging about ideas, looking for common ground, building consensus are some of the many forms that people enter the arena with you to help co-create.

These people are the people in the support section. These are people who have empathy for you. They see and act as though their contributions are given in the spirit of mutual support for the common good. When the Episcopal Church is filled with people like this we are good. We are together and we are moving our mission forward.

There are others though who are not in the support section or not in the arena with us but are really against us. These are the ones not helping, supporting, or moving the creativity forward. These are people who make the arena unsafe.

We are so "hardwired for connection" that when we pretend we don't care we are actually cutting ourselves off. Even though their messages are ones of shame or even anger, we must recognize them as part of our family, part of the arena. We need to understand they are season ticket holders. they are sitting in particular seats.

The people inhabit three kinds of seats: cheap seats, box seats, and the critics section. The Cheap Seats are filled with the anonymous critics who pass judgment on us. They may be named, have a twitter handle, or Facebook Page, you may even know who they are because they are recognized cheap seat ticket holders. The reality is that they are not connected to you or your idea. They want to see you fail and even though they are sitting in your arena they may be naysayers and be working for an opposing team.

The box seats are filled with people who built or maintain the arena and give us the messages about the expectations we must meet. They are the ones who pass out power and take away power based on loyalty. They are the ones who are deeply invested in the arena staying exactly where it is. They will criticize all ideas, have none to add to the arena, and won't tolerate any thing challenging to shifting or changing who sits where.

The last of these is special seats are held by the critics. The critics are the people who give us the messages of shame, comparison and scarcity. These are the ones who demean people because of their difference, they offer shame messages in order to quite you, they compare you to others who "get it right", and they believe there is no possible way for your creativity to work or have any merit.

Thanks to social media these seats won't only be inhabited by people at Convention but there will be a ton of people all over shouting from the seats at those who this week walk into the arena. I am always aware that the General Convention is a wonderful thing and that it has its shadow side which can be ugly and mean.

What we do a lot of the time is we armor up. We move away from the creative idea, the opportunity for change, and either exit the arena and go quietly into the night - we move away. Or we move against and channel all our energy into defeating the people in those seats! This also saps energy from the work at hand. Or we try to placate the critics, cheap, and box seats.

Brené Brown reminds us that when we walk into the arena we are also in the same spot where we discover love, belonging, joy, empathy, creativity, and innovation

So we what do we do? We allow them to sit in their seats. But we chose to walk into the arena for the sake of these things.

Clarity of values - remember what you believe in. For instance, remember not the church and its structures but remember and hold close to you the image of the family of God that Jesus offers and into which Jesus invites us. Have your someone who will tell you the truth, who will dust you off, clean you up, and help you go back into the arena. Finally, remember that the biggest critic in the arena is you - its me. "We are so self critical. We have an ideal about ourselves. We orphan all the parts that don't fit for us. And, all that is left is the critic." Brené Brown says. But put in that seat you - the person who is your journey, your life, your story, and is excited and supporting you.

I leave tomorrow morning for General Convention. If I am honest I have sat in all of those seats in the past. This year as I step into the arena I want to enter it in a different way. I want to share what I have, listen to others. I want to help heal the past. I want to experience our difference and diversity. I want to create a peaceful commons. I want to be about the work of reconciliation and I want to help us be a better church that is a good steward of its resources and finally is focused on its mission. I am looking for others who want to do these things. I am hopeful we will be at our best.

When we are not and we get into the critics, the box, and cheap seats I hope we will hold each other accountable. When we use shame and other demeaning tactics to quiet people or to deal with our own fear and anxiety I hope we will hold one another accountable.

So I am at first prayerful. Prayerful for safe travel. Prayerful for our gathered family. Prayerful for all those who are going to serve, feed, and clean up after us for 10+ days. Prayerful and grateful for the privilege of serving at this church and being able to afford the time and resources to attend this meeting. And, finally prayerful that we will be at our best.

I am hopeful. I believe we have an opportunity to become the church that God beckons us to become. I believe we have at Salt Lake City the moment to take our next step into the future of a church whose mission is amplified for the future.

Here is a quote from Aeschylus' play "Prometheus Bound." After they have bound Prometheus to the rock...Cratus:[to Prometheus] "Go play rebel now, go plunder the god's treasure and give it to your creatures of a day. What portion of your pain can mortals spare you? The gods who named you the Forethinker were mistaken. You'll need forethought beyond your reckoning to wriggle your way out of this device." 


[You can watch the Brené Brown video from the 99 conference where she talks about this here.]








Sunday, June 21, 2015

Come With Me To The Other Side


This is a sermon preached at Good Shepherd, Kingwood, Tx, following the Mother Emmanuel AME church shootings by Dylan Roof (aaaaaahttp://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/us/dylann-storm-roof-photos-website-charleston-church-shooting.html?_r=0).

It is based upon Mark 4 beginning at the 35 verse.

And, in some way tries to make sense about why we have a difficult time seeing this as an act of racism (despite Dylan's own clarity that it was an attempt to begin a "race war"). Why we want to make this about Christians. And, what we Christians might be able to do to open our eyes to the work that is before us.

 


Check out this episode!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

3 Reasons Why We Must Take Up A Discussion on the Unicameral House at General Convention

The President of the House of Deputies Speaks Out Against Unicameral Body of the House

In a recent post to the House of Deputies, the president, The Rev. Gay Jennings sighted some very good reasons why she thinks we should not consider the proposal for a unicameral house. You can read her letter to the House of Deputies here.

She offered the first reason was to be a kind of balance or check on those who have, "the authority to hire, fire, discipline and shape the careers and ministries of members" of the laity, priests and deacons. This offers that the House of Deputies is an important balance. I agree. I think this is not automatically lost in a unicameral situation and room can be made that this balance is maintained, for instance through number of laity and clergy vs bishops, voting power, etc. So this is more of a hurdle and not a road block.

She then offers that because we meet from time to time that bishops (and I am one) control more of the governance. I don't think this takes into account the vast majority of meetings held each triennial of the CCAB's (committee, commissions, and boards) where joint governance is structured and undertaken through mammoth cost of time, gifts, and money. Furthermore, it does not recognize or honor the amount of work the Executive Council does on our behalf to govern the Church. Together the CCAB's and the Executive Council do the vast majority of governance while the House of Bishops spends about 3 hours each year on governance. So this doesn't actually work as a reason to not have a unicameral form of governance.

I agree that balances within the system are important and that all people, deputies and bishops, laity and clergy alike have a hard time looking as Jennings says, "beyond their own self-interest. It isn’t sensible to bestow tremendous advantages on one group within the system and expect that members of that group will never be tempted to use them. Checks, meet balances. Balances, meet checks." Of course what you see here is actually the huge amounts of power, time, and money that is being used for governance under the leadership of he laity, priests, and deacons - the deputies. It is funny though that the argument that Jennings uses is the same argument that the House of Bishops uses when they are fearful of the unicameral system.

Like Jennings I too, "want to be sure that our polity continues to allow bishops, clergy and laypeople to work together to create proposals, programs and advocacy agendas for the Episcopal Church. Right now, the House of Deputies, Executive Council and the commissions, committees, agencies and boards of the church are among the means through which that happens." And, I would not want "the ability to create a legislative agenda and lobby for it is in the hands of only one order of ministry." As you can see though that is a straw man for why we shouldn't have a unicameral. None of that is automatically taken out of the system if the unicameral is designed well and designed by the people of General Convention.

3 Reasons Why We Should Consider A Unicameral
Let me begin by saying that I think governance is important and we are going to spend time and energy on it. I like our system of two houses and believe those houses should meet in a unicameral gathering. Why? I offer you three reasons.

Cost
Governance costs money. No matter what you have to have it. But it should not be overwhelming or keep us from doing our work. At our General Convention I promise you we will do some things: we will cut budgets to our poorest mission dioceses that we support. We will cut ministries for youth. We will cut work with emerging ministries and new church starts. We will not pay the pensions for clergy and laity working in the poorest diocese so that they can have a living retirement like their peers in the U.S.

Transparency: I recognize if the 45% of us who don't give our full asking did we would also be in a different position and that is why in Texas I am working to fix that and together with my people are getting close to giving $800,000 of or our asking to the budget - while maintaining the other $1,000,000 in gifts we make to the Episcopal Church outside of the budget.

At the same time we will spend a vast amount of money at every level on General Convention. I went through and I added up the cost of General Convention. I added together the budget components that are visible, I added the tourist data on what an average person is expected to spend in Salt Lake City for hotels and food, I added in transportation cost, and I added in the salaries of those who help us run convention as it is formed in its two houses for eight days plus the four days of set up in advance and this is what I found out. I found out that by the first day of convention we will (in money spent by deputies and bishops and staff) write a whopping total of $1,125,000 roughly. And by the end of it we will have spent more than $11,125,000+ and I think that is really conservative. That takes out sunk cost for those salaries of full time church workers who could be doing something else. It also does not include the church and para-church organizations who will themselves spend large amounts of money to be present to argue for their budget or sell their goods.

Think of it this way. A small and poor diocese traveling from outside of the country could spend well over $20,000 for the event. A small to medium diocese will spend about $40,000. A large diocese might spend well over $100,000 given the numbers of people.

We are responsible for spending this money. Think of it another way. On the first day we could pay two full budgets of two mission diocese. By the second day, we could have restored all the funding we have cut from our mission diocese. We have a responsibility, a fiduciary responsibility, to ensure that we use governance to help mission and not hinder it. 

False Representation

We are a diverse and a church filled with great difference. This is something I am proud of and I want to celebrate and we in Texas are trying to reflect more and more this reality as it is experienced across our Episcopal Church and given our mission context. We are a place with many theological views, ethnicity, and many income levels. I am proud that our House of Deputies is diverse and I don't want that to change. I am proud of the diverse representation throughout our governance. I want to work with people of difference and listen and learn. I want to share and hear from others with different experiences and backgrounds. 

One argument is that a unicameral house would cause this experience of diversity in our governance to go away. We studied this and found that the diversity would not actually go down if we reduced the number of deputies. That seems important. 

But what is more important is to recognize that General Convention is a privilege. It is a privilege to those who can take off eight days of work, or who have eight days of vacation, or who have jobs that allow them to leave for eight days in a row. Most Americans get only 10 days all together on average. Then there is the expense. General Convention is a privilege because you have to be able not only to take off (and either lose wages or perhaps you are salaried) you have to spend - even on the cheap - $200 a day. That is a total of $1600 - not including your registration and travel. 

The number of people who actually get to speak at the microphone is a very small percentage of the whole who are gathered. Furthermore, on the most important issues there is actually a planned microphone strategy to decrease representative voices by those who know how things work. I know this is true in the House of Deputies from my experience. 

I say all of this because a smaller house, with diverse voices, speaking across all the orders, working together in a shorter time period with the best supporting governance could actually be more representative than it is today. 

Just because you have the numbers does not mean all the voices are heard or present in the room with you. A unicameral gathering of the two houses might actually do better at forcing us to listen to one another in our difference. It might actually model shared leadership. It could even help us to hear those voices that are difficult to hear because of size and the fact we are separated into two rooms.

A Hierarchy
Most of the comments about the unicameral proposal have to do with the fact that there is fear that somehow the House of Deputies will lose its voice or lose power. What is interesting is that no one has pondered or thought about the fact that by having two houses we actually strengthen a false hierarchy that is not meant by our constitution, canons or imagined in our ordinal.

By having two houses with bishops (who are a member of the clergy) in one and the rest of the laity and non-bishop clergy in another it actually makes it appear that there is a hierarchy to the church which has never been imagined. 

Some of the very things that those of us who believe in the shared ministry of the church, the mutual ministry among laity and every clergy order, the idea of shared governance is actually undermined by the fact that the House of Bishops is separated out. 

I want to protect the voices of those who are different than me. I want them to sound out and speak truthfully of their experience. I want them to tell me about the issues facing parishioners and I want to hear those voices for myself. I want to sit at a table with people not from my diocese and share the ministry of the church. I believe we can actually work together without the false hierarchy of a past age. 

A unicameral body with two houses meeting together can be, and should be, organized to support this work, decrease cost, protect and amplify voices of difference, and govern our church. 

I Don't Think It Means What You Think It Means: Unicameral

People keep using the word unicameral and I am not sure that people are generally aware that it has a variety of meanings.

People keep saying that the unicameral house will undo the two house system we have at General Convention. That could be true but it doesn't have to be true.

In this understanding they are using the term to mean one house. But that is not the technical definition of unicameral.

Unicameral means meeting in one chamber. So the integrity of the different houses in our system that typically meet bicameral form (in two chambers) could be maintained. They could in fact have provisions to meet separately when desired.

The way this works now is that we typically meet bicameral form and have provisions for meeting unicamerally. So it is that this General Convention we will actually have several unicameral meetings of the two houses. For instance on budget and on hearing the nominee presentations for Presiding Bishop. This is hardly going to be the end of the world.

If we chose to move forward with a unicameral meeting we could vastly improve our governance while at the same time providing for separate meetings from time to time in bicameral form. And, we could maintain the two house system and their integrity - which I have always supported.

So as you use the term make sure we are using it correctly.

150th Anniversary of Juneteenth: Notes and Prayer from the Prayer Breakfast



You can learn more about the celebration at this link for Juneteenth.

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas believes that God has a mission and that mission is the reconciliation of the world. We believe God’s mission has a church – and that is us. At our very best we are God’s people, doing God’s work of reconciliation. That work, this work, our work of reconciliation is to:
o Heal history
o To live with difference instead of expecting deference, and to celebrate diversity
o It is to create with god, to co-create, a peaceful commons for all of God’s family
We Episcopalians are proud to be part of the Island community, San Augustines, Grace and Trinity continue a great ministry work of reconciliation. St Vincents House is a legacy ministry where we undertake to make – with you our beloved community – a better Galveston

So it is on this day that we are proud to be considered your neighbor, to be invited here, to celebrate 150 years since that prophetic Juneteenth day.

And, on this day in the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore, McKinney and Cleveland Texas, and now Charleston and the Emmanuel Martyrs we have a lot to pray for our country, our state, and our city.
We have come a long way in 150 years but we have a long way to go

We must pray to change America but we must also pray to be changed for sake of America yes, but that we may better reflect God’s family – God’ peaceful and peacefilled family, God’s loving and forgiving family, God’s reconciling family…On this day I am mindful of our President’s remarks at the anniversary of Selma and the long way we have yet to go as brothers and sisters….so let us bow our heads so that I may offer a prayer for us on this day. Let us pray:

Heavenly father, creator of all that we are and all that we have, elevate the character of this nation. In this time of disruption disrupt us for what is true and is right. Disrupt us that we may move and act for the cause of freedom. We honor the courage of the long line of heroes that brought Juneteenth to a reality 150 years ago. We honor the courage of the men and women who make up the long line of heroes who have labored to bring emancipation into reality lo these 150 years. Let their lives, their story, disrupt us and give us courage. Let their non violence in the face of violence, their love in the face of hate, their hope in the face of despair disrupt our ways and remind us on this day that violence, hate, and despair tho they infect our nation shall not have the last word. The emancipation proclamation is call to action to continue the journey to freedom for all black Americans and all of God’s people. Every American – women, Latinos, Asian Americans - has been affected by this word of hope. This is our time, we write our story, and we will leave our legacy. So disrupt us that we may see our purpose to build a better nation, a better state, a better Galveston. Disrupt us that we may discard cynicism. Disrupt us that we may face boldly the sin or racism that is yet before us and that we will have a moral imagination, a sense of urgency to improve our criminal justice system, to roll back poverty, make opportunities for all people to make a living wage, to protect democracy with the right to vote restored fully for all people, to care for the migrant and immigrant, to ensure access to health care, to support the responsibility of each person to make their voice heard - to make a just society. So on this 150th anniversary of the reading of the emancipation proclamation let our voice sound out as it did on that day, let our actions be clear, and let our legacy be true that a second 150 years need not pass before racism, classism and violence are shed and liberty and freedom for all people are once again our nation’s heart’s song. Amen.





Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Let There Be No Church Misunderstanding


Sermon preached at All Saints in Austin and St James La Grange.


Check out this episode!

Living the Divine Trinity is Living Ministry


Sermon preached at St. Thomas Houston, Trinity Sunday, 2015


Check out this episode!

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