Friday, February 26, 2010

Random Thoughts on the Whole Shebang: Finances, Stewardship and Structure

There's a current discussion going on over at the HoBD (House of Bishops/Deputies) list. It's ostensibly about finances, stewardship, structure, evangelism and growth. I have some random thoughts about the whole shebang.

     Any realization of a streamlined structure with fewer layers of hierarchy and fewer representatives (in all orders) at any council's table will require fundamental shifts in stewardship attitudes. The fact is that many people in the church give financial gifts for the work of the church with mental strings attached, which may often be unconscious. In the back of their heads they think they have a corresponding right to voice and vote about how those financial gifts are used. Gift giving of this variety is better known as dues paying in a membership-club setting. I see an inverse relationship between loss of control over common elements of our lives, such as choice over jobs and housing due to macroeconomic factors, and the amount of control we desire to exercise over optional parts of our lives, such as how we choose to do church.
     Trusting the leadership to do what they've been elected or hired to do is okay with most people until the leadership does something with which they disagree. Then the big guns of disparagement of the intentions and thinking ability of those leaders and sniping criticism in the blogosphere come out blazing -- loud, fast and furious. Further blame and ridicule are heaped onto the leaders when they exercise judicious silence rather than reacting with anxiety over such public attacks. The political culture in this country has taught us to expect in other arenas the public relations managed responses that come from our politicos when they are attacked to be the appropriate response. 
     Process takes time, but time has become foreshortened in today's cyber culture where people expect instantaneous responses to complex, multifaceted, multilayered, multipart issues. Part of the complexity is the sheer numbers of constituents involved in any single issue, while the actual number of stakeholders may be somewhat smaller. I use "stakeholder" to refer to those who have a direct stake in the outcomes and  "constituent" to mean anyone who has an interest in the outcomes, such as an overarching justice interest although not necessarily a direct, personally life-changing interest, or an observer's interest, such as that derived from being a regular reader of the posts. 
     When a large number of comments are floated in cyberspace on any subject, their sheer volume overwhelms our perception of how little time has actually elapsed from the raising of the issue to subsequent action on it. There seems to be a direct correlation between the rapidity of the cyberspace posts and impatience for responses from those leaders to whom the work on the issue(s) has been assigned by virtue of their positions. I liken this to the single most prevalent reason for failures in cooking: impatience causes the cook to lift the lid, open the oven door or turn off the heat too soon. Similarly, when one is lost looking for an address, chances are good that you haven't gone far enough, and staying the course for a while longer will get you to your destination.
     We have difficulty distinguishing between people and positions, and consequently, we have difficulty respecting the authority of positions when we are judgmental about the people who occupy those positions. In recent years civics education has been eroded and we have been bombarded by 15, 30, 45 and 60-second ads that encourage us to make snap judgments about everything from underarm deodorant to who should be elected to our highest offices. We no longer practice, much less have the training, to analyze and think logically, and our culture, the one in which we are immersed and live, promotes images as a handy substitute for the more prosaic and mundane tasks of engaging what we encounter and how we live. I have often asked in the last several years, where can people go to participate in forums to have conversations about difficult topics in a disciplined, reflective, loving manner? If we, the church, don't step up to provide these forums, because we fear controversy, then who will?
This list of random thoughts is just that: random. I hope to gather more random thoughts on these topics to post here in the days to come. Thank you for reading. I hope you'll join the conversation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Evangelism - Proclamation and Invitation

Evangelism – ultimately it’s the work of the local congregation and individuals in those congregations to do the work of inviting, welcoming and incorporating newcomers, whether the unchurched or those from other churches, into our church.

Equipping congregations and individuals to do the work of evangelism is both the work of the local church and the work of the hierarchical church, but it is not the same work at all levels. Talking about the work of evangelism without distinguishing between the work of the local church and individuals and the work of the hierarchical church leads to circuitous thinking and blaming, which is not only counterproductive but keeps us stuck at square one waiting for “direction” from somewhere beyond ourselves and our immediate communities of faith.

Development of curriculum and programs for evangelism training can ideally occur at hierarchical levels higher than the local congregation because of opportunities for shared and sharing resources. However, claiming ownership of curriculum and programs for evangelism training of individual congregants is the purview of congregations and dioceses. Tailoring curriculum and programs to work at the congregational level must be the work of the local congregation.

No one else can tell you what you need or what will work in your locale. They can only suggest in the broadest terms, and even then, you must figure out how your particular context fits into those broad terms. The best demographic information for your locale will not motivate congregants to evangelize the people in their communities if they don’t claim their personal responsibility to proclaim the Good News. Demographics, curriculum and programs are only tools, which require the hearts, minds and voices of individuals to use them fruitfully.

Foundational Christian formation education and training must be emphasized and delivered at the same time as curriculum and programs for evangelism, else individuals do not gain the understanding of their personal responsibility as baptized Christians to evangelize, to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, and do not step forward to claim that responsibility.

Doing excellent biblical exegesis, liturgy and worship music does not in and of itself equate to forming converted Christians who claim their personal responsibility to proclaim the Good News and to be good stewards of all God’s gifts. Good curriculum and good advertising including good identity messages do not cause metanoia, the personal transformation experience that causes an individual to turn from living in the world at large to living in the world of the Kingdom.

Personal transformation comes from personal experience of God at work in individuals in the world. Taking the steps to connect to a community of faith arises out of seeing the presence of God and imagining the presence of one’s self in that community of faith and being able to affirm that it would be good, a good fit.

Invitation is paramount and key. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden.” He said, “Follow me.” Jesus invited in clear, unambiguous language. “Come.” Evangelism is the pairing of proclaiming the Good News and invitation to become a part of the local community that lives into the Good News. Proclamation and invitation. Welcoming and incorporation are the mechanics that follow and flow from proclamation and invitation.

I became an Episcopalian, because an associate rector said to me, “We’re starting a Catechumenate class, and we want you to come try it out.” I became an EfM graduate and then mentor, because that same associate rector said to me, “We’re having a sample EfM class on Thursday night, and we want you to come check it out.” My Jewish husband became a Christian, because I invited him to a talk on the historicity of Christ, and he left that talk with questions that fueled ongoing conversations about my faith and his curiosity. Again, that same associate rector invited my husband to the Catechumenate, and the invitation, because it was personal, direct and concrete, was met with a “Yes, I’ll try it out.” We joined, because we were invited to join.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Life as an Executive Council Newbie

I'm an Executive Council "EC" newbie, now attending my second EC meeting in the first year of my six-year term. We're meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, which is in Province VI, my home province, since I'm from the Diocese of Colorado. I was elected from my province and appreciate the opportunities I've had to visit and conduct Anti-Racism Trainings in five out of our six dioceses.

I've visited Nebraska twice recently: in November in North Platte as a member of the Anti-Racism Training team prior to Nebraska's diocesan annual council and in December in Omaha as a member of the provincial Anti-Racism Network planning group. Let me just say I am now experienced in Nebraska winter! The hospitality of Nebraskans is friendly, and I've sampled several restaurants with good hamburgers, ribs and ambiance. I'd like to come back in the spring or summer one of these days.

As an EC newbie, the learning curve is steep, and there are many people to help me, from my fellow EC members from the senior class, their term expiring in 2012, to the experienced Church Center staff, particularly those from the General Convention Office. Twenty other newbies started this triennium with me, and we have already seen turnover with one new replacement, Dr. Anita George from Mississippi, to fill a vacated seat from Province IV and the election on Monday of an at-large replacement to fill the soon to be vacated seat of newly elected bishop for Connecticut, Ian Douglas.

We met in plenary session the morning of day 1, when Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Chief Operating Officer, Linda Watt, gave opening remarks, reported here by Episcopal Life Online. The afternoon of day 1 and all of day 2 were spent in our EC Standing Committees.

At EC's meeting in October, 2009, we organized ourselves into five EC Standing Committees where there had previously been four. The October meeting was an orientation meeting to get everyone on board for the triennium and situated into the work that is mostly done at the EC Standing Committee level. This current meeting is the first actual experience for 22 newbies of the intensity, speed and stressfulness of delving into EC business. In some ways, one could say that an EC meeting is much like a mini-General Convention "GC," and we do it three times a year between GCs.

During our committee time, we spent up to an hour or two in joint sessions where the subject under discussion crossed the committee lines. The five EC Standing Committees are Local Ministry and Mission "LMM," Advocacy and Networking for Mission "A&N," World Mission "WM," Finances for Mission "FFM," and Governance and Administration for Mission "GAM." We also had the benefit of briefings by staff members on the current status of subjects being addressed by resolutions before our committees.

I'm a member of A&N, which met jointly for about an hour today with LMM. We spent time talking through which of the over twenty Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards (CCABs) of General Convention should be linked to our respective EC Standing Committees. For each CCAB, an EC member is assigned as liaison to bring resolutions and reports back to EC and serve as a point of contact. I'm assigned as liaison to the Standing Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility, which is linked to the EC Standing Committee on which I serve, namely A&N. The liaison and links aren't all aligned like mine happens to be. That's because liaison assignments are based on both individual experience and expertise and personal interest in the particular CCAB's work focus. I'm a former banker and trust officer; so the assignment to a committee dealing with socially responsible investments works for me and for the committee.

Examples of linkage questions include: Should the Standing Committee on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns be linked to WM or to A&N, or cross-linked to both? Peace with justice concerns certainly is about advocacy; yet, we're talking about advocacy at the Anglican and international levels. What about the EC Anti-Racism Committee? Assign it to LMM or A&N? On the basis of subsidiarity, Anti-Racism work ultimately must begin and end with individuals at the congregational and diocesan levels. Yet, it's an advocacy issue and a networking opportunity to address Anti-Racism at the churchwide and provincial levels. These discussions occupied our time, but not merely as an intellectual exercise, because we needed to know to which EC Standing Committee specific resolutions and reports received from CCABs should be directed for review and action.

The deadline for Consent Calendar resolutions (those resolutions which are deemed by the sponsoring EC Standing Committee not to require discussion) was today at 5:45pm. That meant we were finalizing resolution wording, researching, appending and writing supporting explanations, background and policy statements while also discussing other reports and resolutions that will all be heard during committee reports on day 4 of this meeting.

Tomorrow morning, we'll be going to two churches in Omaha for Sunday worship. In the afternoon, we'll be hearing remarks from the Vice Chair of EC, President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson, as well as status reports on subjects such as Parochial Reports, Anti-Racism Training and Companion Church Relationships with the Anglican Church in Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Monday will be primarily devoted to EC Standing Committees reporting out resolutions.

When you say your prayers, say one for us EC members, the Church Center staff, and the work we're doing. We'd appreciate it. Goodnight!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Suicide by theology

Sophic arguments
are barricades
against philosophizing
about sociology,
justice, human nature
and the whole damned mess
Get over it
Theosophy placates no one
The more I think
the less I say
The more I say
the less I know
Morphology by definition
is excessive
Why do so many
aspire to commit
suicide by theology

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Celebrating the Chinese New Year

Gung hee fat choy! 

Happy new year! May you enjoy good health, good times with family and friends, and good fortune in all that you undertake in the new year. May your happiness be accorded to you in double measures!

Above is the Chinese character for "double happiness," which is often found on little red envelopes called "hong bao," which literally is translated "red envelope." In these hong bao, we enclose a brand new, uncirculated dollar bill, which we give to the younger generation's members to wish them good luck in the new year.

My mother and aunties still carry on this tradition, and I received my first batch of hong bao in yesterday's mail here in Washington from Mom in Colorado. When Mom passes on, it will fall to me to carry on this tradition, a way to link ourselves with our Chinese culture, for my cousins who are younger than me, which is everyone except for one cousin, and their children. Over half of my cousins and I have intermarried outside the Chinese culture, and our bi-racial children will lose their connection to being Chinese in another generation unless we consciously make the connections for them.

Mine is the last generation that is still bilingual, and we have already lost our literacy, with none of us reading or writing the Chinese language any longer. Many of my cousins understand Cantonese, when it is spoken to them, but few of them are still fully fluent when required to speak Cantonese to persons outside the family and to call upon vocabulary that is much beyond what one speaks in a household or when ordering food in a Chinese restaurant. To my cousin Tony's credit, he, a gastroenterologist practicing in Manhattan's Chinatown, took classes in Mandarin so that he could serve his Chinese patients no matter the Chinese language that they speak, be it Cantonese or Mandarin. His heritage is not only Chinese from China, but also Chinese from Malaysia on his father's side.

The Chinese horoscope, consisting of twelve animals represents a twelve year cycle, unlike the Western horoscope's twelve symbols, some animal and some human (like the twins in Gemini), which represent a twelve month annual cycle. In similar fashion, followers of the Chinese horoscope use the system to attribute characteristics to persons born in an animal's year that vaguely correspond to that animal's temperament and prognosticate about the fortunes that lay before a person. Many Americans have been introduced to the Chinese horoscope by the paper placemats depicting all twelve animals found in many Chinese restaurants.

The U.S. Postal Service commemorated the Chinese horoscope over a twelve year period with the annual issuance of a stamp reflecting that year's animal. This year, the Canadians have issued a stamp for the Year of the Tiger.

Canadian stamp to the left.

American stamp below.
To me, the Chinese art of intricate papercutting shows off the Year of the Tiger best:


The preponderance of red in Chinese New Year celebratory items is no accident, for the color signifies desirable characteristics such as loyalty, honor and courage, in addition to conjuring good fortune, luck and lifelong happiness. It is the color of new beginnings, as in the new year and in weddings where the Chinese bride wears a gown of deep lacquer red.

Here's wishing all of you Tigers out there quiet inner strength, determination and ambition to fight the good fight throughout your year. Gung hee fat choy!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fare Thee Well, Captain Mel

In memory of my brother-in-law, Captain Mel Berman.

Your ship sails
high and forthright
into the lapis sky
Your hands enfold a bright star
to pin against the night
You chart the course
before us
amidst the Milky Way

Your baritone intones
a mantra boldly
into the voiceless void
make peace, conserve, enfold
the fabric of existence
'tis love, 'tis love, 'tis love

Your gentle mate
a quilter
of love, of loveliness, of life
pieces starlight, angel song
and clouds
a weaver
she spins gossamer
flowing from her fingertips
into your skyward sea
connecting we and thee

Your ship in restless journey
moons, celestial bodies
far and farther
stars and galaxies
You lead the way
you beckon
with abandon
and with joy

We will follow
we will find you
in a decade, in a day
we will surely find you
high on the skyward sea
Ahoy and amen
so will it surely be

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

From Boulder County to Haiti

It's Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawny Phil saw his shadow, foretelling another six weeks of winter. It has been an unusual winter here in Boulder County, where the sun has remained hidden behind high winter clouds for days that have steadily progressed into weeks. We Coloradoans are spoiled by more than 300 days of sunshine, more days of sunshine than I experienced annually after 15 years of residence in Honolulu. There is something spectacular about the brightness of the sunshine against a clear blue sky on a day with temperatures in the 30's that warms both body and soul.
When Herb was here for two weeks over Christmas and New Year's, I asked him if it was unusually dark at night. Or, I secretly feared, was my night vision failing even further? He pointed out that the cloud cover was still there at night, and the reflected city lights that usually light up the night sky were hidden from view. Thus, the drives back from Denver and points further south have been fraught with worry for me, because the lane markings on the highways have also dimmed from the wear and tear of snow and ice scraped by the omnipresent snow plows.
We live in rural unincorporated Boulder County and have just learned that our roads are maintained but not repaired or replaced by the County. It's the responsibility of the approximately 100 subdivisions that own more than 150 miles of roads to repair and replace those roads. Yet, many of those roads are collector roads that feed into larger thoroughfares, and some of those roads also front public schools. I attended a public meeting sponsored by the County Director of Transportation to inform citizens of the status of a year-long Work Group's study of the road situation. (A tip of the hat to the president of our Homeowners Association who has faithfully participated in that Work Group on our behalf.)
Parsing such ideas as how much or how little the road in front of one's own house is used, how many vehicles are driven within a single household, and what constitutes a parcel (big house, little house, townhouse) is just silly. I do have some concerns about any taxation method that is regressive. However, I think the Work Group's recommendations of options that include Public Improvement Districts that fund repair and replacement in the first five years and ongoing maintenance thereafter, seem appropriate and worthy of support. I think that it would be shortsighted to address only the initial repair and replacement of roads without allowing for ongoing maintenance. We should be looking for and supporting a long-term solution so that future citizens won't have to go through the same drill.
It is an unfortunate fact of life in our democracy that there still exist those citizens who fail to appreciate that there is such a thing as community and the greater good and that all citizens must support infrastructure for the continuing good order of the community. But then, I come from both a refugee-immigrant background that causes me to say, "Thank you, Lord, for letting me live in America," as I write my check to pay my taxes, and experience from as far back as my high school years of supporting mil levies for public education. I won't be one of those senior citizens who grouses about taxes for public education because I don't have school-age kids. (That's not the same as saying I won't also be critical of throwing money at problems instead of developing solutions that have a chance of improving the problems.)
Ultimately, our civilized human existence is about interconnectedness. What we do in Boulder County impacts what is happening to the citizens of Haiti, who are now struggling to survive, never mind rebuilding, a subject for later after the immediate humanitarian needs are grappled with. The Colorado Haiti Project is headquartered in Boulder County, and it has staff on the ground in Haiti that is lending assistance to the aid efforts from their headquarters in Petit trou de Nippes, which fared better in the earthquake than did the epicenter near Port-au-Prince. At St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in Boulder, a project called We Can Live with Less is reminding us that small sacrifices we make in our daily consumption can be shared with the people of Haiti.
I am proud that my two grandsons, ages 10 and 8, are being raised with a social justice consciousness, nurtured by both their divorced parents, each in her or his own way. It matters that we raise our young people to care about the welfare of others, even those living across the globe whom we will never meet. The boys have donated their birthday money to animal welfare, shoulder length hair to cancer patients, and time to walking the dogs at the county shelter. My father, who worked 6-1/2 days a week in Chinese restaurant kitchens, somehow found time to help other Chinese immigrants with filing immigration and tax forms. Yet, Dad surely would have shrugged off the concept of volunteerism, because to Dad, it was all about helping his community.