Friday, April 29, 2011

E-Newsletter Overload

I receive many diverse e-newsletters everyday. Some come everyday. Others come once a week. And still others come only when their organizations have something to say.

For me, it's not merely the volume of which I've become acutely aware. It's also the tone and content.

There's one category that's easy to identify and segregate, and that's the fundraiser appeals letter. Recent ones have gotten quite clever in asking the reader to make a difference for a mere $3 donation via PayPal, a quick and easy method of making a donation. Others ask for a monthly contribution, usually $10 or less, soliciting you to become a regular supporter or sponsor of a cause such as protecting the rights of "X" or finding the cure for "Y." Almost all the appeals harp on the economic realities faced by organizations and donors alike and tug at the reader's social conscience to be an upright do-gooder.

Another category of e-newsletters are the ones that purport to deliver up-to-date information about an organization and its cause or causes. Often there is good information that you might not get elsewhere, and it is, in fact, up-to-date, maybe even breaking or cutting-edge news. Too often, however, the information is neither up-to-date, cutting-edge nor accurate, which is the worst type of misinformation of all.

I find it egregious when really good, important organizations and causes become fodder for professional development directors who hype information/misinformation for the purpose of raising funds. I don't like to be hoodwinked, and I don't have time to sift through the volumes of e-newsletters to discern which are providing useful information and which are not. I don't need to be tricked into making a donation. Repetitive information under the guise of new headlines or rewritten content is right up there with misinformation as being content for which I just don't have tolerance anymore.

I have a heart. I have a brain. I really care about important issues. I like to give to support causes I believe are important and organizations that I believe are making a difference. I wish organizations with important agendas would remember all of that and treat me like they know that about me, in other words, treat me with respect.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Guard Well Your Thoughts

For the last 24+ hours, there have been abundant postings on Facebook and elsewhere of sentiments like this one from The Onion, that edgy, satirical, pretend-news rag: Trump Unable To Produce Certificate Proving He's Not A Festering Pile Of Shit. Yep, that's all there is - just a photo of The Donald and this headline.

There's a part of me that wants to click on "Like" underneath these postings, because the sentiment resonates with me. Then there's another part of me that cautions: what I think can be as sinful as what I say and do. 

What I know to be true, for me, is that minding my tongue is a good thing - that I am not my sister's or my brother's judge, and that my job is to see to my own reconciliation with God and with my neighbors. And it's not just my tongue that I must mind, it's also my thoughts. We proclaim by thought, word and deed the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. Most of us have the deed part kind of in hand and are working on the word part. 

But the thought part is the truly hard part, and that's the part that I am keenly aware of and working, working, working on. I believe that when we work on the thought part, just as in prayer, we help to create the space that is the reign of God, that is the place of dignity and respect for all of Creation. Working on the thought part is where personal prayer practice, contemplation, meditation and seeking unity with nature come into the picture. 

When we are at our best, practicing being with the rest of Creation, we have the possibility of getting in touch with how our thoughts affect us, how they cause us to say hurtful things and to do harmful things. Guarding our thoughts, changing our thoughts, elevating our thoughts - these things have some real practical and tangible outcomes. They lift our emotions and our spirits. Our lifted emotions and spirits impact other people with whom we interact. Together we impact whole environments, beginning with those most immediate to us. 

Think about this. Direct your thoughts towards charitable thoughts of those who irritate you, those you deem stupid and those who seem beyond redemption. You will change yourself by changing your thoughts. And you will change your family and friends, because they will respond differently to a changed you. This is how the world changes. One thought at a time. One person at a time. One experience of Peace at a time.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rome Vacation, St. Peter's Basilica

The Risen Christ with his cross, in front of the dome of St. Peter's

What better day to post our photos from our visit to St. Peter's Basilica than today, Easter 2011! Viewing them again, I remember the sweet time Herb and I spent praying in the chapel there. We thanked God for Herb's own resurrection from an impending death due to kidney failure through the grace of a kidney donation and transplant on October 5th last year. We count our blessings everyday.

To view all 153 photos, go to my MobileMe Gallery at

Lelanda in St. Peter's Square

We visited on a bright sunny Thursday, March 24th. We were blessed by great weather our entire Roman holiday. On this Thursday, the Vatican was relatively sparsely visited, compared to the vast crowds and buses taking up half of St. Peter's Square when we rode by on a bus two days later on Saturday morning, thinking we'd visit the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. We quickly changed our minds and went to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon instead, and those photos will be in a subsequent posting. Our appetite is definitely whetted for visiting other sites in Italy and a return trip to Rome.

Lining up to get inside St. Peter's Basilica
The lines were very efficiently and courteously managed, guiding us through a metal detector and our belongings through an X-ray machine. We only waited about 20 minutes and were glad to have chosen to tour at our own pace instead of using a paid guide. That turned out to be good strategy for taking numerous photos and spending extra time in front of the paintings and in the prayer chapel. With the relatively light visitor load, it meant that I could almost always wait for a clear shot of the art without competing with other photographers.

Looking out onto St. Peter's Square from the basilica's entrance
The area directly in front of the basilica had been set up with hundreds of folding chairs, and we didn't know if an event had just happened or was scheduled to happen.

On Saturday, this area was packed with lined-up tour buses

This was not our entry, but the guards were picturesque
Herb in the portico, the entry hall, to the basilica
Our first view of the nave, facing the baldachin
St. Peter's baldachin is the huge bronze carved canopy of state at the center of the crossing and directly under the dome of the basilica. It marks the place under which St. Peter's tomb lies. Under the canopy is the high altar of the basilica.

Looking down into the Confessio near St. Peter's tomb
Interior view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica
An interior view to show the vastness of the basilica
One insight I had as I visited not only St. Peter's Basilica, but other archaeological sites in Rome, was how spot on the builders of Caesar's Casino and Resort in Las Vegas were. It always seemed to me that the over-sized Vegas Caesar's was somehow contrived, but now that I have seen the sites in Rome, I understand that the colossal size is accurately reminiscent of Rome.

St. Andrew, who was crucified on an X-shaped cross
Even the floor offered beauty to inspire
A confessional for the Sacrament of Penance
One of numerous altars in St. Peter's Basilica
These photographs were taken without flash and adjusted for exposure using the iPhoto software that comes with a Mac computer. It has been my experience that when natural light is present, even if it's dim light, adjusting the exposure on the computer provides a better photo than using a flash in the field. To see the rest, please go to my MobileMe Gallery at, where the photos can be viewed as a slide show.

One of a pair of doors on the way out
Turning around for a final look at St. Peter's Basilica as we leave

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rome Vacation, First Photos

Taking Pictures

When Herb and I were in Rome for five days (March 22 through 26), I took a huge number of photos, 1,587 to be exact. It was easy to do with my Sony Cyber-shot® Digital Camera DSC-T30 (7.2 mega pixels, Zeiss lens) with its light weight, slide down shutter, one-handed operation. I've owned this particular Sony Cyber-shot® since the end of 2005, when I replaced an earlier model that had been stolen. The image stabilization feature of this camera has been a boon for all the photos I've taken while walking or riding in a moving conveyance like a tram through the rain forest in Costa Rica or a double-decker hop-on, hop-off bus in London and Rome.
Sony Cyber-shot® DSC-T30
I have eschewed buying a newer model thus far, but the brand new Sony Cyber-shot® TX100V with 16.2 mega pixels at $379.99 may tip me over. The previous model sported a flat front sliding panel that was difficult to slide down one-handed, which is very important to me, since I often extend my arm above my head or out a window to capture the photo. With digital cameras, your only limiters are battery life (rule: recharge every night), memory stick capacity (rule: carry more than one on your person) and camera readiness after each shot. The newer Cyber-shot® features a burst mode with 10 fps (frames per second), which will enhance an already fast readiness speed for taking multiple shots of an action scene.

It's taken me this long to edit the first two days' photos, in between other activities and travels, so that they can be shared. I've eliminated the duplicates, out-of-focus shots, and photos that just couldn't be enhanced, straightened or cropped into something interesting enough to view again or share. For editing, I use the very simple iPhoto software that comes with a Mac computer, aiming for a collection of photos that show what we saw as we wandered the city of Rome on bus and on foot. For the casual viewer, the 492 photos from two days of being in Rome will be too many to view. But for anyone who wants to get a thorough sense of the city, it will be, I hope, interesting. The link to all 492 photos is at

First Trip to Italy

This was Herb and my first trip to Italy.

The Colosseum, Rome's iconic symbol
Close-up of the structures on the Palatine Hill
We had always been a little bit put-off by the stories of pick-pockets and Italian men pinching women's bottoms that may be apocryphal rather than accurate. We certainly did not encounter any problems with either pick-pockets or bottom-pinchers. Almost everyone we know who's been to Rome has come back with stories of stolen wallets. Of course, it should be noted that we also did not take any public transportation, opting instead for the hop-on, hop-off bus (one day included in our hotel stay, and we paid for two additional days at discounted rates).

First view of St. Peter's Basilica from the bus
And we prudently left our jewelry, laptops and iPad at home. Our iPhones and free wi-fi in our hotel were sufficient for keeping up with email and posting to Facebook. 

Hotel Sonya

The Hotel Sonya where we stayed offered a superb location, a delightful free breakfast, free wi-fi, and free loaner notebook computers. At 113 Euros per night plus the mandatory 2 Euros per person per night tourist tax, this hotel was a bargain, and we recommend it unreservedly. The rooms are tiny and sparkling clean, and the staff is well-versed in English and very hospitable. The Hotel Sonya's honor bar in the room's refrigerator offered both still and carbonated bottled water for the bargain price of 1 Euro. The little liquor store across the street had beers, wine, spirits and chips, and there were several small restaurants nearby that provided excellent, inexpensive take-away food. We ate cannolis from the Viminiale Bar everyday!

Herb in front of the Hotel Sonya's entrance as we arrived
Breakfast: cheese, meat & potato pie, bread pudding, frittata

One of the Hotel Sonya's breakfast rooms 
The hotel is conveniently located across from Teatro dell'Opera (regrettably sold out for months ahead of our visit) and a five-minute walk from Termini, the central train and bus station, which is also where the hop-on, hop-off buses can be accessed. The free pocket-size guidebook titled "Welcome! Rome's Guide" found in our hotel room published by Welcome SRL (for which I could not find a Web site) was an excellent guidebook, densely packed with numerous photos, 30 maps and 16 walking routes, highlighting 241 churches and 105 museums.

Teatro dell'Opera across the street from Hotel Sonya
Marble wall in front of Teatro dell'Opera lit up at night

Our experience of Rome can be summed up thusly: Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn your head, there are archaeological ruins that remind you of the almost three millennia of civilization that dwelt on this site. In addition to the typical shots of monuments and iconic sights, I also took a lot of photos of architectural details and street scenes to capture the flavor of being in Rome. I know that Herb and I will enjoy looking at the photos again.

View from a winding side street
Rome is definitely best enjoyed on foot, since there are many sights that can be seen only by wandering down side streets. You'd best be prepared to climb stairs, too, and leave your heeled shoes at home. We had our pocket guide book and maps plus Herb's GPS on his iPhone to keep us oriented.

We were blessed with unusually bright, sunny weather for a March visit, although the wind was in force most days. Our photos taken inside St. Peter's Basilica (which will be posted in another blog after I've edited them) benefitted from the sunshine on the day we visited. The warm weather allowed us to loiter at piazzas to soak in the sights and people watch, which is our favorite thing to do when traveling.

Piazza Navona
Stopping for a coffee is expensive, because it costs 3 to 4 Euros (about $4.35 to $5.80) and up. If you want American style coffee, you have to order an Americano. Ordering a coffee will get you a tiny cup of espresso, and there are no free refills. Unlike in Brussels, no chocolate or cookie came with the coffee either. We enjoyed watching suited men and women belly up to a coffee bar to throw back a coffee doused with sugar and then be on their way. That's the Roman version of the quick drink for the road. Now I know the origin of all those high octane energy drinks with their overdose of caffeine and sugar.

Our favorite meal in Rome was at a cafeteria style restaurant, L'Antica Fraschetta, frequented by locals. The food was the best we had and inexpensive, too. We found the restaurant on a side street by following uniformed police and firefighters to lunch. The bakery next door yielded a bag of madeleines after some businessmen came to our rescue since no one in the store spoke English.
L'Antica Fraschetta with people lined up through the door
Cafeteria style meant we could point to what we wanted!
One of the things that I noticed was how much Romans appreciate flowers and greenery. There were rooftop gardens with trees and window boxes in every neighborhood, and flowers were in bloom all around.

Rooftop garden
Window box
I think I'll stop here for this first installment of photos and commentary from our truly wonderful vacation in Rome. I celebrated my 62nd birthday there on March 26th.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Colorado's Response to the Proposed Anglican Covenant

          The following is the statement submitted by the Diocese of Colorado's General Convention Deputation to Executive Council on the proposed Anglican Covenant. It was posted on the House of Bishops and Deputies list on Wednesday morning and has since been reposted on a number of other blogs and news sites. It occurred to me that I should also repost it on my blog.
          Fellow deputy Zoe Cole and I were the co-authors of this document. As a member of the deputation, I have had the opportunity to converse with congregations and individuals about this subject, which has greatly contributed to my thinking about who we are and how we relate to one another in the Anglican Communion. Back in November, I had created a PowerPoint presentation, which I freely shared with any who asked for it, as an outline for framing an even-handed discussion of the proposed covenant. If any would now like a copy, please email me at, and I'll be glad to send it to you.


Members of the Diocese of Colorado’s General Convention Deputation have accepted and faithfully engaged Executive Council’s invitation to study, pray and discuss with members of our diocese the proposed Anglican Covenant. In addition to our own conversations as a deputation, we listened to others in congregations and in other contexts throughout the diocese, and these conversations also inform our understanding of the proposed covenant and this response. Our fellowship with each other and our desire to be in relationship with sisters and brothers in Christ in other parts of the Anglican Communion have been strengthened by our study and discussions. We give thanks for the collaborative work of the committees and writing teams who have created the successive drafts of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

Based on our engagement with the text and with each other, our deputation (with one exception) has concluded that adoption of the proposed covenant would not strengthen our relationships within the Anglican Communion or foster our witness to God’s transforming love in the world. We, therefore, recommend to Executive Council that The Episcopal Church encourage members of the Anglican Communion to persevere in strengthening relationships through ongoing conversation and living into those covenants that already bind us in missio dei – the Baptismal Covenant, the Five Marks of Mission and the Millennium Development Goals - while refraining from adoption of the final draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

Our concerns with the final draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant include the following:

·      The idea for a covenant arose out of the Windsor Report in response to the actions of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada regarding consecration of a partnered gay bishop and same gender blessings. However, the proposed covenant provides no means of reconciling the relationships broken by responses to those actions. Instead it offers a punitive Section 4 that proposes relational consequences that formalize separation and suspension from participation in the life of the Communion. One member of our deputation suggests that this is an example of proffering a legalistic solution to remedy a relationship problem. Another deputy asks, “How would the events of 2003 have turned out differently had such an Anglican Covenant been in place then?”

·      The Preamble acknowledges that signatories adopt the covenant “in order to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the grace of God.” However, Section 4 directly contravenes the Preamble by promulgating disciplinary procedures that do not respect those different contexts. The polity of the provinces in the Anglican Communion varies widely, and Section 4.1.3 affirms the “autonomy of governance” of each province.

·      Section 3.1.3 elevates “the historic threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, ordained for service in the Church of God” into ministry leadership above the laity, which is contradictory to The Episcopal Church’s theological understanding of the ministry of all the baptized, including the laity who share in the governance and leadership of the Church.

·      Section 3.1.4 codifies The Four Instruments of Communion and their powers in a new way that is not in alignment with how they are perceived, received and understood by all provinces of the Anglican Communion.

·      Some experience the proposed self-description of Anglicanism (Sections 1-3) as "too Anglican" while others experience it as "too generically Christian." This confusion about how a particularly Anglican understanding of Christianity fits within a general understanding of Christianity may undermine the integrity of ecumenical relationships. Moreover, if the proposed covenant accurately describes Anglicanism's self-understanding, why is it necessary? If, on the other hand, it does not accurately describe our self-understanding, then how is it helpful? And does it not then fundamentally change who we are?

·      The broad authority proposed for the Standing Committee of the covenant suggests the “covenant” is really a “contract.” The grace and beauty of the Anglican Communion has always been the voluntary fellowship of provinces bound together by affection. Covenants in the biblical tradition are about relationship, identity, and transformation, and are rooted in models of shared abundance (Eucharistic fellowship). On the other hand, contracts are merely transactions or exchanges for mutual benefit. Contractual arrangements fall short of our vocation to love one another as we have been loved by God.

The Colorado deputation affirms the need to maintain and deepen fellowship within the Anglican Communion as well as within The Episcopal Church. Our relationships are troubled and the members of the Anglican Communion are not of one mind about how to reconcile and restore our relationships. Some would even diagnose the Anglican Communion as a global entity as being profoundly fractured, our relationships ruptured, and our attention to missio dei compromised. Precisely for these reasons, we must work to intensify our relationships across the communion through engagement with the promises we have already made to care for one another.

All of us must continue to seek ways to connect our Anglican identity and relationships to God’s mission for the Church. Some believe it is incumbent upon those opposed to this version of the covenant to propose alternative, clear, realistic and definitive strategies by which this global family can weather and address the divergent theological and ecclesial realities in the Anglican Communion. 

We look forward to continuing to walk together with all our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion and give thanks for our fellowship.

General Convention Deputation of the Diocese of Colorado


Ms. L. Zoe Cole, Esq.
Mr. Jack Finlaw, Esq.
Mr. Lawrence Hitt, III, Esq.
Ms. Lelanda Lee - Co-Chair

Ms. Janet Farmer
Ms. Erica Hein


The Rev. Andrew Cooley - Co-Chair
The Rev. Brooks Keith
The Rev. Christy Shain-Hendricks
The Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

The Rev. Max Bailey

We want our Alleluias back!

Episcopal Bishop Carol Gallagher says, “When you can’t do anymore, pray. . . .”

I’m thinking, “When you can’t begin, pray. . . . ”

Sometimes I get stuck. More often than I would like to admit. And getting unstuck is usually neither easy nor quick. Kicking myself in the metaphorical butt for a quick restart would do the trick if I weren’t so damned good at rationalizing and procrastinating.

There are a lot of reasons for getting stuck. Most of them are in my head . . . and in my heart.

This week I’ve been stuck, because the news in the outside world, outside of my home and family, feels like an assault. There has been news of bomb plantings in a mall south of Denver . . . deaths from wildfires, homes gone in blazes, and an arrest for arson of one who set and abandoned a slash fire just north of Longmont . . . more states adopting fearful, hate-filled, anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB1070, and no one is reacting much anymore, overcome by other bad news . . . California state employees who have gotten their share of illegal graft through non-repayment of salary and travel advances, an example of how bad behavior among management (elected leaders) begets bad behavior among employees . . . tribal killings in Africa where elections don’t seem to change anything . . . corporations reaping billions of dollars in profits while paying zero taxes, and Congress still doesn’t have the resolve to right these wrongs . . . abductions of young women, and normal people unable to intervene even when they observe the evil happening . . . new and old stories of mothers killing their children and themselves . . . .

I can’t help it. I take these stories personally. I feel a lot like Leeloo from the film "The Fifth Element,” assaulted by the onslaught of a whole lot of bad news and bad behavior and feeling mightily dumped on.

I think the oppression of the bad news and evil is exacerbated by the fact that this is Holy Week, and we have been approaching the Triduum. I began Lent in a hard place, with the death of our beloved niece, Debbie, and news of cancer in two other relatives. It felt like we had our own Ash Wednesday that lasted weeks. We were immersed in more than just a one-day observation.

The flowers have been slow to rise up out of the ground this spring, and the late snows have covered them at least once already. The tulips never made it, but a few brave daffodils are next to the front walk. The crab apple trees are budding out, and their pink flowers brighten the view from the kitchen window. Easter! We are so ready for the resurrection to come. We want our Alleluias back. We have wintered too long . . . . 

I'm praying as hard as I can.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

ELCA Church Council Spring Meeting, Day 2

Mosaic at The Lutheran Center
As the ecumenical partner sent by The Episcopal Church's (TEC) Executive Council to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Church Council, I attend their twice-yearly meetings at the Lutheran Center near Chicago's O'Hare Airport. My counterpart, Pastor Kathryn Tiede from Minnesota, attends TEC's Executive Council thrice-yearly meetings, which alternate between Baltimore and Salt Lake City this triennium. Our churches fund each other's representative's visits, valuing the exchange of ideas and observations of the other church's life and processes. 

ELCA's Kathryn Tiede & TEC's Lelanda Lee
Kathryn and I have enjoyed getting acquainted with one another's church, sharing our observations and developing a friendship grounded in our Christian service. As a matter of good stewardship, we are collaborating on collecting our observations to produce a report to our churches, targeted for spring 2012. Kathryn has also invited me to participate with the ELCA Church Council's Process Observation team, on which she serves, to prepare a training for Council members in November 2011 when newly elected members attend their first Council meeting. Process Observation is a tool to help the Council members reflect on their challenge to be intentionally inclusive in thought, word and deed as a church that is 97% White.

Yesterday was Day 2 of the Spring ELCA Church Council meeting, which was entirely spent in four packed plenary sessions. I live Tweeted yesterday's meeting, confining my Tweets primarily to giving a "tone" picture of the day's activities. As a guest at their meeting, I did not feel comfortable writing about intense discussions while they were in process and incomplete, on the fly. In addition to reports from the Presiding Bishop, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary and Executive for Administration, much of the discussion time was devoted to unpacking the report of the LIFT (Living Into the Future Together) Task Force. I'm going to attempt now to share a few quick observations of the day. I will follow up after the weekend meeting is over with some more observations.

Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson opened the meeting with his address to Council. He reflected on how the outgoing class of 2011 Council members were elected in 2005 at a contentious time and how their six-year term has been defined by Social Statements, including the one on Human Sexuality adopted by their Churchwide Assembly in 2009. He pondered with Council how the ELCA will be defined as a church going forward and what the cathartic sparks will be in the future. He pointed to the lessons of perseverance and accompaniment of brothers and sisters through crisis into restoration such as the experience of Haiti and the presence of the Lutheran Church there through and after the 2010 earthquake.

Bishop Hanson talked about his recent visit to Haiti and how Haiti could easily be defined by its rubble and ruins, but instead its church leaders have chosen to be defined by restoration, because they are people of the resurrection. It is the 400 tents housing 10,000 people on top of the ruins of the former Italian Embassy and the vision of a vocational training school where now stands the remains of a former sugar factory that give rise to the promise of resurrection and a new identity for the people of Haiti.

Choosing relatedness rather than focusing on differences is a counter-cultural way for the ELCA to define itself. As Bishop Hanson puts it, it is about the ability to be present at the complex and challenging intersections of life and death where Lutherans can choose to be enriched rather than being divided.

Pastor Andre Lavergne of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) represented their Presiding Bishop at this Spring meeting of the ELCA Church Council. In the Fall, the ELCA sends a representative to the ELCIC Council meeting. ELCIC Presiding Bishop Susan Johnson has called their church to renewal, and because of their smaller size, they are able to be nimble in adjusting to changing demographics and resources. Martha Gardner of the TEC's Executive Council is the ecumenical partner to the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), which had its first joint Council meeting with the ELCIC last week.

The ELCIC's human sexuality Social Statement will be coming to their churchwide assembly this year. Pastor Lavergne described the document as being more descriptive than proscriptive. Two drafts have previously been referred to their Faith, Order and Doctrine Committee. The first part of the Statement affirms that matters of human sexuality ought not to be divisive. Another part addresses the ordination of LGBTs and says that sexual orientation ought not to preclude ordination or taking a call. Since civil marriage is legal for LGBTs in all Canadian jurisdictions, Pastor Lavergne pointed out that Canada's landscape is different than that faced by American churches. A final part of the Statement will address issues such as sexual harassment, exploitation, trafficking, etc.

Arielle Mastellar, one of two youth advisors to the ELCA Council, who will be retiring after this meeting, gave a five-minute Dwelling in the Word reflection on the parable of the sower. She reflected on the kind of soil that she is at different occasions in her life and asked Council members, "What kind of soil are you?" Her reflection built upon the ongoing challenge to ELCA members to live into being a restorative and fertile ground on which the church and its people can continue to live into the future, and lifts up the theme of this summer's Churchwide Assembly in Orlando - "Freed in Christ to Serve."

There's more to report from yesterday, but I've run out of time this morning and will post more later this weekend when I get home to Colorado.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Being Right and Holding It Lightly

I’m thinking of the crackpot preacher in Gainesville, Florida, Pastor Terry Jones (and I use the word “pastor” with his name advisedly), and what a travesty he has made of his so-called ministry and his sense of “rightness.” I also think of the other purveyors of religion and “rightness” like popes, archbishops and priests, who have rendered their judgments on people and devastated lives and entire societies over the centuries.

I’ve observed since I was a young child that one can be right and wrong at the same time. You can be right in terms of your evaluation of something – a person, an event, a thing like a rule, protocol or law – and still be wrong in terms of the way that you wield your being right. You can wield your rightness without compassion and mercy and be so very wrong in the harm that you levy upon the ones you’ve judged. An example is how I, as a young manager, couldn’t resist identifying the mistakes made by a subordinate supervisor on a Friday afternoon, ruining her weekend by not providing her with any chance for further conversation until the following week, when I could have waited until Monday to talk with her, a better choice for both of us.

The problem with harming others with your rightness is that undoing the harm is almost impossible. You can’t take the harm back. You can only ameliorate it, and then, sometimes not well or enough. You can’t turn back the clock on having said judgmental words, causing others to think poorly of someone you’ve judged publicly or causing a loss of reputation, job or friends. You don’t even get to feel the satisfaction of being right if you are at all a moral being after you’ve seen the harm that your rightness has done.

Even worst than being right and wrong at the same time is feeling right and wronged simultaneously. I remember a man I once knew who was brilliant intellectually but truncated emotionally. He often was right in terms of his evaluation of people, events and things, but he then took a crooked turn and somehow became the victim in the scheme of things, feeling burdened by the way others responded to his judgments. That’s a tragic self-absorption to live with, to create your own psychic prison.

Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God is an admonition in Micah 6:8. Being right can be about doing justice, which is a good thing. But doing justice without mercy is hollow. I asked a confirmation class this past weekend what they thought mercy meant and heard answers like kindness, compassion and forgiveness. I think mercy is all of those answers and that it also encompasses a sense of extending God’s grace, which is about the gift of boundless love without deserving it. Mercy means that you get a response that is kinder, more compassionate and forgiving than you could possibly earn on your own merits.

Walking humbly with God is an admonition to focus on God and to focus less on yourself. That’s why being right should be held lightly – humbly. When you have right judgment about people, events and things, it shouldn’t be all about you. And if you hold your right judgment lightly, you will not be one who crows about it from the rooftops or who clubs others with your words. When you hold a flower in your hand, it is best to hold it in your open hand, careful not to close your fingers tightly around the fragile flower and crush it, destroying its beauty that gives pleasure to all who observe it. Likewise, when you hold being right in your being, it is best to hold it lightly with an open heart, so that others come to see it at their own pace, without being harmed by the weight, power or anger of your words or judgment.

Being right and holding it lightly is about self-restraint. It is about a self-image that resists any sense of superiority or privilege, regardless of the rightness you feel coursing inside yourself, an exercise in living in a conundrum. Self-restraint places your ego in a just relationship with others, where there is expression of mutual interest, cooperation and care. 

In our church liturgies we are often reminded of the Summary of the Law given by Jesus, which says, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ [Luke 10:27] However, it is important to remember the new commandment given by Jesus, which says, ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’[John 13:34-35]. 

Loving one another as Jesus loves us is a higher calling than loving our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus' standard is higher than any we can hope to set or achieve on our own. Jesus said repeatedly in his earthly ministry, "Follow me." And in John 13:35, he tells us how we can measure ourselves as his followers - by our love for one another.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ten Email Courtesies

I receive many shared articles and suggested Web sites from friends via email, and generally, I welcome them. But occasionally, I get annoyed, because some simple courtesies weren't observed. So, I thought I'd list a few of those courtesies here:
  1. Know me well enough to have a clue whether or not I will be interested in what you send. Many people, including me, do not appreciate receiving broadcast emails forwarding jokes, cute pictures, cause and charity appeals, inspiring messages, sales pitches, etc. Some people have limited capacity in their email programs and are inconvenienced when their inboxes get clogged with emails that don’t interest them. They want to tell you to stop, but they don’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you that you have poor judgment.
  2. Include source information when forwarding articles and quotations. Inquiring minds want to know. Who published the original article or quotation? What is the URL where the original is located? Who wrote the article or made the quotable statement? When was it published? If a quotation is in response to a question, statement or event, include some background information so the quotation is within a context.
  3. When forwarding anything within the body of an email, clean it up before hitting "Send." That means taking the time to delete anything that is extraneous to the content that you want the recipient to read. Extraneous refers to the "to," "from," and "subject" lines of prior emails in the chain, multiple electronic signatures at the end of the email, extra blank lines, advertising, rubrics like “print” and “share,” and the like. In many cases, extraneous will also include the prior emails in the conversation thread that have no bearing on what you’ve just written. Remember to clean up the “subject” line while you’re at it. Better yet, copy the content into a new email.
  4. Use a “subject” line that is informative. I am more likely to open your email when it first arrives, rather than save it for later . . . or never, if I know what’s in it. Everyone is busy and inundated with online input. Be specific, and if there is a time deadline for the contents, say so.
  5. Don’t send a URL without any commentary from you. It will get deleted, because I will suspect that it’s SPAM or a virus. It might be something that I would really have enjoyed seeing, reading, viewing or hearing, but I can’t take any chances with regard to online safety.
  6. Don’t hit “Reply All” when you really mean to reply to only one or two people. Everyone else will be annoyed. If it happens frequently, your emails will get deleted automatically without being read.
  7. Use “bcc” when you’re sending something to more than a few people who don’t know each other or aren’t in a committee or group. Your friends and acquaintances would prefer not to have their email addresses shared with people they don’t know. They don’t want to be solicited for someone else’s next great cause.
  8. Save the cute animated graphics in your signature line for someone who cares. Many email programs receive those animated graphics as attachments, which can slow downloading the email, and in some instances, pitch the email into the SPAM folder.
  9. Use a URL shortener when sharing links. Your friends will thank you. The most popular URL shorteners are and They shorten a long (sometimes three lines) URL to 20 characters, which is easier to copy and paste or retype.
  10. Check out what you send before you send it. I hate receiving emails of claims that are too outrageous to be true. Research before you send outrageous claims. Google them, or check them out at sites like and You may change your mind about sending or forwarding it.
 Good manners are always in style. Courtesy is always appreciated.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What do the bishops have to fear?

This week, the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church decided mid-way through their Spring meeting at Kanuga to suspend Tweeting from their meeting. The reason I heard cited was that this would allow the bishops time to reflect, discuss and do their work without the pressure of outside criticism, or something to that effect. As you can imagine, there was considerable disappointment, at the mildest, to condemnation, at the strongest level of reaction, to the Bishops' decision.

What do the Bishops have to fear? What do the Bishops have to protect? Whom are they protecting and from whom are they protecting?

From my perspective, this is yet another symptom of people of privilege and power, insiders, displaying their fear at sharing what they do, know and think with people outside the inner circle. We see this repeatedly in government and in the highest leadership echelons of both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. This fear is a meme that gets inculcated and reinforced in the few who are invited into the inner circle, and it is a meme that is difficult to resist.

This type of hoarding of information also speaks to a fundamental disdain for the people that those in leadership serve and lead, their constituents. These leadership cadres seem to believe that their constituents are not prepared, either intellectually, educationally, informationally, emotionally or otherwise, to receive spontaneous, unglossed news of what is happening in the midst of leadership confabs. In the instance of prohibiting live Tweets, there is also an underlying message of lack of faith in one's fellows, that they will not exercise good judgment in sharing information responsibly and respectfully. (Think about it: Bishops not trusting other Bishops.)

As one who sits in some of those hallowed halls of leadership, I am mindful of the fact that there are legitimate nuggets and even occasional volumes of information that must remain confidential, some for a short time and some for longer periods. Those items might include information that would compromise a lawsuit while it is still being litigated or cause a lawsuit to be engaged, intellectual property subject to patents and loss of competitive economic advantage, and personnel data, to name a few. But the number, volume and degree of those items are generally far overstated by overreaching management in many, if not in most, cases.

I acknowledge the fact that many critics of the inner circles of leadership use rhetoric that frames their arguments in dismissive, insulting and confrontational language, which is neither helpful nor responsible. However, I submit that leadership must be prepared to restrain their very human desire to respond in kind and by locking down their organizations.

A specific charism of leadership is that it must always take the first steps to invite dialog and collaboration in the development of goals and methods. After all, it is the leadership that holds the power, namely access to resources, money and numbers of people. Likewise, a specific charism of those who participate in the selection/election of leaders is that they must do their research with diligence, influence with effort and passion, and exercise ongoing oversight and participation to hold their leaders accountable.

Leaders need to get over how they look and sound. They're going to make mistakes, and some of those mistakes will be both public and egregious. How they respond to their mistakes and how they communicate about their mistakes and responses are what matters and what contributes to how they will be judged. Constituents need to take responsibility for their organizations and communities. The old adage about being part of the solution versus being part of the problem holds true here. Both leaders and constituents must be committed to ongoing learning, including from each other. When you stop learning, you die.

Belonging is not a free ride. Neither is leading.