Monday, September 26, 2011

Responding to Bishop Stacy Saul's Presentation

For background and context for the following post, see the Episcopal News Service’s article here and ongoing commentary on the subject at Episcopal CafĂ© here. Bishop Stacy Sauls, the newly appointed Chief Operating Officer of The Episcopal Church, made a PowerPoint presentation on structuring/restructuring the church as well as provided a model resolution for diocesan conventions to consider, and they may be found here [opens a PowerPoint document]. The following post is my response to the fact that Bishop Sauls made his presentation to the House of Bishops first without any prior notice to the Executive Council, which is The Episcopal Church’s governing body in the trienniums between General Conventions when both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops meet to consider legislation to govern the church.

I find it ironic that in a church where our Catechism defines the mission of the Church is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” that Bishop Sauls, presumably in his capacity as the Chief Operating Officer, has made a presentation on structure/restructure to the House of Bishops prior to meeting the interim governing body of the church, the Executive Council, in person for the first time. That first in-person meeting will not take place until Council meets in Salt Lake City October 21-24.

We are a church that believes in the importance of relationship in the Body of Christ, and yet, we continue to impair our necessary working relationships by placing ideas, proposals and time pressures over and above respecting relationships with timely and collegial communications. Actions trump thoughts and words in exemplifying our beliefs.

Perhaps approaching the House of Bishops first might be blamed on the fact that Bishop Sauls has, in fact, not yet met Council, but has a long-term collegial relationship with other bishops in the House of Bishops and seized an opportunity to share some ideas with his sister and brother bishops due to the timing of the bishops’ meeting.

I have observed and heard from colleagues in other dioceses that there is a similar pattern in diocesan life, that is, that some bishops communicate things to the clergy cadre often in advance of communicating with their Standing Committees who share diocesan governance with them, leaving the Standing Committee members to learn these things from secondary and tertiary sources. So, from my point of view, this practice does not stand in isolation, and it smacks of disrespect for both the persons and the positions, however unintended.

Bishop Sauls’ presentation to the bishops first may also be a reflection of the reality that diocesan bishops respond more readily to recommendations from among themselves to commit their dioceses to study a specific subject than they do to recommendations that come from either General Convention or Executive Council.

I am experienced enough in organizational life to wonder if there was something intentionally strategic about presentation to the bishops first. Could this be an example of apologize later rather than notify first? It is also true in organizational life that she/he who speaks first and frames an issue often then has set the direction for the ensuing discussion.

How people feel about the circumstances surrounding the work that they have to do significantly impacts how they think about the substance of that work. Having said all of the above, my hope and prayer is that we will be able to move forward together in an attitude of unity as sisters and brothers in The Episcopal Church who want to engage our missional work with charity, clarity and truly shared decision-making across all the ministers of the church – laity, priests, bishops and deacons.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Banned Questions About the Bible

My friend, Deb Sampson, has been collecting a set of responses from all over the Diocese of Colorado to an adaptation of 50 questions from Christian Piatt's book, Banned Questions About the Bible, to be used for a class at her church, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. I was honored to be asked to participate, and here are the questions that I chose to answer:

#6 -- If people have to be Christians to go to heaven, what happens to all of the people born before Jesus or who never hear about his ministry?

I think of heaven as being united with God, and I think of God’s time as being without beginning or end (God, the alpha and the omega). Jesus IS God. God is Love. Knowing Jesus-God is knowing Love. Knowing the stories of Jesus-God’s ministry is just details. So, in God’s time, in eternity, people in their soul form have an endless opportunity to choose to be united with God. God never gives up on his beloved Creation, which includes all people.

#15 -- How can God be all-loving yet allow people to be thrown into hell?

I think of hell as being separated from God, from Love. God created people in God’s image, with free will. Love is an act of will. People choose to love or choose not to love. God is Love, and God-Love allows people to exercise their free will.

#19 -- Where are all the miracles today? If they were so prevalent in biblical times, why don't any happen today? Or do they and we just don't notice?

Miracles are all around us, everyday, everywhere, but we have succumbed to the distractions of our egos and our lives. Humankind is narcissistic. We tend to see the world only through the lens of our own selves. That narcissistic lens is like a permanent cataract that distorts our vision. As with cataracts, our vision isn’t good enough to see all the small daily miracles all around us. We only notice miracles if they’re huge enough to drop on our houses and heads and shake our world.

Think about the joy that a child, a young innocent, takes in simple things like blowing bubbles or mushing up a sweet, ripe fruit. Think about the occasions when you’ve stopped suddenly and noticed the fragrance of blossoming honeysuckle or the smell of wet grass after a rainfall. When we can step outside of ourselves into a stiller, simpler moment, we then have the eyes to encompass the miracles, because we see with an inner vision as well as through our physical eyes, and that inner vision is connected to God, the source of all miracles. Miracles are messages from God, invitations to come and see “my Creation and that it is very good.”

#23 -- Hell, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus are all labeled as “hell” by one or more Christian groups. Are they really the same? Are they all places of fiery torment? Are such things to be taken literally, metaphorically, or both?

All of those names for hell refer to the same thing, which is separation from God who is Love, separation from Love. Separation from Love is experienced and embodied by each person differently, in different intensities at different times, triggered by different external life events of all sorts – from loss of a parent to loss of a partner to loss of a job or loss of an ideal, etc.

Because love is an act of will, separation from Love carries with it the added pain of self-hurt, of self-inflicted injury that our soul recognizes as such even when our conscious mind believes that the hurt is other-imposed. It is that self-denial of our willful withdrawal from Love that is sinfulness manifest. And that sinfulness and self-denial imprison us in our own individual hells.

Certainly there are instances of separation from Love that a person can experience as torment so strong that it feels like one is being consumed by an unquenchable fire, but there are also instances of separation from Love that feel like a complete absence of feeling, a disembodiment of self, a numbness that feels more like being frozen solid than like burning up. You can call it a metaphorical feeling, that burning up or being frozen solid, but the person experiencing it knows it as real and palpable and present, now. 

In one of the reviews that I read about Piatt's book, the writer made the point that it's not necessarily the answers that matter, but that the conversation continues about these important, and perhaps occasionally, impertinent questions. I agree.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I watch you dance
a prologue to love
& flights to the sun
and I want to know
what love is

regret & grief
are what I know
they burrow deep
it is the dark interstices
I’m familiar with
the in-betweens
where there is equivocation
one foot firmly out the door
heartache & pain
ordinary as the clothes
you choose to
put on each day

grief & longing
are not so far apart
both elongating
pulled by ones
who don’t look back
distanced, yet connected
we are stars of a new
yet to be named
yet to be fixed
in the firmament of heaven

It’s not the hard work
of relationship that kills
it is the disappointment
beat beat beating
the flattened place in our hearts
that has no room for charitable thoughts
the escape of hope
from brain cells eroded
by the beat beat beating
grim grief
leading to despair

If we could gather up the edges
pull them tight
stuff the light back in
I promise you
life will grow again
one breath into the next
one day after another
new light leading to new hope
fragile yet tenacious
a reverse gravity
pulling us
into the
firmament of heaven

[Written Sunday, August 21, 2011]