Monday, December 23, 2013

Your Part in the Power of Social Media

As the year ends, I am seeing more lists on Facebookfrom lists of regrets old people have and how to avoid those regrets to things that food banks need but don't ask for. I'm not going to make a list here. Instead, I want to talk about how social media like Facebook is problem for impressionable minds and how to be part of the solution.

A fundamental human tendency is to compare ourselves with others. It starts when we are born. First world parents are given statistics like the percentile their new infant occupies in weight and height and their baby's Apgar score. I realize these statistics are important to help monitor healthy growth and identify potential health trends that bear watching.

But soon, moms and dads are also comparing notes with other parents on their baby's first tooth, rolling over, sitting up, first step, first word, and so on. There are beautifully designed fill-in-the-blank books for parents to memorialize these milestones. The comparisons become internalized by the children themselves as they grow and are perpetuated by the report cards and parent-teacher conferences beginning in pre-school and extending through high school.

We can't help ourselves in making these comparisons of ourselves with other people. It's in our culture and our mass media. Television shows and commercials send subtle as well as overt messages to developing brains about who we should be, or be like, and what we have to own and do in order to achieve those statuses. Many youth grow up internalizing feelings and self-images of inadequacy, and many parents internalize guilt when their children don't have the opportunity or the desire to achieve these externally, commercially driven models of ideal childhood and youth.

Perspective and countering positive, affirming messages have great difficulty wending their way through the commercial messages geared towards selling products. Young people already feeling challenged to mature in a complex world are particularly vulnerable to external messages of social standards that have nothing to do with who they are or where theyre at. They dont yet possess the judgment to know the difference between whats real and possible and whats fantasy and advertising.

In the last few weeks, as we have entered the holiday season that began with Halloween, then Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, and soon, Christmas, and New Year's, I am especially aware of these social messages that besiege us. I am aware of acts of terrible disappointment and despair that have resulted in violence against othersdomestic, vehicular, and gun abuseand violence against self, including attempted and successful suicide. The violence begins with the individual, but affects untold numbers of people far beyond the immediate families. The effects last for years and in some cases, become internalized and generational despair that has power to harm and destroy families and communities.

From my perspective, I see how social media like Facebook plays into shaping our thoughts about ourselves. In social media it's very easy to compare one's self and life to another person's life and feel disappointment and crushing despair that it won't or can't get better. I felt that way a number of times as a teenager, and I would weep because I could not see how my life could be as beautiful as what I encountered in the wider world that was light years away from my daily existence as a poor teenager from an immigrant family.

Facebook is seductive. I posted a status just a couple of days ago about planning some 2014 vacation time with good friends, because I was feeling happy and wanted to share my happiness. But, since that post, I have felt like maybe I was also being boastful, because my husband and I can afford such vacations. And I have worried about contributing to the despair of those young people who don't feel like such aspirations are possible for them. It's not just what we say, it's also how we say it.

It's important for us users of social media to be consciously responsible in what we say to the world, because we are, indeed, talking to the worldour part of the world, multiplied by the nature of the sharing that happens in social media. It's important to express ourselves in ways that point to the light and not to the darkness, that express gratitude and hope, and not anger and despair. I think it's especially incumbent on those of us who are leaders and elders by virtue of our positions, age, and experience to walk in the light continuously, as exemplars of our love and hope for our children and youth.

Acknowledge, encourage, affirm, and express gratitude. You will never go wrong doing those things on social media. What you think about someone else can matter to them, especially if you choose to share a positive thought that uplifts. You just might make someone's day and give someone something to hang onto in the midst of a tough time. You will be glad you did. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Radical Hospitality Sermon

Radical Hospitality Sermon
Third Sunday in Advent, Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary
December 15, 2013 at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church, Boulder, Colorado
Lelanda Lee

Isaiah 35:1-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11
Psalm 146:4-9

Me Ke Aloha Pumehana. Aloha Kakou. Mahalo E Ke Akua No Keia La. Amen’e ~ I greet you with the warmth of my love. May there be love between us. Thanks be to God for this day. Amen.

I am delighted to have been invited to be among you this morning. It is a huge privilege and joy to be here with you. I was excited to read your parish profile and learn more deeply about who you are and who you seek to become. Among your parish goals you listed two things that jumped out at me:

·      To transform your warm welcome to a deeper understanding and practice of genuine hospitality; and
·      To clarify and deepen your understanding of church membership and develop more intentional practices of integrating new members

Today’s Gospel about John the Baptist in Herod’s jail resonated in the context of our conversation this Sunday. I picture gnarly John the Baptist, he of the wilderness appearance and itinerant lifestyle, stuck in a jail cell that must have caused him untold stress and uncertainty. That uncertainty caused him to send his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

In light of one of the major events of this Advent – our global celebration of the life of another once jailed individual, Nelson Mandela – I think of how that great man must have also experienced untold stress and uncertainty during his 27 years – 27 years! – of imprisonment. How he must have wavered, too, from his certainty of what is right and what is wrong, and how much his faith, his belief in his call and his purpose in life, must have been what he held onto in order to maintain his great discipline and commitment to that right and that purpose throughout those long prison years. In all that I have read about Nelson Mandela and his prison years, one thing has struck me as profoundly important and strategic – an early decision Mandela made, which was to show radical hospitality to his jailers. That hospitality also was expressed much later when he invited his primary jailer to sit in the front row at his inauguration as president of South Africa.

Now, you might ask, how can someone who is the prisoner, and not the jailer, be one who shows radical hospitality? Let us engage in some deconstruction of what radical hospitality means for us as followers of Jesus.

In the usual course of events, especially in this season of holiday preparations that began with Thanksgiving and extends to New Year’s Eve, we might be tempted to think of hospitality primarily in the context of a large family and friends’ meal with a roasted turkey or ham, or both, as the centerpiece of our celebrations and how we extend hospitality to those we invite to share our joyous and thankful times together. We might, through our charitable impulses and sense of gratitude for all that we have been given, even extend our sense of hospitality to helping to prepare, pay for, and serve such a holiday meal to those less fortunate than we are, to those who don’t have a home, or the resources, or a family, with which they can enjoy what we think of as a hospitable Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s Eve gathering.

Let me help us find a new definition of hospitality in Radical Hospitality. The word “radical” is from the Latin “radix,” which means “root.” Radical Hospitality, then, is about hospitality that is at the root of who we are and what we do. Radical Hospitality is embedded in our identity as Children of God. Let’s start at the beginning and talk for a moment about who we are and whose we are.

As Children of God, we are created in God’s image with God’s attributes shaped in us. God is love. God is goodness. God is compassionate. God is merciful. God is about relationship with God’s Creation. God wants God’s Creation to be reconciled with God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." God cares for the least among us, for those who have the greatest needs. We often say, “God has a preferential option for the poor.” God wants to be reconciled with all of us. As Children of God, it is our “Attitude of Radical Hospitality” that sets us apart as belonging to Jesus, an attitude that we carry with us wherever we go, wherever we encounter the Other. The parable that stands out as an exemplar of Radical Hospitality is the story of the Good Samaritan who extends hospitality to the man lying in the street, to a man in need who was a stranger to him in a place that wasn’t his home but merely along the path of where he happened to be traveling.

I’d like to share with you some examples of Radical Hospitality that we find in various cultural settings around us.

·      How many of you have seen the blockbuster film of a few years ago, “Avatar,” about the science fiction planet and its blue people, known as the Navi? The Navi had a way of expressing love and caring for each other that I found very profound and moving. They said, “I see you.” “I see you.” Just think for a moment about how it would make you feel if someone said to you that they “see you, really see you. What an acknowledgement of your personhood. What a validation of who you are. Do you see the checkout clerk at the supermarket? Do you see the newcomer in church on Sunday morning? Really see them as individuals with their own stories to tell?

·      In the East Indian subcontinent, the greeting “Namaste” is often used, and we Boulder County people certainly are familiar with being greeted with “Namaste.” [Bow, with hands together in front of my chest, and say “Namaste.”] “Namaste” may be translated as “the not-me salutes you,” or more loosely and more commonly, “the divine in me greets the divine in you.” What a beautiful acknowledgement of your creation in the image of God from my creation in the image of God.

·      In The Episcopal Church, we have an Anti-Racism Training curriculum dating back to 2005 that is entitled, “Seeing the Face of God in Each Other.” Anti-Racism Training, which over time has morphed into addressing not just Racism, but the other “-isms” that we humans inflict upon one another, such as ageism and homophobism and other oppressions, is comprised of content and exercises geared at helping us, as Christians, to see God’s characteristics and divine spark contained in each person, and to learn to acknowledge and honor God in each person.

My purpose in sharing these examples of Radical Hospitality is to point out that this kind of hospitality is not about being the hostess with the mostest or the Martha Stewart of home entertainment. Rather, it is about exemplifying the Great Commandment, which is to Love God with all our hearts and minds and souls and to Love One Another as Jesus has loved us. That Great Commandment doesn’t say Love One Another, but only in your homes; it’s not place limited. The Great Commandment trumps all the other rules about how we behave towards one another as fellow humans created in God’s image.

When we exchange the Peace in our Eucharistic services, it is an important theological part of our entire worship service. Exchanging the Peace is about acknowledging and extending to one another through the human touch of shaking hands, with family, friends, and strangers, the Peace of God – not my Peace, but God’s Peace – that is shaped in me, to another person, and receiving the Peace of God that is shaped in that other person. That is why I always say, “The Peace of God,” or “The Lord’s Peace,” when I shake someone else’s hand in the Exchange of the Peace. That is why I sometimes bow and touch my heart, when I exchange the Peace, as if to say, “Namaste,” “the divine in me greets the divine in you.”

There are other words for the exchange of the Peace from our fellow descendents who trace our heritage back to Father Abraham:  Shalom in Hebrew, and Salaam in Arabic. I was on a dual narrative study tour of the Holy Land – Israel and Palestine – in mid-November, with Churches for Middle East Peace, which was led by its executive director and an Israeli guide and a Palestinian guide, as part of my duties as a member of The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, the board of directors of the church. It was largely a political tour in that we met with embassy, consulate, Knesset, and Palestinian Authority leaders, as well as with Bedouin chiefs in the Negev and Israeli and Palestinian activists on the ground. The Arabic perspective on Salaam is an important one, because the exchange of Peace for Arabs encompasses an element of safety as well as an element of welcome and hospitality. We eleven pilgrims on our study tour were extremely humbled by a Bedouin chief who greeted us with coffee, followed by tea, made with water that is trucked in at great expense, seated on blankets spread out under a tree, just one day after his village’s guest tent had been demolished for the 61st time in a continuation of that area’s land disputes. “Salaam” or Peace means Welcome and Safety and that we share what we have with you, a guest also shaped in our Creator’s image, even in the midst of our personal hardship. We expose our vulnerability and share what we have with you, our brother and our sister in the human family.

The word that I like best to express Radical Hospitality is the Hawaiian word “Aloha,” because I think “Aloha” really captures the sense of how Radical Hospitality is not place-bound, not limited to being expressed in only a particular place like your home. Instead, “Aloha” is carried in one’s heart and expressed as an attitude of love, peace, safety, and acknowledgement of the God-in-you from the God-in-me. We refer to “Aloha” as the “Aloha Spirit,” and we understand the “Aloha Spirit” to transcend the Hawaiian Islands and to be expressed by Hawaiians wherever they find themselves in the world. We non-Hawaiians could also benefit from and practice the “Aloha Spirit.”

I think it’s important to emphasize that Radical Hospitality also has a requirement for an ancillary or corresponding response associated with it. This idea of an ancillary or corresponding response is something that we probably don’t emphasize enough when we do Christian Formation work and prepare people for baptism and confirmation, or in other words, to state right up front, explicitly, that becoming a follower of Christ has a price. We are called to renounce “Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God.” We are called to renounce “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” and we are called to renounce “all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God.” Renouncing is not just to say the words, “I renounce,” but it’s a promise to engage actively to resist and to turn away from all those things that draw us from the love of God, one of which is a failure to behave in a Radically Hospitable way to all the Children of God, including those we don’t know, perhaps don’t like, and feel judgmental towards. Radical Hospitality is about practicing the reconciling love of God towards all of God’s Creation.

So, dear friends, Radical Hospitality calls us to deepen our actions, to deepen the way that we live as the Children of God and as the followers of Jesus. Here are a few suggestions for how we might engage our call to living into Radical Hospitality:

·      First, let us identify God’s characteristics shaped in us as individuals and as members of the parish of St. Mary Magdalene. This entails both theological reflection and self-reflection, both individually and as a community, on an on-going basis.

·      Then, let us practice our “elevator speech” about our identity as Children of God and practice with intention opening ourselves to be known by the Other and to know the Other as our part of seeing the Face of God in Each Other.

·      In today’s Adult Forum between the services, we will be introduced to a few exercises that can be practiced on a regular basis to engage one another in sharing who we are and learning who the Other is, through some simple conversation starters.

·      And finally, there are a number of topics that could be covered in workshops here at St. Mary Magdalene, such as Racial Justice and Reconciliation, intercultural versus multicultural engagement, effective conversations on difficult topics, and so forth. I lead many of these workshops and would be delighted to be invited back to spend time with you. These may also be conversations that are timely in your parish search for a new rector, to help you explore your parish identity and goals more fully.

Let us pray:  Loving God, may the words and thoughts of our hearts and minds be guided by your holy attributes shaped in us, and may we remember that we are created by you and belong to you, Our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Intervening in Other People's Lives

Intervening in other people's lives. Otherwise known as a ministry of accompaniment.

My husband and I have tried this mode of ministry in a lifelong experiment that has lasted the entire 30+ years that we have been together. We have had mixed results.

There have been some big wins - like our adopted family from the former USSR and their successful attainment of work permits, green cards, and finally, citizenship. They are living the "American Dream." Their children will graduate from high school and go to college. The parents know how to scrimp and save and sacrifice for the family back home and for the family here in the U.S. They know how to live many people to a small apartment with little expectation of privacy, for the good of the entire clan. They have patience and endurance. They have their eye firmly on potential and possibility. They believe in their capacity to reach their goals.

There have been some modest gains - like another family who acquired their green cards but finally had to return to their country of origin because they weren't successful in repeated attempts to find suitable employment that would sustain independent housing. The economy after the "Great Recession" of 2006-2009 has decimated job opportunities for those at the margins who want to make a contribution and be self-sustaining. There has been a ratcheting down of workers on the ladder of employment, with over-educated, over-skilled people taking unskilled jobs just to earn a paycheck. That bumps the under-educated, under-skilled, and immigrant people totally off the ladder.

I have spent countless sleepless hours pondering how to help one young person with whom we've engaged for eight years. We began with a litany of bad credit, outstanding collection accounts, and a suspended driver's license for outstanding traffic violation fines, mostly due to the mental and physical trials associated with family abandonment and bigoted behavior towards a person who identifies as LGBT. We worked through suicidal ideation and internalization of personal attacks based on prejudice against LGBT individuals. We've come really, really far. But we're not where we need to be - yet. I hope it's "yet," and not "maybe never." Sometimes, the "yet" feels doubtful.

It is difficult to know how much to give and to do for another person and how much to teach and to raise up. The balance is ever shifting, and I am merely human in my understanding and in my commitment. It's not unlike the parenting that is called upon when raising one's own children. Even then, I did not know how much to give and to do, how much to teach and to raise up. I'm sure I over-did in some arenas and under-did in others. There have been times when my daughter has said as much in very plain terms. My son has been kind not to criticize in my hearing.

I have long been an adherent of the ministry of accompaniment. I believe in it. I know that it's not enough to write a check, put it in an envelope, and send it off, and think that I've done enough to better someone's life, to salve someone's suffering, to give someone hope.

Each of us ministers in different ways. We see the world through different lenses, and we mete out our responses through the lenses of our hearts and of our experience. I accept that I am not privileged to know how or where or when what I do will make a difference in another's life. I just pray daily that I am doing enough and that I will find the will to continue to do enough. It's really hard some days to believe in this ministry of accompaniment.

Some days, I just want to retire from the world.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Telling Stories is Life

When I was a preschooler, Mom told me many stories of her life before marriage and America.

In the early 1950's phone calls were prohibitively expensive, which eliminated casual chats by phone. You can imagine what a tribulation the inability to engage in the kind of casual conversation that teenagers and young adults enjoy would have been for my not yet 25-year old highly extroverted mother. Mom has never met a store clerk or restaurant worker with whom she couldn't immediately build rapport and share a life story.

Letters posted internationally took months to traverse the oceans, sometimes reaching their destinations, but often getting delayed permanently. Mom said, "I cried when I received a letter from home," and "I cried when there was no letter from home." Loneliness and depression received no attention, although some people were acknowledged to have suffered "nervous breakdowns." Mom, whose grandfather was a Christian in their Chinese village, eventually asked Dad to introduce her to a Christian church so that she would have a place to go to talk to God.

Women who married and left their homelands like my mother had no one else to talk to except their children. Mom talked to me, because I was the eldest, a precocious girl child, and someone who had an interest in stories "from my mother's mouth (a phrase my own daughter articulated almost four decades later)." I learned the stories of the Monkey God, the White Snake Goddess, and the Moon Goddess. I also learned the stories of my mother's family.

Mom grew up in an affluent, land and business owning family, the eldest child of eight children who survived. The family had servants in the house and workers in the fields and shops. They even had bonded servants, what we in America would call indentured servants, and what Mom sometimes refers to as slaves.

When queried by me for clarification, Mom adamantly declared, "We owned them." But they also loved and cared for them. Mom's own personal body servant was a child of 7 or 8 when Mom was a teenager. Mom recounts taking care of and washing the dirty feet of her child-servant, because she was personally responsible for that child-servant's care and training to grow up to become a servant to the family.

The relationship between owners and servants was complicated, intertwined with generations of familial bonds and some flux in marriages up and down the social ladder. In the final analysis, my father's mother's family were servants in the household of my mother's father's family. In reality, my mother married "down" by marrying my father. But in times of impending war following the communist takeover, who was counting?

My father's mother made my mother's life very difficult here in America, not only because a daughter-in-law is valued less than dirt, but also because of the inverted familial and owner-servant relationships. Years later, I would intervene with the "old ladies" of my mother's generation to speak up for my own sister-in-law, my youngest brother's widow, who was being victimized by the older generation of female relations, who were simply and maliciously living into the meme of daughters-in-law being valued less than dirt.

When the communists took over China, my mother's family lost everything. The social strata were overturned. The men fled the country first in fear for their lives. The women and children last. My mother's mother and infant brother were held by the communists for a year before being allowed to flee to Hong Kong to join the rest of the family. Our family has no family heirlooms or photographs from the earlier days. Everything from that time is gone, except for the stories.

Meanwhile, my father and mother sent a portion of Dad's earnings as a Chinese restaurant cook and Mom's earnings as a janitor for a Chinatown tenement house to Hong Kong to support Mom's parents and seven younger siblings. We as a family know from firsthand experience that wealth and social position are chimera, here for a moment and then gone forever.

We know the value of family ties and the strength that sticking together as a family gives every individual family member. Refugees and immigrants are actually strengthened by our lack of ties to superficial types of connectors such as heirlooms and photographs. The most important connectors are the relationships, which cannot be severed by distance or time.

Today, Mom, her relations several times removed, and her childhood friends who have not been in each other's presence for over sixty years chat on the phone regularly. Mom talks to friends in Australia, Hong Kong, Europe, Canada, Mexico, South America, and the United States. They exchange phone numbers and gladly spend their meager Social Security monies and savings on international calling cards. Because telling and retelling the stories keep us alive.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Loneliness in Abundance

When we got into the car this evening to drive to dinner with son Corin and his family, Mom surprised Herb and me by announcing matter-of-factly that she is grateful to us for "taking her in" and "generously keeping the refrigerator filled with food" - her words.

I am Mom's only daughter and the eldest child. Herb and I began our relationship in Honolulu and lived there in an Asian-Pacific culture for over fifteen years. Of course, my mother, our only living elder, would come to live with us. Where else would she live?

Even when Mom makes me crazy, I fully honor the fact that we invited her to make our home her home. The values of fairness and respect for Mom's right to live under our roof trump my selfish thoughts and selfish feelings.

Mom has thanked us before for inviting her to live with us, but this particular pronouncement arises out of her recent California visit. While there, Mom spent hours in "girl talk" with Aunt Lily and Aunt Sally, reminiscing about earlier years spent raising children and gossiping about friends and relations from their common past. Their stories put into stark relief for her the loneliness that many elders they have known experience on a daily basis.

Mom's weekly outings to the Longmont Senior Center over the past thirteen years have also put her face-to-face with the way that other elders live. Each time another elder gets shipped off by adult children who live in another state to a nursing or assisted living facility elsewhere in Colorado, Mom tells me about it.

I can recall each of those stories, and they make me very sad. In many cases, the elder died soon after moving into a facility and losing contact with her friends at the Senior Center.

Sometimes, Mom and her friends attempt to visit the elders in their new living situations, but often, the distance is just too far along 75-mile per hour highways for them to make the trip safely. Forty miles to an unfamiliar town may as well be an all day drive for elders who drive regularly only to the supermarket, the Senior Center, and the doctor's office.

I often forget that I was enculturated Chinese, which emphasizes collective values over individualistic values. I am lucky that Herb has incorporated the collective values of the Asian-Pacific culture of Hawaii and is genuinely at ease in our family system that is largely based on my Chinese enculturation.

I frequently ponder how it is that this entire first world nation has arrived at the notion that we all should desire to live alone with multiple bedrooms and personal automobiles, and that we all should value most highly the right to make decisions alone without consulting those we love and who love us. I think it's known as independence, but I just wonder . . .

The Seductive Illusion of Control

The past week has been spent in preparing for and then enduring the replacement of the original tiled kitchen countertops with granite slabs. We started this project in 2010, and I promptly fell into a massive procrastination mindset that lasted until this summer. The instigation for action was my brother's road trip with Mom to visit family in Southern California.

I began to write a recitation of all the steps to get ready for the new granite and got depressed. Suffice it to say that nothing about home improvement projects is easy, everything takes more time than planned, and I now know my way around four hardware stores in three towns. Oh, and the workmen broke the glass rangetop. I get that these are first world problems.

I have illusions of being in control of things like my house and my kitchen. Although I get my illusions dashed regularly, I am too stubborn to let go of them. They're my illusions, and I like them.

We invited my mother to live with us when we moved here in 2000, and we invited my brother to live with us two years ago. We have a friend with brain damage who has spent almost every weekday with us for years and helps with handyman jobs. Besides Herb and me, they all have free rein in the kitchen, and their imprints show up everywhere, from the food that's in the refrigerator to what's on the kitchen counters. Most of the time, I am okay with sharing "my" kitchen, but I get cranky sometimes. 

What I've discovered about my behavior and my attitudes, more than once because I'm a slow learner, is that when I get cranky, my body acts out. It's called biofeedback. So, right now, my carpal tunnel is talking to me, and I am communing with the time-release B-6.

I learned that control is illusory years ago as a young supervisor with equally young employees who were still learning how to be working adults. I learned that lesson raising two children who told me in myriad ways that "you're not the boss of me." 

I continue to learn that lesson as I try to finish up this kitchen project and negotiate with everyone else about when and how things will get done. Mostly, they all want to move faster than me, because they aren't hampered by the crippling control illusions that I harbor that prevent me from moving as fast as they want to go. 

I suspect the universe will continue to give me these lessons until I finally learn the lesson. I sure hope it's soon.

Breathe. Breathe. Live.

The intensity of real life as a Christian church volunteer leader has stolen my "free time." I have relinquished my time, bit by bit, willingly, because it feels irresponsible not to.

I do not feel important. I feel alone.

The concepts of "stepping up" and "representing" are a burden that falls upon leaders of color for a host of reasons. Making the decision to step up and represent are ultimately about a profound, deeply rooted, sense of responsibility and an embrace of sacrifice.

In this fiftieth year anniversary of important events from the American Civil Rights Movement, we are reminded of the ultimate sacrifices of martyrs who gave their lives for equal rights that we still haven't gained for everyone in this country.

My eyes are wide open, and flecked with occasional tears . . . if I allow myself the luxury of sadness. I believe that the business of Christian leaders is to give hope and to encourage new generations to engage the hope-giving business. Hope is the fuel of movements.

I have a strong work ethic, probably an understatement, and often work without ceasing, or at least, it feels that way. I also confess to taking substantial amounts of time to vege, to fall into a stupor of inactivity, because my 64-year old body just can't take the amount of work that I want to pursue everyday. Sleep does come, even when I strive to chase it away.

The time that I have sacrificed is writing time, and I am ready to write again.

I have engaged in considerable reflection while "doing" these past months. The direction of my reflection has been on issues of identity and the intersectionalities that differentiate people's senses of identity in geographically bounded communities.

I've been thinking about effective ways to break into comfortable cadres of privileged Christian leaders so that "the other" has an equal place at the table. I've been focused on the cultural differences in conversation styles in collective versus individualistic societies and how to help leaders bridge those differences in practical ways.

And I am reminding myself and you to make and enjoy many cups of tea . . .

Namaste. I greet you in the beauty that is life. Breathe. Breathe. Live.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Information About Serving on the General Convention Deputation

Although I wrote this for use in the Diocese of Colorado as we begin preparation for our October Diocesan Convention (mailings to convention delegates go out in mid-August), I am posting this here, because some of the general information might be helpful to others beyond Colorado. My profound thanks to Zoe Cole for her great edits to this piece, which make it both more accurate, and better! I am so grateful to serve with such a stellar General Convention deputation!

General Information
Elected by Diocesan Convention in October 2013, General Convention deputies and alternates serve through General Convention in June/July 2015 until the next diocesan election in October 2016. General Convention deputies participate in the governance and discernment of The Episcopal Church through activities before, during, and after the General Convention for which they are elected. Deputies are also the diocese’s representatives to the Provincial Synod. Historically, the Diocese of Colorado funds the participation at General Convention of the four lay, the four clergy deputies, and the first lay and clergy alternates. All members of the deputation, including all alternates, are encouraged to participate fully in the preparation before and debriefs after General Convention. In some years, deputies and alternates have been able to raise sufficient funds to send additional alternates to General Convention. Both changes in status, residence, employment and the desire to continuously raise up and train leaders prompts the full participation of alternates so that they are able to step into the role of deputy effectively, as needed.

Before General Convention
Before General Convention, the deputation meets several times, by teleconference and in-person, to do team building; to discuss elections, likely legislation, and topics to be presented at General Convention; and to discern the assignment of focused topics of interest in which each deputy and alternate will take leadership. The teleconferences are set for mutually convenient times. The in-person meetings will likely occur in Spring 2014, at Diocesan Convention in October 2014, and in Spring 2015. The “Blue Book,” which contains reports of all the Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards (CCABs) of the General Convention and any resolutions that they are proposing, will be published some time between January and April 2015. Deputation members are expected to review the Blue Book, especially those sections relevant to their focus areas. In the current triennium, the deputation also made a half-day presentation to the Standing Committee on the issues that would come before General Convention. Individual deputation members may volunteer to speak at congregational forums in Spring 2015 to give issues briefings; such briefings in the past have been part of the fundraising to send additional alternates to General Convention. In Spring 2015, there will be a Province VI Synod meeting that serves as a General Convention “training” session (at a place to be determined) to which deputation members are invited, but not required, to attend, and for which funding is extremely limited. One or more deputies may also have the opportunity to attend a special meeting as part of the work of the Structure Task Force, although no such meeting is currently scheduled.

During General Convention
General Convention 2015 is scheduled from June 25-July 3. For deputies in some leadership roles (such as Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary or Legislative Aide to a Legislative Committee), training will begin a day or two before the official start date of convention. During General Convention, deputies and alternates are expected to be present on the House of Deputies floor to listen to debate, vote, and track the progress of legislation. The Colorado deputation has a tradition of ensuring that all alternates present at General Convention have an opportunity to sit on the floor of the House and participate in the debate and voting. Each deputation member also is responsible for tracking specific pieces of legislation. This may involve attending and even testifying at legislative hearings before and after legislative sessions in the House. The deputation meets in caucus daily, typically at a very early breakfast or at lunch for 45 minutes. This practice assures the health of the team and that all members know the current status of legislation and other business and events. Often Episcopal Church Women (ECW) delegates and other visitors attend these caucuses. Some deputation members volunteer to write for the daily blog organized by the Diocesan Communications Director.

After General Convention
After General Convention, the deputation has a canonical duty to report to the diocese on the business accomplished at convention. In the past, the deputation has held briefings at Saint John’s Cathedral open to the entire diocese and made presentations at diocesan convention. Individual deputation members typically make presentations at their own congregations. Some have made presentations at other congregations and at regional convocations; the Standing Committee has also invited briefings at its meetings. The General Convention also refers a number of its passed resolutions to dioceses and congregations, and the deputation takes some responsibility for discussing and tracking these resolutions. The final duty of the deputation is to assist in the planning for the election of the next deputation by providing information and education about the work and process of General Convention. Individual deputies may also volunteer to be appointed by the presiding officers of General Convention to CCABs (although individuals may also be appointed to these bodies who are not deputies or alternates).

Time Commitment
To be a faithful and effective deputation member, the time commitment is substantial. The rewards of participation are also immense. As ministers in Christ’s church, we are called to participate and take our place in the councils of the church in accordance with our individual gifts and calling. A combination of interest and passion in the governance and future of the church as both Body of Christ and institution are necessary. Here is what the time commitment at meetings (not including teleconferences and optional briefings and opportunities) looks like:

Spring 2014                           
In-person meeting (not more than a day)

October 2014                         
In-person meeting/retreat just prior to Diocesan Convention

Spring 2015                           
In-person meeting (not more than a day)

June 25-July 3, 2015              
General Convention in Salt Lake City

The Future
At the 2015 General Convention there will be at least two momentous decisions for deputies and bishops (all diocesan bishops have seat, voice, and vote in the House of Bishops) to consider. These are 1) the election of the next presiding bishop – who will serve a nine-year term – and 2) the possible major restructuring of General Convention itself.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Kaze Gadway - What A Role Model!

When I grow up, I want to be just like Kaze Gadway. Kaze is a 72-years young lay minister who works with emerging leaders (youth of promise from 12 to 20) of the Episcopal Church within the Native American community of Northern Arizona. You can read Kaze’s blog, infaith posterous, here.

I first met Kaze a few years ago at a conference and was blown away by her energy, her embrace of social media, and the awesome cadre of young people in her wake. I had read and heard about her even earlier than that, as others recounted the stories of her ministry among Native American young people.

Several things about Kaze and her ministry strike me as important to note.

Kaze is hands-on. Her life is enmeshed and intertwined with those of the young people to whom she ministers. Her flock know her voice, and she knows every one of her young flock. She talks to them, and they talk to her. She listens to them, and they listen to her. They weep for and with each other. They pile into a van and drive hundreds of miles to a church conference, together. They eat fast food, and they laugh and do silly things, together. Kaze's love for her flock is palpable.

Kaze is always advocating for the youth to whom she ministers. Somehow, somewhere, some way, Kaze is asking for, advocating for, begging for, and cajoling the resources that are needed to support the opportunities for ministry experiences that her Native American young people would not otherwise be able to have. And she is teaching her flock how to stand up for themselves and for each other as they try on ministry experiences including trying out leadership roles. Kaze is always present to listen to the youths’ stories of fear, anxiety, and nervousness, and to say, again and again, just give it a try and see what happens.

Kaze gives voice and encourages voice for and among the young people of her flock. She shares their stories, frequently in their own voices as they try writing narrative and poetry, in her blog and on Facebook. She has encouraged many of the young women and men to share their own stories in blogs and on Facebook, too, and helped them to meet and connect with others in the wider church. I have read the Facebook posts and poetry of people like Jeremy, Katy, Jay, Nathan, Jacob and others, that make me think, if I was in your age range, I’d want to be friends with you and hang out with you, because you are doing and thinking amazing things. And as an elder, I’m so proud to know you and your faithful participation in your community.

Kaze isn’t limited by the artifices of age and generations. Age and aging are gifts, not limitations, and Kaze is living proof of that philosophy. Kaze is an avid and active photographer. You can always count on her to take the best photos at any event and share them generously on social media for all to see. Kaze is an active blogger, and she graciously encourages the young people to write their own thoughts in narrative and in poetry and generously shares her blog space to host their work.

Kaze will retire from full-time youth ministry on August 1, with her 73rd birthday arriving in September. It will be fun to see what the future calls Kaze to for her next adventure in life.

What a role model!

Friday, April 26, 2013

DO Something!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am no shrinking violet when it comes to language. I know my share of four letter words and other lettered words and how to use them. I know how to shape my critiques like spears and aim them wickedly, sharply. But I have to say, in recent weeks, perhaps months, I have found myself shrinking away from some of the language that is aimed at people on my social networking sites.

In fact, I find myself shrinking away from the social networking sites themselves, because the surfeit of crappy outbursts is often overwhelming and clearly dehumanizing to anyone who reads them as well as to their authors. I suspect it’s a measure of how deeply and profoundly marginalized many people feel these days, how “at the effect” of their lives they are feeling. I think as a society, we’re sort of at that point where in the film, “Network,” Peter Finch’s character Howard Beale shouts to the world, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

It grieves me deeply when I read ad hominem attacks on people, just because you disagree with them. It pains me to read the vitriol and know that degree of animus being spewed is being spewed by my friends. When you deal in do-do, some of it unavoidably sticks to you and your parts. That is an ugly image. I don’t like to imagine my friends covered in do-do. I prefer images of orchids, colorful parrots and landscapes.

I’ve been watching a lot of BBC comedies lately, and I have a strong preference for the tongue-in-cheek, humorous approaches to giving the offending parties a piece of your mind. The out-loud skewerings for which the Vicar of Dibley is well noted amuse at the same time that they make their points. I can agree that the offending parties truly are offensive, but in a “forgive them for they don’t have a clue how ignorant they really are” kind of a way. There is a humanity in that type of put-down that is totally lacking in the “F*#k  the  f*%k+^g  a$#h%&*s” diatribes that I’ve been seeing on Facebook lately.

Friends, I just want to say to you:  I get that you’re frustrated, feel lied to, and cheated. Who doesn’t? I get that you’re angry and feeling stuck and helpless. But you don’t have to stay stuck and helpless. Get off your butts, figure out who else is working on the issues that you care about, and join them. Become an advocate at the least, and an activist if you’ve got the gumption. Make your moves where they will count and effect some change.

As Mr. Rogers’ mother told him, “Look for the helpers.” Then, go help them make a difference. Be a supporter. Help champion your causes. Stop complaining, and DO something.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Talk, Leadership, and Learning

A recent rash of news articles purports that women have more words than men and talk as much as three times as much as men do. Research says there is a biological basis for this found in FOXP2, a “language protein” discovered in the brains of women and male rats, both of which vocalize more than their sexual counterparts.

I have a lot of words and expend a fair number of them everyday. My words haven’t found their way here recently, but have been present on the pages of my Facebook account and in some other writings, teachings, and conversations I’ve been working on.

When I’m leading a training or a meeting, I expend a lot of words. I realize that listening is a big part of being in community, and I try to listen intentionally as much as I can. However, I also do a lot of talking in order to share what I’ve learned and to be an encouraging presence in groups that are seeking to transform themselves and their organizations.

One of the things that happens as one gets acknowledged as a leader is that there are fewer gatherings, be they meetings or trainings, where you don’t have a role to play. The roles may be formal, as in being asked to give an introduction or a presentation, or informal, as in being queried when the group is looking for background information or feedback on the ideas they’ve generated. The responsible thing to do is to respond lightly, sharing appropriate amounts and kinds of information and giving helpful feedback that illumines ways forward. Keeping a check on one's ego is a constant practice in exercising responsible leadership.

I am deeply grateful when I have the opportunity to join a gathering as a full participant to soak up someone else’s wisdom and teaching and I can show up for the meeting without having had to prepare anything in advance to present. Such opportunities are more than merely relaxing; they are generative, giving life to my spirit so that I can bring life to my interactions with others.

In January and March, I had the opportunity to participate in two Province VI Council meetings that focused on conversation around “Why a Province?” and “Mission Fields Appropriate to a Province.” (Provinces are geographical groupings of dioceses in The Episcopal Church. Wikipedia has an informative article on this topic found here.) The discussions were led and facilitated by the gifted laywoman, Ann Fleming, Sangre de Cristo Regional Missioner of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado.

Ann introduced us to Theory U, the subject of the book Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges by Otto Scharmer, which she used as the framework for our discussions.

Theory U is a new approach to talking about the art of being fully present together, so that we can unlock the potential in our systems of relationships to realize what we think about, hope for, and work towards. I found it particularly helpful to learn about how we move from talking nice to talking tough to reflective inquiry to generative flow.
It is always exciting to be in a mode of active learning. Making time for the reading, research, and participation in groups where new learning is offered is a constant challenge to my priorities. It is easy to become stuck in associating only with people, activities, and ideas already known to me. New learning provides valuable, additional lenses through which I think about things and to how I articulate my thoughts. Additional lenses enlarge my view of the world and connect me to more people and different communities.

I'd be interested in hearing what you're learning about. Facebook is a wonderful online community that provides a multitude of input on ideas, authors, films, music, and artists to which I wouldn't otherwise be exposed. Friend me on Facebook! If you don't know me, send me a message first to tell me about yourself.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Come, and See


For Your Reading:
John 1:35 - 42

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, 'What are you looking for?' They said to him, 'Rabbi' (which translated means Teacher), 'where are you staying?' He said to them, 'Come and see.' They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. John 1: 38b-39a

How many times have you been struck by curiosity about a great teacher you have read or heard about? If you had the chance, would you seek out that great teacher to try to learn more, and perhaps, even try to talk to him or her? How would you begin that conversation, since you haven't met the teacher yet? Might you say, "Where are you staying?"

Jesus says to the two disciples of John the Baptist, "Come and see." 

That is the fundamental invitation in evangelism, to come and see. 

Evangelism means bringing good news. The invitation to those who hear the good news is to come and see. Come hear the good news of God's love for humankind that is greater than anything we know or understand. Come hear the story of how God came down to earth in human form to his mother Mary and to all the generations of humankind. 

Through the Good News of God in Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection, humankind is redeemed as God's own beloved and commissioned by Jesus to share the good news of God's love with everyone, everywhere.

As baptized followers of Jesus, we are anointed and called to be evangelists, to be carriers of the invitation to come and see. As members of Christ's Church, his body on earth, we are all empowered by the Holy Spirit to share the good news of God's great love and compassion for humankind. 

Everything we are and everything we have is given to us by God, because God loves us unconditionally. We don't deserve anything, but we have everything, because of God's love for us. 

Will you answer God's call to share the good news of Jesus Christ by inviting others to come and see - to join in our worship services where we celebrate the good news and to join in our service projects where we share God's love with others?

When someone asks you, "Where are you staying, where do you spend your time," will you invite him or her to come and see where your heart of love for Jesus is renewed each week? Will you invite others to lift their voices in praise and to break the consecrated bread with you, to come and see and receive the love of God in Christ beside you?

For Your Prayer:  
God our Creator, we thank you for the gift of Jesus, our Lord and our brother, whose words of teaching challenge us to share the good news of his love and sacrifice for the redemption of the world. Holy Spirit our Sanctifier, we ask your help each day of our lives that we may walk in love, do justice, and love mercy. Jesus our Redeemer, we pray all this in your holy name. AMEN.

For Your Reflection:
1.    Can you name ten ways in which your life has been blessed by God? Think about them, and write them down.
2.    Choose three of those ways in which you have been blessed, and write down how you would share those stories with another person from work or school or your community.
3.    As you think about how to share those stories, where do you see God being active in your life?

[The Diocese of Colorado, of which I am a member, publishes daily Lenten Meditations from various lay and clergy leaders everyday in Lent. This is my offering this year.]