Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Others Think of Us

When I would consult with congregations, I would ask them about their public profile. This is what non-members who live in their community think about their church. This has to do with image, namely what is the image the community has of us. This public profile is not only true of a local church, it is true of denominations. Think Southern Baptist, and what comes to mind?

When I am in a public place such as an airport, and I identify myself to a stranger that I am an Episcopal Priest, I am interested in their response. I can assure you that our public profile is not what we think of ourselves. Recently, a fellow passenger nodded and said, “Episcopal? Y’all are going through some sort of fight aren’t you?” I thought to myself, wow, what a great public image. This will line un-churched folks up to get into one of our congregations. I mean, who in their right minds would want to join a church that is having a fight?

There is, however, also a public profile of Christianity out there too. In a recent book, “Unchristian,” the authors surveyed numerous young people under the age of 30 to find out what they thought of us. The answers are unsettling to say the least. For example, 91% said that Christians dislike or hate homosexual persons. No matter how you feel about the issue of same-sex blessings, you have to realize what a terribly negative attitude this is toward those of us who represent Jesus and his Church.

In Dallas recently, we have had this attitude reinforced in a very public way. The pastor of one of our most public churches decided to do a series on homosexuality. The title of his first sermon that was placed on their front sign was “Gay is not OK.” This generated a number of protesters who gathered on that Sunday morning to voice their dissent from such a position. In the interviews that followed in the public press, the protesters sounded much more loving and compassionate than the pastor who claimed he was “speaking the truth in love.”

The next week, the issue of sex was raised in a very different way by the pastor of a newly formed and large mega-church who announced a series on marriage and sex. He delivered part of these sitting on a bed while suggesting married couples engage in sex every day over the next week. He promised it would be a “bonding experience.”

After my wife and I stopped laughing, I could not help but wonder if the pastor was in another way reinforcing the image among un-churched and non-Christian people that we Christians, and especially our clergy, are pre-occupied and even obsessed with sexual behavior. Neither example, I would content, helps our public profile. It probably is reinforced and even made worse here in North Texas with the action of the Diocese of Ft. Worth to remove itself from the Episcopal Church because of our increasingly liberal national church policies, specifically related to the election of a Bishop who is a gay man living in a same-sex relationship.

Put all this public profile in perspective of Christ the King Sunday. On this day, we hear the parable of the separation of the sheep and goats. This is a parable about judgment, so we might ask ourselves what criteria Jesus uses to separate the good from the bad? Surprise, it has nothing to do with sexual behavior. Even more, it has almost nothing to do with any personal habit or behavior such as smoking, drinking or with whom we have sex. It all has to do with how we treat the poor, the hungry and those imprisoned!

Now, we as the Christian Community need to ask ourselves why the profile of our Lord and of the Church is so far off our Lord’s values. Why are we not known for our concerned with the poor, and not with sexual behavior? The answer, of course, is that we are reaping what we sow. Talk about sex and people think we are primarily concerned with it.

The challenge for us today, and this very much includes the Episcopal Church, is to start talking publicly about what is really of deepest concern to us. In doing so, we should remember that Jesus commenced the beginning of his ministry with, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” Further, we should ask ourselves if the presence of a church in any community is primarily good news to the widow, orphan, and stranger in our midst. As our Gospel for this Sunday assures us, this will be our King’s greatest concern when he measures us according to what we have done.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Day After

Since I had voted early, I spend Tuesday in Austin visiting my 7 month old granddaughter, Ana Miranda, arguably the most beautiful granddaughter in the world. I left early Wednesday morning to return to Dallas. Dressed in very casual attire and unshaven, I stopped for coffee at a local fast food store in South Dallas. I found myself standing next to an African-American gentleman about my age as we poured cream. “Great morning isn’t it?” I said.

“Yes, it is. The temperature is almost perfect,” he replied.
“I meant the day after the election,” I offered with a smile.
“Indeed it is,” he said back, “it IS a great morning.”
Before I could say more, he added, “I am a Viet Nam vet and I have lots of respect for John McCain. He is a great man. But, this was our day!”

“You and I are old enough to remember hearing Dr. King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech live, as he gave it,” I added. He nodded assent. “I bet that, like me, you never thought that you would see this day in our life-time,” He nodded thoughtfully and with a slight tear said, “Never in my life time.”
“Yes,” I agreed. Then I added, “I guess you could say it was every American’s day.”
“That’s true,” he said as he offered me his warm, firm handshake.
John McCain is a great man, and I pray that our President elect will become a great President. This morning at sunrise, we awoke to the possibility of being an even greater nation.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Approaching Election

Reflections on the upcoming Election, Politics and the Church
Here are some thoughts and opinions of mine as we approach the November election. I thought some of this might help Cathedral members and friends understand me a bit better.

During Seminary I became very involved in what today would be called justice and rights issues. This continued for a few years after seminary, but in 1977 I experienced a conversion experience. In brief, Christ became more clearly my Lord and Savior. Naturally, this touched most aspects of my life. One of these had to do with my involvement in political activism. It isn’t that I suddenly came to see these issues as wrong or unimportant. It was more personal for me. I came to see that my involvement in them was motivated by anger and at times hatred. I knew that love and especially the love of Christ were not my motives. Further, I realized that I tended to see those who differed from me as bad or evil. I needed to step back from all this.

In addition, as I have aged and hopefully matured, I have become a lot more circumspect about politics. I am more inclined to look for the truth on both sides of issues. I have grown too in my conviction that pastors would do well to maintain a more independent and non-partisan position regarding candidates and political parties. We need to be able to minister to all our people and there are always Christians of good conscience on all sides of political divides and all parties. None of this means that I lack political convictions or even passion, I just am very concerned about maintaining the Church’s ability and mine to speak to power no matter which party or person happens to hold it.

I call myself an independent and have many times split my ballot voting for folks from different parties. Since 1980, for those interested, I have voted for the person elected President all but twice. I will leave this for you to guess where I may have gone wrong.

Here is one matter about which I have plenty of conviction. After the 2004 election, the IRS threatened to take away the not-for-profit status of All Saints Parish, Pasadena based on a sermon preached just before the election. Like many in the religious community, I reacted immediately to this interference and threat to the Church’s, or any religious communities, right to free speech and the ability to comment on political matters. Then, I listened to the actual sermon.

After that, I found myself on the IRS’s side of the issue. In his sermon, the retired Rector of the parish, not only took sides in the election, but essentially explained how Jesus would vote. Telling Christians how Jesus would vote is presumptuous and manipulative. This is the worse kind of blurring of the boundaries of Church and State. For me, for a pastor to try to tell folks for whom to vote is an abuse of our power.

Having said all this, here are a couple of observations about this election. Both candidates for president are right, we need a change in direction as a nation. Either will bring change. The most important change IMHO needed is how we carry ourselves in our relationship to the other nations of the world.

As Reporter Brian Williams has stated, I believe that both Senator Obama and Senator McCain are outstanding leaders and persons of character, and either would serve our nation well. I think that demonization and character assassinations do not serve us well. Such attacks undermine the basic truth that for the health and well-being of our nation, after the election, we will need to come back together. After the election, the person who is president will be added to our prayers of the people. He will be President of all the people. We can only pray that the person holding this office will always remember this.

I believe it is the duty of all Christians, as well as all citizens, to vote and to fully participate in our political process. So, don’t forget to vote November 4th!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sermon on September 28th - Family Sunday

(I don’t usually preach from a manuscript, but last Sunday, I did.)


Outside of Jerusalem rests the tomb of a young man. For centuries now Jews, Christians and Muslims have come to the tomb to throw stones and offer prayers of bitterness. Who could generate such universal reaction?

His name was Absalom. He was the favored son of David who created upheaval in his father’s household, tried to subvert his father’s rule, and finally led a rebellion and civil war that almost cost David his life.

The people who gather for such prayers demonstrate the universal pain of families that come apart. The bible is full of such stories and most of the families portrayed in Scripture qualify for the term dysfunctional!

Perhaps this is one reason that the story of the prodigal son remains so universally loved. The prodigal returns and receives the love of the father. Meanwhile, however, his older brother fumes in resentment.

This morning’s gospel reading gives us another view of family behavior. Jesus used it to show how people who once were outcasts could find their way back to the Father’s love. At the same time he showed that some who say the right things have the wrong motives in their hearts.

I had a friend who used to like to twist the familiar phrase “home is where the heart is” into home is where the HURT is. Each time he would say it, the rest of us would both smile in recognition and grimace in the plan truth.

I once say a cartoon that showed a large auditorium. Over the stage hung a large banner with “The National Organization of People from Functional Families.” The auditorium had about five people scattered around in it.

Families, of course, can be places of love and sources of strength to their members, but we all know from these examples that families are often the source of our greatest pain. Knowing this, I’ve often asked myself as a pastor, what the church can do about this.

Why do families and family members need the church?

The Church is called in Scripture the “Family of God.” At the core of this description are three cardinal values to comprise our family. Simply said they are

Most human families start out with the value of love. But love itself can become twisted. Love can become conditional – I love you only if you live up to my expectations. Love can become manipulative – If you love me, you will do what I want. Love can go sour when a family member goes in a different way. The message is clear, we love you but not if you choose to act that way.

This is where the church as the family of God has something significant to add to all of us. We are after all a community not only of love, but also of acceptance. When we are truly the church, we accept people as they are; who they are, unique. It doesn’t matter if this uniqueness is the result of different talents or strange quirks. If folks are baptized they are part of our family.

And further, we are a community of forgiveness. We start with the assumption that everyone is a sinner in need of forgiveness. And as Alina reminded us two weeks ago, we are to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

Jerry Cook was the pastor of a very large Four Gospel Church in Portland, Oregon. He had a large church with lots of programs, bible studies, and a terrific youth ministry. Then one day he began to think about the behavior of his members. He became uncomfortable with the typical church chatter. He became convicted that as good as his church was, it wasn’t really the family of God, but a group of people with similar values.

Finally, he decided to do something about it. For one full year, he preached sermons with only three themes: Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. He said strait out that biblical knowledge and theological true are important, but it was more important to God that his family lived out love, acceptance and forgiveness. It took a while, but a church that had been largely suburban and white began to change.

Some members where surprised when street kids started attending.

Others were shocked when the church became integrated.

Some even left when lots of single people started attending including Gay and Lesbians.

What was once a nice church became a dynamic community that transformed its neighborhood and became a remarkable witness to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Love, acceptance and Forgiveness are the core values of the family of God.

Golf in the Kingdom

Thursday afternoon the weather looked ideal. I had been spending too much time in the office and I had not been able to play golf for over two weeks. So, I took off and headed north to Ridgeview Ranch.

They had an opening for a single person. I was matched up with two nice business men who were making up a round for their golf league. We headed out just after 4pm and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to play a full round. I played extremely well and headed to the back nine just two over par.

Mostly I was putting very well thanks to an off hand comment by Johnny Miller during the Ryder Cup about judging break. I put in three putts for par that were over 15 feet. We finished the tenth hole and my playing companions who were having a tough day decided to head to the club house for a beer.

I went along alone paring the 11th after holing with another long putt for a par. Then I approached the 12th hole which is a medium par three. I stood in the twilight looking at the pin that was near the front of the green. I took out my Sky Caddie (given to me by two friends who understand) and calculated my distance. I was just at 140 yards from the pin. I took out a nine iron. For me, a nine iron hit well will go 145 yards. I figured it was late in the round and given a front trap, better to be long than short.

I hit the shot well and it flew directly at the pin. In the gathering dark I could not see how close I was. For a fleeting moment, I thought it might have gone in. I suddenly realized that I didn’t have any witnesses to vouch for me if it did. I drove the cart path around the green and realized that I had hit it pretty much my full length and was five paces above the hole with a down hill putt. No problem, I thought to myself, because I had already holed several of these.

Then to my alarm I realized that it had gotten just too dark to be able to read the putt. I was thinking to myself that the best strategy would be to just hit it firm right at the hole. Then, I paused and looked around me. The setting sun made a golden sunset and the surrounding houses added a luminescent to the scene. It must have been just perfectly 70 degrees. A small gentle breeze was blowing. I stood there taking in this absolutely perfect North Texas night. I remembered that I had just shot one of my best front nines ever.

I took a deep breath and offered a short prayer. “Thank you Lord for the gift of this day, the beauty that surrounds me, the joy and pleasure in a round played well, and most of all for good friends, who not only share a love for the game, but also are kind enough to help me enjoy it more.“

With that I picked up my ball. The birdie putt had by now been transcended by the beauty of the moment and a heart that was full of thanksgiving. I drove my cart slowly to the cart barn. I knew that there would be many more chances for birdie putts, but few moments in which everything comes together. In golf, just as in the rest of life, sometimes it does.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Two Critical Dynamics of Leadership

August 7th, John Mason Neale

Today is the feast day honoring John Mason Neale in “Lesser Feasts and Fasts.” A prominent scholar and writer of the Oxford movement, he was born in London in 1818 and attended Cambridge University where he came under the influence of the then emerging “high church” movement. He was a talented writer, but his greatest contribution to the church was his extraordinary ability to translate Greek and Latin texts into meaningful modern hymns.

I want to use his place in this movement to write about two particular dynamics of leadership, the ability to stand apart, and the ability to draw together. As I have looked at many movements in the history of Christianity, I noticed that the leader, or early leaders, of each movement show the particular ability to stand apart from the mainstream of the culture of the Church in their time. They persist on their vision and change often at the cost of great criticism, even personal criticism. Since criticism is not something that an intuitive feeling person like me, an NF in Meyers-Briggs terminology, can tolerate well, I know that starting something new and different is hard. That is why many of these leaders have been Intuitive thinking folks (NT’s). I would put people like St. Paul, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and John Henry Newman is this category. The combination of intuition and thinking – “can’t you see the truth?” – gives them the ability to weather criticism and break from the flock (the current mindset) in a way that we feeling folks can only long for. Sometimes it seems that intuitive thinkers even thrive on criticism. This gives them the ability to persist in leading a movement that others simply cannot bear.

Having said this, however, it is important to realize that most effective movements in the Church have another component of success that is often overlooked, especially by the NT’s of our world. In the second layer of leadership, there is often a good “feeler” individual who can put to words and music the theology and philosophy of the movement in such a way that it can penetrate people’s hearts and then convert their minds. This is the other dynamic of being able to draw together. I believe John Mason Neale was one of these leaders in the Oxford Movement. It was his ability to use language to give voice and emotion to the vision that helped cement it into the culture.

I would also point to Charles Wesley as one of the major leaders who did the same thing for John Wesley and the Wesleyan Movement. While few Episcopalians identify with the theology of Wesley, yet, many still love to sing Charles’ hymns. These give voice to belief in Christ, longing for fellowship, and the desire for holiness that remains the great contribution of John and his followers. By the way, I have found that the same can be said of many Methodist; they reject the theology, but love the hymns.

This brings me to an important observation. When we look at the current movements in Christianity, and there are lots of them, we might ask how long lasting these will be? The answer may not rest in the current NT leaders, but in those who are able to give voice to the movement. This is one of the reasons that I believe much of the “Progressive Movement or Movements” of modern mainline Christianity will not endure for long. As one scholar has said, progressivism makes for a great criticism of the current status quo, put a poor substitute for it.

In summary, movements may be generated by intuitive thinking people, but unless the movement finds poets and songwriters along the way, there contributions may not last. When we remember John Mason Neale, we are reminded of this truth.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Wall-e: What Does a Story Mean?
My wife and I are long-time animated film fans. We particularly like the recent work done by Pixar, and were eager to see their new one, “Wall-e.” I enjoyed it immensely. However, there is some controversy swirling around this movie and particularly around interpretations of what the story really means.

In case you missed this so far, there are some saying that the movie is a powerful allegory on the dangers of rampant consumerism and environmental destruction. Others are writing that this is a subversive movie intended, by a group of tree-huggers, to undermine the benefits of science, technology, and progress. My point in writing on this move is not to take sides, as you will read shortly; I don’t see the movie from either of these points of view. I do want to use the story to talk about stories and their meanings, and yes, this has important implications for Christians who hold dearly a book that is full of stories, namely, the Bible.

Last week, I had the benefit of hearing the Wall-e’s creator tell about the genesis of the story that became the movie. He set out with the simple idea of the last robot on earth. He then worked backwards to create a world where such a being existed. “Being is an important word, because even thought Wall-e is a robot, he has evolved into a remarkable self-aware being. Wall-e’s creator seems a bit perplexed by the interpretations of the story and the controversy that surrounds this. He said several times that, “it is a very simple story.” This comment by the author, however, leads us directly into the issue of what a story means, and more importantly for those of us who preach Christian stories, does a story only mean what the author intended it to mean?

The direct answer to this question is “no.” I would content what makes for a good story is that it captures our imagination, and allows us to read into the story. In this task, we become almost co-creators with the original author. Let me be clear, I am not in the camp of radical deconstructionist who ignores the author’s intent. I believe “what” the author intended is important. I am just saying that finding the author’s original intent is not discovering the total meaning of the story. What makes for a good story is this ability to engage the listener, just as what makes Jesus’ parables so good and long-lasting is their ability to continue to engage us in their meaning.

I think the power of the story of Wall-e the robot is not in found in the environmental wasteland of earth, or the distorted human beings who have lost connection with their true home and their true selves as they take their perpetual cruise in space. For me, Wall-e is most essentially a love story. However, it is not simply a story about two different robots who manage to find one another and fall in love. It is a story about how love, especially the love between a man and a woman, redeems us to our true selves.

This starts with Eve, the smooth, white, pure, and powerfully destructive robot who is sent on a mission to discover if there is life on earth. In Wall-e’s eyes, Eve becomes Ev-a. Wall-e calls her out of her own program and beyond it to become the mate he has longed for in his lonely existence. He even risks his life to save her from the evil “auto-pilot” who seeks only to preserve the status quo of his reason for existing. Tragically, in saving her, Wall-e is damaged and returns to his meaningless pre-existence as a mindless trash collector. Ev-a now returns to rescue him, and looking deeply into his eyes, she calls him back to himself.

This is what romantic love is really about. In our love and longing for another, sometimes born out of acute loneliness, we help our beloved see him or her self in a deeper way. They see themselves more fully as the beloved of another. At the same time, this beloved is able to look into our eyes and take us beyond our simple ways of seeing ourselves. Eve, the biological probe becomes the beloved Ev-a. Wall-e, the trash collecting robot, becomes the white knight whose quest for his beloved also happens to be the redeemer of all of humanity.

Where have we heard this story before? It is the heart of “The Man of La Mancha.” Wall-e is the crazy old man who becomes the valiant knight whose mad quest awakens the dull maiden into the beautiful Dulcinea. At the end of the story, as the evil agent convinces Don Quixote that he is nothing, it is the lovely Dulcinea who looks into his eyes and calls him back to his true self. In this, the true story of humanity unfolds.

But, look even deeper for a moment. What is a good story? It is a story in which we find meaning. This meaning is found in who we are. Yet, at the same time, the story is more than what we interpret it to mean, because the story is also able to call out of ourselves a deeper meaning of who were are. A good story is, after all, the Ev-a for all of us. Perhaps this is why most of Jesus’ teachings were stories. These stories were intended, not just to instruct us, but to awaken us and remind us of our true nature.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Ad

Last Sunday several of our members asked me the same question, "What did you think of the ad?" They meant the ad for the Episcopal church printed in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. If you haven't seen it, it says that serving others is another way of praying and that you can come and help slice carrots at an Episcopal Church. This ad among a few others had already generated some comments on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv, so I was already curious to see some samples. What do I think of the ad?

First, I would want to commend whoever was responsible, I don't think it was the Diocese of Ft. Worth, for placing the ad. One continuing problem for TEC is that we have almost no "public profile" at all. Public Profile is what non-Episcopalians especially unchurched people think of us. In numerous survey's when asked about TEC, the most frequent response is nothing. Hard as it is for Episcopalians with our precious preoccupation with ourselves to believe, we don't read on most people's radar screen. They don't really know what our churches are like. On the negative side, many do know that, as one fellow traveler said to me, "you folks are going through some sort of controversy aren't you?" We must acknowledge that controversy would not be a high value for those seeking a spiritual home. So at least SOME ad is better than nothing.

On the other hand, that is the problem. The ad said absolutely nothing about us. If we changed the name Episcopal Church and put in Red Cross, the ad would stand exactly as it is. When I worked for the Diocese of Texas, we got some excellent advise (we paid for it) from one of the top advertizing companies in Houston. They taught us a lot about the purpose of advertising before they helped us develop ads. Here is what I learned.

1. An ad is an opportunity for you to tell people clearly about your "product" or as we would say our ministry and mission. It would hold up a particular value or dynamic of our life that would attempt to speak to others. A very good example of this was an ad put together for TEC before General Convention 2003. It showed a chalice and bread on an altar and the camera panned back to show a women priest celebrating. The voice over than added, "in the Episcopal Church, we believe a woman's place is at the altar." It went on to say further that we welcomed women in all levels of leadership as a church. Like it or not, it was true and it said something about us while it also communicated our sacramental nature.

2. An ad also needs to have a clear target audience. Per the above example, the market was all those Christians who believed that women should be treated equally to men, which is about 99% of everyone 50 years of age or younger! A poor example from the above ad campaign was, IMHO, an ad that opened with Bach music and two very gothic doors being slowly opened. Behind the doors was a lecture containing one of those large lecture Bibles. The voice said, "Would you come to church if we promised not to throw the book at you?" This ad was poorly thought through as to its target audience. It is aimed, not at unchurched people, but at de-churched people, namely people fleeing or hurt by a church that applies the Bible harsh way. To see the problem with the ad, think about its effect upon unchurched people. If they were planning on attending a Mosque, what would you think if the Mosque advertised that they had the Koran but didn't take it too seriously! (Needless to say, the members of the Executive Council of TEC loved this one.) We know from studies of unchurched people that they expect Christian churches to have a Bible, read from it and apply it to life. (I hope to write about the effects of having so many de-churched people in our community at a later point.)

3. We learned that an ad did not create a need. Put another way, no one got up from watching the U.S. Open and went out an bought a Bridgestone DT golf ball. All the ad wants to do is create a link between the need and the brand. If I need some golf balls, I stop and think, "I'll try those new DT's. I've heard they travel further." This is the very important part of advertising, namely to connect need to a brand.

Now, if I apply these three criteria to the ad in question, what do I get. A. No clear product. B. No clear audience. C. No clear link between a need and the brand. So, I think it was "a nice try, but no cigar." I would close, however, by asking you what kind of ad should your Church place? Can you communicate your unique message? Do you know your prime target audience? And, can you create a link between the audiences need and your ministry and life?

Here is one of my favorites from the Diocese of Texas campaign. You see a picture of the moon. Along side it is a quotation in bold print, "One small step for man, one giant step for mankind." Below it was the name Neil Armstrong followed by the word "explorer." Below that a smaller print tag line, "Neil Armstrong found a spiritual home in the Episcopal Church, you could too." It had a product, and audience, and a link; spiritual home for adventurous (with the people we used, there were a lot of other words that worked here too) people! Of course, this may not be your congregation's message at all, which is why you will want your own congregation to advertize so that you can create your own "Public Profile."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


“Do not be anxious,” Jesus said. Without a doubt, Jesus’ wise advice to his disciples is also applicable to a congregation or community. Over the years, as I worked with congregations, I grew to have a greater appreciation for anxiety and its effects upon communities.

Directly said, anxious communities are reactive communities. Anxiety is an emotional state that is processed by our minds and bodies in the same way we react to fear. Emotionally, we click into “fight or flight.” We fight when we respond with conflict and when we attack others. We flee when we withdraw or avoid others. Some congregations that I worked with were so chronically anxious that they repeated sick and toxic behavior. For example, in congregations that others have called “Priest killers,” I have found that this destructive behavior toward clergy is a symptom of a deeper underlying anxiety.

When our congregation or community becomes anxious it becomes reactive. It is not very able to respond certainly not in creative ways. Things are viewed through the lens of either/or, black/white, right/wrong. People and events are measured as being for us or against us.

For some time now, I have tried to state as rationally and calmly as possible that TEC is a community that shows all the signs of an anxious and reactive community. The continuing polarization on issues related to human sexuality and the fight or flight posture of many of our leaders is strongly indicative of our plight. I further believe that our current tension and polarization has gone on for so long that we are in danger of becoming, if we are not already, a chronically anxious community without the inner resources to turn toward health and healing.

I should mention that when I try to say this, those strongly caught up in the reactivity usually respond in very negative ways. They argue for the rightness of their side, or the importance of “rights” or “belief.” I want to make it clear, before you hit the “comment” button to my blog that I am not saying that the issues on both sides are not important. I am saying that we are dealing with them poorly because we have become so reactive.

What we do know about reactivity is that reason and understanding are pushed aside by emotion and passion. One continuing example of this is the way Episcopal leaders talk about, and the terms we use to describe, those we “see on the other side.” (One rule of thumb that I learned as a consultant is always to use the terms and descriptions that people and groups use about themselves WITHOUT giving these a pejorative definition.)

Those who have read articles from me already know that I have said all this before. What I want to answer in my blog is this question that is seldom asked: “What are we anxious about?” In other words, what is driving our present anxiety? I would say that the answer to this is complex, but it is knowable if we stop and thing about it.

First of all, as a Church with strong connections to American culture, we are anxious about all the things our general society is anxious about. Try this for a starting list:
The Post-cold war transitional world community
9/11 and global terrorism, our incursion into Afghanistan, and our disastrous quagmire in Iraq
Globalization (which includes all of the above)
The changing definitions of humanity and human sexuality, which corresponds to the diminishing identity we once found in our tribe, race or national origin.
The rise of violence in our society
The complexity of our society
The tremendous changes brought about by technology, the internet and computers
The decline of the family as the basic unit of culture and the emergence of the peer community as its replacement
The explosive growth in our understanding of the Universe and the diminishing place we humans find in it
The consequences of our dependence upon carbon fuels and the results, be they global warming or $5.00 a gallon gasoline

Then as a church:
40 years of decline
The loss of our “English” identity and the Americanization of ECUSA
The change from being a New York and East Coast elitist Community into a more upper middle-class community post WWII
The changing and emerging power of women
The declining number of African-Americans and blue collar workers who represented our previous “diversity and inclusion.”
The failure of Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, and Charismatics to gain control of our community combined with the absolute control of our national leadership by Progressives
The use of a Prayer Book that does not create a common sense of language and community – too many options for that
An aging membership that remains highly educated, largely Anglo and that can’t find many ways to live out the diversity that we value so much
A lack of consensus as to the role and place of Anglicanism in North America and a growing tension with Anglicanism in the rest of the world

Add to these, Post-Christendom, Post-denominationalism, and Post-modernism and you get a lot of anxiety.

So, what are we to do? When I suggested in a previous post that it will be 2010 before we will have the opportunity to move beyond our present stuckness, one reader, Sarah, stated her opinion that this will go on much longer. It certainly could. The result of such on-going anxiety will be the essential demise of our community. Sure, a remnant will remain, but it will be the remnant so burned out and dysfunctional that it will have no future.

Or we could simply have it out by fight or flight. The 2009 General Convention could be an essential sweep of the issues even at the expense of our membership in the wider Anglican Community. I have certainly heard this attitude expressed by some Progressives. We could see the withdrawal of more leaders, congregations and even dioceses. We (and they) kid ourselves if we think that such flight does not affect those who leave. I think a few folks who have left have managed to move beyond our present situation, but most clearly have not.

The answer in another way is quite simple, keep engaged and refuse to either win or withdraw. This is not a very easy road to take, nor a very comfortable one. Finally, one way to survive this is to surrender “the illusion of control.” As I said in my sermon May 25th, most human beings greatly over-estimate what we can really control. Worse, in believing we can control, we only create greater anxiety in ourselves and in our communities. Here is my summary comment for myself and the church I love, “When control is the issue, Jesus has left the building!”

On a personal note, I will be away for several days attending my grandson’s graduation from High School in Seattle. So, now you can hit the comment button and I will respond (hopefully not react) when I return.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Conversation with the PB (Part I)

When our Presiding Bishop was in Dallas recently, I had a chance to talk to her about our work on the 2020 Taskforce together. When I told her that I was disappointed that I had not heard much on this from her, she told me a couple of things of interest to me.

First, she mentioned the reorganization of the National Church Staff and the move of several offices to other parts of the country from NYC (more on this issue in a later post.) She also mentioned several other initiatives which connected to the eight 2020 areas. I was glad to hear this and incouraged her to speak more about these. It did not come up in her discussion with our clergy. We still remain publicly fixed on "the issues."

I would be the first to say that I think most of 2020 is dead in the water, but I continue to talk about these for two reasons. First, some day we will move beyond the current issues of sexuality and will want to go back to the mission of building the Church and making disciples for Jesus Christ. Second, I still believe that the eight areas expressed in the 2020 Report are the critical ones for the future - take for examples, reaching the new ethnic groups in the U.S. and developing younger ordained leaders.

How long will TEC continue to be dominated and pre-occupied by "the issues?" Until at least 2010. Remember two of my observations over the years: "Issues divide and Mission unites" and "In a polarized situation, the most strident voices dominate and moderate voices are pushed to the margins!" Sadly, this means that if I am right, we can expect our present unpleasantness will continue until at least 2010.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I have served the Church as a Priest for 37 years, having served four congregations, two non-profits, and as canon for congregational development in the Diocese of Texas. This blog is a place for me to share my thoughts and reflections on issues before the wider church. Much of my perspective comes as a long time teacher and consultant and as a member of the initial 2020 Taskforce of the Episcopal Church.

I would like to invite those who care for and love the Church to respond and engage me in conversation.