Quick News re: UTO

I write not representing any person or group other than myself here. My perspective is subjective and my memory fallible, but I wanted to share today's news and lack of news from Executive Council actions (insofar as I'm aware of them) regarding the UTO's relationship with the DFMS.

I have posted to Facebook and Twitter already about one motion at Executive Council today regarding relations between the UTO (United Thank Offering) and the DFMS (which in this case I'm using as shorthand for the nonprofit corporation "DFMS" of which Executive Council is the board of directors.

That was the motion in Council's Governance and Administration for Mission (GAM) affirming the recommendation GAM's chair made to hol discussions with and about the UTO in executive session that excluded members of Council from other committees as well as other persons not previously invited.

I had hoped to listen prayerfully in that meeting so that I could hear directly from the UTO guests, the Presiding Bishop, the President of the House of Deputies, DFMS's Chief Operating Officer, and the legal counsel hired by the DFMS, and thereby better come to understand:

1) what legal and/or other issues necessitated, in the view of any and all, the development of new bylaws this year;

2) what accounts all people involved and present wanted to offer of what went awry in the relationships and diminished mutual trust, such as we've seen manifested in various emails and blogs recently; and

3) what ideas all present had as to the best route forward for reconciliation and furtherance of God's mission via the UTO and the DFMS.

But the GAM session was ruled out as a place where I and other members of Council could do that listening.

So I offered a motion in the Advocacy & Networking committee of Council, to which I belong, to amend our agenda so we could have the opportunity to invite all UTO guests, all interested members of Council, and all other participants from the GAM executive session to speak -- in executive session, open session, or not at all, according the the preference of each -- and be heard. The motion was ruled out of order by the chair of Advocacy & Networking on the grounds (as I recall them, but it will all be in the minutes) that doing so would undermine the process set forth by our presiding officers.

The third action taken with respect to UTO today was that a motion put forward by Dahn Gandell as Council's Liaison to the Committee on the Status of Women -- one I'd summarize as advocating a listening process and restraint with respect to major changes without such a process -- was ruled as out of order by the chair of Advocacy & Networking on the same grounds (that it would undermine the process set forth by the presiding officers).

So I apologize to anyone from the UTO, Council, staff, or anyone else involved who might have wanted to speak and be heard beyond the GAM executive session -- the contents of which must remain in total confidence among the participants.

And I apologize to those who were hoping I'd be able to provide more information (as appropriate and within the law and rules, of course) on the virtues of the positions taken by those on the DFMS side so far. I'm sure we'll get more information eventually, and perhaps even tomorrow or Thursday, but I don't know anything substantial on the DFMS side of things that I didn't know last week.

I respect and assume positive intent on the part of all involved; please don't read this as a public criticism of anyone except, perhaps, myself, if anyone sees shortcomings in what I have and have not done.

I have heard from some who were in the GAM session that they feel a good beginning was made.

I would say at this point that I do not have anything like definitively BAD news to share; I am simply disappointed that I wasn't able to hear others' perspectives and come to understand the situation better today.

If there is more news later, I'll share it later -- as much, of course, as is appropriate and within laws and rules that bind members of Council.

I am grateful to the presiding officers and my colleagues on Council for their patience with my efforts today, and wish peace to all.



October 15, 2013 in Churchiness | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Dylan gets fit: Day One

This summer's shoulder dislocation put the kaibosh on my usual daily or near-daily kayaking, and my physical fitness (and physical appearance) have suffered for it.

Well, no more, my friends! I believe I have found the right gym and the right trainer to help me return to the condition at which I'm happiest. Brace yourselves, my friends, for a potential picture of just how much room for improvement I've got now; I might get a portrait taken tomorrow at the gym.

August 13, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

a most serious matter facing General Convention

I face a great dilimma at General Convention this year, and I hope via this blog to conduct a churchwide conversation to assist discernment.

As some of you know, at last GC I borrowed a travel electric guitar and performed a composition with original lyrics. The song's title was "I Will Survive (General Convention)." I am told that it was most inspiring. I can only thank our Creator and the angels for working through me to encourage the saints in this way.

I have been asked to do at least one other such song at this convention. Thus far, contenders include:

  • "(You Say You Want a) Resolution"
  • "Changes" (to the tune of David Bowie's great song; this one would have to be about TEC structure)
  • "Episcopalians" (to the tune of Bowie's "Young Americans")
  • "The Ones Who Sold the Church" (to the Bowie/Nirvana tune -- I think this one's probably too edgy)
  • "Smells Like [something -- Sweet Incense?]" (I'm clearly on a Nirvana kick)
  • "Tridium" (to the tune of Nirvana's "Lithium")
  • "500 Miles" (the Proclaimers' song on the Shrek soundtrack -- a tribute to how much we have to walk at GC)

My instrument this year is a "mandobird" -- an electric mandolin designed like a Gibson Firebird guitar:

image from www.tdpri.com

... and the mandolin is a particularly appropriate instrument for when I sing the Indigo Girls "Ozilline" as a tribute to Miss Lydia Wilkins of Pasadena, CA, who died two months' short of her 107th birthday in 2010 -- and who I can say from personal witness looked WAY better in my black leather motorcycle jacket than I did. My love to the whole Tatum-Harris clan.

image from 1.bp.blogspot.com

But for the General Convention song(s), do any of the above stand out? Any other suggestions? I can easily make the mandobird sound like an electric guitar with effects, so the possibilities are staggering. Since I've only played mandolin for a few weeks, though, it probably should be too musically complex. (I told my committee chairs that our music for worship could not, unfortunately, include St. Patrick's Breastplate.)

July 5, 2012 in Churchiness, Just for Fun, Music, Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

online rally to restore Anglican sanity and/or comprehensiveness

I was disappointed not to be able to attend Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C. last week, so please indulge me:

Let's have an online Rally to Restore Anglican Sanity and/or Comprehensiveness!

The person who submits the best slogans for a rally sign will see their creations available for sale in the SarahLaughed Cafe Press store to benefit the Haiti Solidarity Initiative! Woo hoo!

I'll start with some Stewart-inspired possibilities:

  • You annoy me, but I'm pretty sure you're not Satan
  • Our disagreement doesn't make you a heretic
  • I break (bread) for conservatives [over a rainbow flag?]
  • I break (bread) for LGBT people [over a conservative logo of some kind]
  • I'm only marching out of the convention to go to the pub
  • It's mission, not fission [that may be too obscure, or too annoying for physicists]
  • The person who advocates schism says "I'm an asshat" twice [for irreverent Augustine fans]
  • Bored with belligerence

OK, people -- go wild! What banner would you wave?

November 1, 2010 in Churchiness, Just for Fun | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Ken Howard's Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Between Us and Them and why it rocks

I confess to being a bit jaded when it comes to books about Christianity. When I’m asked to recommend some good books for congregational study and private devotional reading, I usually recommend a book in Hebrew scripture or the New Testament. I think that we Western Christians are often tempted to confuse talking about Christianity and practicing it, and I think that sometimes the current flood of books telling us what Christianity is about can be more of a distraction than a help with respect to deepening discipleship.

So I admit that I picked up Paradoxy with some trepidation. But Brian McLaren is spot on when he says that most of that flood of books, even the best-selling ones, “don’t hold a candle – in terms of content or readability – to this one.” And so I’m tremendously grateful to Ken Howard for giving me the opportunity to read his book and write some reflections on Chapter 5, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past: Christianities that might have been.”

In Paradoxy, Ken Howard, with grace, power, and refreshingly accessibility and conciseness, explores wildly diverse streams within European and American Christianity from the first to the 21st century, takes up many of the issues that they found (and we often still find) most confusing or even contentious, and weaves an open-ended story of how God’s people find room in their hearts for one another and discover that they have found room for God’s Spirit and energy to press further the adventure of Christian discipleship.

As a scholar of Paul’s writings, I particularly appreciated the way Howard teases out in Chapter 5 the ways in which Paul’s work was shaped as much by his lifelong Jewish and Pharisaic identity as by Jesus’ call to serve as apostle to Gentiles. And I appreciated even more Howard’s taking a further theological and missiological step: he acknowledges and celebrates how an Incarnational faith will be expressed differently in different contexts, and that this is both appropriate and necessary.

In Chapter 5, Howard paints in vivid and broad strokes the creative tension between the streams of Christianity represented by Paul on one hand and Peter and James (Jesus’ brother) on the other. Howard generally calls them “Gentile Christianity” and “Jewish Christianity,” terminology that illustrates, I think, the difficulty of Howard’s task as he seeks to explore paradoxes of our faith.

It’s a huge challenge. Many who have try end up either as a kind of accessible but vapid Yoda (whom I’m now picturing standing before a Christian Luke Skywalker saying, “believe, you do, that you are not bound by belief, and then act you must”) or with learned volumes so nuanced, precise, and comprehensive that they leave us lost in fog rather than than illuminated for our journey.

Howard steers skillfully and between these extremes, giving us helpful and informative diagrams. Table 5.1, for example, is very helpful in showing us how much Howard sees as being held in common by the streams of Christianity he examines in the chapter.

In the process, I think he occasionally (and, given his task, inevitably) overgeneralizes or idealizes in less helpful ways. For example, I wouldn’t agree that “it would not be until the time of Constantine that ... diversity of expression (of Christianity) began to be strongly suppressed in favor of uniformity” (p. 68). “Apologists” of the second century such as Irenaeus did their best to suppress works by Marcion, for example, and eventually were so successful in the enterprise that not a scrap of a single copy of any of Marcion’s works survives. Today we call Marcion a “heretic,” a word derived from the Greek heiresis, which simply meant a school of thought or particular community of thinkers. The word got its negative connotation because of the ferocity with which Marcion and other heterodox theologians were condemned by the historical winners in the conflict. But if there were a collection of Marcion’s works I could read, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they revealed that Marcion had called the schools of Irenaeus and others “heresies.”

This may seem like quibbling, but I think it highlights a larger issue. What is “institutional Christianity”? It’s easier to define today, when congregations and denominations incorporate legally, or even in the time of Constantine, when as emperor he decided which bishops would be invited and funded to attend the Council of Nicea (from which we get the Nicene Creed), even though Constantine was continuing to worship his ancestral god, Sol Invictus (the invincible sun). But the phrase “institutional Christianity” can be confusing, and it can become something of a fuzzy or even fictional bogey.

Howard doesn’t veer anywhere near the territory of fiction. I was deeply impressed by how illuminating his vivid portrayals of Paul, Nazarene Christians, Martin of Tours, and Celtic Christianity were, and I think they’re made particularly helpful and appropriately challenging to Western Christians today by Howard’s approach of asking the question “then what?” at every turn. If Jesus is God’s Christ, then what? If we accept that a relationship with Christ necessarily includes a relationship with the Body of Christ, then what? If Paul can say of Peter, “I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned ... And the other Judeans joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray” (Phil. 2:11-13), and yet both Peter and Paul are saints of the Church universal, then what?

I think Paradoxy could have been even more helpful in Chapter 5 if it explored a little more the intensity of conflict between different schools of Christianity in each of the four historical vignettes he offers: doing so would underscore the paradox that the church (institutional and invisible -- another paradox?) has canonized multiple and conflicting schools of though and praxis, and yet we hold firmly (well, at our best) that God’s Spirit has made us one Body of Christ.

I also think that some amount of blurring of distinctions is necessary to achieve the impressive feat Howard does, giving us a book that is ideal for congregational study as well as personal reading. It is a book that asks questions reflecting deep wisdom and that will generate a great deal of helpful conversation. It’s an important book, particularly in the context of church conflict, and I think it’s wonderful and telling that both Brian McLaren and Paul Zahl, two evangelicals coming from very different contexts and who come to very different conclusions on many issues, have applauded the book, writing the foreword (McLaren) and the afterword (Zahl). It’s a book that would be read and re-read fruitfully across our various theopolitical spectrums in the church, and I look forward to the opportunity to study it with others.

October 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

a radical solution re: theological education

I hear a lot of complaining about seminary education. But it's worth noting that the complaints come mostly from a particular place. I also hear a lot of questions -- from the same place -- about what creative solution will solve the financial and other problems the church faces around theological education. I've got a radical solution, but I think it's worth reflecting more generally for a bit first.

I get an average of 800 - 1000 emails per day Monday - Saturday (so much is from clergy that Sunday the volume goes down considerably). I've heard from hundreds, if not thousands of clergy in countries in the Two-Thirds World who were not able to go to a residential seminary and who would give anything to be able to go, even if it required them to be away from their families. Their families would support their going, even though the absence of the person who might be the strongest male in house makes them more vulnerable to crime and makes them work much harder in their daily lives.

The only nations in which I hear a significant number of complaints about seminary education as unnecessary and not worth funding are from the richest nations in the world, and most especially the U.S. The only nation in which I have heard anyone suggest that experience in commerce teaches anything that seminaries ought to teach is the U.S.

In much of the world (I would suspect most of it), Christians see the opportunity to engage in intensive theological education as a great honor and a wonderful opportunity. These Christians see pouring over the scriptures and reflecting on their meaning in community all day and into the night as an exciting and immeasurably rewarding experience, and their communities are willing to do serious belt-tightening so they can have a pastor who's done that every day and not just Sunday (the whole community engaging in all-day worship and bible study on Sunday isn't unusual in a lot of places).

In the U.S., from the playground to presidential campaigns, there's a lot of suspicion and sometimes persecution of achievement in education. In the Episcopal Church, I hear that expressed often as suspicion of the need for any full-time theological education, the need for serious funding for it, or both. And those who still want some forms of community formation for clergy-to-be involving minds and words, if not the physical presence of, people beyond local are hoping that someone (usually someone else) will come up with a distance learning or other program that will get it all done cheaply, without real sacrifice.

The bad news is that distance education is not, on the whole, cheaper for institutions to provide or students to get. The good news is that if: a) we did our job in theological education for ALL such that we didn't rely on seminary to teach what the seminarian could have been learning from her parents from kindergarten on, and every Episcopalian had personally experienced the value of theological education; and b) we were willing as a whole church to tighten our belts by a minute fraction of what my friends who live on annual budgets of under $1000 do to get formal theological education for their clergy, I think our hard-working theological educators working with people from kindergarten through Ph.D. students would get more than enough resources to do their jobs via distance learning and/or residential seminary.

But if Directors of Christian Education/Formation are paid less, hired more reluctantly, and fired soonest when the budget contracts, and if thought is widespread that running a bank is better preparation for ordained ministry than intensive and extended study of scripture and tradition in community, then I think it's a given that seminaries' resources will dwindle. In that case, not only will we see fewer clergy getting seminary training, but we'll also see shrink even further the proportion of Episcopalians studying theology enough to teach it and to work with highly trained theologians from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion.

The bottom line? Maybe seminaries are no longer the best way to provide theological education for leadership. But if seminaries are no longer the solution, whatever else we do is still going to require that the whole church give sacrificially. Why?

1) Time is money. If we want people to have time to study and time to teach and mentor, they need hours in which they're not expected to be eating, sleeping, worshipping, engaging in private and/or family prayer, or earning money.

2) Learning takes time. The kind of learning we currently depend on seminaries to provide takes even more time than merely factual learning. We need our clergy not only to know the words of scripture and a bunch of factoids about church history and what various theologians have said, but also serious experience wrestling with how to interpret our scriptures and tradition, ways to tackle ethical problems and where different approaches' blind spots tend to be, for example; we also need our clergy to have some experience in providing pastoral care and the chance to process with solid mentors what they learn from those experiences. So we have to come up with enough money to give both students and mentors the time to do this. We could distribute the process of theological learning over more time (say, starting from preschool) and over more mentors (say, making sure that those who ask for their children to be Baptized are willing to commit time to their formation and that the parents and godparents know this will require spending time on their own formation too), but I would say the net time and effort needed isn't less, and the whole church doing this would be a MASSIVE cultural shift, if statistics around this are anywhere near right.

3) Books and journals -- including electronic ones -- cost money. When I lived in Frederick, Maryland, the local libraries didn't have much in the way of theological works, and what they had was woefully out of date (and that can be a BIG problem, for reasons I can blog about separately if people want explanation of it). I was lucky enough to be within an hour's drive of two seminaries that, because I was employed in a parish, were willing to give me limited borrowing privileges. That meant at least two hours of driving within library hours every time I needed a book. If I hadn't been employed by a parish, though -- and volunteering didn't count -- I wouldn't have had access to those libraries, let alone a weekday when I could drive there. A good biblical commentary generally costs about $30. Reference books generally cost $100 or more per volume. Something like the Anchor Bible Dictionary will set you back at least $500. If I didn't have access to a library with these kinds of resources, writing a single exegesis paper would set me back about $100 in commentaries alone. If I wrote three papers per biblical studies class and took four classes (which is the minimum accredited seminaries require), that would be about $1700 in books alone for biblical studies alone. Add in the cost of books for church history, theology, and so on, and subtract access to a local library and textbooks on reserve, and you get thousands of dollars students have to find.

Furthermore, solid online resources that are usually "free" to students are often "free" to them only because their seminary or university pays a big annual fee to subscribe. Take the seminary out of the equation and your diocese (or parish, or EFM group, or someone else) gets to look for that money.

4) You need a lot of time and a lot of books and journals to get to and stay at a point at which you can teach things such as biblical studies and theology to clergy-to-be and DCFs-to-be, for example, who have already learned well what every parish should be teaching every member. Not only does it take years of study (and rooms full of books) before you're ready to teach your first class; you also have to have time and books and conversation with other well-informed people to be able to stay well-informed. Again, let me know in the comments if you think I should explain why this is important. And in TEC we provide even less support for people who want to pursue a Ph.D. or Th.D. than we do for M.Div. students on the ordination track.

5) Who will teach those Ph.D. and Th.D. students? That's something you really can't do unless you've got 40 hours per week (likely you'll need more) to keep up with the field, to teach classes, and to provide good feedback on students' work. If we eliminated seminary education, we'd probably end up just relocating this work in an incredibly wasteful shuffle of books, people, and buildings (these people can't sleep, teach, and keep their books on park benches). And if you think that non-TEC seminaries will do this for us: a) many of them are no better off financially than TEC seminaries; and b) if you think there's anything distinctive about Anglican approaches to scripture, theology, liturgy, or anything else, we'll be stuck hoping that our top theologians manage to stumble onto it mostly on their own.

Do I think that both seminaries and the church need to get creative and make changes to provide theological education for all and sufficient training for our leaders? Definitely!

But do I think that we can get our leadership the theological education they need, let alone get the whole church the theological education they deserve,  without substantial expenditures of time and money? Nope. Nothing -- not the Internet, not a program or curriculum, and definitely not shouting at the seminaries -- short of serious gifts of time and treasure as well as talent will do the job.

That's my radical solution: sacrificial giving. It might not sound all that creative, but I don't really hear anyone else suggesting it; a lot of the public wailing about the doom of seminaries seems to come from a theology of scarcity rather than abundance. And then the generous resources we have as the church can go to theological education through a variety of means. Maybe those means won't include traditional seminaries, or they'll involve seminaries less often. But all of those means will take ongoing and substantial gifts of time, talent, and treasure from across the church. And offering those will in itself be an important means of Christian formation for the whole church.

April 6, 2010 in Churchiness, Religion | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

quick reflections on Executive Council

I'm in the hotel restaurant in Omaha for a quick brunch before I get on a plane to come home from the Executive Council meeting, so I thought I'd dash off some quick notes for the Episco-curious.

The most important thing by far that happened at the meeting, I think, is the pledge Council made unanimously on behalf of The Episcopal Church to give AT LEAST an ADDITIONAL $10 million for the rebuilding of our sisters' and brothers' communities in Haiti. These funds are extrabudgetary -- i.e., on top of any funds in the church's 2010 budget for Haiti -- and are on top of the excellent and extensive work Episcopal Relief and Development is doing there. $10 million is essentially a tithe of the church's entire budget.

Mark Harris, you are as much a genius as you are a rascal, and that's saying something. (Mark is the initial proposer of such a tithe.)

And, by the way, as the resolution inspired by Mark's suggestion was first being proposed by Ian Douglas (soon to be the Bishop of Connecticut), it was our Presiding Bishop who suggested a making the resolution pledge AT LEAST $10 million rather than just saying $10 million. Bishop Katharine, that was truly inspired.

Folks, I know times are tough here in the continental U.S. for a lot of people. I'm unemployed myself. But you know, the wages of my wonderful and supportive high-school-teacher spouse still put us as a household in the top 1% of wage earners worldwide, according to the Global Rich List. We have a roof over our heads, clean water to drink, and something to eat other than boiled dirt, which is what a lot of people in Haiti are eating now. We're not in any danger of getting cholera.

In my view, this situation is essentially a medical emergency in the Body of Christ and the family of all humanity. When I had a gallstone a while back, we quite rightly went to the hospital first and figured out how to pay for it later. Karen (my partner) has suggested that we should do the same with donating to help rebuild Haiti, and she's absolutely right.

Please consider the same -- for yourself, for your worshipping community, for your company or club, or pub trivia crowd, or wherever you are and gather. 

On other matters people have asked about:

Church Center employment: I am and Council as a whole is deeply concerned about the cleaning staff recently laid off. There are nuances to the story that are important, and that were missed or distorted, in the New York Post's story about it. The employees let go were not employees of the church, but of a company the church contracted with for cleaning services -- the Church Center didn't fire a bunch of people, but switched cleaning companies after a process that, Chief Operating Officer Linda Watt reported to us, was open to non-union companies as a way of being able to solicit bids from more women- and minority-owned businesses.

I appreciate that report, but it does not dispel my ongoing concern for workers' rights and human decency, nor does it ameliorate, in my opinion, that communication about the situation was (to say the least) very poorly handled. I expressed that view, as did others, and I and others will be continuing to monitor the situation and strive to support workers' rights. I want to thank those people who hold my and others' feet to the fire about this. Keep it up! This is important stuff.

It's also not the only Church Center employment matter about which I and others are concerned. The layoffs of 2009 continue to hurt. There are faces of people that still, when I look around at meetings, I'm subconsciously expecting to see. There's expertise and passion missing from people who used to work for the Church Center and don't. And I still think about and pray for employees and their families. Remaining staff are doing a heroic job striving to cover the territory, and are working together in truly creative ways.

But I'm not going to pretend that the reduced budget -- especially the personnel lost and reduced support for dioceses of Province IX in Central and South America -- isn't really painful. I and wiser heads than mine on Council are continuing to wrestle with figures, pray, and keep eyes, ears, and hearts open to count the human (and environmental) cost of our decisions even or especially when those decisions are difficult.

Which makes me all the more pleasantly flummoxed that the proposal to come up with $10 million more for Haiti swept with such immediacy and awe to take the room when it was offered. That for me is evidence -- as if I needed still more evidence -- that God really does show up where people gather seeking to ride the wave of what God's mission, of what God is doing in the world.

And with that, I think it's time to catch the shuttle to the airport.

Oh, just one more note: I was going to start listing the specific people I was particularly glad and grateful to see and hang out with, but the list got so long as to be silly. So I'll reduce it to just one for now, since it's someone for whom this was the last meeting of Council and whom I will sorely miss there:

The soon-to-be Rt. Reverend (and therefore still the Not Quite Right Reverend) Ian Douglas. I'm only drinking iced tea, but I'll still raise the glass to you. Thank you. I'm glad you're going to be in the House of Bishops, much as I'll miss you at Council and in Boston.

February 23, 2010 in Churchiness, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), Religion | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

how not to argue for sequential ordination

Episcopal Café has blogged a two-part series arguing for "direct ordination": ordaining people called to be priests directly to the priesthood without the current practice ("sequential ordination") of ordaining them as deacons first and then waiting six months to a year before ordaining them to the priesthood. It's sparking a lot of dialogue on the email list for bishops and deputies to the Episcopal Church's General Convention, and I'm finding it extraordinarily interesting to see how people in favor of the current system argue for it. Here's what I posted to the bishops-deputies list on the subject:

Our church's current practice of sequential ordination has the weight of tradition behind it, but I think the series on Episcopal Café has an excellent point in how odd some of our arguments for upholding sequential ordination are.

For example, I could envision residents of some alternative Anglican universe saying things such as this:

"My time as a transitional deacon has vastly enriched my ministry as a layperson. If Confirmation did not require a period of preparation in which I served as an ordained deacon, I would never have had so many rich opportunities to engage in intentional servant ministry, which today help to remind me that my work as an accountant and volunteering in the soup kitchen are equally a call and set of opportunities to serve the 'least of these,' the poor and the marginalized."

"My time as a transitional priest has vastly enriched my discipleship as a layperson. I will never forget those times at the altar when I was praying the epiklesis as a transitional priest during my fifth year of EFM, and I think of those every time I receive the elements as a layperson. My transitional priesthood continues to underscore for me that it is the entire congregation and not just its presider that truly makes the Eucharist the Lord's Meal, and I don't know how people managed to understand the priesthood of all believers before we instituted transitional priesthood as preparation for key lay ministries."

"I rejoice daily for my time as a transitional bishop. It reminds me as a CEO that oversight is not for lording over others, but is a ministry of guarding an order of life for communities that nourishes the whole and that brings out the apostolic gifts of every member. As it happens, both of my next-door neighbors are also Episcopalians who have served as transitional bishops, and they too value the experience in their very different contexts. Jolene, the high school algebra teacher, tells me that it helps her to see that her vocation as a teacher is fundamentally shepherding and drawing out leadership qualities. Sharon, the motorcycle mechanic, says it helps her to look at the neighborhood, the PTA, and the county, state, nation, and world as fields ripe for harvest, and underscores her authority as a layperson to exercise her gifts for oversight to get them all humming together like a well-tuned engine. And we agree that the practice of ordaining transitional bishops has strengthened the ministry of permanent bishops as well. We can't imagine how, under the old system, bishops managed to avoid temptation to see their ministry of episkope as a lifelong entitlement."

The argument for direct ordination meets its biggest challenge, I think, on grounds of tradition, which are strong. In contrast, "it works for me" is prone to counter-examples of "it doesn't work for me," "this other way could work for me," and "if transitional ordination is your call, that's great, but it isn't mine."

January 13, 2010 in Churchiness, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

low-cost tip #3 toward more and better theologians

Low-cost tip #3 toward more and better theologians: stretch critical thinking skills for all ages in congregations.

No one should go off to seminary without having done SOMETHING like reading the Gospel According to Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of Thomas in translation (a translation by someone other than Elaine Pagels), reading one Elaine Pagels popular book on Gnosticism, and then discussing in a supportive group whether Pagels' characterization of these documents is helpful and where it seems at least a bit off.

That's just one example, which I picked because I've found that too few people in congregations feel empowered to examine the evidence, talk about it with other people, and come to a conclusion when they have a theological question. There are lots of less arcane-sounding examples: for example, take the oft-quoted statement that "Matthew is the 'most Jewish' of the gospels," read Matthew and, say, Luke, and talk about: a) what does it mean to be "more Jewish" or "less Jewish," b) how, if at all, does this statement help us to better understand Matthew and Luke, and c) is this really something that's helpful enough to be worth repeating?

We should be helping one another do this kind of thinking as a whole church.

If seminary is the first place a postulant is asked to engage critical thinking skills, s/he will not be able to make the most of seminary.

And if a congregation doesn't do this, they're prone to being misled by every fad and every person willing to claim authority, however poorly informed s/he is.

So let's try this on as a minimum standard: mature disciples read their bibles, think and talk with one another about what they read, and use their brains plus what they read to test theological claims. And I'm not just talking about adults; children are fully capable of doing this too. A Sunday school class could:

  • Start with the questions, "Do you think Jesus was ever angry?" and "What do you think might make Jesus angry?"
  • Read one of the stories of Jesus overturning tables in the Temple.
  • Ask whether Jesus was angry in this story and why.
  • Ask the class questions such as: "Do you ever feel like this?" "What makes you feel like doing this?" "Is it OK to be angry?" "How do you want to react the next time you're really angry?"

Voila! Critical thinking, bible study, and original theological reflection! So much better than trying to tell kids what they ought to think and then having them glue cotton balls on pictures of sheep. And this very exercise, perhaps with a few more long words, has been helpful in a lot of adult classes and retreats I've done.

Some congregations do this, but I've found many that don't, or that do it only in programs such as EFM, which will only reach a tiny minority of the congregation. That's not healthy.

Introducing people to these skills is not the job of seminaries; it's the job of every Christian community. And if every Christian did this kind of "read-think-share-think some more" work from, say, third grade on, the quality of seminary education would improve dramatically, as seminaries would be freed to spend those precious and limited hours of instruction on the things they're uniquely placed to do.

Cost to your parish/diocese: $0. Cost to seminaries: $0.

January 12, 2010 in Churchiness, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Low-Cost Tip #2 Toward More and Better Theologians

Low-cost tip #2 toward more and better theologians for the church:

Have your parish and diocesan newsletters regularly run a brief profile of a living theologian and her/his current work. Make at least some of these about theologians currently doing or recently having finished their Ph.D. With their permission, include an email address or somesuch where people can, if they are so moved, send an encouraging word and/or a small PayPal donation or Amazon.com gift card. This would not only provide encouragement to current theologians, but would raise awareness that theology is a valued field in the church. Parishioners may as a result deepen their theological reading and conversation -- and some who are being called by God to serve the church as a vocational theologian will become aware for the first time that there IS such a thing as a vocational theologian!

Cost to your seminary/diocese: $0. Cost to seminaries: $0.

January 7, 2010 in Churchiness, Religion | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)