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Inside LEAC

As y'all may know, I work part-time as editor of The Witness, a magazine with a couple of my favorite taglines: "An Anglican voice since 1917" (it started as a print journal way back then, and has been in continuous operation in print, online, or both since) and "a feisty and opinionated journal." I've posted an article there that those of you who follow Anglican news may find particularly interesting.

Remember that anonymous survey sent out a few weeks ago to every member of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church asking them how, if they had it to do over, they'd vote in an EXTRA-SUPER-SECRET ballot on consent to +Gene Robinson's consecration? And how everyone was puzzling about how retired Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey ended up writing a letter endorsing it? I went to an organizational meeting of the group responsible for the survey -- a group calling itself "Lay Episcopalians for the Anglican Communion" -- and found out some interesting things.

The article is called "Inside LEAC." Please do check it out.


March 26, 2006 in Churchiness | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

I'm back!

Long time no see, eh? It's true that I've been on the road for much of this month (with a couple more trips left to go!), but my long silence has also been due to something else: the internal hard drive on my PowerBook died. I think it's the motor -- it was making odd whining noises that sounded mechanical, but not the kind of crunchy-scratchy noises that would suggest that something was dragging across the surface of the magnetic disk upon which far, far too much information is stored.  I'm pricing data recovery services -- while I backed up most of my documents faithfully, I'd just gotten a bunch of important emails that I hadn't had a chance to back up, since I was on the road.

Right now, I'm using my PowerBook with a couple of external drives, but I'm going to have to let go of the PowerBook soon to send it off for data recovery, and once I've recovered as much info as possible from the dead drive, I'll probably need to send the PowerBook in to Apple to have the hard drive replaced. I'm not looking forward to that -- I've got an old iMac in the house I can use while my PowerBook is away, but that means I have to sit in a little study rather than roaming freely around the house as I'm accustomed to doing.

I've learned from the experience, though -- I've invested in a portable 100 GB external hard drive to which I will back up my entire hard disk even on the road.

I've finished reading Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (which a reader was VERY kind to send me -- totally made my day!), and I've got to say I can't remember the last time I found a book so much fun. It was hilarious and poignant, and sometimes both at the same time. I wish they'd make a movie of it; if it was done well, I'd say chances would be good that the movie of Lamb would replace Jesus of Montreal and Monty Python's The Life of Brian as my favorite Jesus-related films. That's saying a LOT; I love both of those other films so much that I've worn out my VHS copies of them (I really ought to spring for the DVDs someday). I doubt that Lamb: The Movie will be made, though. Fundamentalists would have a fit -- especially because I don't see how they could make the film in a way that's faithful to the book without it getting an R-rating -- or an NC-17.

No, Jesus doesn't "do the nasty" (not what I'd call it, but I've been hanging around teens far too much) in the book, or behave in any way that ought to upset Christians, except those who think that you can't be a good person without yelling at anyone around you committing what you think is a sin, or that good Christians and Jews have nothing to learn from anyone from another tradition. In other words, Jesus is actually a very attractive character -- not whiny like the Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (don't get me wrong; I liked that movie a lot, and would like to see it again), or like a stuffy, floaty version of a hippie, only with a posh "I'm a Shakespearean AC-tor" accent, as in so many other films.

This is a Jesus with a sense of humor, who enjoys being around his very imperfect friend. This is a Jesus whose ego is healthy enough that he doesn't need everybody to flatter him, like the Jesus in far too many sermons. In short, this is a Jesus I can actually imagine wanting to be in relationship with his disciples -- or with someone like me. Lamb would be a far better movie for evangelism than Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, but I think in the end that the churches are the reason it will never be produced. At any rate, if you haven't read this book already, get it! It's not Holy Writ, but it's a darn good read, and it would start some fabulous and fruitful conversations in someplace like a parish 20s/30s book study group.

And I had a really wonderful time at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland. If I were anywhere near there, I'd love to make it my home congregation. Some of the things that particularly impressed me:

The children's involvement in the 9:00 service. I've been to a lot of services where "family-friendly" has meant dumbing down the liturgy, injecting lots of schmaltz, and/or creating distractions for children that don't involve them in worship so much as keep them quiet or make them entertain adults. Not so at Trinity. The children walk (or run -- but that can be prayerful too) the labyrinth, dance in the aisles in a reverent as well as joyful way, and gather around the altar for the Eucharistic prayers not as passive observers, but as participants, even putting their hands over the bread and wine with the priest. The word that comes most readily to mind when I think of the children's role in the service is "holy" -- not "cute."

The music. I'm a musician and a music buff, and it was wonderful to worship with such excellent musicians. The choir at the 11:15 service was gorgeous. I'm spoiled by the truly wonderful choir at the 10:30 service I attend at Memorial parish in Baltimore, which is my home congregation, but it was a treat to worship with a much larger choir with equal passion for music and for excellent. However, while my usual tendency when given a choice between attending something called a "Contemporary Service" and something called a "Traditional Service" is to go with the traditional service in a heartbeat ("contemporary" in churchspeak usually means using poorly- or unrehearsed music written around the time I was born, which was in 1970), if I moved to Cleveland and was looking to worship somewhere as a parishioner, I'd lean toward the 9:00 service at the cathedral. What I've said about the role of children at that service would play a role in that decision, but the music would have a lot to do with it too. At Trinity, the particular genre of the contemporary music at 9:00 is jazz/blues/gospel. The band -- the Oberlin Gateway band with Jennifer Cochran as cantor -- kicks ass. They've got soul, they clearly love what they're doing, their musicianship is excellent, and they lead worship in a way that enthusiastically invites the congregation to participate. This is not a concert; it's a revival! I had no idea when I decided (the night before I preached) to quote the lyrics of an old spiritual in my sermon how that would fly, but after the music at 9:00 ... I felt right at home going there. And if you're going to talk about how suffering can be redeemed for salvation, that's a very good place to be able to go.

The formation opportunities. I facilitated a forum on the morning I was there, and my hosts said rather apologetically that attendance might not be all that high, since there was so much else going on. I say HURRAH! I know that the array of offerings is partly about Trinity being a cathedral with more resources than many parishes. But it also seems to me to reflect the priority placed there on formation for all ages. Trinity has two clergy on staff, and while the staff as a whole is much larger than that, I'll hazard a guess that Trinity can offer the array of programs it does because they work very hard to make full use of expertise in the community and to invite and support the ministry of volunteers who have invested seriously in their own formation over time. This is a community that offers plentiful opportunities to deepen faith and integrate it with all of life, and to help others do the same. As much as we Episcopalians trumpet how you don't have to leave your mind at the door in our congregations, I particularly appreciate opportunities to "love the Lord ... with all your mind," which seem all too rare sometimes amidst a glut of courses on the labyrinth, lectio divina (or "African bible study," which is a fine way of praying with scripture, but from what I gather it's not African, and as I've seen it done it's not really bible study either -- more like free association using the text as a diving board or trampoline), and parenting or pop psychology -- all of which are good things I value much in my own life and work, but they're designed to engage the emotions and the subconscious more than the conscious. Trinity clearly offers many wonderful opportunities for contemplative prayer, walking the labyrinth, and other helpful things, but I found it particularly cool to see how many opportunities there also were for things like book study (and not pop-psychology books or The Gnostic Gospels, but books that engage seriously with scripture). I know that not everyone loves reading as much as I do, but I often find it frustrating when I can't find ANY opportunities to talk with fellow Christians about books and ideas aside from the Internet. If I lived in Cleveland, it looks like I'd have more of those opportunities than I'd know what to do with!

The hospitality. My hosts were lovely. I'm particularly grateful to the folks who arranged for me to come out there, showed me around, and swapped opinions with me about what's going to happen in the final volume in the Harry Potter saga and whether Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel have more theological treasures to mine, who offered tech support as I tried to piece together some setup so that I didn't have to write out my entire sermon longhand (which was particularly humorous given my rep as the cyber-preaching technology gal), and who helped me get vested and miked in about 15 seconds when those conversations about Buffy and coffee went a little too long. But my sense is that this is a congregation that's really good with hospitality. They've opened a fair-trade coffeehouse on the side of the campus facing the university campus with plentiful nooks suitable for students studying alone or small groups looking for a place to talk. They've got an art gallery, and lots of comfortable rooms for groups to gather. The spaces I saw in the cathedral and its commons seemed designed very well to make people comfortable while pointing toward the transcendent. But I was deeply impressed from start to finish, right down to greeting people on the way out after each service. So very many people were so warm and wonderful, so gracious and generous in sharing their stories and ideas, even in 30-second encounters. It left me with the impression that this is a community that, as an integral part of their community culture, the character of their life together, shares their stories, their ideas, their dreams.

That was a first impression, of course, but it was a strong one, and a very positive one.

March 19, 2006 in Books, Churchiness, Life and Whatnot | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

on the road with Biff; 'ello, Cleveland!

A very, very kind reader got me a copy of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Jesus' Childhood Pal, and it's in my suitcase for reading as I'm on the road, which is going to be until March 13. My honey and I are driving up to New York today, where we'll be staying with friends. Tomorrow I'm going to the panel on the UN Commission on the Status of Women at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City to cover it for The Witness. On Monday and Tuesday, I've got an Episcopal Church commission meeting at the Church Center in New York, and from Wednesday to Friday I'm going to a consultation at a conference center in Connecticut. On Sunday, March 13, I'm preaching and doing a forum at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland (I apologize to the people of Cleveland for the Spinal Tap reference in this post's title; I'm sure y'all have heard it far, far too many times). I'm really looking forward to that -- it seems like a very cool community doing very interesting things, and I'm looking forward to seeing in person some people who I know now only via the Internet. If you happen to be in Cleveland, I'd love to see you there!

March 3, 2006 in Books, Churchiness, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack