Tuesday, March 17, 2015

LIVE FROM KANUGA: PART 5


Today was the business meeting of the House of Bishops.

First we passed the resolution on our own behavioral norms for Convention, essentially a behavioral covenant committing us to prayer, direct communication, and respect for those with whom we disagree.

The next Resolution called on the Presiding Bishop, in consultation with the President of the House of Deputies, to appoint a special commission to investigate and report on all aspects including canonical aspects of situations where church leaders are “impaired” (a term of art in the canons covering a variety of problems) with special attention to addiction and substance abuse. While there was no dispute whatsoever about the need to do this, there was a lot of feeling surrounding it, so we did a good deal of parliamentary wordsmithing. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to have an Indaba group about addiction in the church before taking official action. No legislative or formal action can be a sufficient container to hold all the feelings and concerns we have. So it would have been good to share those concerns in a less restrictive conversation. Still, we took the needed action. As an aside, this is something I wonder about restructuring the Church. I wonder if formal mechanisms are able to handle the feelings and relational dynamics at play.

In response to a request from the anti-racism committee of the Executive Council, we supported the appointment of a special commission to draft a new pastoral letter on the sin of racism in light of Ferguson and other recent events that show us something about the continued racial woundedness we experience.

The ecclesiology committee (Ecclesiology” is the theological doctrine of the nature of the Church) then asked us to disseminate their draft report, Remembering and Reimagining, for further comment and development. That actually proved a bit controversial over concerns that we might seem to be endorsing the report prematurely. There must be more going on here than I know or understand. I gather some of the discomfort relates to the breakaways that happened a few years ago. In any event, after some more parliamentary tweaking, we passed the resolution.

Finally, we passed a Resolution of mourning for those killed, injured, and bereaved in the church bombings in Pakistan and further expressing support for Pakistani Christians enduring violent persecution. We have already received a message of appreciation from the Bishop of Pakistan.

Leaving the business meeting Bishop Rob Hirschfeld and I recommended new poets to each other. He recommended Wistawa Szymborska, Poems: New & Collected. I recommended Franz Wright, Walking To Martha’s Vineyard and God’s Silence.

Over lunch I met with the Stewardship & Development Committee. Bishop Greg Rickel, who has chaired this committee in the past and who remains in the thick of the work, briefed us on what has been going on in recent years and what we may expect in the way of resolutions.

In the afternoon, Michael Barlow, the Secretary of General Convention, along with 14-Convention veteran Bishop Dick Price, and host Bishop Scott Hayashi, gave us a cursory orientation to General Convention so we can better find our way around and help the deputies from our dioceses do the same. I really like Michael Barlow. He has made the Gen Con office considerably friendlier. I feel more welcomed and less judged these days. Michael’s main point is that we are going to be using a lot more technology and a lot less paper. But we still need to wear our nametags. No subcutaneously implanted identity chips. We will also be the greenest Gen Con ever.

The main thing to know is that we cannot access “the virtual binder” with our own devices. Our devices could crash the system. So they are going to issue us each our own rented iPad for use at Convention. Renting the iPads is cheaper than what we paid for photocopying 3 years ago. The iPad will not be able to connect to Internet at The Salt Palace where we meet. That is just for intranet access to Convention info. But back in our hotel rooms, etc. it will access the Internet.

In order that we may live up to our Episcopal tradition of being good guests, the folks putting on Gen Con will provide resources from the LDS Church to help us understand their perspective. We are encouraged to take a friendly view of our LDS brothers and sisters who have been good friends to the Episcopal Church in Utah and who are being quite helpful in hosting this Convention.


Then came the closing Eucharist with a sermon by Bishop Katharine. “The invisible become visible when we practice curiosity.” Then came our formal-ish dinner and a bit of a party afterward. Now it is time to pack up and head home. It has been good to be with these remarkable people but I am more than ready to get back to the remarkable people in the Silver State and sleep in my own bed once again.

Monday, March 16, 2015

LIVE FROM KANUGA: PART 4


It was a J-shaped day at House of Bishops, a good start, a slump, and then a great rebound to a high at the end.

Eucharist had a homecoming feel this morning. We have been enjoying the musical leadership of the Theodicy Jazz Collective from Los Angeles. They are young, cool, and very good. So it was a positive thing to have them with us. But today we had our choir back, and our choir is pretty talented and cool themselves. This is Chicago music and Chicago knows a thing or two about music as well. So the Collective was great but so are our own folks who are led by the incomparable Dent Davidson. It was like a reunion.

At the end of the service Bishop Mark Beckwith of Newark offered a meditation on interfaith relations. He did it by telling his story. Mark did not go in search of interfaith relations but such diversity has been the sea in which he has sailed his whole life. It is our time. It is the world we now inhabit. We do not have a choice. He did not say the all too frequent simplistic stuff about how all religions are saying the same thing. Thank God. Instead he spoke of how interfaith encounters had challenged him, taken him to the edge where he discovered his center. Paradoxical and profound stuff all conveyed as true-life first person narrative.

We then had table discussions arising out of Bishop Mark’s offering. We took the topic seriously talking of how Jesus and the doctrine of the incarnation take us to the edge by shattering our neat concepts of God and our neat concepts of humanity, and then when the edge is reached we discover a new and deeper center. All in all quite a good morning. Along the way I heard good West Virginia and Pittsburgh reminiscences from Bishop Frank Brookhart of Montana and Bishop Ken Price of Southern Ohio and Pittsburgh, now retired. They both logged some time in that part of the world.

Then came the afternoon, the whole afternoon, studying and discussing the TREC report on restructuring the Church. I like some things in the report. I have hesitations about some of the report. I have grave concerns about other parts of the report. So my reaction isn’t about whether I like or don’t like the specific proposals. It is my overarching feeling response to the project of engineering structural solutions to organic relational problems. It made me want to go back to the more amiable discussions of racism, genocide, class prejudice, and divisions over sexuality. It just sapped the life right out of me. I am truly grateful to the TREC task force that has worked so hard to create this architectonic dismantling and remantling of the polity of the Episcopal Church. If I could not handle an afternoon of it, I cannot imagine how they have persevered through three years of this. So I mean no criticism. I have only respect for their efforts.

Then after supper 6 of us gathered for an ad hoc voluntary self-organizing group to brainstorm evangelism. Thank you Bishop Suffragen Jeff Fisher, Diocese of Texas, for pulling this together. He had 3 topics for us to consider but the fist one was so rich we never got to the next two.

The first question was: how do we bishops promote discipleship in our congregations? I was particularly excited by Bishop Scott Barker’s promotion of The Restoration Project by Fr. Christopher Martins. http://www.forwardmovement.org It is a book and a short adaptable course for discipleship based on a user-friendly Benedictine model for busy people of today. It is a simple way to form people as disciples of Jesus. I think this may be the program one of our rectors presented to his congregation recently and the lay leadership wrestled seriously over the threshold question of whether the church should be trying to form people as disciples. On the one hand I am stunned that anyone could doubt that. On the other hand, it is refreshingly honest to say, “we don’t really know whether we are interested in following Jesus or not.” If they do become disciples, they will mean it.

I am convinced that all the church growth marketing and charismatic clergy we can buy will not enliven the Church. Our deadness comes from our lack of belief we have anything to offer that the world wants or needs. The problem is we don’t have Jesus in our hearts. We are not being transformed ourselves so that we can in the power of the Spirit transform the world. Cosmetics won’t help if our heart is not beating. For our heart to beat, there is one and only one way: we have to follow Jesus.

The Restoration Project is not the only discipleship program. It may not be the best discipleship program. But it is shaking things up in California and it is getting a start in Nebraska. I hope Nevada will give it a try. But then we began to wonder about motivation. It is a proven matter of social psychology that negative motivators will not work. If I say to a congregation, engage in discipleship or you will die (which is true), they will choose to die. In order to inspire a congregation to follow Jesus, I have to show them that he is offering something positive that they want. What do our people want? What do they hunger for? It is the bedrock of my faith that the deepest desire of every human heart can be satisfied in Jesus. But what form does that desire take in the hearts of our people?

Bishop Jeff reminded us that when Bartimaeus called out “Lord have mercy on me” Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Only after Bartimaeus named his blindness as the problem did Jesus heal him. We have some serious listening to do to figure out what our people want.

In studying about evangelism, including reading Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s recent landmark address, “Revolutionary Love,” http://www.anglicanink.com/article/revolutionary-love-archbishop-justin-welby-evangelism (a must read for all Episcopal clergy and evangelists), I have gotten the message that before we begin pontificating to the secular world about what we want to say, we need to listen closely to the secular world to figure out what they are asking, what they are longing for. We get nowhere offering them what they don’t need or want. Two short blog posts by our niece Linda Mizwicki make this point drawing on the insights of Peter Rollins. http://lindaloumiz.blogspot.com/2015/02/can-you-smell-what-church-is-cooking.html ; http://lindaloumiz.blogspot.com/2015/02/what-are-we-serving-evangelism-part-ii.html  We have to listen to the world before we preach to it; but we have to listen to our own people in the pews first if we are to inspire them to follow Jesus for real, not just attend church out of habit, or duty, or for mutual support. It’s a whole lot bigger deal than that. It is a life and death decision.


We plan to keep meeting, to keep in touch, and to ask the House of Bishops to take these questions on in a more systematic large group way. I have never been in a group of people where the love of Christ was more palpable than this House of Bishops, and it seems to just get more that way with each passing year. We do love Jesus and we love our people. We see an empty pain in the eyes of so many. It is time for us to find a way to ask: “What do you want Jesus to do for you?”

Sunday, March 15, 2015

LIVE FROM KANUGA: PART 3


Today began with another spiritually rich Eucharist, leading into a moving meditation by Bishop David Bailey of Navajoland on the legacy of genocidal polices toward Native Americans.

After that we had Sabbath time for the afternoon. For me that meant a nap and some reading about Paul and the first 7 ecumenical councils of the Church, then a wonderful conversation with Bishop Neal Alexander, my erstwhile liturgy professor at General, my bishop in Atlanta, and now Dean of the School of Theology at the University the South. We exchanged stories, rehashed old times, and had a fruitful talk about how Nevada might provide better formation for our clergy.

Then I had another such reconnecting conversation over dinner with Bishop Doug Hahn of Lexington who was a fellow priest in Georgia. I made him laugh with my story of how Elias the schizophrenic preacher and prophet hitchhiker I picked up on I 75 prayed me up for the Bishop election in Nevada, and he reduced me to tears with his daughter Avery’s account of how her stroke had been a spiritual death and resurrection to new life In Christ. It turned out the protagonist of one of my Mercer University stories, Professor Bob Otto, had been his Sunday School teacher when Doug was a teenager at Vineville Baptist.

Along the way, one of the Bishops I respect most, the poet, Rob Hirschfeld of New Hampshire, overheard us and said he knew a priest from Macon. It turns out my old friend, the late Fr. John Buchannan (originally from Texarkana, 14 miles from where I grew up), had played a pivotal role in Rob’s vocation when John was a canon at the Cathedral in Paris. No 6 degrees of separation in the Episcopal Church. We are all connected by no more than 3 or 4.

We then had our large group fireside chat, a confidential meeting about whatever is on our hearts and minds. No we do not conspire or make decisions or plot strategies. It’s about the feelings. It’s a pretty personal thing.

Afterward I talked in some depth with a Bishop who is having great success in church growth and congregational development but catching hell from the old guard who miss the days of doom and decline. That is not unusual. I hope I was of some encouragement to my friend. I don’t have his particular set of problems, but talking with him nonetheless sparked me to think of ways I could address our Nevada challenges more creatively.