Monday, May 31, 2010

Reflections On Oklahoma IV

The Olkahoma IV National Consultation On Native Ministries is over and I am in the Chattanooga airport sorting it out. There was a lot of pain and frustration in the room. The human lot involves a share of that -- but these folks had more than their share and the form it took for them was a specific brand of oppression called conquest, colonialism, or "the doctrine of discovery."

The question was how to move forward. There were a lot of ideas -- including institutional solutions like separation from the Episcopal Church, a non-geographic diocese for indigenous peoples, an indigenous bishop, etc. There was also a major focus on ordination -- not so much on Ministy of All Baptized. I sometimes had the sense that some wanted to be ordained as a way to be healed and validated. Heaven knows we all need healing and validation, but speaking as one who has been ordained 3 times now, I'm pretty sure it doesn't work for those purposes. I am quite open to all of the instutional options that were suggested, but I wish we could look more at the interpersonal dynamics, local ministries, and a spiritual solution. There will be more conferences. There will be time for all these conversations. The Jamestown Covenant is a good framework for a broader discussion.

One thing came up appropo of my previous post about apologies. The presenter who advocated separation from the Episcopal Church emphasized that the Church has never apologized to Native Americans for our complicity in colonization. This failure was contrasted to the Anglican Church of Canada's apology. I was pretty sure I rememberd that we had and certainly thought we should if we had not. But then a Native American bishop responded in our small group. She had been deeply involved in Jamestown I when Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning and the President of the House of Deputies extended precisely this apology years before the Candadian apology. So we have at least done this -- and under less pressure than Canda was experiencing in that sad time. The issue is not whether we acknowledge past wrongs and ask forgiveness. The issue is amends. How do we go on to create a new relationship out of the ashes of colonialism and conquest?

The ideas for a future all had merit and all had some downsides. My hope is that these different approaches can somehow be integrated into a new way forward for indigenous peoples and that the rest of the Church can make rooom in its structures to honor the unique way of this population. The challenge of being the church -- like the challenge of being human -- is always to live in the creative tension of unity and diversity.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What Was Wes Thinking?

Tonight, on the luxuriantly arboreal and Anglophiliac campus of the University of the South, here in the Rebel’s Rest guesthouse, I iron my clerical shirt, cassock, rochet, and chimere. Such garments wrinkle when packed for travel. So I iron and as I iron I think of the string theorists who aspire to formulate a single comprehensive theory to explain the entire physical universe – and I know that I can never come anywhere near understanding just this day. It has been complex.

I suspect that these two things are important parts of the context: Before I arrived (while I was stranded in airports by Carolina thunderstorms) the people gathered here for the 2010 Native Ministries Consultation were dealing with the “doctrine of discovery,” acknowledging the grievances of First Nations Peoples, what native singer Bill Miller referred to tonight as “historic trauma.” The other part of the context is that we have a really tight agenda which strikes one as a cultural oddity but then that could be stereotyping. I’m just saying that it’s part of the context of the day. Here is one mysterious story from the day.

This morning I talked with a Maori man who told me with some pride about the time he had told off Wes Frensdorff. Since Wes is so highly regarded in Nevada, I was surprised and curious. He told the story of a Roland Allen Conference (Roland Allen was a missionary to China who invented the ministry model on which Total Ministry was based) in Hawaii. The Maori people in attendance felt deeply alienated and excluded at the conference. I am not sure I understand why – but I think that following agendas and sitting around tables for structured discussions is just not what they do in New Zealand. So they boycotted part of the meeting, and then showed up for a session Wes was leading.

The Maori man stood up and interrupted the session, saying he had some things to express. Wes said there would be a time for that later but right now they were going to do what the agenda said. The man was not having it. An argument ensued. I don’t know how it ended, but it included the Maori man saying to Wes. “You’ve told us what to do long enough. Bishop, sit down and shut up.”

About a year later, Wes visited New Zealand. He telephoned the man several times, leaving messages saying he’d like to have a conversation. The calls were not returned. So Wes found someone who knew where the man lived and got them to drive him to his house. Wes met him there and apologized. Just a few months later, he died in the plane crash.

Why did Wes apologize? I feel sure I would have done the same thing at the conference, tried to keep the meeting going according to plan rather than let a heckler take it over with no authority other than the intensity of his feelings. But would I have been right? In one of our meetings today, a First Nations person said we “disguise oppression as order.” Did Wes realize that sticking to the agenda was wrong? Or was it a case like Matthew 5 of being on your way to the altar and remembering that your brother has a grievance against you?

I don’t understand the other man’s anger either. There was clearly some sense of insult in the act of regulating a meeting with an agenda. Was it part of an old grievance, a historic trauma? Was it part of the “doctrine of discovery?” As I listened to the story, I identified with Wes and felt an anxiety as if I were the one being challenged, having the meeting wrested from my control. And when I heard of Wes’s apology, I thought that I would like to apologize like that – even though I don’t know what he was thinking.

Tonight we attended a remarkable concert by the Grammy Award winning Mohican musician Bill Miller. Bill talked as much as he sang because he had a message for the audience. It was that living in historic trauma is a dead end. The historic trauma is real, but the way to life is to claim victory over it. Needless to say, one cannot tell anyone else that about their historic trauma. It’s something we have to come to for ourselves, but Bill Miller was able to say it. He told the story of his hatred of his father, a violent, abusive, drunken man. He looked forward to his father’s death, but when it happened, he discovered that his father had been forgiven by God and found happiness for the first time in his life at the end of his life. Bill was able to forgive his father and found freedom from his historic trauma. He was able to live anew instead of living in his old grievance. It was one of the most moving testimonies I’ve ever heard.

I wonder something about apology. I wonder if anything we ever do is so unambiguously right that there isn’t something to regret in it. Philosophers call it a “moral remainder” – the bad part of even the best things we do. So maybe sometimes the question isn’t whether we have been wrong enough that we are obliged to apologize – asking that just puts us on the defensive – maybe the question is: would an apology help the other person move on beyond their sense of grievance? Would it set someone free?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Episcopal Leadership

News flash from College for Bishops: The good news is that my scores as a "transfomational leader" are much improved from the marks I got when I'd only been in Nevada for 6 weeks. (Grading was done each time by some of the staff and a few clergy). I'm glad it didn't go the other way.

But the big footnote on that "improved" score is that I don't believe in the transformatoinal leadership model anyway. It's too individual, too heroic, too hiearchical, too top down. We have a program this afternoon on "complexity leadership" which strikes me as far more appropriate for the church, especially a church committed to Ministry of All Baptized. It's about groups working together as equals instead of working under the same boss. Leadership is not top down. It is leading out to each other as equals and, when the administrative structure is hiearrachical, it's leading up, speaking up, offering our insights. Complexity leadership is about the interactions among group members that affect the whole group for good or for ill. This is much more the kind of leadership I believe in -- and most of my worst mistakes have come from having gotten hoodwinked into trying to lead the old fashioned transformational way.

My main job needs to be enabling groups of people to come together for creative, innovative interaction. The Ministry Development Commission has been especially creative and proactive recently. I feel good about my small part in midwifing the birth of that group -- but the creative leadership is being done by them.

Often people think the bishop is a ruler, the one who calls the shots. But that's not what our vows say, and it is rarely what the canons allow. We are more often facilitators and spiritual guides. The whole point of the English Reformation was to shift authority away form purple shirted individuals barking orders into the hands of groups of Christians, working through issues in fellowship.

The Church is a context for people to grow into the full stature of Christ. People don't grow through cow towing to domination. People grow thourgh convesation and fellowship, learning to speak thier own minds then work togther, especially when we don't all agree.

Tyranny is far more efficient than democracy. But democracy is more human. The Church needs to be human, deeply human -- that is better than efficient.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reflections on Rwanda 1994

I just finished Left To Tell, a compelling memoir by a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. Imaculee Ilibigaza spent nearly 3 months cramped shoulder to shoulder in strict silence with a group of women in a tiny bathroom, while murdering mobs made periodic searches of the house where she was sheltered by a Hutu pastor.

During that awful time she had a profound encounter with God through her desperate prayers for deliverance. Her book is not a theodicy but it is a testimony to the presence of God in the midst of evil and a tribute to the the human capacity to find grace even in the context of horror. Her relationship with God enabled her to survive and to move through grief to to a life of joy. It even set her free to forive the murderers of her family and friends.

Not long ago I read a biography of the German theologian, Paul Tillich, including his escape from Germany just as the Nazi reich was beginning its campaign of violence against those who did not support their hatred. Reading such books in these times compels serious reflection.

The Church has a theology and a spirituality, not a political philosophy. But politics is always susceptible to spirits that are larger and more powerful than ideologies -- sometimes, spirits of mercy, justice, and reconciliation; sometimes spirits of hatred, fear, and blame (Rene Girard). Whatever our political convictions may be, Christians have a duty to infuse politics with a godly spirit and to resist the spiritualy of malice.

The Ugandan legislation imposing death for homosexuality is an example of a spirituality of malice. The Arizona immigration legislation is not as bad as that, but it is plenty bad enough. However, my concern is broader than specific legislation. I would not equate the extremist rhetoric of today's American politics with the Rwandan madness -- but it is deeply troubling -- not in its content, not in its political positions -- it is troubling in its malice, its dehumanizing of those who differ.

Christian may hold any variety of political and economic theories. But we cannot forget each other's humanity, which means we cannot forget when we speak of each other that we are speaking of God's children. Our calling is always to bless and not to curse.

The habit of blessing grows. The habit of cursing grows. They grow in opposite dirctions. Our basic freedom is to choose which direction we as individuals and as a society choose to follow.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Green Buds On The Branch

We baptized three people at St. Christopher's, Boulder City today and received another into the Episcopal Church. Last week, we confirmed three teenagers at Christ Church, Pioche. That may not seem like a big deal to larger congregations. But to me it is something special.

Christ Church, Pioche is in a small community that has been bypassed by the economy since its mining hey day now long past. A couple of years ago, their matriarch and priest -- then in her 90's -- suffered a fall and had to move away to assisted living. The congregation went through a difficult time of grief and adjustment.

Unlike Pioche, Boulder City is thriving but St. Christopher's was not. They went from being a 3 priest church to a no priest church in a short time, as one moved, one became ill, and the third retired. Their understanding of themselves and how they could go about being church was no longer working, but they had not yet found a way forward. That was just last Fall.

But Christ Church, Pioche just had an engaging upbeat home made curriculum confirmation class modeled on Jeopardy -- a class that ushered 3 teens into the Church. The congregation, inspired by the teens who now know so much interesting stuff, has decided to take the course themselves and reaffirm their Baptismal Vows next year. Meanwhile to the South, St. Christopher's, Boulder City, continues its strong tradition of community ministries, and is now growing again. I saw lots of new faces today in a church considerably more full than I've ever seen it. They are continuing a process of discernment about their future with an outside consultant. They have called Fr. Jim Lyons to serve as their priest, at least for now, and they celebrated his ministry with grateful statements interrupted by several outbursts of spontaneous applause at our forum.

Since I have been in Nevada, there have not been intitation rites (baptisms, confirmations, receptions) at either Christ Church, Pioche or St. Christopher's, Boulder City. But now on back to back weekends, we have celebrated new life in Christ in these congregations. There are green buds on the branch. It must be Spring.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

St. Bart and the Atomic Testing Museum

On Saturday, we drove up the lovely green Pahranagat Valley to White Pine County. We were visiting St. Bartholomew’s, Ely – not the regular annual visit but a special visit. I was there to dedicate their Memorial Garden. It is a lovely place with a superb sculpture of St. Bart in the center. The congregation commissioned it in memory of their late priest, Fr. Dale Miller. The statue represents the good saint leaning forward toward the street extending a hand as if to help a fallen child to her feet. It is a gesture of simple compassion. I have heard stories of unchurched folks who found the faith through the good works of St. Bartholomew’s, Ely “proclaiming the gospel” by such simple compassion. Their garden is the most serene and aesthetic spot in Ely – itself a blessing and sign of deeper blessings over the years and for years to come.

Then it was on to St. James, Eureka. Frank the musician, who plays old time evangelical hymns on the piano while Ministry Developer Norma Engberg accompanies him on the xylophone, had the heat on for us. The little church was toasty warm on a chilly sunny day. The congregation was Frank, Norma, Linda, a state patrolman, his fiancée, and me. It is small now, but there will soon be a mission there, a big mission. The molybdenum mine will open in the near future, hiring 400 miners, most of whom will bring families to this hard life in the wilderness. I hope we can find ways to help them with their daily struggles.

Monday was another day on the road back down the Valley – the Upper Pahranagat Lake is bluer than blue with bright green grasses -- enjoying a sandwich stop at Windmill Ridge. South of Alamo the vegetation switches from pine and willows to Joshua Trees and wild flowers. Stopping for road construction, we rolled down the windows and were awed by the depth of silence.

The St. Bart’s Memorial Garden lingers in my mind. Partly it is because the garden is such a beautiful work done so lovingly by good people. But there is something more. Tonight I will be at the Atomic Testing Museum with Nevada Desert Experience to say a prayer for an event to support the New START Treaty. Ely was downwind from the test site and has a high incidence of cancer. People there with some forms of cancer get special federal benefits because of the atomic testing connection. I think of the statue, St. Bartholomew reaching out a generous hand to suffering people there. Life is already so fragile and so precious. It makes war unthinkable; yet we keep thinking it and doing it, bombing others, bombing ourselves for practice. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” by us now.