Saturday, October 30, 2010

Windmill Ridge Reverie: I Shall Not Wear Purple

When I am an old man I shall not wear purple. I shall retire to the Pahranagat Valley and dwell not too far from the lake. I shall not wear purple – but dark brown and burnt orange – except in summer, robin’s egg blue. If they will have me, I may for a time ride circuit to churches which may not now exist and some that do, until my vocation fades and my absences are the greater blessings.

And I shall be obsequious to the Sharps, the Whipples, and all the valley thanes. I will develop a Druidic devotion to a tree, perhaps three, remembering the oaks of Mamre and hoping for a visit. I shall tend them gratuitously, officiously, and like a kind woman, they will tolerate my attention.

Eventually I will be buried beneath the thick mat of fallen reeds along the lake shore. Strong young people will cover me with a cairn of stones they have wheel barrowed from the nearby hills, forgiving me my incorrigible devotion to the Church and its arcane beliefs because they know I meant no harm. When the cairn has sunk into the soft and sodden decay of reeds, my faults and failings will be forgotten even by myself. This is not a sad reverie I indulge here on Windmill Ridge, but hope for a personal peace on earth and with the earth, that I may find joy in heaven.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Live From Las Vegas V: The Bishop's Address

We have had a remarkable year in Nevada.
Some congregations are growing in attendance.
Hispanic Ministries has taken off like a rocket.
Education, formation, and outreach programs are on the rise.
Most of our congregations are either living in harmony
or managing their conflicts creatively.
Despite the economy, we are getting along just fine financially.
There is much to celebrate.

All of us have a part to play in making the church work.
I want to thank each and every one of you for your part.
But I want to say a special word about vestries.
I want to thank our vestry members specially
because we have not always treated you very well.
Neither diocesan leaders nor the average person in the pew
know much about what vestries actually do.
But, at the highest echelons of diocesan governance,
odd fantasies about vestries sometimes arise.

We sometimes imagine that our vestries are running amok
in flagrant violation of the canons if not the 10 Commandments.
Meanwhile folks in the pews imagine that their vestries
are acting without a sliver of sense,
spending money like Louisiana fraternity boys
on a weekend in Vegas
This habit of blaming of vestries for all that goes wrong
or even for the inevitable struggles of being the church
is self-defeating.
Eventually, the best and the brightest among us
will figure out its more fun to sit in the pews throwing rotten fruit
than to sit up front with the vestry ducking.
Besides which, it just isn’t true.

The vestries I have met these past 3 years have been
conscientious, faithful, servants of God and God’s people.
Vestries are the backbone of our church.
So the best thing we can do for God’s mission
and each other would be to cut the blame
and give our vestries some trust and support.

We can do that if we make two simple attitude adjustments.
The first is in how we understand our problems and our challenges.
The truth is all our problems come down to one.
Whether it manifests as needing more money to maintain an old building
or someone to teach the Sunday School,
these are just symptoms of our one basic problem.
It is a problem with /our doors//.

I do not mean we need to paint them red.
That is my friend Andy Weeks – not me.
I don’t care if your doors are chartreuse.
The problem is that there are too many people outside our doors
who need to be inside them.
The core problem – the key challenge – is just that simple.
We have the people on the wrong side of the doors.

But what shall we do about it?
That leads to the 2nd attitude adjustment.
Back before Las Vegas was the entertainment capital of the world,
we were in another business.
What was it? The name of the street we are on tells us.
Rancho. The Las Vegas Rancho.
We were a ranch. That is our tradition.
And we know something about ranching.
Not much because we are now lounge singers and black jack dealers.
But we have watched Bonanza.
Is there anyone here who has never watched Bonanza?

So we know something about ranching.
We know the situation where we go out in the morning
and find the horses have gotten out of the coral.
What shall we do?

There are two basic approaches.
One is from CSI – Las Vegas.
We hang around the corral, dusting it for prints
and gathering DNA samples,
trying to figure out who left the game open.

The other approach comes from Bonanza.
We go out and round up the horses.

So I urge you all in this coming year, when troubles or challenges arise,
do these two things:
First, remember it’s really about the doors.
Second, ask yourselves, “What would Ben Cartwright do?”

But all that leads to a deeper question:
Why would anyone want to come inside our doors?
What do we have to offer?
There is plenty of good food at the restaurants,
fellowship on a bowling team, and the Comedy channel
is more entertaining than a liturgy.
What have we got to offer?

There is a difference between a fun time and a good life.
There is a difference between random misery
and suffering endured for a greater good.
There is a difference between a pleasant mood and joyful spirit.
But our culture is in danger of forgetting these differences
which are as fundamental
as the difference between right and wrong.

During World War II , the Jewish psychoanalyst Victor Frankl
was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.
He watched a lot of people die.
He also watched a lot of people survive.
He became intrigued by the difference.
Eventually he figured out what made some people
more resilient than others.

He saw that people who found a larger meaning
in their experience could endure suffering
while people who suffered without insight into a deeper meaning
withered and died.
Meaning is the key to enduring bad times,
and it makes just as big a difference
for how we experience good times.

Happiness in a random world of chaos
is just a lucky break,
a brief distraction from the grind.
But happiness in a meaningful world is a gift from God,
and a promise of our ultimate well-being.

Faith is the heart-felt belief that our experiences all add up to something,
that our lives matter,
that our joys, our sorrows, our loves, and loathings matter.
Faith is trusting that there is a meaning and order to reality
that gives our lives purpose and a value.
We may not know exactly what the answer is
but we live out of our conviction that there is an answer.

Christian faith makes a striking claim about the meaning of life.
It isn’t an abstract principle.
Some of you remember that in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
someone asked the universe’s most powerful computer
the answer to life’s mystery.
Who remembers the answer? The answer was 42.

Well for Christians the answer is not a number.
It isn’t an abstract principle or an idea.
At the heart of reality, something personal throbs
-- something feels, aspires, cares, hopes.
The universe is born from and sustained by
something that is more like a person than a principle.

So it was natural that this foundational personal reality
should reveal itself to human kind as a human being
– as Jesus of Nazareth
who “share(d) our human nature, who live(d) and die(d) as one of us.”
To be a Christian is to know Jesus,
and when we wonder what it’s all about, what it’s all for,
to think of him.

.We live in a changing, challenging time
– a time when environmental and social conundrums
threaten to overwhelm us.
Living in such a time demands spiritual intelligence.
“Spiritual intelligence” isn’t stuffy intellectualism.
It isn’t talking in special language no one understands.
Spiritual intelligence is knowing our story
so that we can know our Savior.
It’s seeing the connection between what we do
at our job each day and the moral order in Holy Scripture,
the connection between Gospel truth and social action
in our neighborhood and the wider world
It’s experiencing the connection between our emotional ups and downs
and the disciplined practice of prayer.

The 21st Century demands wisdom, spiritual intelligence.
But that is in short supply today.
Someone said, “We have mastered the simple secret of the atom,
but we have forgotten the Sermon on the Mount.”
College students ask their professors, “Who came first Jesus or Moses?”
I am not making this up. It happens.
At jewelry stores, a customer asks to see a cross.
The sales clerk says,
“Do you want a plain cross or the kind with the little man on it?”
These are true stories.

Just as schools and colleges are the guardians and bearers
of secular knowledge,
the Church is the guardian and the bearer of spiritual wisdom.
We do not have a monopoly on wisdom.
But our truth is the core without which the adages
of even the best life coaches, counselors, and 12 step sponsors
do not hold together.

Let me say this straight and without apology.
Brothers and sisters, there are thousands of people
in this state who need Jesus.
There are thousands of people who are dying
for want of Jesus.
Their happiness is not joy but distraction.
Their sorrow is not sacrifice but despair.
Their lives wither because their roots have found no water.

What are we doing about it?
Someone said, “The world comes to us looking for Christ
and we give them the Church.”
When people come to us spiritually hungry
it will not do to regard them as potential supporters
for our religious club – as church workers or pledge units.
We need to feed them gospel.
We need to show them Jesus.
Jesus said,
“When I am lifted up . . . I shall draw all people to myself.”
It’s time for us to lift him up.

But we can’t show people a Christ we do not know
and know well.
We have to know our story which begins with his story
We have to know what he did and what he said.
But that is not enough.
To understand Jesus we have to know
the psalms he prayed, the laws he obeyed,
the proverbs he lived by, the prophets who inspired him.
We have to know how the mystics have experienced him
the theologians have explained him,
and the saints have shown him to the world.
We need to eat, breathe, sleep, and sweat Jesus.
That means we have understand his connection
to our experience at home, at work, at the ballot box,
and the football stadium.
We need to take our passions into prayer,
to see God’s hand in the blessings of our lives,
to see our work, our family, and our friendships
as part and parcel of God’s mission.

That’s what Christian formation is about.
But in a recent Pew Survey on Americans’ knowledge of religion,
atheists scored almost twice as well as mainline Protestants.
How are we going to proclaim Christ to people
who know more about him than we do?

I love the stories of young people who see physical suffering
and study medicine so they can do something about it!
Look at the spiritual suffering around us
– the addiction, despair, and moral callousness –
look at that suffering and ask,
what if you could learn something to alleviate it?
What if you could learn the words of life and share them?

Our mission is not to preserve an institution.
It isn’t to keep doors open and pay utility bills.
The truth is we don’t even have a mission.
As Episcopal evangelist Wayne Schwab says,
God has a mission and we get to be part of it.
God’s mission is to save people from despair.
It’s to share the gospel of eternal life.

We have been doing new projects.
We have done some teaching.
We have started some new ministries
that have brought more people to Christ
than we have done in a long, long time.
We can celebrate that.

We are planning more new projects.
We can add up the numbers. We can quantify results.
We can write reports for the church office in New York.
But the meaning of what we do is Jesus.
If we aren’t connecting people to Jesus
we should go home and turn the church over
to somebody who will.
We are here to plant Jesus in the hearts of children,
to give the drunkard Jesus instead of liquor,
and the money hungry business person Jesus
instead of a portfolio.

The prayer for the mission of the church says,
O God . . . remember the multitudes
who have been created in your image
but have not known//
the redeeming work of our Savior Jesus Christ;
and grant that, by the prayers and labors of your holy Church,
they may be brought to know// and worship you
as you have been revealed in your Son.”

This is what we are here to do for each other
and what we equip each other to do for the people
outside our doors.
We know and worship God,
our foundation, our source and our destiny,
our purpose and our delight,
as God is revealed in the face
of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Live From Las Vegas IV: Go In Peace

A lot of peole who have been at Convention do not stay for Sunday -- quite understandably. The business is done. Those from afar often need to get home. Those from anear worship at their own churches. So there is a kind of intimacy among those who are left, and a comfort in knowing that the work is done and the issues are resolved one way or the other. So it was this morning.

We had the final meeting. Fortunately, things had gone as planned. There were no more run-off elections, budgets, or other matters. Rose Kawai delivered a box of stoles from Bp Alexander Wangadag of the Diocese of Santiago, our companion diocese in the Philippines. We had courtesy resolutions affirming our friends who had made the convention happen.

Worship was like an All Star Game. All sorts of people offered lovely gifts. The readers, the musicians, the acolytes, etc. came from diverse parishes to do a holy thing in a casino ballroom.
However, like an All Star Team, they were not used to playing together on an strange field with unfamiliar leadership. There were some glitches that I felt bad about. I hope no one felt that their gifts were unappreciated or taken for granted. They were all lovely -- the music of the Todos Los Santos, Holy Child, and Convention Choirs supported the readings by Aja, Melvin, and Deacon Mike. Our worship inlcuded some chaos, but God was glorified in the midst of it.

Then I enjoyed a working lunch with our Deans. Despite their meeting all year on line and their working ? It feels like at least a week. I had expected the Deans to be patient in a bedraggled way. Instead, they were eager to to share their experience of ministy and discuss how we can do more together in the future.

So it's done for another year. I feel tired and blessed.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Live From Las Vegas III: Bishop Bugsy

The business is done: COM restructured; budget passed; elections conducted and appointments ratified; the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation adopted. But the big events were the Formation Fair which got an enthusiastic response from a diocese that proved hungrier for formation than I had expected. Then there were the Special Mission Group meetings which produced lots of engergy and ideas. I met with the most diverse group of wardens you could imagine -- each great in a unique way. I was delighted that they wanted to meet again next year and to find a way to keep in touch. So we will set up a Google Group for them just like we are doing for Parish Educators. Then I learned the Parish Communicators want the same thing. Amazing. I love seeing people come together. I feel like an ecclesiastical Yentl.

Of course, our keynoter, Dr. Susanna Singer of the Church Diviniity School of the Pacific was great and she seemed to think well of us in return. She did far more than any keynoter I've ever seen -- meeting with and facilitating small groups, fiellding questions, and leading a plenary session.

Tonight at the banquet, we honored office manager Barbara Lewis on the occasons of her retirement and her 80th birthday. Faith and Visual Arts presented awards to our top artists. Then we saw a display of remarkable folkdances from the mountains of the Northern Philippines performed by the people of St. Luke's, Las Vegas. Never ever saw anything like this at a diocesan convention. What a place! What a people!

I may feel like Yentl but that was not my image. Having worn a green hard had that said "2 million green energy jobs now" yesterday, I thought I'd go conservative today with a black fedora I bought last year at the Veneitian. But people said it was a mob hat and now they are calling me Bishop Bugsy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Live From Las Vegas II: Galilee, St. Jude's, and Splashing Children

This morning seems years ago. So much has gone down at Santa Fe Station. Good prayer services morning and evening. A tribute to Sr. Faith, an upbeat presentation by UNR students about Vocare. Reports on the Frensdorff School, Camp Galillee's resurgence, new evangelism training and resources, our partnership in Haiti, and more. Tonight we heard Mildred Springer's compelling personal account of the watershed General Convention in 03 and a plug for the Book of Occasional Servcies and Holy Women, Holy Men -- our new book of saints.

The high points of the day were the report from St. Jude's Ranch where we are restoring a parntership in mission to abused and neglected children -- a partnership unnecesarily interrupted by theological differences in years past -- and the report on Latino/Hispanic ministries particularly as it is touching the lives of families, youth, and children. It was a true blessing to have Fr. Anthony Guillen with us from Latino/ Hispanic Ministries of The Episcopal Church and to see the grace, positively visible grace, in the slide show of our own people presented by Fr. Bernardo and Delores. The best pics showed the children spashing in the fountain at Christ Church, Las Vegas.

Tomorrow, God willing and a quorum arriving, we will slog through the business of elections, canons, and one resolution; but the main theme tomorrow will be Christian formation. The Rev. Dr. Susanna Singer, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, will deliver the keynote address and faciliate large and small group discussions. Should be a good day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Live From Las Vegas I: A Latino Kick-Off To Convention

The Diocese of Nevada Convention kicked off tonight with a Fiesta reception at Todos Los Santos. I have been to a lot of opening receptions for church conventions -- but never anything remotely like this. Think of words like packed, loud, joyful, celebratory, festive. There was a large mariachi band, the kind that normally gets paid $400 per hour, playing for us for over 2 hours, just out of piety and personal affection.

Fr. Bernardo and his incomparable wife, Delores, outdid themselves. The feast was Mexcican, Ecuadoran, Honduran, Salvadoran. I spoke with Fr. Leslie who, God and the Standing Committee willing, will be our next Latino priest. I saw Fr. Hilario who serves at St. Luke's now, and with the new grant from The Episcopal Church, will begin model Latino/ Hispanic ministries at St. Matthew's and St. Thomas in the near future. I met his charming, sophisticated diplomat wife, Ruth, who has recently come here from El Salvador and is eager to begin work in Christain formation.

But the most fun was watching Episcopalians from around the diocese who have heard of what is happening here but had not seen it. There were Chuck and Hallie of Carson City dancing to the Latin beat. I saw amazed delight on many a fellow Anglo face. Veteran Nevada Episcopalians said this was the biggest and best kick-off for Convention ever.

A simple point: What we Anglo Anglicans call Latino/ Hispanic ministry sometimes looks a whole lot like Anglo ministry done by our Latino/ Hispanic brothers and sisters. We were all blessed tonight.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why I Love Nye County

I rarely drive through Nye County without buying one or more of the local newspapers. There are at least 2: The Pahrump Valley Times and the Pahrump Mirror ("Nye County's only independent newspaper" -- not sure what that means but I sense that relations between these two journalistic centers may not be the best.)

Today's Pahrump Valley Times' lead story was about a huge bust of a burglary ring -- over 3 dozen people arrested in one week!!! (The jail didn't have room for them and had to cut most of them loose on thier own recognizance, to the chagrin of the sheriff.) Who knew there was that much to steal in Pahrump? One of the ring leaders seems to have brought down the wrath of the law on his fellow alleged burglars by allegedly holding up the Kingdom Gentlemen's Club which is the town's strip club in a castle -- I thought it might be something more colorful but that was not stated in this artilce. Another article in the same edition referred to the owner of the Kingdom GC as "the owner of a brothel." Could be a separate enterprise. But if the burglars have started holding up brothels, things have just gotten out of hand. The owner of the Kingdom GC, according to the Pahrump Valley News, is also the publisher of the rival Parhump Mirror and has been convicted of bribing a former county commissioner -- but this is the rival newspaper talking. I know nothing about it myself.

The law was on a roll. In some complicated and indirect way, the massive burglary busts came from leads garnered in the discovery of a "massive marijuana grow opertation" allegedly owned and operated by a single family in two houses. The dad and sons are on the run while mom is either in jail or out on bail.

If that were not enough, U S Ecology (Now doesn't that sound like an innocent green name? They operate a hazardous waste site.) has been accused of 18 EPA violations and fined $497,492. That would cause me a financial inconvenience. U S Eclology denies any misconduct.

There is a controversial move afoot for the city to buy the Kindom Gentlemen's Club. Maybe they could buy U S Ecology while they are at it. Or U S Ecology could take over the canabis farm to raise money for the fine. But would anyone buy pot from a hazardous waste collector?

The political news featured stump speeches given by candidates at the Artemsia Community Center. The content of the speeches was largely ignored becasue of the more colorful Q&A session which sounded a bit like last year's health care town hall meetings. The paper had a big picture of a local lawyer asking a candidate challenging questions while she (the lawyer) wore a sidearm. The story related that at least one other cross examiner from the audience was also packing heat. I do not know why they attend political meetings armed, but I surmise there is a reason.

At a recent meeting, the county commissioners refused to watch a 3 minute dvd a citizen wanted to show them so they could see the flooding in her neighborhood. Bad move pastorally.

Of course there was happier news. The "annual grape stomp" has been expanded to a 2 day event. A crew of firefighters visited Charleston Elementary School. But the big good news is popping at the other end of the county in Tonopah. Great Basin College is planning to open a campus there. The Town Board is considering buying the Belvada (a disused bank) for its new convention center. Solar engery is about the double the population.

I never drive through Nye County without discovering lots of action. I always listen to Richard Eloyan's Ballad of the Nye Country Drifter and imagine bandits hiding around the occasional curves of Hwy 95 as I race through intermittently observing the speed limit. It's a happening place. If Clark County were this colorful Fr. Sherm's Las Vegas Review Journal would not be reduced to covering national and international news we don't really care about.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about the facts of any of this. Nothing. I am just saying what I read in the papers. Nor do I have the least malice toward any of these people. I do not know them. I did read the list of the recently arrested and was pleased not to find the names of anyone from St. Martin's in the Desert. They are too busy providing wholesome fun for the town's teens and knitting prayer shawls. They have no time to grow pot, burgle shady enterprises, or even intimidate political candidates with hostile questions and guns.