Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Live From Quito 6 (Part B) The End

In addition to the dramatic resolution of the crisis in Ecuador Central and taking the first step toward a major restructuring of the church, we adopted a pastoral teaching on the environment, particularly about how environmental degradation hurts the poor. A lot of the education sessions had been preparing us for this. It is incumbent on us to share what we learn. A pastoral teaching is one way to do that.

As I look back over my descriptions of this time with the House of Bishops, I see that I have missed much of the quality and feel of what has been happening. The missing pieces are obvious. I have not told you that we celebrated the Eucharist together every day, that we began each day with Morning Prayer followed by Bible Study, that we stopped in the middle of each day for Noonday Prayer, that we ended each day with Evening Prayer, or that we said Compline once. I did not tell you of the special prayers said at other times for people in need or the many prayers of thanksgiving. I did not tell you of the moments of silence for disaster victims, for family members who died this week, for bishops who died since our lasr meeting.

Scripture, prayer, and sacraments were, as always, the supporting structure of all we did. Simply, we continued in the fellowship of the Apostles, the breaking of bread, and in the prayers..

A bishop is a bishop not because of personal gifts and talents. Nor is it enough that a bishop be elected. A bishop has to be plugged into episcopacy. That starts when three or more bishops consecrate him or her. But it does not end there. The authentic exercise of episcopacy depends on connection to the gathered assembly of bishops. Each individual bishop represents this body, which is immensely wiser and holier than any of us could ever be on our own.

Live From Quito 6 (Part A)

The crisis in Ecuador Central was resolved today. The settlement is complicated but this is the crux of it: Bishop Ruiz, the Standing Committee, the Legal Representative, the Chancellor -- in short the entire diocesan leadership -- will resign, ceding all authority to the Presiding Bishop until they can have a convention to elect new leadership. Bp Katharine has appointed Bp Victor Scantleberry to serve as interim bishop and oversee a process of reconciliation.

Coming to Quito was not easy. It was a long flight for many of us. Quito is the most dangerous airport in the world. One bishop was mugged yesterday. Today a bishop spouse was hospitalized with altitude sickness. A lot of us have been impaired to varying degrees by the altitude. But if our presence helped bring about this step toward peace, where before there were threats of violence, it was worth it. Though the crisis is past, the troubles here did not begin recently and they will not be resolved soon. But this was a big step. We gave our friend Bishop Luiz Fernando Ruiz a standing ovation. We laid hands on him, his wife Tanya, and their baby for healing at the closing Eucharist. You can see the toll this ordeal has taken on them.

Today the new Chief Operating Officer of the Episcopal Center (815), Bp Stacy Sauls, made the case for a major restructuring of the the Church. We suffer from "death by governance" (Bishop Katharine). Up to 45% of the church budget goes to overhead. We have 75 standing commissions. He gave examples of ways to save millions of dollars from governance so we can redirect that money to mission and social ministries at the local level. We do not have a specific substantive proposal,but a proposed resolution for a special commission to create a restructuring plan to submit at a special convention. Note the point is not just to spend less. It is to redirect money and human resources from governance to mission, from centralized to local, while streamlining the governing bodies of the Church.

The same goals are behind our proposed canon to merge our two diocesan governing boards. Western Kansas and some other small, financially challenged dioceses are dong the same thing this year.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Live From Quito 5: The Losses We Endure

Disasters have been a major theme of this House of Bishops. We heard from the bishops of Vermont and Albany about the flood, from the bishop of Western Missouri about the tornado, from the bishop of Texas about the drought and wildfires. It has been one hard year! They expressed their appreciation for the prayers and support of the rest of the church in helping them through these catastrophes.

The Archbishop of Japan showed a DVD and gave a heartbreaking report of their triple disaster -- earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear radiation. The bishop of Haiti updated us on the slow process of rebuilding their broken nation after that earthquake. He was deeply grateful for our support and to Bishop Katharine for her repeated visits to encourage and console the Haitian people.

The bishops have been very solicitous for the people of Reno involved in the air crash. They assure us of their prayers.

All of this is probably why I found tears in my eyes at today's Eucharist when we sang Thomas Dorsey's hymn written late one night in 1932 in an Atlanta hotel after he learned that his wife had died in childbirth and the child had died too while he was away.

"When the darkness appears and the night draws near
When the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Precious Lord take my hand, lead me home."

Live From Quito 4

Just a few highlights from today: one of our guest bishops from another church in the Anglican Communion told us that once when he was a new bishop he asked his wife, "Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that I would be bishop of this diocese?" She replied, "Darling, in my wildest dreams, you do not appear."

An English bishop informed us of issues in the C of E including the upcoming Synod which will decide whether to admit women to the episcopacy. He indicated that many in England believe the discussion of the Anglican Covenant has been helpful but see no need to actually adopt the Covenant. He made no prediction of the outcome and did not say how he would vote. My prediction: we will endorse the core values in the first three sections of the covenant but not the sanctions in section four. I also predict not many other churches in the communion will sign on to the Covenant.

The bishops from Liturgy & Music reported on the same sex blessing liturgy drafting process. Enormous work has been done. Massive input has been received. More revising is probably ahead. My opinion: this rite will be approved in some form. There will be controversy about it. But whether it is a bloody controversy depends on which book we put it in. If we do this in a way that effectively compels all dioceses to use the rite, there will be real crises in several dioceses that oppose it. If we do it in a way that authorizes but does not compel its use, it will be used by most dioceses, and the ones who oppose it can dissent in good conscience without a major crisis. There will be upset but we will get through it. I also predict that whatever rite we authorize will be imperfect. Both the rite and the theological supporting document will be revised after a few years of experience.

We had reports and a panel discussion on the economic, environmental, and migration challenges facing our Episcopal Dioceses in Latin America. I was particularly struck to hear that restrictive immigration policies and deportations put people in a vulnerable situation. In that situation they become prey for sex traffickers. I had not made the connection between those two issues -- immigration and trafficking -- which are both major concerns in Nevada.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Live From Quito 3

Denver is 5,200 ft above sea level. Visitors to Denver are warned to take various precautions about the altitude. Quito is 9,200 ft above sea level -- 4,000 ft farther into the sky. That takes a little getting used to. I am over my illness now and have moved on to the altitude issue.

Given my marginal health, I did not go on the field trip to the Colombia border on Saturday. It was 11.5 hrs on a bus. The people in Tucan were grateful for the visit of those bishops and spouses who made the journey. But I passed.

My Saturday began congenially. I had breakfast with the music leader for the House of Bishops, Dent Davison. He is at the Cathedral in Chicago these days, but it turns out he grew up in Hawaii. We talked about our plans in Nevada for Filipino/ Pacific Islander Ministries, and he told me about a wonderful resource of traditional Christian music from the Pacific. The day ended with a dinner outing of the Province 8 bishops and spouses/partners. As providence would have it, I sat across the table from the bishop of Hawaii, who serves all the way to Guam. So we did more brainstorming about how to connect with our new mission field, Pacific Islanders living in the desert. In between, I caught up on paper work and church e mails. A very productive day!

This morning was the most important thing we have done so far. We went to Church! That is always the most important thing to do, but today it was even more so. The Diocese of Ecuador Central has a history of big time trouble. In March, the Standing Committee in one fell swoop ousted the bishop. Since then there have been threats of violence -- conflict like we do not see in USA church life. Bishop Katharine and her staff have been negotiating a resolution to the crisis. Today both sides celebrated Holy Communion together. Bishop Katharine preached a wise, calm, faithful sermon directly into the conflict. The antagonists met at the same altar because we were here. What Woody Allen said about life is definitely true about episcopacy. "90 per cent is just showing up."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Live From Quito 2 (Part B)

We had a panel of Liberation Theologians on Friday afternoon. They were ok but mostly stating the obvious. I rarely speak at HOB meetings, but this time I asked what I considered to be a provocative question. Their replies were totally non-responsive. So while I did not like their answer I still like my question. Maybe you can do better with it:

The U.S. context for church, mission, and theology differs from Latin America in that the U.S. has had a large, strong, prosperous middle class. The Episcopal Church is overwhelmingly a middle class church. But the middle class has been declining and shrinking for years. Wealth disparity is on the persistent rise. The recession has shrunk the middle class further. Economists predict that the recovery will continue the tend. New jobs will be very high or low paying, not much in the middle. We are becoming an hour glass economy and society -- all haves and have nots -- not many have somes. Our way of being church, the people we evangelize, our liturgy and music is all shaped by being the church of a class that is ceasing to exist. Who is God calling is to become, what is God calling us to do in this shifting context?

After the panel, Prince Singh (Rochester) invited me to join him in a search for hats in Quto. We had a great time. I got a black wool South American cowboy hat. Prince wanted a leather hat. We asked some friends the Spanish word for leather but it turned out they gave us the word for skin. Fortunately we discovered the mistake before asking directions to a skin shop. After our purchases, we ate Ecuadoran food al fresco under an awning during a heavy rain storm. He and I are about as different as can be. Rochester and Nevada are about as different as can be. But we love comparing our experiences. So different in every way on the surface but with the same gosspel in our hearts.

We hurried back through the drenching rain to an Indaba conversation about the draft proposal for rites of same sex blessings and the supporting theological statement. There were 35 of us gathered for this special discipline of honest gentle sharing. What people said is confidential. But there are several noteworthy things that marked the meeting. 1. There were not two positions. There were at least 35 distinct viewpoints. Some will vote yes and some no. But their positions are all complex, nuanced, and intelligent. 2. I was surprised to hear some of the opinions coming out of the particular mouths expressing them. People had changed and grown as they struggled with hard and subtle issues. 3. I was impressed by the intelligence, wisdom, and compassion of every single person in the room without exception. 4, I continue to be amazed at the ability of these people to express strong feelings which put them at odds with each other but to treat each other with the utmost respect as they strive to understand the differences. It is as if they really mean their Baptismal vows!

Live From Quito 2 (Part A)

After a mostly sleepless night, I headed down to the hotel cafe. By God's good providence I ran into Kee Sloan there. Kee is suffragan bishop of Alabama and was recently elected in a landslide to become the next diocesan bishop. He and I were College for Bishops classmates and both have the awkward position of being moderates in a church that supposedly espouses moderation but has a hard time living into that identity in a polarized society. There is no one in the church I respect more than Kee for his kindness, courage, and honesty.

Morning Prayer was followed by Bible Study. We worked with how to follow Jesus' clear and emphatic teachings about social justice in our context. Jesus' teachings run contrary to the Spencerian political ideologies so popular in many of our congregations and many of our members trust Darwin and Spencer more than Christ and Moses in the public square.

I then bailed on the teaching session. It was on Scriptural Foundations of Liberation Theology. I have read quite a bit of that already and was unable to stay awake. Actually, I think the Latin American Liberation Theologians do a pretty good job with Scripture but Walter Brueggemann does it better. As you may have gathered we are focussing on Liberation Theology since it is so important here in Ecuador and throughout the continent. In short, I took a morning nap.

Over lunch, I joined about 10 bishops from wildly different diocese to discuss how best to do the ordination discernment process. There are plenty of good ideas around. This was interesting to me as we are working on refining our discernment process in Nevada. One thing we all agreed on today: we need a process that opens hearts and minds to find God's will. That means processes that generate wisdom and insight -- not yes or no judgments on people.

After lunch I met with Chaplain Simon who prayed for my healing and gave me good pointers on a healthier lifestyle. He is in D.C. now but hails from the Dominican Republic. He seems to have real ties to Haiti as well. At Morning Prayer he taught is the Haitian Creole liberation song O Bodye.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Live From Quito 1

This experience is marred by my feeling lousy. It could be the 2 root canals I had the afternoon before my flight, or the antibiotics I am taking, or the altitude, or being too old to travel this much. But I wouldn't miss it. Connecting with the other bishops is so energizing, edifying, and spiritually important.

it is spiritually important because this is how we form and sustain the church. The church is not at heart an authority structure. It is a web of relationships. Human friendships with people in other dioceses --not canons or commissions -- expand our identity beyond Nevada. Relationships make us bigger and bigger hearted. Each day I pray for this diocese Ecuador Central and it's bishop Luis, for the diocese of Machakos (Kenya) and it's bishop Joseph, and for the diocese of Santiago (Philippines) and its bishop Alexander. Knowing, appreciating, and praying for each other is how we form the church. We do some of that in Nevada. Many of our priests this year resolved to pray on a daily basis for 5 other priests. That's a start. I wonder what other networks of people might undertake to intentionally get acquainted and pray for one another.

Today we began with Holy Eucharist and a great sermon by Bishop Katharine on our duty as Christians to act and advocate for peace, reconciliation, and justice. Leading the church in the way of Jesus is bound to get resistance from those our scriptures call "worldly minded" (meaning that their secular ideologies trump their faith). But that resistance does not compare with the risks taken by Christians in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, or the Philippines when they defend the poor and the outcasts. We need the Anglican Communion so they can inspire us with their strength and courage.

After the Eucharist we had small group check in followed by a report from the Medical Trust on our insurance premiums. That is a big problem for some dioceses including ours. They are working on it.At lunch, I slipped off with two buddies, Prince Singh of Rochester and Scott Mayer of Northwest Texas. We compared notes on Bishoping and told stories from our dioceses. This too is how we keep the chuch knitted together.In the afternoon we heard from a Kansas theologian about the place of peace and justice advocacy in the Anglican tradition going back to the 17th century on up through 19th century when Bishop Charles Gore grounded social justice in the Incarnation and the 20th Century's Archbishop William Temple who tied justice to the sacraments. Then we head from a Brazillian bishop about the church's on the ground experiences with social justice ministries.

After a pleasant dinner of Ecuadoran dishes most of which I did not recognize I have called it day well spent.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bishop Felled In Comstock Shootout

After celebrating Ozzie Whittaker (1st bishop of the missionary district of Nevada & Arizona) Day, I hung around Virginia City which was thronged with tourists for Labor Day Weekend. Half the town was in Old West costume. I met up with Ken who plays the good guy Marshall in the gunfight show and we hatched a plot against one if the other actors. It went like this:

A volunteer is always called from the audience. Marshall Ken helps her shoot the bad guy Kyle. But another actor, Lefty, falls and Ken tells her she has missed the bad guy and shot innocent Lefty instead. Unbeknownst to anyone but Lefty and Ken we arranged that Lefty would not fall.

I was sitting in the front row. When the shot was fired I clutched my chest and fell splayed into the hay. Ken exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! You not only missed the bad guy! You shot Bishop Dan! He's the bishop of the Episcopal Churchall all over Nevada! You are in deep do-do!" I couldn't see the reactions because I was technically dead lying prostrate and slack-jawed across a hay bale. Reports are the volunteer from the audience handled it well enough but bad guy Kyle was pretty surprised.

It was a great day at St Paul the Prospector. We commissioned one of the flock, Christy Anne Strange, to serve as lay chaplain to the Sheriff's Department. After the service, we dedicated the Western Missionary Museum. They have quite the collection of artifacts and records there. The museum now has a docent and a gift shop. "The scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven brings out of his treasure that which is old and that which is new." A new museumm does both at once. Quite a way to mark their 150th anniversary!

For those who may not be Nevada church history buffs: it was important for me to get shot on Ozzie Whittaker Day. When Ozzie was elected Bishop of Pennsylvania, somebody took a shot at him during his installation service in Philadelphia. He survived and had a good long episcopacy back east to balance out his long years in the saddle between Virginia City and Tombstone. "Whistle back a memory. Whistle back where I wanna be ... To Tombstone Territory."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Even The Help Bleaches Reality: We Are In The Room

Let me say this up front and clearly. The Help is a great movie. What it says about race relations in the South is not only true about 1963; it is still true in only slightly subtler form in pockets of society today. Viola Davis was brilliant and deserves an Oscar. If you haven’t seen The Help, do so right away.

But something bothered me. The book is about a Black perspective on White culture. The movie includes that. But, compared to the book, the movie is about a White perspective on Black people and their perspective on White culture. The author, Skeeter, becomes a principal character instead of the teller of the tale. They did not adapt the book into a screenplay; so much as they wrote a screenplay about the white person writing the book. As one who loved the movie – but loved the book more – I just wonder what that is about. Was the book, The Help, too Black for an American audience, in the opinion of Hollywood – despite being a best seller?

The Entertainment Industry, more than the news media, tells us who we are. We see ourselves reflected in their eyes. What they think we will pay to see has a powerful influence on who we become. That’s what makes the change from the book to the screenplay troubling. The screenplay was good – but bleached.

I recently heard an NPR interview with the man who adapted the book Soul Surfer for the screen. The book is the memoir of Bethany Hamilton, a young surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack. Bethany tells the story of how her Christian faith empowered her to get back on the surfboard and become a professional champion surfer.

Well, that is a great story but a bit too Christian for the big screen. So what to do? Change the story of course. Her Christianity is acknowledged this way: The devastating injury causes her to doubt the existence of God. Her youth group sponsor shows up and tells her God had a purpose for sending the shark to chomp off her limb. (Not the most appealing of theologies – God using sharks as Manchurian candidates to cripple young people.) But her vague faith in something – influenced by Native Hawaiian animist religion – gives her the courage to make a comeback. They want to show that she had faith – but do not want to say what she believed or who she had faith in.

The screenwriter was amazingly candid in acknowledging his cynicism. There is a “faith based market.” So they wanted enough spirituality to appeal to that market – but did not want to be so Christian as to offend the secular audiences. Bethany could be spiritual, but not too religious.

I have two concerns: First, I am troubled by the censorship of my own beliefs. Second, the movie just isn’t true. I understand society is rather secular – but it is not as secular as Hollywood portrays it. For instance, Bethany Hamilton is a Christian, but Hollywood will acknowledge that truth only in hushed whispers. They would feel so much more at ease with her as a neo-pagan animist.

Thinking back over classic television series, there have been a few explicitly religious ones – very few. But did you ever wonder if Magnum P. I. went to church? How about the Partridge family? This isn’t new. There is no acknowlegement that faith is part of the lives of normal/ normative people. The Entertainment Industry has been portraying life as secular for a long time. They tell us who we are. We believe it. Then we become it.

I don’t necessarily want screenwriters to be our evangelists. It’s just that we are in the room. I am troubled that they are so embarrassed by our presence that they pretend we aren’t here. Do they think that if they ignore us long enough we will just go away? Do they think that Black voices cannot speak for themselves, but must be mediated through White translators or at least have a White person standing there giving them permission to speak? Only on occasion does the Entertainment Industry dare to hold a mirror up to the world. Most of the time they paint a picture of us instead – and the picture is a bleached, monochrome, religionless, raceless, political convictionless, generic American -- far less engaging and less human than the truth.

But for those who are offended by my criticism of The Help, let me reiterate: The Help is a great movie. What it says about race relations in the South is not only true about 1963; it is still true in only slightly subtler form in pockets of society today. Viola Davis was brilliant and deserves an Oscar. If you haven’t seen The Help, do so right away.