30 September 2007

Going to Glorieta

I'm going to be in Santa Fe, NM for the Emergent Gathering Tuesday through Friday of next week. If you read my blog and you're going to be there, email me (there's a link up at the top of the page) and let's meet up!

29 September 2007

I'm an Episcopalian

Wow. You may be surprised to hear it, but it's been kind of a journey for me to get to a place where I can say, once again, the three words in the title of this post. It feels good - really good, Spirit good - for me to say them, but they didn't and don't come easy.

That's because of something that happened a little more than a year ago. I won't go into the details (I've talked a little about them before), but a set of events transpired that amounted to an institutional church system (my institutional church) running on autopilot - running according to rulebook and blind tradition, as opposed to pastoral compassion. The result of that didn't hurt me. It hurt some people I love very dearly, at a time when they were already in unbearable pain and in dire need of unconditional welcome. It's hard to make me angry, much less screaming, grudge-holding, fit-to-be-tied angry. But that'll do it - yes, indeed.

Now, it's important to point out two things. First, my dear friends were hurting so much to begin with that I think this hardly registered as a blip in their suffering - and as a result of what happened, another faith community did welcome them, which for a variety of reasons turned into much more of a blessing than "plan A" would have been. Even at the time, I could clearly see the hand of God in these events - but that didn't stop my feelings of anger and betrayal. Second, I never, ever have felt that my other dear friends who are a part of my Episcopal faith community failed me or my unwelcomed friends. I was angry with the system, the "institution" - not the people. (And my dear, amazing, hurting friends were never angry with anyone.) But with that institution, I was really, really, truly angry.

Shortly after these events, I sat down with my Rector, Fr. Rick, a dear friend of mine, and tearfully told him that I felt I had to separate myself from the Episcopal Church (TEC) - I couldn't see myself continuing to minister in a context in which this sort of thing happened. During that conversation, Rick+ gave me an incredible gift. (Actually, many - but one that was particularly significant to me.) He asked me not to come down hard on the question of "membership". No-one was asking me to say "I am a member of the TEC" or "I am not" - least of all him. Technically - "on the books" - I certainly was, but I felt like he was giving me permission to be agnostic about the question of whether, in my heart of hearts, I retained that membership.

This "permission to be agnostic" about membership was a huge help to me in getting over that initial intense rage, guilt, and feeling of betrayal. It let me push aside the huge emotional issues that this had raised for me, and not feel that I must resolve them, one way or the other. It let me go on with life and ministry, and heal.

And so it went, for about a year. The principle focus for my ministry, fellowship, and formation shifted from my Episcopal church to my little nondenominational "emerging-ish" community of friends, but I maintained connections to my Episcopal community, primarily through my Discipleship Group and my friendship with Susan, the newest priest in that community. Whenever anyone asked about my denominational affiliation, I would say "I'm an Anglican - for me, that's a part of my identity - but I don't know whether or not I'm an Episcopalian."

I think that, as healing processes go, this was perhaps relatively healthy. I dunno.

But a couple of things nagged at me:
  • Before all this happened - beginning as far back as the previous winter - I'd felt strongly called to participate in youth ministry at my Episcopal church. At the time of these events, I had committed to playing a large role in Senior High Sunday school there - and it was heart-wrenching to me to realize - and tell the people I'd committed to - that I didn't feel like I could do that any more. And it continued to bug me, because it'd felt like a real call to me. Was my Spiritual discernment apparatus completely busted?
  • Although I'm the sort of person who's comfortable with mystery, this "membership agnosticism" was, I think, always bound to be a temporary, liminal thing for me, though I didn't really recognize that for a long time.
So it came to pass that Susan invited me to come along on a retreat for adult youth mentors in late August. And, not knowing quite why, I came along. At that retreat, Susan gave me another huge gift, to match the gift of "membership agnosticism" that Rick had given me almost a year before: She made me give Rick's gift up. She didn't know she was doing that. But Susan asked me questions - good, fair, sensible questions - that forced me to deal with some of the issues I had with my denomination. Issues that "membership agnosticism" had allowed me to defer engaging with for 11 months.

And that was a huge gift. Because when I prayerfully looked in my heart, I realized that I do not feel called to division and divisiveness. I don't feel called to grudge-holding and bitter cynicism. (Well, cynicism maybe, but not the bitter kind. Not so much, anyway.) I felt called to reconciliation. And at a time when division and divisiveness are rending the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion - and at a time when I see my Episcopal community forming in new and wondrously inspiring ways, including a large internal community of adult youth ministers that has the potential to be real, deep, and transformational - I felt called to stand with my Episcopalian sisters and brothers, and let go of Rick's gift. To be able to say, "I'm an Episcopalian" once again.

This wasn't easy. It was hard because I'd grown to love that gift. That "membership agnosticism" had been key to healing me at a terribly painful time. But the gift was inherently temporary, and the healing was incomplete. To hold on to it would have been to make it into an idol - heck, it was already an idol. To let go of it was to open myself to the possibility of reconciliation. Letting go was painful, but I think it was what God was asking of me.

So what does this change? Not too much, except my heart. My primary place of ministry, fellowship, and formation remains my little unconventional church - but I'm going to be a mentor for one young man (I don't yet know whom) in the confirmation class at my Episcopal church this year. I'm excited, if a little nervous, about that challenge!

I don't particularly consider myself to be under the authority of any given clergycritter in the Anglican hierarchy - but that's not saying anything, because as far as I understand it, the only people who are particularly under "authority" of an Anglican cleric (bishop, archbishop, whatever) are: other Anglican clergy. Not really planning on becoming one of those. And since I believe strongly in mutual accountability in the Body of Christ, I sort of am under the authority of my clergy friends - as I am under the authority of my non-clergy friends.

And I remain deeply skeptical of a lot of concepts that are pretty ubiquitous in Anglicanism - including the perceived need for church buildings, canon law, ironclad tradition, large congregations, "discipleship optional, deep community optional" church culture, bishops, hierarchical leadership, clergy in general.... Etc. Lots of stuff. I break major Anglican rules on a weekly basis, and don't plan to discontinue that practice. But Anglicanism and TEC have never demanded conformity on nonessentials as a condition of membership. Really. (There are, however, varying lists of "essentials".)

So if TEC will have me - and I'm pretty sure they don't excommunicate much these days - then I'm ready, once again, to say, "I'm an Episcopalian." And it feels good, and right, and something to be thankful for. So, thanks be to God, and thank God for faithful friends bearing gifts. :-) Amen!

22 September 2007

Day workers - Herndon and Arlington

UPDATE: turns out that Arlington does have a County-supported, official day labor site, much like the one that no longer exists in Herndon. That's what I get for shooting off my mouth. :-) So, yay Arlington, and boo Herndon. Still, all the more reason not to give up on Herndon, 'cause I really don't want my neighbors to have to move to Panama or to Arlington in order to feed their families.


My good friend Israel posted on his blog about two local governmental jurisdictions (the one where I live, and the one where he lives) and their respective attitudes toward immigrants who depend on day labor to survive.

This issue has been weighing on my heart, at least a little, for a while - at least since I moved to Herndon and started getting the free newspaper and reading the latest chapter of the saga of the day workers' center on the front page of each issue. Here are some random thoughts:

  • Yay for the Arlington County Board, but I'm not sure that resolution is anything other than a show of support in principal, which says, "we resolve, by continuing our current policies, to not be quite as nasty as some other local governments we might mention". It doesn't actually say that that they plan on doing anything new for day workers - such as, for example, creating an official, funded site - and I suspect that if someone tried to do new stuff, they'd meet with opposition in Arlington, as anywhere. Call me cynical, but I sort of read this resolution as essentially an expression of the political POV of those who make up the majority of the Board at the moment, and not much more. So, yay for Arlington, and boo for Herndon - but we should remember that Herndon actually did something fairly revolutionary, and, somewhat unsurprisingly, the revolution was put down. If Arlington tried to turn its vague thumbs-up into something concrete and equally revolutionary, then believe me, the "send the scary brown people home" folks would come out in force there too - possibly in enough numbers to change the political make-up of the county council.
  • That said, I'd love to be a part of something revolutionary in Arlington. So I says to Izzy, Izzy, I says, if you talk to las chicas de Chirilagua, please keep me in the loop on what they say.
  • That said, I'd hate for people who care about folks who feed their families through day labor to say, "Oh well, Herndon screwed the pooch - tough noogies for immigrants in Herndon" and move on. So I'm thinking (and talking to my church's GNU Team - "Giving to Needs Unmet") about reaching out to Reston Interfaith / Project Hope and Harmony to find out how things are shaping up as they continue their efforts outside the context of the officially supported center.
Little prayer to God here: if I / we can help, please don't let apathy be the reason we don't. Amen.

17 September 2007

MESH-a-ritas II: Harry Potter and the Irreverent Church Weenies

Alternate titles: 'Rita-Swilling, Chimi-Devouring Northern Virginians and the Deathly Hallows -OR- (inevitably) MESH-a-rita's II: Electric Boogaloo.

This Thursday, 7pm, at Tequila Grande in Vienna. We'll be discussing the theological / ecclesiological / missiological / tequiliological implications of Harry Potter Book Seven.

Be there, or be a Muggle. Not any Muggle, either, but an insufferable prat like the Dursleys.

See you then!

P.S., I am currently accepting compliments on my 31337 PhotoShop (actually, Windows Paint) skeelz.
I know, I know. You're not worthy. :-D

15 September 2007

Help my friend Jen bring laptops to Tanzania!

UPDATE: Partnering with the $100 laptop project is a no-go, but the idea remains the same; except now, they're planning to purchase and bring cheap but functional used laptops. They had to re-submit the grant on Facebook, so if you already voted there, please vote again. For the rest of the story, read on:

My friend Jen is traveling to Tanzania in January, for six months, to teach elementary-age kids in a village there. This is a country of 35 million people, in which only about 15,000 graduated from high school last year. The need for education is real, and Jen is partnering with another organization, freealert.org (co-founded by another friend of ours), in hope of, in Israel's words, "send[ing] Jen off with more than just color crayons and poster paper!"

Here are three ways you can help:

1) If you're on Facebook (and wouldn't this be a good reason to join?), go here to vote for this project in a mini-grant contest being offered by Razoo SpeedGranting - Razoo will give $500 to the project that gets the most votes.

2) Put one of these thingies on your blog or website:

To get the code, click on the "Copy" tab in the widget above. (I've got a permanent one over on the left there. It doesn't quite fit, but it works OK.) This will allow folks to donate directly to the cause. If you have the means, and this speaks to you, then by all means donate yourself.

3) Spread the word! Tell all your friends! This is a real way to help meet a real need, through a real person (a very cool person I might add) who is really going to Africa to hand-deliver her love, compassion, talent, skills, and expertise. And, God willing, some laptops!

The Indolent Bystander

I'd really love to see your facile explanations for "theodicy" (the theological problem that questions how there can be so much evil in a world supposedly created by an all-powerful, all-good God) stand up to this deeply personal essay (clearly a product of long, anguished reflection) by my friend Ryan. Ryan combines the clear reasoning of a lawyer (which he is) with the heart of a compassionate friend (which he is also), and - the result is worth a read. Of course, we theists will read it and go back to our neat little mental defense mechanisms for believing around this crap. (If you're a theist, you know you have them. I certainly do. G'wan, admit it.)

Does the argument of Caputo (to whom Ryan refers) help? Thinking of God as a "weak force" as opposed to the all-powerful (yet far from all-active) "magic hand from above" that most of us grew up with? I know it's helped my friend, at least a little, but it certainly does fly in the face of what we've been taught to expect from our Deity.

09 September 2007

Water, grace, love

It's too late (in the day) to start this blog post, and I'm too tired. There's too much to say, and I won't be able to say it tonight. So I'll be brief. Today I was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, by my dear friend, in the presence of my beloved community, including my beloved wife. Two other members of our community were baptized today as well. It was a joyful celebration of God's grace on a hot, sunny morning, and when we had shared the other major sacrament of the bread and the wine, the body and the blood, the service was brought to a close by many of us spontaneously jumping into the consecrated waters, fully clothed. :-) I find myself constantly amazed by how much I love these people. Thanks, God, for the unfathomable gift of each one of you, fellow Commoners.

I've been baptized before, as an infant. I've also been confirmed, and in 2003 I formally reaffirmed my (original) baptismal vows. I really want everyone to understand: I certainly don't want to minimize the beauty and value of any of these rites, whether in general or in my specific case. And I didn't have a long-standing plan to do this - in fact, the idea was first mentioned this past Tuesday, and only really became a sure thing on Friday. It was sort of a big surprise to everyone, including me. But in the back of my mind, I've wanted to do this for a long time.

I'm a sacramental kind of guy, and it just seems to me that this is the sacrament as experienced by everyone in the early church - heck, even Jesus himself: full-immersion, performed by someone deeply significant to one's spiritual formation, as a celebration of a free-will commitment of one's life to the way of God in Jesus. (Also, I'm in good company.) I can't begin to say how much this meant to me, to make that commitment, surrounded by my the love of my friends. To my friends and loved ones who couldn't be there (if only because I pretty much didn't tell anyone this was happening!), especially by family and my dear friends from my other beloved faith community - you were very much on my mind today, and with me in spirit as you have been along this journey that brought me to a suburban pool, listening to the symphony of gorgeous hymns and heartfelt words of faith combined with the drone of a neighbor's chainsaw, being dunked by my friend and vowing to keep walking this path with my Lord and with my friends. Amen, and amen, and thanks be to God.

02 September 2007

Something like surrender

Today, my community worshiped God together through an ancient contemplative practice called the labyrinth. It's been used in Christian cathedrals and churches for centuries as a practice for prayerful meditation and centering oneself on God, and began as a safer alternative to pilgrimage to Jerusalem. My parents, who are visiting for the long holiday weekend, were with us, and they participated in the labyrinth walk too, as well as the picnic afterward celebrating our church's sixth anniversary. Between the labyrinth walk and the picnic, many of us shared some of what we experienced while walking and quietly praying together. I was surprised and deeply moved to hear my mom speak up during this time, and say how pleased and touched she was to see me being a part of such a community - such a group of loving friends. I really, really love my mom. :-)

This morning was also moving for me because of my own experience, journeying through the labyrinth. As I began, my thoughts and prayers were very, very heavy. Lately I've been feeling a lot of weight on my heart regarding a situation in which I've felt powerless, but at the same time felt that I shouldn't be powerless. The situation in question is a broken relationship, to which I am a party. I'm used to the concept of turning a situation over to God when there's clearly nothing I can do except pray. For example, if someone I know is suffering from cancer, there's no way I can cure that. All I can do in a case like that is rely on God.

I'm also used to asking God for help in a situation in which it seems clear that on my own, I could do little or nothing to help - but with God's help, maybe I could make a difference. I've gone around and around and around this particular situation in my mind and prayers, because this has seemed like one of those latter circumstances: this is a relationship issue, and I'm a party to the relationship. With God's help, if I'm any good at all, I should be able to do something to make the situation better, instead of worse, right? And I've gone around and around and around, and not been able to come up with a way to do that.

So I walked the path into the labyrinth, thinking and praying about the weight of this on all of us who have been hurt by it. I got to the center and sat down, still heavy. After a little time, my friend sat down next to me, and I served her the communion bread and wine that we'd put in the center, and then she served me. The sacrament felt like a great, beautiful gift to me, to an extent that it rarely has (sacramentally-inclined guy though I am). Just then, the music that the service planners had chosen to accompany our walk switched from a slower, contemplative tune to a joyful, funky, reggae song from the Hasidic reggae artist Matisyahu. Many of us started to smile. At least one of us started to dance, boogieing her way along the spiritual path in a contagiously joyful manner. That song, that dance, felt like great, beautiful gifts to me too, and as I began my journey back out from the center, I was weeping a little, but it was mostly tears of relief. I felt like God was saying something to me, and the weight was lifting a little more with each step.

What I felt like I was hearing was this: Mike, shut up. You think that if you're any good at all, you should be able to find a way to bring some healing to this situation, that you should be able to give that gift. Well (like all humans beings), apart from me, you aren't any good at all - but at the same time, you're my finest, most beloved creation. So shut up. Follow me. And I'll use you to give gifts. Maybe even some beautiful ones. But: you don't get to choose which ones you can give.

As I made my way into the prayer silo at the lovely Benedictine monastery where we were worshiping and picnicking, I was asking myself: am I OK with that? After some time, I lay down on the cool stone floor, looked up at the clear blue sky, and felt like it was OK with me.

I'm still going to pray for healing of this wound - probably every time I pray, as I have in the past. (Please don't read this to say that I pray with great frequency - my prayer life is not something I have reason to be proud of.) And I'll still pray for God, or the other people involved, to show or tell me some way that I could make it even a little better.

But I think I may stop obsessively churning my own brain cells, searching for such a way. I've felt like there must be an answer - even a tiny partial answer - that I can find, if I just try hard enough. But maybe for now the only answer I get is: wait on God. Rely on God. And I think I'm learning to be OK with that.