Archive for June, 2010

Factory Farms

June 25, 2010

When people used to ask me what I was going to do in retirement, I would often say, “Move back to Iowa, buy a boat and a dog, and get involved in Democratic politics and land use issues in Iowa.” Well, my job as interim Dean of Trinity Cathedral has put some of those plans on hold for a while. But I did find myself testifying before the Scott County Board of Supervisors last night in opposition to the construction of a cattle confinement planned near North Liberty.

The operation would have four confinement barns of 700 feel by 90 feet. EACH barn would hold 1,222 head of cattle with the ability to “finish” about 9,500 head of cattle a year. Even with new technology, the concern of many of us is proximity to rivers and the lasting effect it will have on our environment, the air quality and sustainability. Think of all that waste, concentrated not spread out of hundreds and hundreds of acres, going directly into the water supply underground!

Most people who spoke, spoke against it. I said simply, “I am not a farmer. But I am an Iowan. And I am a pastor. This is wrong. Wrong for the animals, wrong for the land, wrong for the water, wrong for the air, wrong for our community! Please do not let this go forward.”

The result? Unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors.

The God Almighty dollar wins again.

The earth loses…

The Episcopal Church and the New Reformation

June 17, 2010

While it is sad to see the unraveling of the Anglican Communion we are witnessing today, it is really part of a larger reality. In “The Great Emergence” Phyllis Tickle speaks of (roughly) 500 years cycles in the life of the Church when enormous reformation occurs. We are in the birth pangs of such a reformation today.

For example, younger/emergent Christians are not interested in our church wars over human sexuality or worship or women’s roles or hierarchical, usually patriarchal, structures which operate top-down to control the masses. What they are interested in is Jesus Christ, his message about the Kingdom of God, and God’s mission of justice, peace, and the new creation. They are interested in radical equality and “flattened” leadership and communication structures which allow everyone to have a voice. A “theology of hope” informs their every prayer.

I have spent my entire life and ministry trying to help lead The Episcopal Church toward some of those same ends. From the renewal of worship and spirituality, to the empowerment of women, to  work for justice and peace, to dismantling hierarchical forms of leadership by the ministry of all the baptized, to fuller inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the Church, to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.

I had hoped that The Episcopal Church might provide some leadership in these areas to the rest of the Anglican Communion of which we are a part and indeed to the wider oikoumene, the Body of Christ, whether Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal just as we have learned from and incorporated elements from them. However, today we are widely misunderstood, caricatured, and criticized in many circles.

So, it appears to me that our role today is to be simultaneously one of humility, boldness, and patience.  We need to have the humility to recognize that we probably do not have all this right, and it is not necessary that everyone agree with us anyway. But we also need to have the boldness to follow where we believe the Holy Spirit is leading us and be prepared always to “give a reason for the hope that is within us.”

Finally, we need patience. We are only at the beginning stages of this new reformation. God’s future is in fact rushing in upon us. We can lean into it. But we cannot force it to come any faster by our actions or our anxiety. What we do know is that God’s Kingdom is coming and that, one day, God’s will will indeed be done on earth as it is in heaven.

May we be faithful until that day.

God is King…You are Not!

June 14, 2010

“(Jesus) went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 8:1). As I mentioned in my Cross Currents article this month, we are now in the long “Pentecost season” (which is not really a season at all, but simply a succession of Sundays stretching through the summer and fall from the Day of Pentecost to next Advent).

And, during this period, in church on Sundays, we learn more about the actual teaching and ministry of Jesus. So much of the core of the Church year – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter – covers what happened TO Jesus. The preparation for his birth and the birth itself; his experiences of baptism and transfiguration; fasting and temptation in the desert; and finally his death and resurrection.

Even in the Creeds, the emphasis is on those events… what happened TO Jesus, rather than what he did and taught during the three years of his earthly ministry. But if we are going to be followers of this man, that is precisely what we need to know – what did he teach and how did he live; and what does he expect from us?

Those are the themes we will be tracing for these next several months. And they are no where better summarized than in the verse I just quoted from Luke’s Gospel: “Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.”

The message of Jesus, like the message of the prophets and John the Baptist before him, was just this: the kingdom of God! What do you think about when you hear that phrase?

Many of us think of “heaven.” The kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is where we go when we die. And there is no question but that eternal life with God is the culmination and destination of the Christian life. But there is so much more to “the kingdom of God” than that!

So many times in the Gospels we hear John the Baptist or Jesus say something like, “The kingdom of God is at hand” or “the kingdom of God is within you.” What did they mean by that? Well, first of all, it’s important to note that the word “kingdom” here really means “king-ship” or “reign” or “sovereignty.” So, when you hear the phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” in the Bible, think “the king-ship of God” or, better, “the reign” of heaven or the “sovereignty” of God.

So we are not so much thinking of a “place” like a kingdom, but more a state of being, a relationship. Living in the kingdom of God really means consciously and faithfully living under the ‘kingship,” under the “reign,” under the “sovereignty” of God – and nobody else!    Bishop Tom Wright suggests that proclaiming and living in the kingdom of God means saying to the “powers that be”’ in the world – God is my king…and you are not!

That means that nothing else should ever try to claim our ultimate allegiance – not money, not sex, not power; not other good things like country or work or even family!  All these things have their place…but none of them must be put in the place of God! Why? Because God is sovereign…and these things are not

What happens when you begin to live under the sovereignty of God instead of cooperating with, and being coerced by, the principalities and powers of this world?

Well, for one thing, you may begin acting very strangely. At least strangely by this world’s standards!

For example, you might find yourself at a fancy dinner party when, out of the blue, a very unacceptable and perhaps even distasteful person latches on to you, desperately seeking your attention, and perhaps even your approval. Your embarrassment only grows when your host pulls you aside to whisper something like, “Don’t you know who that is? Why in the world are you putting up with this?”

And, at first you’re not so sure why you are!  But then you remember an old story about a relative who cancelled the debt of one of his co-workers and ended up with a dear friend for life.  You remember too what it felt like in high school always to be a little on the “outside,” never quite accepted by people (like your current dinner host) who were part of the “in crowd” and nearly worshipped by everyone. But how grateful you were one night at a party when his girlfriend sought you out for some conversation, and even danced with you a couple of times!

It also dawns on you that the first time your host has even spoken to you this evening was when he noticed your conversation with this poor, sad character who wanted nothing more than a little of your time.  So you turn away from your host…take your strange little companion by the arm…and find a quiet spot in the corner where you both can have a little privacy.

Can you imagine yourself doing something like that? Have you ever done something like that? If you have, then actually “you may not be far,” as Jesus once said, “from the kingdom of God.” You may not be far from understanding that you really only have to serve God and God’s people…not the selfish bigotry of people like the “host” in my story…or the “Pharisee” in Luke’s.

You may be discovering the incredible freedom of not really caring what people think about you because your ultimate identity and sense of self-worth does not come from them. It comes from God and the security you have that you owe your existence entirely to him…that you are secure in that love and the grace of that forgiveness…and that your sole purpose in life is to do what God would have you do.

If you can see yourself in that picture, then you really are beginning to live in the kingdom.  You really are beginning to be part of that “blessed company of all faithful people” the Prayer Book speaks of.

If you can’t see yourself doing something like that…

Well, this is a good day to ask yourself “why”…and then to begin again…

Where Are The Voices of Our “Friends?”

June 9, 2010

Well, now that Kenneth Kearon, Secretary of the Anglican Communion, has turned Rowan Williams’ “proposal” into law, I am less sanguine not only about this new exercise of power from the Church of England, but also about the feasibility of the whole “Anglican Covenant” proposal (which heretofore I was supporting).

That which was purported to be “non punitive” (i.e. Section Four of the Covenant) will likely be used in a punitive manner if the Secretary General does not feel the need to wait until the Covenant has even been ratified to begin flexing his office’s muscle. I am increasingly inclined to have to agree sadly with Diane Butler Bass’ conclusion that it’s really beginning to unravel now.

Whether we choose to accede to Canterbury’s “request” or not, I want to hear from others in addition to Archbishop Fred Hiltz and the Anglican Church of Canada in support of The Episcopal Church!  Where are voices from New Zealand, parts of Australia, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, and Scotland and other “friends” at this outrage?

We do not ask for agreement with all of The Episcopal Church’s decisions. Just some respect and an honoring of Anglican polity as it currently exists…not as some might wish it to be!