Thursday, November 30, 2006

Newsletter Reflection

This reflection was prompted by a posting on hypersync by my buddie Bob G+

“The American Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor was once invited to a New York literary salon. Over dinner the hostess, who had the power to make or break writers’ careers, said that she believed the Eucharist was merely a “symbol”. Flannery O’Connor replied: “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” Later, O’Connor wrote that there was no other answer she could have given, because the Eucharist “is the centre of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable”.

The previous paragraph was first published in The Catholic Herald as the preamble to an interview with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams regarding the meaning of the Eucharist. The Archbishop when asked affirms O’Connor’s sentiment if not her language.

I am often asked what happens in the Eucharist. Does the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ? And if it does, isn’t that kind of gross? The cheap cop-out answer is of course, “The Eucharist is a mystery which we will never completely understand.” This answer is true if not very helpful.

So, what do I believe the Eucharist is, or what do I believe happens in the Eucharist? First, I believe that relative to God human beings are pretty dim. Consequently God has to overcome our relative lack of comprehension in order to communicate God’s love for us. We see an overarching story of God trying to get through to us the extent to which God wants to be in relationship with us. From Abraham to Moses to David, from Sarah to Deborah to Esther and to Mary, the Scriptures tell of God’s desires to be in so deep a relationship with us that we would be one. The climax of this story is of course Jesus—the word of God made flesh. Looking at Jesus’ story, he even had trouble getting across the message; so finally he says look, “I am the word of God made flesh. I and God are One. I want you and I to be One as God and I are One. So, I’ll become bread and wine. You eat the bread, drink the wine and then you and I’ll will be one. Get it?” The disciple’s reply probably something along the lines, “Not really, but whatever you say boss.”

I do not really “get” the Eucharist in a completely definable way, in the way say St. Thomas of Aquinas explained it. I do however know that God loves me and wants me to encounter that love. God has infinite ways of communicating that love, some I am aware of and some I’m not. One that I am acutely aware of is the Eucharist. In the bread and wine, in the body and blood of Christ, we encounter the risen Christ. The same Christ the disciples encountered, and all the faithful have encountered. As the Archbishop of Canterbury says in the same interview, “The Eucharist is not a visual aid and it’s not a jog to memory. It’s an event, an encounter. And if it is not an event in which some utterly earth-shaking change occurs, if it is not an encounter with the risen Christ, well, indeed, to hell with it.

Ipod Shuffle 8:45 am cst

Here's this mornings output:

  1. Sparks, Wynton Marsalis, Live Itunes Session
  2. I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart, Dizzy Gillespie and Chet Baker
  3. We Have Been Make One Landon Whittsett
  4. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, U2
  5. Oh, Happy Day, soundtrack of Sister Act 2
  6. New York City, Norah Jones with the Peter Malick Group, The Remix
  7. Alone Together, Miles Davis, Blue Moods
  8. God Help the Outcasts
  9. I Get Lifted, Theryl De Clouet, A Celebration of new Orleans
  10. Pro Defunctus, Chet BakerEnsemble, Chet Baker Ensemble (Remastered)
Ipod Shuffle Game
Via Bob G+ of hypersync

Fr. Jim Tucker of Dappled Things:

The rules, for bloggers who want to play:

Get your ipod or media-player of choice, select your whole music collection, set the thing to shuffle (i.e., randomized playback), then post the first ten songs that come out. No cheating, no matter how stupid it makes you feel!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Presiding Bishop writes Bishop Schofield


Below is a pastoral letter that the Presiding Bishop wrote to the bishop of San Joaquin. As a personal editorial comment, I would say that we have a strong leader, who presents cogent analysis of the way things are and points us to how things ought to be. I am proud of our Primate!

God's Peace,


Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori — concerned by current affairs in the Fresno-based Diocese of San Joaquin, California — has written to its bishop, the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield. The diocese, which is scheduled to meet in convention December 1-2, includes an estimated 10,000 Episcopalians in some 48 congregations. The text of Jefferts Schori’s November 20 letter follows.

November 20, 2006

The Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield
Diocese of San Joaquin
4159 E. Dakota Avenue
Fresno, California 93726

My dear brother:

I have seen reports of your letter to parishes in the Diocese of San Joaquin, which apparently urges delegates to your upcoming Diocesan Convention to take action to leave the Episcopal Church. I would ask you to confirm the accuracy of those reports. If true, you must be aware that such action would likely be seen as a violation of your ordination vows to “uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.” I must strongly urge you to consider the consequences of such action, not only for yourself but especially for all of the Episcopalians under your pastoral charge and care.

I certainly understand that you personally disagree with decisions by General Conventions over the past 30 and more years. You have, however, taken vows three times over that period to uphold the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.” If you now feel that you can no longer do so, the more honorable course would be to renounce your orders in this Church and seek a home elsewhere. Your public assertion that your duty is to violate those vows puts many, many people at hazard of profound spiritual violence. I urge you, as a pastor, to consider that hazard with the utmost gravity.

As you contemplate this action I would also remind you of the trust which you and I both hold for those who have come before and those who will come after us. None of us has received the property held by the Church today to use as we will. We have received it as stewards, for those who enjoy it today and those who will be blessed by the ministry its use will permit in the future. Our forebears did not build churches or give memorials with the intent that they be removed from the Episcopal Church. Nor did our forebears give liberally to fund endowments with the intent that they be consumed by litigation.

The Church will endure whatever decision you make in San Joaquin. The people who are its members, however, will suffer in the midst of this conflict, and probably suffer unnecessarily. Jesus calls us to take up our crosses daily, but not in the service of division and antagonism. He calls us to take up our crosses in his service of reconciling the world to God. Would that you might lead the people of San Joaquin toward decisions that build up the Body, that bring abundant life to those within and beyond our Church, that restore us to oneness.

I stand ready for conversation and reconciliation. May God bless your deliberation.

I remain

Your servant in Christ,


The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Even more conversations about power


The IEF training in community organizing continues to go well. So far it has mostly been theory, but I have been assured that today we will get to practice some of the techniques they have been alluding to.

The thing that I think that I am starting to understand is that I have to claim the power of my office. Whether I like it or not, whether I am suppicious of having power or not, the fact remains that clergy have power. The more important question is how will I wield the power of my position. To deny it is simply to waste it. To be autocratic is inefficient and anti-biblical. Therefore, what the trainers called informed judgements and relational power, are keys to wielding power with integrity to the values I wish to hold. People are changed by relationships not by readings or sermons. Therefore, producing informed judgements in people is done by building relationships with people. This will in turn allow you to exercise relational power the power of broad based group that wants a change. This helps reduce the temptive forces that seduce a powerful person to curruption. To bring this into Christian language, it is to be a servant leader or spiritual leader instead of an autocratic leader.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

More conversations about power

The two questions for today's training are 1) how can we operate with power in the real world, and 2) how can we operate with power and maintain our integrity? Our session this morning began with a closer examination of the Athenian/Melian debate. We examined how both parties acted for behaviors we could imulate and those we should avoid. Most of the desirable behaviors emerged from the Athenians. They:
  1. Controled the debate.
  2. Want to talk to the many not the few
  3. Speech is blount and direct
  4. analyize the power dynamics
  5. Sought a compromise of mutual self interest
From these actions we noted behaviors that would be beneficial for us when negotiating with those in power.

  1. Have a specific agenda! Do not go to meet on a fishing exhibition. Know exactly what topic you want to discuss. Know what you want to say and stick to the script. Also, start the meeting and lay out the ground rules. Be diciplined about keeping yourself on topic and make the other side stay on topic as well.
  2. Work within reality! Organizing is about knowing not about hoping. Know what you have specifically, not an estimate and deal from that place--niether overstate not understate your position. For example if you know you can organize 10,000 people then that is what you say. Even if you have more people show interest in your topic you only have the 10,000 that you can organize. That is your power base and you should be clear about that.
The Melians on the other did somethings we should avoid. They:
  1. They are passive. They consent to the agenda and methods of the Athenians.
  2. They speak in vague terms appealing to hope and to "blood" (the assumed relationship they have with the spartans).
  3. They do not involve as many people as possible.
  4. Only concieve of two options. They want the Athenians to leave and do not accept any other terms despite the overwhelming force.
The biggest lesson here for me was that you have to analize the power structure and know what you can win in regards to context. If you can not get what you most want then change your wants.

It should be noted, however, that while the Athenians desired to act in moderation from there stance of dominate power, eventually they crushed the Melians. They excercised there dominate power in a destructive way which was against one of their own rules. That is to say they lost thier integrity. This eventually cost the Athenians the war of which the Melian debate was small part. So how do we act in a way that is from power but does not compormise our integrity?

As we dove into this we learned that the ethics of power emerge from how power is gained. We were given four methods of gaining power:
  1. Threat of force. This takes the most effort and is the weakest because it must be constantly maintained. Once the threat is removed or the threatened grow tired of the opression your power is negated.
  2. Controlled or slanted information.
  3. Habit or apathy (posses biggest problem for organizers. People will actually think you are making stuff up when you inform them of problems because it takes less energy then believing you.
  4. Mystery, Magic, Ritual, Custom (especially difficult for me since whether i want it or not power is often given to clergy).
  5. Informed Judgement: this is the strongest becuase it involves positive relationships. People come together to analize a situation and come to a decision about an issue or event. Hard to bring about because it easier to have an opinion than an informed judgement.
Apparently, if you gain power from developing informed judgements amongst groups of people, if you are working from developing relationships then you lesson the risk of losing integrity. Often times when the 'have nots' beome the 'haves', they begin to act like the people they overtook. Hopefully we are going to discuss more about maintaining integrity while claiming power.

Community Organizing Training Day One

I have journeyed to Kansas City to participate in Community Organizing training. Church of the Resurrection where I work is a member of Omaha Together One Community (OTOC)and this is the model of organizing that OTOC uses. I will be blogging this week about what I learn about myself in the experience and the techniques and materials they present to us.

We gathered for out initial session yesterday at 3:00 p.m. Our first activity was to tell a story of a time when we acted to make something happen. By an incidental utterance, I ended up going first and spoke of working as a team coordinator for Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Ohio running day camps for elementary kids in various towns in Ohio. Everybody else proceeded to tell stories about engaging school boards, city councils, businesses, government agencies, and leaders. Now, Jodie reminded me that this isn't a competition and I agree with her. My story is important for me in that I began to hear my call to ministry. However, I often preached that what we experience in worship should be connected with what we do outside the church building. I am excited by what I can learn from the other participants, because they are actively trying to make the world a better place, not merely preaching about it.

Our second activity involved us "re-enacting" a dialogue of the Athenian overtake of the island of Melos. (I don't know what book this is from but the title of the portion given us is "Chapter 7: Sixteenth Year of War. The Melian Debate".) Now the rule during the role play was that the facilitator could interrupt. This was the only rule. It was emphasised to us that this was the ONLY rule. We proceeded with the role play, and after about three minutes the facilitator kicked me out of the room. I went outside and realized that the point was not to act out the reading but I had just given the facilitator more power then he really had. He was allowed to interrupt, but not to tell us what to do. Now, while I was sitting in the hall like a disobedient middle school student I could have patted myself on the back for figuring this out, but when I went back into the room and we went through three more groups doing the role play, I didn't say anything. Never did I confront his excessive use of power. I say excessive because the limit established was that he could interrupt, and he was over that limit. I didn't speak up for myself and I didn't speak up for other people when they were kicked out.

Second, during part of the role play I got to be on the side of the Athenians. The Athenians possessed far greater resources, especially military, over the Melians. I suggested to my small group of Athenians that we should go "off script" and be compassionate with the Melians. We agreed to try this and were making progress. However, I started to be more and more unyielding, less willing to compromise. I knew that we had the dominate military and that we could annihilate the Melians; so I was unwilling to concede anything. Why should I concede when I could dominate. The fictional power of this little exercise was able to seduce me to do things that I don't believe in. Power is certainly seductive and I must, must, be aware of my weakness to its wiles. I wanted to be a nice guy, but, as the facilitator put it, I didn't want it enough.

I am eager to find out what we will do today; more exploration of power, or how to engage with people in power, or how to organize a power base? We'll see.

God's Peace,

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hope meet Realism, Realism meet Hope


In November of 2004, my wife Jodie and I stood in Rockefeller Center in the middle of NBC's election coverage holding a sign that read "We believe in Ohio Democrats". It appears that our hope in Ohio Democrats specifically and Democrats in general was not misplaced rather the realization of that hope took a couple more years.

I am always very nervous of power. Therefore, I am glad that we no longer have a single ruling power; no more rubber stamps, blank checks, or tacit approvals. Now we have debate and contention. There no better check or balance of power than equal opposition.

All this being said, we are in need of a bit of realism here. First, if we think the Democrats will get to pass whatever they want at this point, we are stupid. President George H.W. Bush--I think--holds the record for vetoes in one term of office. That could very well be a lesson that President George W. Bush learned well.

Second, looking at the Democrats that won and the issues that people said were important in exit polls, I believe people often times were voting against Republicans instead of for Democrats.

What we did learn, or were reminded at least, is that in this country we have the option of changing our leaders frequently. It is a power that we should claim and exercise. Therefore, We, that is to say the faith community, have a whole lot of work to do. We have a whole lot of work to do to change public opinion and belief so that we can build a society that is equal. America may be first society in history to have this goal, but we are a long way from attaining it. Furthermore, in the Episcopal tradition we are specifically called to "respect the dignity of every human being." This includes striving to form our society in a way that is Just.

There is hope in this election, but we cannot rest, we cannot gloat, and we cannot deride. We must get to work both in the public and private sector making this world a better place as Christ Commands us to do.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006



The middle 20th century mystic and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, once prayed:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not actually mean that I am doing so.
I believe this prayer resonates with us more then we admit. It is said to me often that events and actions must be God’s will, but in our heart of hearts are we really sure…100%, beyond question, absolutely sure? Indeed, how can we be sure? When we claim that we are sure of the will of God then we claim to know the mind of the ultimate being of the universe. Quite frankly, to suggest that we mere mortals—a species that can barely survive its own violence against itself—might know the mind of God is more than a bit presumptuous.

But if we can never be sure to an absolute about the will God, how are we to know whether we are following God’s will even if that is our heart’s true desire? Merton goes on to pray:
But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire for all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
More and more I believe the purpose of a human is to hope more than to know. We are to hope that we are doing things solely for the glory of God. We are to hope that our world may be blessed by God through our actions. We are to hope that grace abounds and we may revel in it. And when the darkest night descends upon us—the shadow of death as the scriptures call it—we can live in the hope of the coming dawn because by the cross we know that God is with us. I do not know what roads we will travel nor what lies up around the bend, but I hope to please God on the journey, and I hope you desire to do so too.

God’s Peace,