Monday, July 09, 2012

Reconciliation at GC77

Moments ago the House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops on two resolutions involving equality for transgendered people: one to extend equal place in the church and the other to open the ordination process to the transgendered.

There are hosts of reasons to agree or disagree with these resolutions but I wanted to tell you why I voted to approve them.

I voted yes because I am a sinner. I often feel more than discomfort in the presence of transgendered people. It is sinful of me to be disconnected from fellow children of God. It was important for me to vote yes for these resolutions to open up hope that those like me will have a chance to get to know and make connections with transgendered members of our congregations. I pray that Jesus may work through those relationships to heal me of my sin and reconcile me with both himself and my transgendered brothers and sisters.

I am proud that my church challenges even me, a member of its clergy, to confront my sin and expand my understanding of God's love.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Crazy Christians and Alice's Rabbit hole.

This morning the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry preached with passion and eloquence that we need some Crazy Christians: crazy like Christ, crazy like Mary Magdelene, crazy like Harriet Beecher Stowe.

This afternoon in the House of Deputies we were certainly crazy, but I'm not sure we were crazy like the Bishop called for. There is a massive energy to reform the structures of the church, but there is an attitude of "let's make changes but don't touch (insert sacred cow here). There was an attempt in the HoD to codify a ministry office of the Church Center in the rules of order of the House. No ministry office should be defined in the rules of order because then that office has to exist.

Sadly this was an end run around the conversation on structure. Worse still, the office was that of youth ministry. In other words the house was trying to work out our issues on the backs of children. It made me sad.

But God is good and the spirit moved pulling out of Alice's rabbit hole. Through the legislative procedure we were able to return the resolution back to committee. It is doubtful we will see it again.

We need to minister with children and form children and youth to minister as well. We need to restructure the church too. We, however, can be faithful and risk a healthy prayerful conversation on the whole list of ministry offices. We need not do an end run to protect one office over the other. We especially need not do it on the backs of children.

I'm still inspired by being my experience here. If God can work thought he convoluted rules of legislative procedure, then God can work though all human disfunction.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Nebraska Night

The deputation of the diocese of Nebraska, representatives from Nebraska to ECW, and friends went out for a wonderful dinner last night at a small local pizzeria called Amici's. The fellowship and camaraderie we share is invaluable. It develops our viewpoints on the issues we are dealing with and cultivates relationships of trust with each other; all of which allows us to disagree and debate the issues with each other healthily and honestly. I am honored beyond measure to be a part of this prayerful and diligent deputation.

Later, I had a wonderful discussion with our Bishop about the theology of open communion, the theology of confirmation (especially adult confirmation) and the theology of forming priests for the church. Again these are all issues we are dealing with at this convention and it was great to get his insights.

But the highlight of the day happened earlier in the morning. We had the opening communion of the convention and the opening hymn was Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee. If you can imagine 2000+ Episcopal Church Geeks belting out that hymn in four part harmony with the agogic accent, then you can imagine what heaven will be like. It was glorious!!!

Scripture I was reminded of yesterday: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you." Matthew 7:7

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Sparring partners

Two great quotes from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies today.

The presiding bishop in her opening address to theconvention said that we should, "make connections with our sparring partners..."  a lot of her speech was about how we should remain open to the spirit speaking through those that disagree with us.  Great words for both convention and life.  

The president of the House of Deputies said that the choice between mission and governance was a false dichotomy.  I agree. The late great Walter Wink wrote a lot about chosing Jesus' third way when presented with only two options.  I hope that I and my fellow deputies keep looking for that third way and deny the host of false dichotomies we will deal with this week.  

Bible verse I thought of today: At destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the wild animals of the earth, Job 5:22.  I hope that we laugh in the face of our fears in regards to scarcity and look for the abundance of God.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Your Eyes Will Soon Be Opened...

I arrived in Indianapolis this morning for the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church.   I was greeted by my one of my best friends from seminary, the Rev. Matthew Stewart.  He's here working as an editor of the newsletter of the Consultation, a federation of several advocacy groups who also put out a newsletter every day of Gen. Con.  

I spent the day helping set up the booth for the Episcopal Service Corps and then manning the booth when the exhibit hall opened.  I serve on the board of the Episcopal service Corps.  We are here to raise awareness of our mission, and to advocate for young adult leadership of the church.  You can read more about the Episcopal service Corps here.

Later, Matt and I went to dinner at P.F. Chang's, and, as is the custom at a lot of American Asian restaurants, they gave us a fortune cookie at the end of our meal.  Mine read, "Your eyes will soon be opened to a world full of beauty, charm, and adventure." Well, I certainly hope that is the case.  It would be nice for the governance of the church to be beautiful, charming, and adventurous. Sadly, even though I am a first time deputy, I've been around the church long enough to know that governance can become ugly, spiteful, or worse, dull.  We shall see what we get, but I am going to try and choose my attitude and look for beauty, charm, and adventure.

I was reminded of a bible verse from the Epistle of James today:  "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."(James  1:27 NRSV).  It is my fervent prayer that for the next 9 days the religion of the 77th General Convention will be pure indeed. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fr. Jason shares his "Dreams of Church." from Jason Emerson on Vimeo.

"Son of a Preacher Man"

The other day a friend from High School asked me via facebook how I became an Episcopal Priest. It's not the first time some has wondered how the son of a Southern Baptist Preacher jumped ship and became an Episcopalian, much less a priest. Even I admit it is a little weird. My dad insists on addressing every letter to me as Father Jason. Anyway, in response to my friend's request here's the story.

I am very proud to have grown up the son of a preacher man. My dad taught me how to preach. I don't remember specific sermons of his that well, but I absorbed how a sermon should flow logically from him. Unconsciously took in lessons on delivery and flow; how to be comfortable in the pulpit; how to speak loud enough for everyone to hear but not to sound like you are yelling at people; also when to whisper and when to let the fire loose. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't know what to do in the pulpit.

Despite what I learned from dad, the Southern Baptist world and worldview just weren't for me. I never really fit in, and looking back I think we all knew it. By the time I got to college I was pretty burnt out on church and church people for that matter. I had been more than active over the years in everything from summer camp and vacation bible school to singing in Christmas programs and the choir. I had to wear a bear suit for one of the Christmas programs. What a bear has to do with the birth of the Jesus in 1st century Palestine still alludes me. Anyway, like many a college student I stopped going to church all together. I called it time off for good behavior.

Over the first two years of college, two things pointed me toward the Episcopal Church. Near the end of my first semester, my fraternity big brother told me to show up at the front of the music building and dress nice. Since I was a pledge at the time, I said, "yes sir," put on my best Huxtable Sweater, and showed on time. We jumped in his car and drove to Sewannee, the University of the South, and attended the Lessons and Carols service offered by the university choir in their glorious stone Gothic style chapel. I had never been to a Lessons and Carols service. The choral music was stunning, and it was a marvel to me for the readings to just be scripture. That they would let the scriptures speak for themselves with out some man standing up and for 45 minutes tell you what the 30 second reading meant was complete foreign to me. Plus, there was this starwberry blond in the soprano section that I swear had the voice of an angel and I fell in love with her. Never met her or even found out her name, but I swear for that hour and a half I was enthralled. This was my first experience of the Episcopal church.

Next, what pointed toward the Anglican world was a persistent invitation. I had a friend, Jessica Dunnavant, that kept telling me that I was an Episcopalian and I just didn't know it yet. I had no idea what an Episcopalian was, but since it involved church I was not interested.

She kept bugging me about it, and finally I relented and went with her to the Episcopal Campus Ministry at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Murfreesboro Tennessee. I expected to show up and sit in rows of folding chairs and have some man tell us what the bible meant. Instead we cooked dinner together, sat around a table and talked. We got to know each other and shared prayer concerns. It was comfortable and accepting; so, I came back. It was a month before I went to Sunday service with her at St. Paul's but, again, I was enthralled with the music and moved by the liturgy. The worship wasn't centered around the preacher. It was centered around the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper as we called it down home. For some reason, and I could not articulate it at the time, this made the worship more about God, and pointed me toward God. It made worship more of a verb, something I did instead of something I watched or merely attended.

I became more and more active over the years, until finally my last semester of College I was at church four times a week, a long way from freshman year of not going at all. I was confirmed that May and then in September moved to Cincinnati to start Graduate School.

In Ohio, I couldn't find an Episcopal Campus ministry, so I ended up going to a Lutheran one. I knew even less about the Lutheran Church, but next thing I know I am working as a summer camp counselor for Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Ohio (LOMO for Short). Two things happened that summer: I learned I could preach and I met Jodie who is now my wife of 8 years.

As I approached the end of my Master's Degree studies, I began to be more than a little burnt out on academic life, especially the academic music world. I was still applying to Doctorate Programs for music, ignoring the gift for preaching I had uncovered the previous summer, but something just wasn't right.

On the day I applied to the doctorate program at CCM, as I was licking the envelope, I got an email from my old campus pastor from Tennessee who was by then working near Omaha, NE. He told me of a new program in Omaha called Resurrection House for folks considering ministry in the Episcopal Church. I couldn't help but consider that a swift kick of Christian love from God that I needed to recognize the preaching gift and follow God not me. So, off to Nebraska I went. It didn't take too long before God slapped me again with a "alright you followed me to the land of corn, why won't you following me to ordination too." Next thing I know the diocese of Nebraska is sending me to Seminary, then I'm married, then ordained, and things keep moving faster and faster.

The short version is I kept praying for God to show me what to do, and God kept slapping me on the head going, "I am showing you! Pay better attention!" (no pun intended with "I am") I hope you enjoyed my story, and may God always give you a swift kick of Christian Love when you need it.

General Convention introduction

General Convention gets started on the fifth of July, but things actually start rolling on the third with the opening of the exhibit hall and the officers of the legislative committees having orientation. I am very excited to be a deputy to Genral Convention. As the Rector of an average size congregation (we run 65 to 75 a Sunday), I feel I bring the perspective of most of the congregations in the church. Also, as the director of Resurrection House, an internship for young adults discerning their baptismal ministry which is one of the internships of the Episcopal Service Corps, I bring the perspective of one of the most exciting ministries occurring in the church right now to the House of Deputies. Finally, since I am a young priest, at least within the culture of the church I'm young, I bring the perspective of the generations that most need to step up and lead if the church will continue into the future. More important than my perspective, I take this responsibility seriously, very seriously. The decisions made during General Convention, especially this convention, will effect generations of the faithfull. I pledge to make my votes prayerfully and for the greatest good of the whole church not just my parochial interests. I pledge to focus my energy and effort to the task at hand, bringing to bear my intelligence, passion, creativity, and faith to every question before the house. There will be a lot of hot button issues addressed by this convention: the blessing of same sex unions, health insurance, and electing a new president of the house of deputies, to name a few. Most important, in my opinion, will be the conversation around overhauling the structure of the Episcopal Church. Everything could be on the table from Church Staff offices to the building at 815 second avenue, and from the composition and length of General Convention to the existence of dioceses. I believe it is the right conversation to have. We need to reform the structure in order to respond and evangelize in a rapidly changing world. My hope, however, is that we actually get to have some fruitful conversation. My fear is that we won't. As I have kept my ear to the ground regarding this topic, I have repeatedly run into a mind set of "everything needs to be on the table for reform except my pet project, which needs more funding." I have even caught myself responding this way. It is a normal human reaction to a change in a system. Therefore, my prayer and my prayer request is that I head the words of Jesus and "fear not" and trust in God to guide me in making healthy decisions for the greater good of Christ's Kingdom. My prayer and prayer request is for all the deputies, bishops, and leaders of the church to do the same. More to come...thanks for your time, and keep praying!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lent is Coming!!!!!!

A friend of mine asked me earlier this week what I thought about lenten fasts, the practice of giving up something for lent. She asked,

I'm asking this of a few people whose theological opinions I highly value: What are your thoughts on giving up something for Lent that you plan to start doing again on Easter morning? (giving up coffee for those 40 days, but no plan to permanently stop drinking coffee)

In a traditional sense a fast of any type is time limited. That is to say, you practice it for awhile and then break the fast at the end. As you are probably guessing at this point this is where we get the term Breakfast to refer to the first meal of the day. We "fast" from eating while we sleep and then break the fast upon awakening. The same goes for lent. You fast from something--chocolate, alcohol, and tv are the most popular, I think--and then upon Easter return to it. So, fasting is different then a New Year's resolution. It isn't about changing a behavior permanently, but about doing without something in order to experience one of the following things:

  • A sense of clarity: often times when we fast, especially from food, once we get over the initial hunger, we can experience a clarity of mind that allows for extra focus, creativity, and inspiration. Actually, this is what I think was going on with Jesus fasting in the wilderness after his Baptism, which, by the way, is one of the stories at the root of Lent.

  • Make space for God:related to the first one, sometimes when we fast we clear a bit of mental and/or physical space for God to be present with us. Now, I should enforce that God is always present with us, but we have an unlimited ability to put stuff between us and God: distractions, material things that must be maintained, and noise.

  • A deeper understanding of longing:When we fast, and this is especially true for most folks in middle and upper class America, we actually do without something. We really aren't use to that in our culture of instant gratification. So, fasting can let us identify with longing, desire, hunger, and need. Not getting into the Social Justice ramifications, which are many and important, it can help us identify with what it was like for the earliest disciples to have to long for and wait in wonder and fear from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection, from Good Friday to Easter.

Ultimately, like any spiritual discipline it comes down to motives. If you are truly seeking a closer relationship with God then a fast will be beneficial regardless of whether you break the fast at the end of lent or not. If you have some other motivation, like being a spiritual show off (see Luke 20:46-47) then it won't be beneficial no matter how long you keep it going.

Fasts should be entered into prayerfully. Spend the season of Epiphany in prayer about what you can fast from or a practice you could take on that would draw you closer to God. God will let you know the best action to take. Also, breaking the fast on Easter can be a holy and wonderful celebration of the deliverance from the powers that be that we receive in the Resurrection. However, if you get to Easter and find that what you have given up is better left out of your life, that can be holy as well.

May you have a blessed and holy Lent that aids your journey toward Easter.