Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism 2

Tomorrow we'll have the second of our local Faith, Order & Witness conversations about A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism, by Walter Cardinal Kasper; here's my first blog about the book and here's my second.

Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism coverOf late I've been blogging so sparsely I wanted to write some notes this evening, though I well may write more after tomorrow's meeting. I like this Prayer and Worship section a lot; I feel it can serve as a short how-to handbook. Some points that impressed me included on page 45, in the Personal Prayer section, Cardinal Kasper quotes the encyclical Ut Unum Sint: "Prayer should always concern itself with the longing for unity...In this journey which we are undertaking with other Christians ... prayer must occupy the first place." Cardinal Kasper adds, "...prayer for unity remains at the heart of any Christian prayer." On page 47 in the section Prayer in Common I love his saying, "Such prayer might focus on the mystery of the Church and its unity, on Baptism as a sacramental bond of unity, on the renewal of personal and communal life, or on the healing of the brokenness of humanity." On the following page he nicely puts forth the idea of retaining local (and confessional, denominational) particularity in liturgical practice rather than going for a blending mode when Christians from different traditions worship together—non-eucharistically, though I'm beginning to get some sense of the Roman Catholic ideal of shared eucharist as a visible sign of accomplished unity rather than a means or a stage of unity as it is in the Protestant churches. But appropriately, on page 57 he claims the eucharist as the "privileged" place to pray for unity. Cardinal Kasper considers joint public worship events a live possibility on occasions such as he lists on page 49 (you know what they are so I don't need to relist them here). In my first blog on the book I said, "I'm curious about the implications and resonations of the word spiritual with a lower-case "s," though in this chapter I didn't notice the expression "spiritual ecumenism" until I found it on page 53 in conjunction with our common baptism into Christ. I rejoice in and celebrate Cardinal Kasper's idea (page 54) that "An ecumenical affirmation or commemoration of baptism can [among other options] be a welcome occasion for a common catechesis on the mystery and the effects of baptism." But I'll caution that'd work well alongside church bodies of Reformation, Anglican, and Wesleyan heritage, but most likely the discussion would get lost with churches who affirm a sign of grace rather than a means of grace or effective means of grace interpretation of baptism.

Cardinal Kasper provides words of hope and grace regarding Mixed Marriage Families, and the Roman Catholic Church's two Sacraments of Healing, Penance/Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, in which "In certain circumstances and under certain conditions" (page 64) non-Roman Catholic Christians may participate, but if I read the symbolically fine print correctly, I believe he's referring solely to Christians in the Orthodox and Anglican communions, so once again I've officially been excluded. In the short Liturgical Year section Kasper again cites more than two dozen possible occasions for shared ecumenical worship, prayer and related celebrations.

So far I've read only thus far, mostly so I won't bring next month's discussion material into this month's topic, but I'm looking forward to chaper three, Diakonia and Witness. In our local FOW committee we've mainly been discussing documents specifically related to Faith and Order, but several times our committee chairperson has said, "Why not Witness one of these times, since that's part of our name?!"

Monday, February 18, 2008


anderson multicultural ministry coverAbout a week ago I finished reading Multicultural Ministry: finding your church's unique rhythm by David A. Anderson, pastor of Bridgeway Community Church in Baltimore, and last Friday I finished digging into his Gracism: The Art of Inclusion. As I understand it, gracism, a word comprised of "racism" preceded by the letter "g" for God, encourages people to extend special favor to others based on their unique class, culture, ability or color and make that preference visible and apparent. In the preface the author writes [page 11]: "Gracism, unlike racism, doesn't focus on race for negative purposes such as discrimination. Gracism focuses on race for the purpose of positive ministry and service." However, race, gender and ethnicity form only a part of the gracism taxonomy, which also includes folks who are less educated, less physically or mentally able than some others, are lower income, less confident and/or posses anything else "different from." anderson gracism cover

On page 20 Pastor Anderson further explains, "The positive extension of favor toward certain people does not have to mean favoritism." And on page 23, "The one who hears, sees and pays attention to those on the margins—those in the desert—is a gracist." The liberation theology buzz-phrase of God's "preferential option for the poor" long ago made it into mainstream vocabulary; gracism is an expression of that type of preference. In what for me is an unexpected twist, Pastor David Anderson describes his church consciously configuring church staff, worship leadership, music group membership (and everything else) to appear visibly diverse rather than uniform.

Under the Grace-onomics(!) heading, Pastor David explains how a person can extend their connectional networks for the economic, professional or social benefit of others. On page 15 he refers to people "who may not be able to speak for themselves," adding, "And many times, even when they do speak, they are not heard." That's been my experience as I've attempted to reweave a peer network that would allow me to participate more fully than I've been able to as the result of my own efforts. I consider myself educated, articulate and expressive, but have been shut out too many times, thoughtlessly in some cases and probably intentionally in others.

An online friend who pastors somewhere east of the Mississippi wrote on one of our message boards:

I'm thinking about the temptation of Jesus story coming up this Sunday [Lent 1] and preaching about how this situation could tempt us to withdraw and pull into ourselves out of anger and fear but that the Gospel still calls us to move out of our comfort zones and give up both the anger and the fear of the "them."

My response to him included, "Excellent! I really like the direction you're taking with that text...Like everywhere, here we're encountering and potentially meeting lots of assorted 'others' and need to learn not to retreat into righteousness other than Christ's and need to learn to make safe places and space for those unlike us." (this may be old news?) I'm developing an adult series for some time around the day of Pentecost, partly based on Mark Nanos' The Irony of Galatians as I'm also making my way through the text of Galatians in preparation. I'm convinced my discovering this pair of books about gracism has been inspired and will influence our class discussions, especially since I'm going to circulate both books among class members.

Back to Galatians' author! After his encounter with the Risen Christ, Paul, a Jerusalem-educated Roman citizen born in the Jewish Diaspora, self-described as a "Hebrew of Hebrews," proclaimed and lived as if the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ initiated a paradigm-shifting (I had to include that phrase!) cosmic transformation. Just as Saul/Paul insisted no longer would people be defined by ethnicity, race, outward appearance, gender or such particular semi-accidentals (but hey, folks, this was not exactly emancipation proclamation...) can we, the church of Jesus Christ in this community live by not defining people as Mexican or American, foreigner or native-born, green- or brown-eyed, straight or bi, military or civilian? Maybe in such an apparently gracist way so that our congregation and our community is visibly diverse and multi-everything? Can everyone be as equal to us as they are before God?

The brother-in-law of a friend described the truly astonishing degree of inclusiveness of a Roman Catholic congregation near his workplace: all ages, abilities, gender orientations, economic and educational levels, ethnic identities and cultural persuasions—a visible slice, a representation (maybe that needs to be "presentation") of the kingdom of heaven. But he added, "officially we're not welcome at *their* communion table, and our pastors can't preside, officially or not." So is that God's kind of diversity? Is it a true gracist community?

I'll conclude this blog with a couple of my own experiences. The first happened last spring at Old Condo Shadows. I'd offered to present the fruit of one of my talents as part of the program for the monthly Friday evening potluck, so they took me up on it, and in addition scheduled a photographer who'd been in that group forever and a quilter who'd moved into this neighborhood more recently. I presented a DVD portfolio of about 60 or 70 pieces of my graphic art. My blog readers know my art has a lot of energy and color, but very little of it is obscure or "hard to get." After my show I got only one compliment, from the guy who was interim pastor at the time. As usual, I made a string of excuses: the resolution on the TV wasn't exactly great (it really wasn't); Pastor Scott and I are a year and a half apart, meaning we inhabit the same world and share the same culture. As an aside, despite my persistent complaints of lack of shared history in my current life, another person who has been through the same cultural, political and social times, even if not directly alongside me, makes a very good stand-in for someone who has been there with me.

A week later a member of that dinner group posted pics he'd taken of the evening of the others' artistic presentations, but there were none of me! Truly, not for a split second do I believe he intentionally excluded me from his documentation of the evening, but a Gracist approach would have thought of me and decided to take a few pics, even if he didn't like, or get, or understand my art or considered me weird or unusual.

Then, I'll reference the time I was intermittent (approximately monthly) pianist and choir accompanist for a Tongan United Methodist congregation. In many ways it was an ethnic church, but despite a sizable Tongan community in that city, still they lived as strangers, with customs, spoken language, native dress and food very different from the majority mostly USA-born, culturally western-USA/Western-hemisphere populations. Yes, I had something to offer them they needed and wanted, but they constantly showed me hospitality as they invited me to holiday parties and events, always gave me food to take home after Sunday church (we'd have morning worship followed by a huge meal and then return to the church sanctuary for a testimony meeting). Although they worshiped in Tongan, the pastor would read the scripture passage he was preaching on in English—although I had little clue as to his interpretation, at least I knew the text!

So how do we start gracist living in our communities and in our churches? How can we bring others into our center and also receive their gifts of hospitality when they choose to invite us closer to their centers rather than leaving us on the margins of their worlds? We need to begin prayerfully risking to live out God's answers to those questions as we become Gracists and enable others to live Gracefully, as well!

my amazon review: noticing and celebrating differences

Friday, February 15, 2008

Water and the Word...

...Friday 5; RevHRod lines out today's Water and the Word Friday 5 for us; she also provided the elegant, energetic graphic image, which I'm happily including rather than one of my own designs.

baptism spirit water1. When and where were you baptized? Do you remember it? Know any interesting tidbits?

I was baptized in an Episcopal Church somewhere in the deep south (either Mississippi or Alabama); despite growing up far away from any ecclesiastical involvement, learning from my grandmother about my baptism began giving me a sense of church was where I belonged. As I wrote during summer 2003, "On the day I was baptized as an approximately 2-year old I received both my second birth and my first death and because of God's infinite faithfulness to that cosmic event, God still holds me and possesses me!" Then after asking "does God not hold all creation close?" my response becomes, "Of course! But by covenanting with me in baptism, God also demands more of me..." No, I can't mentally re-image the event, but whenever I attend a baptism I try fully to identify with the person(s) being baptized and to (re)immerse myself in the spoken and enacted Word.

2. What's the most unexpected thing you've ever witnessed at a baptism?

The person who had to be dunked 13 (thirteen) times at an immersion/submersion baptism.

3. Does your congregation have any special traditions surrounding baptisms?

No...unless I mention the not-unusual practice of the pastor carrying the newly baptized around the sanctuary when it's an infant or young child baptism. And, of course, lots of applause!

4. Are you a godparent or baptismal sponsor? Have a story to tell?

Only from being part of the witnessing and promising assembly surrounding the person being baptized.

5. Do you have a favorite baptismal song or hymn?

For now try "We Know that Christ is Raised" (Presbyterian Hymnal 495, Evangelical Lutheran Worship 449...); I love the text by John Geyer, the breadth and sweep of Charles Villiers Stanford's Engelberg tune.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Lent 1: Matthew 4:1-11

1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. NRSV
In this classic gospel pericope for Lent 1, the devil first tempts Spirited into the wilderness Jesus to be oh, so relevant by turning unconsumable stones into useful bread...but not only is Jesus himself bread, he is far more than basic survival food, Jesus is The Stuff of ultimate revival, a.k.a. Living Bread, nutritious grain that won't rot or mold or decay! Challenging Jesus to be ultra-spectacular by jumping off the iconic Jerusalem Temple? But we know Jesus is the temple; in fact Jesus is more than the temple. Would the Son of Heaven yield to promises of power so extensive and extreme as possession of all the empires of the world? But in Christ Jesus all the world possesses the cross of Calvary, power of life over the death-dealing, life-negating pretenses of too many earthly governments and *other* assorted administrations. Jesus provides and Jesus is Eternal Supply; Jesus is Lord over and against the insufficiency of temple sacrifice, the pretense, dehumanization and violence of Roman imperial rule. Food, worship, lordship. How do we, why do we trust decayables and consumables and symbols of our own cultural realities rather than the Word of Life and the Spirit of Life?

Leading up to the day of Pentecost I hope to be teaching a 4-class series on Galatians; in tandem with Paul's text we'll explore our own and maybe even imagine our neighbors' conscious and apparent ethnicities, assorted "people hoods" and typical expressions of those traits and persuasions and try to discern why and what forms of worship (teaching, fellowship, outreach, etc.) appeal to us and discern ways to honor Galatians 3:28 without becoming an undifferentiated blob. Where was Galatia? Galatia had shifting boundaries; Galatia was the first ethnic church! A Roman province, Galatia was largely an immigrant community that hadn't originally been Jewish before becoming Christian; Gaul denotes Gaelic or Welsh or Celtic ethnicity, peoplehood. In Galatia practices that were more than and less than the gospel were transpiring: where are we? do we happen to live in Galatia? In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reminds us:
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures...
Quintessentially Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection, and throughout the letter to the church at Galatia Paul writes about the freedom and bondage of the gospel...bound by faith to the cross and the empty grave, chained to liberty in Christ with freedom to be and freedom for service.

As the Spirit of Life drives us into and leads us through our post-baptismal desert and seductively suggests we meet people's demands for appropriately relevant programing, to become the blingiest, dazzlingest building on this mesa or *even* in the tri-mesa area and to aspire to mega-amounts of income (you know about the measurable values of financial articulation) and overflowing church sanctuaries...will we be ready to respond with words of scripture, Words of Life, and more than anything, will we be a Living Word on our neighbors' lives, a reality that demonstrates the death of death and the victory of life? Will we live as the presence of the crucified and risen Christ?? In the power of the Spirit of Life, I trust we will—God being our help!