Saturday, December 29, 2012


Recently Maureen Dowd in the NY Times (12.26.12) wrote an article called “Why, God?” I frequently like to read response comments after the article online. In this case, there were many supportive and predictable ones, but there also was a large number of agnostic/atheist,  rather mean spirited, reactions to Maureen’s column. I was interested to see so many such critiques were based on “objective” science and so on. . . all the old tired rationalistic scientific arguments against God we have heard for over  two hundred years, not much new.

For over seventy years science has developed many experiments that destroy the ultimacy of rational certainty. Much science (meaning historically scientia moderna or just “new knowledge”)  points ontologically to a blank parenthetical horizon between tentative conclusions and ultimate Truth.  At that fearsome point, the scientists, poets, mystics and faithful people all together  may raise their hands  in awe knowing that we  can see no further into the mystery. The first time I encountered such a notion was  when at fifteen years old, I met Professor Carlton Berenda who, having encountered Heisenberg’s Indeterminacy Principle,lost his faith in the absolute predictability of science, becoming a philosopher and mystic. Fortunately I got to be a pupil for seven years  from high school through studies I did at the University of Oklahoma in the history and philosophy of science. He taught me that in the face of mystery, we are all subject to subjectivity!

Ms. Dowd ends her column:  “What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.”

Loving presence is the closest to truth we can achieve, this God/Love presence and without the need for a reason or concept of love or an idea about God. So no creeds, no ecclesiastical authority, no weight of history, no law, no science, no nothing precludes this unconditional being/love.  To me, then, the Book of Common Prayer has it right about prayer as ultimately adoration. Further, the Church’s essential role is to be with us all in finding the ways and means, the mission, to be present more fully with one another. The work of clergy in general and bishops in particular is less about management than it is about authentic presence that may help us in our “official” and personal relationships to see the way to Love lit and nit together.

It seems to me that little about our formal descriptions of ecclesiastical roles helps at all and hinder us being present unconditionally. Perhaps a new year is once again a time to be more present for us all and for the whole Episcopal Church and its clergy to do more real presence  without the incumbrances of battered and terribly inadequate institutional rituals,roles and rules. The first step might be to remember who Jesus spent his time with and organize our lives around the abundance found in the nearness of sharing presence with the poor, the sick, the destitute, the marginal, the spiritually humble, the ones  who teach us well to be well.

Friday, December 21, 2012


In the parish of my youth it was a practice to fall down on one knee at the creedal phrase "for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man."  This small gesture of collapsing onto the kneeling rail brought a profound sense of mystery, awe and fascination in my age of theological innocence.  All I knew then was that I felt deeply humble and grateful to kneel weekly before the Christmas miracle.  This was before seminary; before the time of intellectual arrogance and before a lifetime of parish ministry where my halo became crooked and bent and my soul was gradually chipped raw by the foibles of ecclesiastical machinations.  It has only been in retirement that my soul has been restored and healed and I can once again behold the glory of the infant Christ and feel deeply the Incarnatus.  Behold, I am young again and this is very, very good.

The Celtic Church knew all about this.  Thomas Cahill writes that the Celts owned an incarnational world view:  "Our Father in heaven, having created all things, even things that have become bent or gone bad, will deliver us, his children, from all evil.  But our Father is not only in faraway heaven, but lives among us.  For he created everything by the Word, which was with him in the beginning, which became flesh in the human Jesus, and flames out in all creatures."

Like the early Christians, the Celts saw no separation between heaven and earth; mystery and phenomena.  Christ was very near indeed; near in the earth, near in the sea, near in the heavens, near in the soul.  The Incarnation was alive and well in the ancient Celtic Church, which is represented in these familiar words:  "Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.  Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger."  This is Christmas within the yearning human soul; the baby Jesus embedded in the very flesh of every human being.

As we have learned from Quantum Physics that a particle can be in one place and everywhere else simultaneously, we believe that the Word became one human being, Jesus, and is everywhere else in the universe.  The majestic Anglican notion of the Incarnation is that the Word is present in all of broken humanity, in the cosmos, in the earth and interstellar space.  As Paul wrote, "nothing can separate us from the love of Christ."

On behalf of our Episcopal Journey authors, I pray and hope that you will have an insanely joyful celebration of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Bishop Speaks How to Begin

The Bishop Speaks How to Begin

The life of the church would be much better if more bishops wondered how to get started in a diocese as apposed to arriving with a boat load of agenda and lots of new rules. The tendency is to be elected and then hit the ground running. Big mistake in most cases.

The better choice would call for them to be more like children. This is not saying they should act like children. Some arrive with that built in. Rather, they should arrive with the way children engage life in a new place. They ask questions, learn, are curious, they seek, ask why, dream, and generally stay open to what is going on and what has been going on before their arrival. They hit the ground softly and then, they crawl and then, they walk. It keeps them from falling down on their faces.

Now I am talking to you, Bishop. This is not an emergency. You are not suddenly the CEO of a corporation which is running so fast you have to catch up or be run over by the dust. It is a church. We talk about peace here. We try to be thoughtful. We are about respect. We are the people of hope. We are a community with a mission.

You don't belong here. You have been invited to live among us and give us inspiration, fellowship, Good News, hope, and joy. Please do not come here thinking you have to fix everything. It is perhaps bruised, but it is not broken. If you do it right, we will adopt you as one of us. If not, the snakes (and they are among us) will take control of you and all will not be well. Show us your manners. We want to welcome you.

There may be a problem, though. You may mistake the new clothes, ring and stick for armor which will protect you. It will not protect you. It will look like a Bulls Eye. Believe it, these things will only bring you closer to the altar of sacrifice. Which, incidentally, is where you belong.

It is quite easy to focus on that which is, in your opinion, wrong. This may tempt you because it is a potential enemy which you can repair and hence be a hero. You will be hero to some, but that is not your calling. You are not called to be a hero. You are called to be a Preacher, Teacher, Evangelist, and Sign of Unity.

I held a kind of Town Meeting in 6 different locations all over the diocese. This was a great time for me to introduce myself to the people who had yet to meet me. The cornerstone of my approach was to have a very clear focus and a single goal.

I could have had many things to work on in the beginning, but I determined (probably through a combination of intuition, experience and blind luck) that the best way for me to proceed was to have a single goal for the first year. That goal was to build trust within the diocese. This was not a matter of saying “trust me.” It was rather the use of a style of leadership that invited trust as a response.

I listened more than I spoke and I worked on getting to know people personally through mutual sharing of history and ideas. People were asked to think about the church of their dreams. How would that place look? What would the priest be like? What would make it a place that would be attractive to you and make you want to be there? What is missing and what goes on which is a blessing to you? Give them an opportunity to write these things privately on a form which will be given to you.

Listen to the people. Ask them about the church of their dreams. Give them your time and attention. Care about what they think. If you already had a different start, it is not too late to start over. You may be surprised at what you learn.

If you, reader, are not the bishop – you might give the bishop a little night reading. If you are one of the snakes - - - you know what to do.

The bishop is the newcomer and would do well to learn how the community thinks, how the community worships, and where their hunger resides.

AS WE WERE SAYING – there is more to come.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Via Media and Postmodern Spirituality


                The Episcopal Church explains its identity as the Via Media, meaning the middle path. Anglicanism in its structure, theology and forms of worship, is commonly understood as a Christian tradition representing the middle ground of the extreme claims of 16th century Roman Catholicism, Lutheran and Reformed traditions.  This middle path ideal has been a constant source of identity for Anglo Catholics. The Tractarian formulation of a theology of Via Media was reworked in the ecclesiological writings of Fredrick Denison Maurice.

                This Via Media identity has become essential to the Episcopal identity. In point of fact, as Episcopalians attempt to solve pressing theological and social conflict-ridden issues we call for unity around the principle of Via Media i.e. finding an acceptable common ground.

                I like the concept of via media, but in a postmodern culture there is a problem with the historical understanding of the Via Media. Namely, today people are not really interested in the struggle for identity between Roman Catholic and Reformed theology, i.e. the difference between Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrine.

                Even though the issues have changed, I still champion a spiritual theology of Via Media. In other words, we might give attention in our Episcopal journey of hope to developing Via Media spirituality. I am using Via Media in the Aristotelian sense of always searching for the golden mean when engaged in an ethical pursuit. It was his teaching that truth is disclosed by avoiding the extremes of a spiritual and moral pursuit.  In Buddhism, there is a similar teaching, where the spiritual path is also known as The Middle Way. It avoids the extremes of asceticism and indulgence.  The Buddha left his life of wealth and indulgence and turned to a path of disciplined asceticism and mortification. In his journey, he discovered enlightenment via the middle path.

                In the Postmodern culture, we are facing a new spiritual divergence much different than the Protestant/Catholic issue. Today, spirituality is either shaped by an authoritative biblical monotheism as opposed to a relativistic spiritual pluralism. The Western Church is moving from a clear boundary theology to a pluralistic spirituality.

                Of course, the issue of east meets west spirituality has been around for some time, but it is now a major element the in emergence of spirituality in Western culture. I believe my first encounter with the new via media dialogue between west-east spirituality was in Somerset Maugham’s novel, The Razor’s Edge.  Somerset Maugham includes himself in the novel as an observer of the various characters who represent the voice of his spiritual quest for meaning.  He is a Roman Catholic contemplative intellectual who finds incompleteness in Catholic spirituality; consequently, he explores Indian philosophy and mysticism.       

                Two characters in the novel express his inner west-east via media spiritual pursuit.  Larry Darrell and Elliott Templeton, I suggest, represent Maugham’s inner east-west via media spiritual quest. Larry is the spiritual seeker who feels incomplete with his Catholic spirituality and it is Elliott who is the Catholic holding to his church and living with its incompleteness. Darrell must search beyond a biblical authoritative monotheism, and Elliott holds obediently to his Catholic Church.

                In Larry Darrell, we hear the eastern spirituality of mindfulness, “Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy. We can none of us step into the same river twice, but the river flows on and the other river we step into is cool and refreshing too.”

                Still, Maugham holds to his Roman Catholic historical spirituality. “Our wise old church…has discovered that if you act as if you believed belief will be given to you; if you pray with doubt, but with sincerity, your doubt will be dispelled; if you will surrender yourself to the beauty of that liturgy the power of which over the human spirit has been proved by the experience will descend upon.”

                These two characters represent Maugham’s inner spiritual dialogue between the eastern spirituality of consciousness and his Catholic spirituality of a transcendental divine power greater than the consciousness of self. This is, I suggest, the new Via Media, and it is essential in our Episcopal journey of hope that we are in a constant dialogue between the tension of a biblical monotheism and a spiritual pluralism. In other words, we might be known as a house of Dynamic Spiritual Formation and not just a house that does liturgy well.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Resolution for the New Christian Year

Happy New Year.  Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent and we begin anew the annual spiritual journey with our Lord from birth to death to Resurrection.  Each year we resolve to do better in this faith quest.  We admit that lack of spiritual growth is ours to own but couldn’t our fellow Christians, our parish leaders, our clergy help us? 

For example, what is the purpose of the Sunday Service?  Is it just to carry on a tradition?  Is the focus the (few) faithful who show up?  Could it be to entertain visitors who may or may not come back next week?  None-of-the-above would seem to be the best answer.  Try this on for size; the reason we worship is to honor our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier. Therefore everything we do should make God proud – the way the buildings look when he drives in the parking lot – the music – the sermon – the fellowship – and, yes, even the way the announcements are shared.  One author wrote, “If God brought his friends to church, would he be proud to show then what you are doing to bring glory to his name?”  Can you imagine God bragging about the service to the angels?  To be sure, worship will look very different from congregation to congregation – but each parish should give their very best effort every Sunday and not just pay lip service to the concept of honoring God.

It is difficult to know what first time visitors see and feel because most do not come back and we don’t do follow-up anyway.  So to gain that perspective congregational members could invite friends to visit a service and then ask them to be candid about what they saw and felt.  Clergy could invite retired priests to visit and then debrief then over coffee during the week.
Members and clergy alike need to honest about the quality of music, liturgy, education and, of course, preaching.  As Chief of Chaplain Services in the military it was a privilege to superintend over 200 clergy from 40 Christian Denominations.  Many were outstanding preachers; many were not.  Retirement has facilitated visiting many Episcopal congregations and perhaps a dozen churches in other faith groups.  Again, many sermons were outstanding and many were awful. One fellow used “I”, “me”, and “my” more than 100 times in the first ten minutes of the sermon; too much ego to have room for the Gospel.  Another preacher used the entire sermon to describe taking her husband to a tattoo parlor and paying for an addition to his body art.  Good grief, where did these folks take homiletics?  Can anyone preach a sermon without personal pronouns and ridiculous stories?
Perhaps a suitable New Year’s resolution for laity and clergy alike would be to make the Sunday Service the most important event in the week.  Mark Batterson, church planter and Pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., said “It doesn’t matter what size your church is: you’ve got to give God everything you’ve got every weekend!  Excellence honors God.” He then added, “If you want to experience growth . . . you have to prioritize the weekend service.”
We have ample evidence of what happens when we ignore this wise counsel.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Episcopacy of All Who Hope

Years ago on a flight from Cairo to Amman, I asked a Palestinian man, an architect from Nablus, what he hoped for. He told me he dreamed of a homeland, security for his family, future grandchildren, fellow Palestinians and a port city. I think of him often as Nablus, like most recently  the Gaza Strip, has been a dangerous place.  I wonder if his grandchildren are safe and hoping they are all alive.
An old Hasidic saying states that the Messiah will come when all the citizens of Jerusalem come out and weep together in the streets. . . .
I pray in hope to weep with one another tonight, then embrace and sing together a new song. . . . . .
From the Book of Common Prayer: What is adoration?  Adoration is the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.
What is the mission of the Church?  The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
From Huffington Post: “Watch Eric Whitacre's talk about a global choir that came together on YouTube and the power of crowd-sourced creativity.
It all began with that single video by Britlin Losee, and my god how it has blossomed from there. Our third Virtual Choir video, Water Night, was released this past Spring and features 3,746 videos from 73 different countries.”

I watched Eric’s TED talk and saw the video. It, the video, “felt like church.”  Eric reminded me of an overseer for a  sacred congregation.  For a few brief moments, as I have on a few  cherished occasions, I was lifted up in heart and mind and saw some of the 3,746 manifestations of the Cosmic Christ. And I was restored to unity with God and my neighbors.  My heart sang a new song in peace and joy.

Back to this moment:  it no longer “feels like church” in church to me.  The episcopacy, as now practiced, oversees not a large manifestation of the Cosmic Christ  but rather staffs, programs and other things that do not much find sacred definition in the Catechism.  I remember other times from my first little Episcopal Church in Larned, Kansas where, if anything, I felt and saw Christ in Word, Sacrament, a dear priest and faithful worshipers, later to seeing auras around preachers whose voices I believe were heard in heaven and admiring a whole host of bishops, priests, deacons and lay folk who to me shined with the Spirit in many sorts and conditions.

I long for a new manifestation of an episcopacy of all the faithful.  I do not mean just bishops who are only one order of the whole episcopacy and whose role is now largely an expensive encumbrance to “feeling like church,” auras and the communion of the saints. The Book of Common Prayer gives us the tools to move on to a restoration of hope and holiness at least as I read it and rarely hear publicly recited with soul.  As Advent comes, I hope to find companions who weep, worship, warm each others’ hearts and can  sing a new song.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Clergy Wellness and Episcopal Journey Poll

In October I wrote that the 2006 CREDO Clergy Wellness Report said that Episcopal clergy believed "in their general sense of well-being, confident in undertaking new challenges, and commitment to their ministries are strong."  However, our Episcopal Journey of Hope poll tells a different story.  Only 12% of the respondents said that the 2006 report is accurate today.  54% of you said that we are not as well off today is reported six years ago.  15% of you said that perhaps clergy wellness is the same as 2006 and 12% report that you had no clue.  For me the most significant thing is that only 12% of the respondents felt like we are as well today as we were six years ago.  The question is then, WHAT HAPPENED?  WHY DO WE BELIEVE THAT WE ARE LESS WELL TODAY THAN WE WERE SIX YEARS AGO?

I interviewed some clergy friends and elicited some very strident opinions. 

I asked a bishop what he thought.  He suggested that the clergy responding to the 2006 questionnaire were not telling the truth.  In his conversations with diocesan priests he often heard them say that they were all right when in fact they were falling apart.  My experience mentoring clergy bears this out.  Priests tell themselves they are OK.  They believe that they ought to be OK.  They deny that they are not OK.  They are loathe to admit to someone that they are not in good shape while inside he or she may be trembling.

I digress.  How about conducting a bishop wellness survey?  I've been ordained more than 50 years and my experience with many bishops led me to question the sanity of some of them.  Come on CREDO, conduct a wellness report on the Episcopacy.

The priests I interviewed told me that accelerating church and financial decline has enhanced clergy feelings of stress, inadequacy, hopelessness and self-esteem.  Because the church has reached the edge, reality has set in and this has caused the clergy to think that they are not as well as they were six years ago.

One priest told me that at his recent diocesan convention the clergy and delegates were walking around looking like "zombies."  Well, perhaps that is an overstatement.  But then again, maybe parish priests are feeling the shock of our rapidly sinking ship.

Another priest said that late ordinations are a significant factor in clergy wellness.  Late ordinands soon discover that they won't and can't reach their full potential.  Many become Vicars or Rectors of very small churches, wake up to the reality that its really not as neat as they thought it would be, become aware of the fact that they will not advance and  become stressed, discouraged or depressed. 

The irony is that some late vocations become rectors of big churches and others are elected bishops without any real history of parish ministry.  This is discouraging to many priests who have labored in the trenches for many years, have been tutored parish by parish in the rigors of parish ministry, and then are bypassed by those with little or no experience in corporate rectorships and diocesan bishop elections.  The Presiding Bishop and my own bishop are perfect examples of this. 

Some felt like the financial situation in our country contributes to the decline in church finances and therefore leads to clergy insecurity which leads to increased stress.

I thought that CREDO was going to conduct a wellness survey again in 2012.  If so, I wonder what that report will look like?  However, if what I am hearing on the street is true, Episcopal priests are not feeling as well as CREDO suggested they were six years ago. 

My advice?  If you are depressed and stressed get a soul friend, a therapist and a support group.  And be prepared to change careers.  You have the skills that translate into a non church job.  On the flip side, some of you will make it through the thickened labyrinth of our declining church.  Just protect your sanity along the way anyway you can.  Its going to be tough.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Bishop Speaks

The Bishop speaks - Introduction

I have great hope for the future of the diocese. One of my hopes is for our diocese to become a place where clergy are dying to get in rather than dying when they get in.

I was asked, in the public interview process before the election of a new bishop, how I would describe my strongest point in being a bishop. This was an easy question for me to answer. My greatest strength, as I would put it, is my memory of what life was like as a rector. I have served under four bishops in my nearly 20 years of ordination and it was not always great. My commitment to you and to myself is that I will take the things which my bishops did that I liked and I will do those things. The things they did which I did not like will not be done here. I need to tell you the things I liked, as a rector, are part of a very short list.

Now, having said that, you need to know things will be different under my leadership because I am different from my predecessor. Whatever directions we decide to take in the future, we need to be free to not let that be a criticism of the past. We will draw a line. We are now here. We are going to do things differently, and I do not want any of us to keep apologizing for that. We are now on the other side of the line, and it's all OK. I believe my predecessor was clearly the man of the hour to do the things he did. I bless that and it is now a new day. Let us begin.

I want to establish an environment which is penalty-free regarding thinking. You are totally free to express your thoughts. To do anything else stifles creativity. The gifts we need are all here. For us to work most effectively, we need to set them all free. To the extent we put restrictions on people's freedom to think, we restrict what we can do.

In order to have a penalty-free environment, someone is going to have to take some risks. I will be that person. My first risk is telling you this. Every one of us is going to have to seek a personal comfort level. I recognize this will be difficult for some, but I want you to be invested in what we are going to do.

I do not claim to always be right, but I do claim to always be clear.

The story begins with Parsifal. He is the legendary knight who sought the Holy Grail. As you know, the Grail was the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper. For Parsifal it symbolized a contact with the holy, with spiritual reality. His quest for the Grail was a quest for the truth about life and immortality.

The secret of the Grail was held by an old King, but this King was suffering from a mysterious illness. His whole kingdom was cast under this same spell. The palace and its gardens were in decay, the springs of the kingdom were drying up, trees would not bear fruit, and even the animals were no longer bearing young.

Knights from all over the realm arrived every day seeking news of the king's health. Then one day Parsifal arrived – poor and unknown. He paid no attention to courtly custom and politeness, but made straight for the king's chamber, and without greeting, or inquiry about the king's health, said, “Where is the Grail?” As if to say, “Where do I find the Holy? . . . Where is the truth about the meaning of life?”

In that instant, everything was transformed. The King rose from his bed, made well; springs brought forth water; vegetation began to grow; animals were with young; and the castle was restored. Parsifal's question regenerated the whole land.

The central point here is that institutions perish where there are no seekers of truth, no adventurers. It is enough, you see, simply to raise the central questions, to pose the problem, to become a seeker, for life to return.

For a church to begin to ask questions inevitably leads to seeking answers, which leads to vision, which leads to mission.

There is more to be said and it will be said. We are on the journey of creating the church of our dreams.

Episcopal Journey of Hope: Clergy Divorce

Episcopal Journey of Hope: Clergy Divorce

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Seeker Dialogue

Every Friday, I gather with a group of eight people who are  spiritual seekers.They are not members of my parish, but they are extremely dedicated to examining the nature and living of the spiritual life. Their interest is a serious and disciplined pursuit for this group.

Even though we have met for about two years, the members have never expressed any interest in Episcopal theology or liturgy. Yet, they are faithful in their weekly attendance. I have never forced the group into adopting an Episcopal character, rather we explore various ideas and practices of spirituality. The topics include a wide range, such as the history and expressions of Christian mysticism, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, New Thought concepts, Existential philosophy, transcendental idealism, methods of meditation, Lectio Divina, the Jesus prayer etc.

There is no set text, materials or workbook, instead we seem to move from one particular spiritual writer to another. We explore a text and engage in an in depth sharing of ideas and feelings that come from the text. We use two words that express the functioning of an open ended spiritual dialogue with a text and each other, namely the  shimmering of the soul and the raising of spiritual consciousness and the shimmering of the soul.

Raising of Spiritual Consciousness

An essential part of spiritual formation is allowing the conscious mind to enter into a state of spiritual awareness. There are many ways of describing consciousness, but for the sake of brevity consciousness simply means being focused. When the mind is focused on the pursuit of God in our life, then we enter into a state of spiritual consciousness. The traditional methods of moving to a state of spiritual consciousness is by means of prayer, meditation and spiritual reading. In the weekly formation group we spend time in meditation using a variety of methods such as Christian Zen, visual biblical meditations, mantras etc. We read aloud from a spiritual text and dialogue about the meaning and application of the text.

Spiritual Shimmering

The concept of spiritual shimmering is very important to the raising of consciousness. For example, we might read the text Hidden Jesus, Hidden Buddha, the Cloud of Unknowing or Become a Better You by Joel Osteen. The group is asked if there was any reading in the text today that caused a shimmering in your soul. When we share these shimmering insights and feelings, we begin to sense our souls moving together. It is this shimmering and the moving of souls that takes us to a higher level of spiritual awareness.

Existential Movement

Spiritual formation is about taking care of the mind, body and soul. In this life these three characteristics of being a person are never separate. Spirituality gives care to the soul to the extent that the mind and body are moved. In our spiritual formation group, the soul is moved to the new possibilities for a more spiritual life by shimmering. We are moved by this idea, this feeling, this moment of meditative silence, this new person or this new situation. We can never separate the soul from the body and the body becomes spiritual only in movement.

God has not created us as static creatures. It is the nature of the soul to move towards the spiritual possibilities that become apparent to the seeker. It is only when we move that we discover through the our continuous encounter with others and the situations of life our spiritual nature.

Moving to Become a Better You

Last week in our group, we were sharing some ideas about the empowering nature of spirituality. One of the members had been to a Joel Osteen conference and suggested that he empowers people to get on with their life. We discussed how often many priests and ministers are critical of Osteen saying, "Oh, he is just motivational speaker; it is not really Christianity." Well, we disagreed! We were inclined to regard his teachings as a type of Existentialism Idealism.

I suggest that many of the clergy that criticize Osteen have never read his work. I have read his work, and I believe he preaches a spiritual formation of Christian Existential Idealism. For example, look at the topics in his book: Become a Better You: Keep Moving Forward, Be Positive Toward Yourself, Develop better Relationships, Form Better habits, Embrace the Place Where you Are, Develop Your Inner Life, Stay Passionate About Life.

Episcopal Journey of Hope Movement

Obviously, there are thousands of people who are moved by the Osteen existential empowerment style of preaching and teaching. It seems to me that people today are looking for spiritual leaders who have a concrete spirituality that moves the mind, body and soul to living a better life. Looking at the number of people listening and reading spiritual teachers like Osteen, Joyce Myers and Bishop Jakes, I would say that Episcopalians have some serious questions to ask.



Saturday, October 27, 2012

Necessary Endings

"The tomorrow that you desire and envision may never come to pass if you do
not end some things you are doing today." Dr. Henry Cloud

Look at what is happening today that spells doom for tomorrow.  Statistics
released by the National Episcopal Church for the year 2011 show us shutting
down 58 congregations last year with more then 300 congregations closed in
the past five years.  We lost 28,861 active baptized members last year and
17% of our active baptized members over the last ten years. Our overall loss
of membership in the last fifty years is nearly 50%. The average Sunday
attendance per congregation is just 65 persons per weekend. 

It is noted that twenty-four domestic dioceses reported slight membership
growth last year even though nationally we lost thousands of members and the
average Sunday attendance is up less then one person per diocese per year.
Most of those increases are statistically meaningless with half showing less
then a one hundred new members and several less then 10 new members.  In all
cases of reported growth the numbers are well within the margin of error;
the reality is that our Episcopal Church continues in sharp membership

We all know that endings are a part of life; this is especially true in the
Church.  Therefore, it is difficult to understand that after all the decline
noted above, our leadership still clings to yesterday's ideas, structure,
and strategies.  One of the most grievous failures is the current
multiplicity of dioceses which most bishops conceive to operate as though
the diocese is comparable to large parish. They hire staff and expand
programs all the while knowing what happens at diocesan level does not grow
local congregations. We have been tolerant of this arrogance long enough.
Until we do some drastic endings, we cannot be in a position for a new and
fruitful beginning!

It is time for the American Episcopal Church to do some serious pruning -
any gardener knows that a rosebush (or a Church) cannot reach its full
potential without systematic and purposeful pruning.  The gardener knows
that removing unproductive and inappropriate appendages puts an end to
diverting precious resources. Most of our dioceses, bishops, diocesan staffs
and diocesan programs are unproductive appendages when measured by the
standard of parish growth.

To be sure, some of the factors that adversely affect the Church are
external.  Nevertheless, many of our most destructive strategies are
internal; we are promoting our own decline!

The most strategic way to cut our 99 domestic dioceses back to a reasonable
number is to prune the bishop's budget. Let's not delude ourselves; the
diocesan budget in every domestic jurisdiction is the bishop's budget!
Items and activities supported by the bishop become part of a line-item;
requests not approved by the bishop fail to be included. This is not hard to
understand because the budgeting process is controlled by diocesan staff and
often veiled in secrecy. Some bishops actually write the diocesan budget
themselves.  One diocese presented a budget with more then 50% of the
expenditures going for the cost of bishop and staff and yet no detail was
provided; no justification for who got what, just one total.  Yes, it is the
bishop's budget.  (Kudos to those few unique bishops who are/were completely
transparent in budging and worked to reduce diocesan spending.)

The bishop's budget may be presented as a "Mission Statement" so that a vote
against the bishop's budget is a vote against "Mission."  Don't be fooled.
Challenge the bishop's budget for details; don't be put off by excuses such
as we are trying to protect employee privacy or the diocesan council voted
for secrecy.  People of the diocese have a right to know what compensation,
benefits and perks are provided to the bishop and each of the staff.  How do
diocesan position packages compare to the rectors, associate clergy, lay
professional staff and administrative positions in congregations?  You might
be shocked at how well people in the bishop's budget are compensated.

If the bishop's budget is not fully transparent and in complete detail -
move for a written ballot by individual line item so that obscure entries
can be rejected. Do not authorize diocesan council to approve a budget in
lieu of convention action. Regrettably it will most often be the
lay-delegates to diocesan convention that take the lead in challenging the
bishop's budget because many of the current clergy generation have yet to be
weaned from seeking the bishop's favor.  Others are simply acclimated to
staying under the radar of decent. 

Drying up the bishop's budget is a necessary ending that will force
consolidation of dioceses plus curtailment of diocesan staffs and programs;
in turn, this will free resources for local congregations who have always
been the front line in the Anglican Communion. "The tomorrow that you desire
and envision may never come to pass if you do not end some things you are
doing today."

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Manifesto of Hope

I find it amazing that Episcopal Journey of Hope has had over 16,000 visits in about nine months. That in itself is hopeful for us writers who originally did not have any idea about who would check us out or what really we might ourselves state. Nonetheless an evolution of purpose seems to be occurring as we write and discover what we think of each others’ topics and readers’ response.

In particular, personally I tend to focus on that essentially sputtering and struggling structure of the Episcopal Church in which we still live, move and occasionally suffer-- the episcopacy. I keep finding myself  feeling a mix of pain, past pride, contemporary interest and no small amount of disdain for the episcopal office. My passionate interest in the episcopacy is doubtless why I will finally have lived all but the first fifteen years as an Episcopalian (thanks largely to my cousins, the Shahan family). I see all of us  American Anglicans historically as defined by the episcopacy even as many of us find its present practices as bloated, expensive and ineffective. I know if I did not feel so committed in my concern, I would probably otherwise retreat  into our local clergy breakfast meetings for mutual support, pointless bitching and hopeless apathy.

My, and I dare say our, sense of hope resides in our active commitment to have authentic public regard for our ECUSA concerns because we know hope is the compass and directionality for our faith journey and do sense love’s empowerment to keep us moving in a true direction. This true trajectory is about the structural, or incarnational, power of love in our tradition to manifest itself in human life, organization and systems of finance, justice and mission. We do so at the heart of it all with an essential sense of finding value in the historic episcopacy. The question I certainly have begged of myself to answer for nearly twenty years is about  episcopacy, our inheritance in all its varied and mixed history of creative mission, highly varied practice and structure and in its frequent corruption as it has fallen over itself from the power of love into the love of power. My hope is that episcopacy has an essential authenticity which can be reformed and redirected  toward a true direction, once again returning to an evolving, manifested power of love.

While my and our essays in Episcopal Journey of Hope  regarding content, focus and interest varies, I believe we are united in our own episcopal sense of true vision: the quest for authentic oversight, foresight, insight and surround sight that causes us to see as much of a wholesome vision as each moment carries us into. We, like some old spider, are an experienced and imaginative creature of many eyes and legs spinning trails and tales of hope to catch once in awhile the 
smell, taste and touch of the Spirit. And when that manifestation of spirit hits our web, with it we vibrate with joy and excitement.

I need not invite you, as you are in this great web of life discovered, revealed and celebrated. But just so you know, the contributors to Episcopal Journey of Hope are here. We are persistent.  In the end, we should all  challenge our Episcopal Church as we feel so called to renew hope and the power of love.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Existentialism and Christian Zen

This blog is to recommend a short, excellent book by fellow blogger Bill McVey.  Its title is Existentialism and Christian Zen and you can buy it from  Early on McVey establishes the fact that existence precedes essence.  Trained in the tradition of Scholasticism, he renounces it promptly and centers on the reality that we live out our existence every day in anxiety-driven wandering and discover a solution by "reaching into the deepest elements of humanity."  For McVey this is Zen, which "fits will with my heart, mind and most of all my existential wandering soul."

In Zen "we face a similar existential philosophy and therapy, and it is the issue of being and non-being."  In order to experience being at the most profound level, we must first become no-thing, that is, an emptying of our consciousness and returning to our center core of nothingness.  Through the meditative practice of Zen, we rid ourselves of all extraneous thought and descend into the darkness of nothing, or no-thing.  This is not a pathological nothing, that which might be found in neurosis or psychosis, it is a nothingness that one fills up with  key word or phrase, repeated over and over again, that gives the meditating person a sense of complete being, hope, somethingness, an experience of the Divine.

While admitting that Existentialism and Zen are nihilistic in the language of silence, McVey contends that it becomes constructive nihilism based on a constructive mystical nothingness that is filled up with the images of Christ.  Thus, through the practice of Zen, the Christian can fill up his or her own no-thing with a Christian word or phrase, such as the Jesus Prayer.  There is historical precedence found in the teachings of the Spanish mystics of the twelfth century, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

When McVey teaches Christian Zen, he teaches the beliefs of Buddhism, i.e. "I take refuge in the Dharma (the way), I take refuges in the Sangha (my spiritual companions)".  I then explain that we will change these beliefs to:  "I take refuge in the Christ nature; I take refuge in the way of Christ; I take refuge in my spiritual community."

This important contribution to Christian spirituality is a mere 93 pages and well worth the read.  Amazon has very good prices.  Check it out.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Clergy Wellness

If you believe the 2006 CREDO clergy wellness report, Episcopal clergy are in pretty good shape.  The report says,  "Although Episcopal clergy have reported many serious health risk factors, their general sense of well-being, confidence in undertaking new challenges, and commitment to their ministries are strong."

There are 6113 priests employed in the church and 646 of them completed the Mayo Clinic Health Risk Assessment and two other assessments in 2005 when they prepared to attend one of the Clergy Wellness conferences sponsored by the Church Pension Fund.  Perhaps this is an accurate sample to determine general clergy wellness, but then again it may not.

In an excellent summary of the report, ENS reporter Mary Frances Schjonberg reports that "stress poses an emotional health risk for 72.9 percent of Episcopal clergy," which is 16.7 percent higher for males "than that found in the population used for benchmark comparisons, and 13.3 percent higher for females.  In addition, 27 percent of females reported that they deal with depression and 15 percent of males.  Overall, clergy reports of depression exceed the benchmark population by 12.4 percent."  It is remarkable to me that female clergy depression is 12 percent higher than the men.  Perhaps men are more in denial, or is it that they are simply not more depressed.  It would be interesting to me, and hopefully interesting to women clergy, if CREDO would bring in an expert in women's health to dig a bit deeper and address the statistic.  On the male side, it would be interesting to know if there was a way to measure denial in the male clergy, if this is true.

However, Episcopal clergy fare much better on the depression scale than some other denominations.  70 percent of United Church of Christ pastors report that they fight depression on a regular basis and 1 in 5 pastors are in the advanced stage of burnout.  50 percent of the pastors surveyed are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if the could, but they have no other way to make a living.  Evangelical sources report that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or are dealing with depression and the Southern Baptist Convention paid out $64 million in stress-related claims, second in dollar amounts only to maternity benefits.

According to Schjonberg's summary, "86 percent of Episcopal clergy reported that they were moderately to high confident about undertaking challenges and engaging effectively in their ministries.  Nearly a third reported the highest score in the 'meaningfulness in work' measurement.  Well-being measurements were also high (92 percent in religious well-being, 90 percent in existential well-being, and 79 percent in career/vocation satisfaction)."  In addition, Episcopal clergy are not as intent on leaving the ordained ministry as some others.  This is very good news when compared with the other denominations we have cited in this article.

If all this is true, my hunch is that Episcopal clergy are more likely than others to seek professional help when distressed, more likely to have a best friend or spiritual guide to help them through difficult times, and more apt to join a support group.  The report also indicates that our clergy are more intentional about taking pro-active steps to engage in positive wellness activities, while concentrating on positive outcomes rather than pathological diagnoses.

If you haven't read the report, you can find it by clicking on the report on CREDO's homepage.  As I mentioned before, ENS has an excellent summary.  Please take a look.  It doesn't take that long to check it out.

CREDO is supposed to take another wellness survey this year.  A lot has changed in the past six years.  More full time jobs are gone and many clergy are simply hanging on to what they have.  Bishops are filling small parishes with part time clergy and diocesan training academies are gradually replacing seminary education.  I wonder if a wellness survey taken this year will produce the same positive indicators as the 2006 survey did.  To this end I have created a poll on our blog where we can get your opinions.  Does the 2006 clergy wellness report accurately reflect clergy wellness today?  Take the poll.  Let us know what you think.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Prayerful Consideration


There is a phrase which crops up in correspondence from some folks. It is usually associated with an action they have taken or intend to take and it sounds spiritual enough on the surface, but is there more?

People do not actually speak this way in conversation. It is more of a written model of discourse. Is this a possible discontinuity? There is a kind of distance that belies the essential feeling of the phrase. Are we more ourselves when writing or speaking? Who would you rather meet, a speaker or a writer?

I have loved many of the things written by Scott Peck, but I heard him speak once and I was underwhelmed by his ability on that occasion.

Jesus did not talk this way. What would Jesus think about such talk? Can we know? Can we guess? It may be worth a try.

Here it comes. See if this sounds like anyone you know. See if this sounds like anyone you would want to know. See if this sounds like you. See if this sounds like a friend of “you know who”.

After prayerful consideration, I/we have decided to . . . . The words, which follow, are usually in the form of an announcement of something which is not going to happen. Example. “After prayerful consideration, we have decided we are not going to make a pledge this year or any year until that heretic bishop is gone”. Or, “after prayerful consideration, I must submit my resignation from the vestry until such time as we get a rector who knows the Bible”. Or, “after prayerful consideration, we have come to the conclusion that there are too many men in the priesthood and we will not attend another service presided over by a man”.

You know I am just making these up, right? No one actually talks like that. It is just a kind of mystery to me. What kind of prayer would lead a person into a response which feels filled with so much anger, rejection, and hostility? This is not my experience of prayer. I wonder about the many people who pray about decisions with a positive outcome, about things they will do to build up the Body of Christ and never use these words. Come with me to the playground of the mind.

Harold: “God, Marge and I have been thinking about the terrible things which have been going on in the church and we believe something must be done. We are thinking about not pledging this time. What to you think”?

God: Silence

Harold: “God, if you agree, don't say anything”.

God: Silence

Harold: “See, Marge, we were right. Let's get this thing down in writing while it is still fresh in our minds”.


After prayerful consideration, . . . .

I just cannot get away from the notion that God always calls us to states of generosity and hospitality. God always calls us to places of compassion even in the face of difficulties. This more friendly notion of things is a little more prevalent in the New Testament, which is where Christian people like to find their primary identity.

I believe deeply in prayer as describing our connecting relationship with God. My problem is with the use of prayer language to justify an angry opinion. Certainly we can disagree on issues, but make no mistake about it; God calls us into a unity which must suffer our differences of opinion. And, there is a place for all of us at the table as well as a place for a little humor in all of this.

After prayerful consideration, I have decided to leave Harold and Marge to their own devices, because they do not have a question. They only have answers.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A More Earthy Spirituality

Recently, I went with a friend to the TED conference held at the Kauffman Center in Kansas City. TED is a well known non profit organization that is dedicated to bringing remarkable speakers to audiences online, Public Radio and conferences in various cities. The speakers are individuals who have ideas that promise a better future for humanity.

The theme of the conference was, "The Miracle of Your Mind Isn't That You Can See the World As It Is; It Is That You can See the World As It Is Not." I was hooked right away because I love realized eschatology.  There was a passion for a better future in the 2000 attendees. The place was filled with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. They were young, bright and educated people looking for ideas to make life better for themselves and the world.

The Kauffman Center is a bright and modern design performance center that provided the proper atmosphere of openness to world. It has a glass ceiling and huge slopping glass windows that give a panoramic view of the city. On the stage was an immense screen for visual presentations and an earth harp with long cable type strings from the stage to the ceiling of the theater. The presenter came stood in a speaker's circle and welcomed us to share in the spirit of TED.

Then a beautiful female musician dressed in a flowing white gown, accompanied by other string instrumentalists, a percussionist and singer, began to play the earth harp. As the New Age sounds leaped from the from the harp, it seemed as if a spiritual energy of the Goddess Gaia was ascending from the earth into the consciousness of the gathering.

The speakers were exceptional masters of communicating in the media age. The talks were about the power of art, Internet, free education, self awareness, human commitment, the feminine mind, critical thinking, mysticism and the power of higher consciousness to improve the human situation. It was as if there was an atmosphere of  an evolutionary-monist energy of love. It was a very Teilhard de Chardin type of mysticism.

It was an earthy type of highly passionate spirituality. I mean it was a sincere love for humanity and a better universe. It was a passionate belief in the power of consciousness and the evolutionary energy of love.

People are no longer searching for abstract dogma, highly disciplined ritualistic practices or mega narratives. They are begging for intense experiences of love. However, it is an earthy and extremely personal love. Plato's concept of Eros is a virtue not a sexual passion. It is an erotic longing for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Richard Solomon writes, "Erotic love improves and intensifies, it does not distort our perceptions. Spirituality involves just such subjectivity and selective vision. In spirituality, one chooses to see the world as beautiful or sublime instead of as an industrial resource or a scientific challenge or merely a contingent set of facts."

In Western Christian theology, bracketed by neo Platonic metaphysics, we have taken the virtue of love and placed it in a context of a dualistic theology. It has described love in terms of a hierarchy of love ranging from Eros (the lower sensuous love) to Agape love ( the higher spiritual love of God).

In a Post metaphysical age, we need a spirituality of non dualistic Agape-Eros i.e. evolutionary love. We need a heavenly and earthly love that cries out from the heart of people and the earth we walk on. We are a mind-body who spend our existence feeding a dynamic and emerging soul.

In our spirituality, we need the mystical experience of Agape and Eros. We need to read and reflect on C.S. Lewis Four Types of Love, but we must also reflect on the works of Nikos Kazantzakis, namely Zorba the Greek.

As a blog dedicated to the Episcopal Journey of hope, I suggest that a successful Episcopal Journey into the future is not possible unless it is grounded on a heavenly and earthly passionate spirituality.So, I will finish with this quote from Nikos Kazantzakis, "By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The non existent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired." 


Saturday, September 22, 2012

We Want Growing Churches

Most of us have heard, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results."  (Attributed to Albert Einstein)  The Wharton School of Business offers guidance on how to reorganize for better results – how to streamline an endeavor, get rid of redundant functions, reduce overhead, and merge related roles.

Consider if you will, that we have been in a serious crisis of decline for 50 years. So have we streamlined our organization, eliminated redundant functions, reduced overhead and reversed the decline?

Not on your life!  In 1962, when we stopped growing, our church’s total membership was 3.6 million baptized persons distributed through 93 domestic dioceses – simple math gives us an average of 38,700 baptized members per diocese.  Now after 50 years of decline – we have added 6 new domestic dioceses for a total of 99.  Meanwhile our church has shrunk to1.9 million active baptized members and the average per diocese is only 19,700 persons.  Again simple math has 50% fewer people paying for the bishop’s budget.  The overhead is greater and the people fewer. Wharton would give our leadership failing marks because they keep using the same old structure with the resulting continued decline.

Actually, 42% of our domestic dioceses are well below the average with less then 15,000 members and 29 dioceses have less then 10,000 members.  Some analysts suggest “Communicants in Good Standing” as a more accurate statistic to consider; 48 dioceses have less then 10,000 communicants in good standing and 27 have less then 5,000 – several have less then 2,000 - which in some places would be one parish.

There are seven other sister churches in the Anglican Communion that approximate our size.  All of them have fewer dioceses and more people per diocese.  They average 21 dioceses each and have 80,000 baptized members per diocese.  Unbelievable, we have five times the number of dioceses and 75% fewer members per diocese.

Using our sister Church’s standard of 80,000 members per diocese, we should have only 25 dioceses in our American Episcopal Church.  Even using our 1962 numbers as a base, we would have 54 dioceses.  Of course, the trouble with reorganizations is that someone always gets displaced, gets fired or gets hurt.

The bishops are the leaders of the church.  Is it reasonable to expect 99 diocesan bishops to reorganize so that only 25 or even 54 are left standing?  This is not to suggest that most bishops are in anyway nefarious or capricious.  Most have accepted the election to leadership to do the right thing.  However, nearly 600 good people have held the Episcopal Office during the last 50 years and under their collective leadership the situation only got worse.

If our goal is to increase the Kingdom, it is not happening by using a large part of our resources to maintain a plethora of dioceses, bishops and staffs.  And if it is not our goal to increase the Kingdom, we have no need of a plethora of dioceses, bishops and staffs.

Bishops – you have been elected and consecrated to lead.  So lead!   Lead us away from the decline! Streamline our church, eliminated redundant functions, reduced overhead, merge with other dioceses!  We are tired of 50% of the diocesan budget being used to support the bishop and staff. We want growing churches.

If our congregations fail; you, the bishops, have failed. We can not afford to do the “same old thing, over and over again.”

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Trickle Down at the Episcopal Manor

Recently one of our local bishops declared in his protocol for the visitation schedule certain restrictions. This statement included quite definite times within the visit. The one that most intrigued me was the amount of time available before our right reverend  gentleman needed to get home to let the dog out who otherwise would peddle on the manor floor. Oh, I privately declared to myself, what  has happened to “the help” in our day and age? Long ago in the halcyon days of the Church, a Philadelphia Mainline woman visited her family graves, personally delivering to their sites poinsettias during late Advent at St. Thomas Church in Whitemarsh,PA. She had broken off the ignition key in her Bentley’s bonnet and had had the same potential peddle problem as the bishop, and “her man” was off that day with the dogs locked in the kitchen!  Well, I was certainly sympathetic and got her qualified assistance posthaste! Certainly I do notice a contrast in the two situations. The poor bishop does not have “help,” and my dowager duchess did! What is wrong with this circumstance? It is obvious: the Bishop does not have proper domestic talent, a wife, yes, but he needs manor servants!  What has occurred in our day and age, really, leaving our lord bishop helpless?!

I began to realize that we just do not have proper support for the bishops. Oh, yes, they have lots of paid professional staff in diocesan offices but real HELP?  Program and administrative staffing, yes, but the necessary domestic HELP, NO, how inopportune!  It was then that I realized that the bishop’s dog was a prophet, revealing by a great pale yellow beacon to me. . . So the revelation was spiritually drizzled down upon me; oh my, I thought: What if we helped our bishops by allocating monies and reducing budgets all at once! What if we hired two barely legal domestic servants for the episcopal household, a maid and valet, and got rid of most of the expensive  diocesan staff who are not Help?  Really two modestly paid domestic staff  members with housing privileges “upstairs” would be oh-so-better-on-the-diocesan purse!

Thence, I realized that my prophet dog was proclaiming a “trickle down” revelation. I gave thanks. Instead of being po'd about diocesan staff budgets, we could give the bishop what he really wants, someone to bend over to hold his trousers as he has them slipped up around him so his valet could have the  pant legs pulled up at the same time (avoiding the common adage of putting on one’s pants one leg at a time the way the rest of us do). Yes,the Bishop needs someone for honor and help and to take care of that peeweeing pet and/or whatever else so as to extend his precious time with his clergy and people.  Thank Dog!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Clergy Divorce

A recent report in the LA Times stated that 25% of clergywomen and 20% of clergymen have been divorced at least once.  In my Tuesday morning breakfast group, the rate is much higher, perhaps because our first marriages terminated in an earlier time when the national divorce rate was around 35%.  The 2008 US divorce rate was 28.5.  In addition, that same article reported that 80% of the clergy think that ministry has negatively affected their marriages.

Colby Phillips, eHow contributor, wrote this about the reasons for clergy divorce.  Clergy report feeling stressed out and over committed, burdens that have been shown to take a frequent toll on marriage.  Factors that increase the risk of marital problems include lack of social support, frequent moves and breached boundaries between professional and home life.  Mitigating these risk factors are resources such as psychological, financial, family support and career services.  Additionally, clergy who are engaged in active pursuits outside the ministry, such as hobbies, personal devotion and the arts, fare better.

The Episcopal Church is good at providing important mental and wellness benefits to its clergy.  While I found it helpful to join a clergy support group, it didn't help my first marriage.  Support groups, spiritual directors and a "soul friend" helps the morale of the priest, but they cannot help a severely broken relationship.  Phillips also mentions that congregations can provide support of varying kinds, but neither to they rescue a marriage in critical care.  It support of clergy marriage, however, congregations can support a marriage by honoring days off (don't call except in an emergency), providing sabbaticals, and not calling the home at night unless there is an emergency.

Clergy marriages thrive best when specific boundaries are set.  If you make yourselves available all the time and can't say no, it is a certainty that your marriage will endure a great amount of stress.  Those who are continually available and work tons of hours are perceived by their spouses as "not being there for them," and this can strain a marriage to the breaking point. Its also a good idea to not bring work problems home for marital discussion.  Take these up with your spiritual director or best friend.  And watch out for the kind of violated boundaries that lead to sexual misconduct.  Some good friends I've known over the years crashed and burned because of this, and they lost their jobs.  Each member of the clergy needs to know when to draw the line when a parish relationship takes on the aura of indiscreet intimacy.

There is nothing worse for a marriage that a level six conflict in the parish.  The potential for burnout is very high under these circumstances.  When this happens, the priest may be faced with a choice between their marriage and staying in a highly conflicted situation.  My advice:  CHOOSE YOUR MARRIAGE.  There is nothing wrong with bailing out by intentionally looking for another job.

Some clergy marriages suffer from what I call the spouses' idealization of the clergy spouse.  Some people marry clergy because they are dependent and want to be taken care of by "god."  They enter the marriage with the expectation that their clergy spouse will be more than human, a kind of divine parent that will pastor their spouse and thereby fulfill a severe dependency need.  Once this gets insidiously close to toxic, the marriage is bound the falter.  Unless the couple works through this issue with intense therapy, they won't make it.  The priest is human after all, and wants to be treated as such by their spouses.

When a divorce happens, a spiritual crisis of a great magnitude invades the priest's consciousness, and suddenly we are living only in Good Friday.  For a time there is no Holy Saturday and no Easter Day.  We are bathed in our own crucifixion and it hurts really, really bad.  Even in our therapeutic culture, we lose that Prayer Book statement that marriage "signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church."  Most divorced clergy I know took their marriage vows very, very seriously, and some feel like they have broken this solemn vow.

It does take time to heal.  But if the couple doesn't get along, and if they fall victim to the demands of the church and society, then the choice to divorce is OK.  On the other hand, my prayer would be that the couple reignite a sense of the mystical presence of God in their lives, get lots and lots of therapy, relearn what it is like to love one another, and thereby stay together.  In either case, thank God that the church is more compassionate and accepting of the reality of divorce, and that many clergy continue to stay in their jobs after a failed marriage.  When I was a young priest, that just didn't happen.

Fortunately for me, I met and married a wonderful woman who has been my partner and spouse for 23 years.  This is good news for every priest who is going through  divorce.  You can find a great partner and friend the second time around.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Dialogue with Kevin

Recently, while on vacation I spent an evening with friends from years past. I am an Episcopal priest who is still active as a Rector of a small parish. This past January I turned 70, and I began to reflect on my past, present and future. A good part of this reflection was about the continuing journey of my priesthood.

I began my priesthood as a Roman Catholic priest in Canada, but for many reasons I left. I became an Episcopal priest and married.Turning seventy I realized the meaning of  T.S. Elliot's insight that we always return to where we began. I wanted to return to Canada and spend time with family and old friends. These friends were laity with whom I have maintained a loving friendship over the years

There was a couple Ross and Barb that I particularly wanted to see. They have remained close even though I left Rome. They are a sincere and serious Catholic marriage with seven adult children and a number of grandchildren. They have dedicated their marriage to the creation of a Catholic home. They are highly educated and progressive Catholics, yet deeply rooted in Catholic piety.

I was invited to a family birthday, and I met the children who I had held as infants. A great gift was given to me that night. Ross and Barb told me that they were happy I was an Episcopal priest, and we prayed and cried. They then mentioned that their children had little, if any, interest in the Catholic Church.

I began to speak with their son Kevin about the issue, I was disturbed because I knew the profound faith and spirituality of this home. I spoke especially with Kevin because I was extremely perplexed by his rejection of the Church.  Kevin has a truly mystical character and a courageous love for humanity. For example, this past two years he has gone on three occasions to Somalia with Doctors Without Borders. In point of fact, he was in such a dangerous location that the UN forces would pick him up by helicopter every night and return him the next morning.

I had a long dialogue with Kevin about his complete lack of interest in the Church. He described himself as an atheistic humanist. I was crushed, This is Kevin, and he is the kind and loving healer. He is the one prepared to lay down his life for others. Kevin gave me the common response that the Church is irrelevant and borinng. He is now a man of medicine and science etc. As the dialogue progressed, we came to the real issue. Kevin informed me that he was an atheist. This 32 year healer was a dedicated atheistic humanist.
   I attempted to explain the difference between religion and spirituality. I talked to him about a book I have just written on existentialism and spirituality. He was very interested in this conversation then he asked me a most challenging question, "Father, can an atheist be spiritual?" I thought carefully and I answered with a definite, "Yes, an atheist can be spiritual?" 

I recommended that he read the work by Robert C. Solomon, Spirituality for the Skeptic. I quoted  Solomon's work, "Spirituality, I have come to see, is nothing less than the thoughtful love of life," and said this represented my view to be spiritual is to have a thoughtful love of life.

I have written about this night with Kevin because it is a part of my priestly journey coming into its final days. Kevin's atheism breaks my heart, but I love and respect him. I did not argue with him, rather we entered into a dialogue. But here is the issue! I suggest that Kevin represents the best of our young people today. As Episcopalians, we must understand that we live in a culture of entrenched skepticism, and we must have a new attitude and a new spiritual theology. 

Finally, I strongly recommend reading Solomon's work; it is the only really interesting book that I have read on the problem of spirituality in a Postmodern Culture. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cultivate a Deeper Spirituality

God invites us, individually and as the church, to cultivate a deeper spirituality.
After all, our church can be no stronger than the spiritual strength of our members.  No surprise - right?  Spiritual practices matter!  Spiritual disciplines are ways of becoming fully awake personally and staying awake to our creator.  The disastrous decline in The Episcopal Church gives occasion for renewal; consider, if you will, these seven spiritual disciplines practice by all three Abrahamic traditions - Judaism, Christianity (33% of the world population), and Islam (25% of the world population.)  Over the millennia, billions of persons have practiced these ancient spiritual disciplines in a successful quest to draw near to deity and to build community.

First on the list is Fixed Hour of Prayer which is a regular pattern and order for formal worship and prayer that is offered to God at specific times throughout the course of the day.  This is the primary way spiritual people hold themselves in communion with the One who created them.  There are many names - the liturgy of the hours, fixed-hour prayer, the divine office, the canonical hours, daily prayers - they all refer to the practice of interrupting secular time every few hours for time made sacred by prayer.

The second discipline is Keeping a Sacred Day. This special day is not fundamentally a break, a day off, or a twenty-four-hour vacation.  It is  feast day that anticipates our play in the new heavens and is celebrated here on earth with family, friends, and strangers for the sake of the glory of God (like practicing eternity.)

Discipline three:  Entering the Sacred Seasons. Each year the sacred seasons transmit the full scope of our faith as it gears our rhythms to those who share our faith, everywhere in all time, present and past, and all places, here and there.  The sacred seasons tell us over and over again the story that forms us and that we are fulfilling.

Fourth is Fasting - which is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.  Fasting is found in all the great world religions and philosophies; fasting means to deny oneself of food and possibly water for a time in response to a sacred moment.  Fasting is not a bribe to God or a diet or a health regimen and must be done intelligently; nevertheless, fasting can liberate us as the deepest level.

Next we come to the fifth spiritual discipline which is Stewardship/Almsgiving. The preeminent spiritual reason for giving is gratitude to God for the blessings a person receives; the harmony between the Divine and the created is enhanced by giving.  In other words, stewardship is more than what you give - it is about how you use what you keep.  As a footnote:  pledging to a parish or diocesan budget is about as non-biblical as a church can get.

No surprise that sixth is The Sacred Meal which symbolizes the communal unity and communion with God and moves the believer from being a citizen of the world to be a citizen of heaven.  Sacrament, symbol, memorial, Jewish, Christian or Muslim - the sacred meal is a spiritual discipline that dare not be ignored.

The final and seventh spiritual discipline as the Sacred Journey. Pilgrimage is in the human DNA and each year millions of Christians, Jews and Muslims visit sacred sites all over the world.  Again, pilgrimage is not a vacation or a holiday with a religious shore excursion; it is an encounter.  Tourists bring home memories and souvenirs.  Pilgrims bring home changed hearts.

Each of us has it within our power to embrace these seven spiritual disciplines.  Editing the list down or a half-hearted involvement is a grievous error - both for ourselves and our church.

(Blogger's note:  much of this article was taken from material I developed for Kansas City's 8th Annual Health and Spirituality Workshop.)