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.)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Commission on Mediocrity

In the early 1970’s the Rector of St. Thomas Church-Whitemarsh near Philadelphia, was the chair of the committee to draft the diocesan canon for the new Commission on Ministry.  After some time working on it, he said to me that while he thought the commission idea to include more people in the discernment to ordination process had some merit, he also strongly thought that having so many people involved would eventually create “a committee mentality.” He predicted that real genius in leadership and creative eccentricity would be removed with a bland  human production line of mediocre clergy emerging in many instances.
Some years later when on the staff of Lyman Ogilby, Bishop of Pennsylvania, I became the coordinator for him for the ordination process and liaison to the Commission on Ministry and seminaries. Because of the human and chronological stagnation that had developed,  created by the mess of the COM canonical process, the Diocese had an active list of about 130 people “on the book” toward potential deacon and priest ordinations! Seemingly no one was stating a solid “No” or “Yes” to people until years of interviews, studies and committee meetings had passed. Of course, few young people were waiting around for some answer, and the number of older and suspiciously persistent second career personalities proliferated! I heard occasionally the pathetic notion that if nothing else, “I could be ordained and work for the Church!”
So I developed a pre qualifying process starting with a very able psychologist who tested and interviewed people at the initiation of the aspirant after identifying themselves to me.  They made their own appointment with the psychologist and paid for the process, the report of which was sent to me.  In turn I would review the reports with the Bishop as needed. We would then decide what would get shared with the individual in an interview with me. The aspirants were promised a ninety day turn around by me so they could get on with their lives. With this pre qualification process in place, the Bishop actually knew what he was potentially getting,and the COM no longer was inundated with very unprepared people.  As my prime goal for the aspirants was for them to be empowered to move on confidently to or away from possible ordination and/or to some other ministry, I  was grateful to find with few exceptions that people did get what they needed in a caring and timely way. I also offered a workshop for the pre qualified aspirants to learn how to take charge of and have a high quality discernment interview, which also benefited the COM.

COM’s are generally overwhelmed with too many aspirants who are at best modestly equippable for any professional level ministry. It has got to be so gummy and passive that the Dean of the cathedral in Jacksonville, FL raised the  interesting question on Facebook as to whether anyone can say “No” to someone seeking ordination, a decidedly non-Anglican ecclesiology! (I am not saying she advocated this position.)  From fearful priests who just cannot bring themselves to say no to the flinty old senior warden (My memo to the clergy told them to send these people on to me so I could give them their answer protecting the priest from possible angry retribution.), to timid personalities on COM’s and poor  psychological testing and interview processes, to bishops who seem to think that there is scoreboard in heaven for how many people they can get ordained, we have a Church fat on clergy and lean on congregants.

What is the answer? Well, to start with, all bishops/dioceses should consider a partial or full moratorium on all ordinations and lead by figuring out what the real and godly professional needs are within the jurisdictions. And then forget “ordaining for the larger church” nonsense! Let the seminaries go as Harvard’s President, Nathan Pusey,  had said needed to happen in his 1968 report. (Yes, over forty years ago. . . ) In other words, at least for a while, just say, “NO!”  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"To Live in an Evolutionary Spirit"

At the end of the CREDO 2006 report on clergy wellness, there is a quote from Erich Jantsch, an astrophysicist:  To live in an evolutionary spirit means to engage with full ambition and without any reserve in the structure of the present, and yet to let go and flow into a new structure when the right time has come."

The right time has come for serious restructuring of our National and Diocesan entities, who by their very nature due to constitutional, canonical and functional characteristics, are almost moribund when it comes to an evolutionary movement into something new and different.  They have engaged the present, stay in the present, and form a committee to discuss the matter.  If the Episcopal ecclesiastical systems are to change, some kind of flow from that which is into the potential of what could be needs to be addressed.  However, we've been so stuck in the past and the present that we cannot begin to imagine evolving and flowing into a new structure.

If the church engaged with full ambition the structure of the present, it would have already figured out that novelty is the key to recognizing our decline, taking steps to reverse it and making it evolve into something new.  The church must pay attention to the reality that it lacks people, resources, positive and energizing age demographics and pitiful church attendance.  Some of our leaders claim to understand the present situation, but only a few are making any real attempt to engage this on the Diocesan or Parish level. 

Recently I received the information about my Diocesan Convention and I found absolutely nothing different in terms of engaging in a systematic newness that would move the Diocese into a more dynamic evolutionary entity.  Sure, there will be discussion groups.  Haven't we had enough of these already? The Diocese will pay full attention merely to only the present.  Homeostasis will reign now and forever amen.  The preaching will be designed to provoke a decision of some sort of another, will be listened to respectfully, and then business as usual.

Perhaps something new will come about by a lack of money.  It has already happened in Western Kansas where the Bishop is a Rector.  Downsizing trends may happen in larger Dioceses in the years to come.  Yet most Dioceses continue to function the same old way.  This may continue until lack of money creates the political will in the clergy and people, then there will be a demand that will move the Diocese forward into that which is new.  Thus the change will be by default rather than a Spirit filled evolution from that which is into that which is something new, different, exciting and challenging.  Perhaps lack of money is the only novelty left that will sparked the Diocese to flow into a new structure when the right time has come.  In my view, the right time has already come and maybe even gone.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

General Convention Chaos and Doughnuts or "Play It Again Sam!"

     A Metaphysics of Complexity is about the fundamentals of universal motion in its manifestation through the complex and chaotic dynamics of nature and human reality and the urge towards fulfillment in its evolutionary self-organizing drive.

     Social complexity sees humanity and institutions as existing always on the edge of chaos because of the impermanence of emotions, thoughts and actions.  Dynamic Social Complexity theory explores the process of social stability by means of signs standing for objects, events and processes that constantly move, change, evolve and transform the social-cultural phenomena.

     In the dynamics of social complexity, Strange Attractors of Meaning (SAM) emerge out of the chaotic dynamics of the thoughts and feelings constantly swarming in the mental space of each individual and groups that form into vortexes of meaning (SAM).

     The Strange Attractors of Meaning are an energy source that exhorts and motivates human action.  They are a source of mental and spiritual energy that moves a social system to growth.  If there are no or weak attractors of meaning behind the social actions then actions are simply meaningless.  Human positive energy dissipates and the counter for of negative energy drives the system into disorder (entropy).  It mean s that the lack of meaningful support, be it mental, emotional or spiritual is incompatible with the growth of the social system.

     When SAMs become a counter force, new meaningful action attractors are brought to life in the mental and spiritual space of the social system.  A spontaneous creation of an attractor happens when the system parameters pass beyond certain critical values.  For example, the House of Bishops and the General Convention have served as a critical SAM in The Episcopal Church, but it is presently passing beyond the point of being an effective attractor energizing the institution.  In turn, a SAM becomes a counter force when it loses its ability to provide positive energy for meaningful and pragmatic action.

     In the case of General Convention and the energy of a House of Bishops the attractor has turned into a Fatal Attractor.  This type of an attractor has a pulling force where energy is focused on maintaining the status quo.  The energy of this attractor puts into operation a special self-protecting and self-justifying mechanisms.  The pulling force of this attractor is achieved by drawing energy to customary internal habits and attitudes and external signs of ecclesiastical and religious authority.

     As a result the General Convention states that the structure needs change, therefore we will examine the issue.  It is at this point where the fatal attraction turns into a torus attractor.  As a system responds to chaos it retains its life by repeating similar but not identical patterns held in place by torus attractors, e.g. National and Diocesan Conventions.  Torus attractors are described as doughnuts as round and around the same circle the events go, never exactly repairing, but never leaving the circumscribed area of power.  The torus motion keeps spinning in circles around the same issue in a stuck loop e.g. We will put it into committee, then into study, then under advisement and back into committee.  It creates an infinite loop intended to go on until the end of time and beyond if possible.

The Episcopal Church as a system in high chaos is in meed of emergence attractors.  New meaningful actions require new Strange Attractors of Meaning.  According to chaos theory the spontaneous creation of an emergence attractor happens when the system suffers a boundary crisis i.e. the torus attractors lose their energy.

     An emergence must occur when the pulling force of torus attractors becomes counterproductive.  A vacuum is created that waits for new creative attractors of meaningful action to stabilize the system and grow.  In complexity theory, these emerging attractors are the small rumblings of butterfly effects that just might cause a massive tornado of deconstruction.

     So what happened at the last General Convention?  Well, we put more sprinkles on the Episcopal Doughnut.  Once again it was an Episcopal Torus Attractor exercise of "Play It Again Sam!"  Meanwhile, we, the butterflies of change, must keep flapping our wings.

This article was written by Bill McVey.  He is on vacation and I am simply his scribe.  Thanks.  Bob Terrill