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.