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.