What to pray?

I went for a run last night. I’m trying to be more disciplined physically and run more often – get back into, and all that.
Anyway, I was running last night and on my more common route I run past four Episcopal churches. Now, in most parts of the country some may think that I run for miles and miles and miles in order to pass by four Episcopal churches. Not so; I run a couple miles. Years ago, I would have passed by five churches, but two merged. There you go.
Last night as the endorphins were kicking in, I started praying for the churches. Then I thought, “What shall I pray?” What do they need? I mean, what do they REALLY need? Not just the outside stuff, the obvious, the worldly, but that which they truly need – the “draw all people unto me” kind of need.
I preached this past Sunday. The Epistle reading from Hebrews struck me as timely as I ran.

Hebrews 12:18-19,22-29
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

This is what I pray people will sense and know without doubt whenever they enter and leave one of these parishes. The physical structures are what they are. The liturgy, the music, the words are what they are. But, I hope all of it will only contribute to people’s ability to encounter the risen Jesus, the Christ! I have been praying something like this for St. Paul’s for a while now.

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken– that is, created things– so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Then, I thought as I ran, this is what I pray will happen for those of us who are charged with the responsibility of caring for the Body of Christ – that we will be shaken to the core, that our will and lofty ideas will be crushed, that we will be brought low by the kind of loving hand that only brings low in order to reveal the true, the beautiful, the good, and the lasting.
All manner of schemes and programmatic solutions float around to save the Church (whether Episcopalian or Roman or Baptist or Assemblies of God) from the controversy du jour, but it is only in the meeting of the soul with the creator of souls is the soul renewed, satisfied, stirred, shaken, awaken, and granted entrée into the very throne room of the great King.
Most of the time, all of us need to be continually shaken to the core so that all that remains is that which gives life and peace and freedom – all that remains is the essence of relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The accoutrement can aid, but can never replace. Too often, we think the accoutrement is the end goal and in some way will make everything good and right, again. The accoutrement will only be shaken away, and when that happens to our churches, our souls, our leadership, what will hopefully be left is the essence of the faith that Christ calls us to. I fear, too many of us will be brought up short.
So I pray, “Shake us Lord!” Shake the priests, the vestries, the Sunday School teachers first, that we will know, so that we can understand, so that we can lead. Then, shake our churches so that what remains will be that which enables people to come in and go out knowing that they have encountered the living God.

Second Life

Okay, so let’s really talk about Second Life. It is fairly incredible and will only continue to grow, like virtual worlds, as the technology makes them all the more real. Apple’s “E-World” was before its time! From the beginning, I think virtual-worlds are morally neutral – just like the real-world. What we do and how we are within either world is where issues of morality and ethics and appropriateness come into play. What is the good, the beautiful, and what contributes to the banal or lesser instincts within us all no matter what world we inhabit?
Several years ago when I was at the beginning stages of postulency, I e-mailed my then bishop and said that I was playing with the idea of being a “cyber-priest.” He shot back an e-mail saying, basically, “I’m not sending you to seminary to play around in some cyber-world. The faith, because it is incarnational, can only be experienced in a tactile community. Community is impossible outside of the ‘real world.'”
Well, I thought, I’m not sure why I received such a rebuke, but it isn’t up to me or the good bishop to determine what is possible and what is not and what people consider “community” to be or where it can happen. It will be.
Fast forward and we all know that “community” happens in the ether. Second Life is the more recent expression of it. It is “real” and will only become more “real,” particularly for those who have a very difficult time in the “real-world.” It is often easier to create yourself in a virtual-world where others cannot see the “real” you, than it is to deal with the very difficult issues of “real life” so that you can be that very person you desire to be actually in real life.
What does this mean for people of faith? What does this mean for Christians? I know all too well it is all to easy to be the alter-ego of the real-life-self in the virtual-world were you make yourself out to be beautiful, when your are not, where you make yourself out to be svelte when you are actually 200 pounds overweight, where you are the life of the party when you are truly very shy, where you do the nasty like a perv because it isn’t “real.”
It is often easier to live in a fantasy than in reality. It is easier to make an avatar than to accept ourselves and learn to love ourselves as Christ loves us. It is easier to attempt to create a new “reality” then to confront the force of the “real-reality” that won’t let you be who you want to be or who you fantasize about being.
Second Life, and such virtual worlds, can be a lot of fun. It can be great to express ourselves in ways that we might be a little afraid to express ourselves in the real-world. People can learn in virtual-reality to be more “themselves” in the real-world.
The caution is, and we have to face this, that any of us can descend into falsehood, into lies, into psychosis because of it all – just like real life. We also have to face that as we give ourselves over to ways of behaving or thinking in the virtual-worlds, we are affected in the real-world. What we entertain even if in a virtual-world, it is still our minds in the real world that is doing or thinking the thing. Whatever we give ourselves over to and whatever we allow to influence us, well, even if only in the virtual-world it will affect us and will bleed from the virtual into the real.
What do we do with this? It certainly isn’t evil, but if we aren’t careful evil will be realized. As priests, as counselors, as Christians, how do we navigate the virtual?

The City #17

I’m getting ready to run this morning. I look outside and the streets are full of fog. Whitish gray light in these morning hours. Everything is still and quiet.
I can hear, can feel, the sound of a fog horn blowing. Now two. Low rumbling fog horns from the bay and the East River – the atmosphere and the sound could be from 100 years ago.
This is the City, even if only rarely experienced these days.

Oh, those kids!

From the July/August edition of The Atlantic, the Society column:
Generation Me

“Young people are generally full of themselves, but a new study suggests that today’s kids are far more self-centered than preceding generations. A team of five university psychologists analyzed the results of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a 40-question survey administered to 16,475 current and recent college students nationwide between 1982 and 2006; the test asked students to agree or disagree with statements like ‘I think I am a special person’ and ‘If I ruled the world, it would be a better place.’ The results, the authors argue, illustrate a steady increase in narcissism – a ‘positive and inflated view of the self.’ Overall, almost two-thirds of the most recent sample display a higher level of narcissism than the 1982 average.
Why the increase? The researchers speculate that technology may have something to do with it. Narcissism is especially acute among students born after 1982, the cohort most likely to use ‘self-focused’ Web sites like MySpace and YouTube.
Whatever the cause, the researchers argue that increased narcissism can have pernicious effects, on the individual and on society. They cite previous studies showing that narcissists have trouble forming meaningful relationships, tend to be materialistic, and are prone to higher levels of infidelity, substance abuse, and violence.
(“Egos Inflated Over Time: A Test of Two Generational Theories of Narcissism Using Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis,” Jean M. Twenge et al.)

To be honest, from my experience, I think they are right.
The question for us: What do we do about it? For those of us who work in Christian formation, the whole idea of giving up oneself, loving others more than oneself, dying to self in order to have real life – all of it – will be even more profoundly counter-cultural. The whole notion of being content in all things, as Paul writes, will be impossible. When people have an “…inflated view of self,” there is little impact we can have, until the stark reality of life (their own life) brings them crashing down. But, then, will we be there to help them get over their bad self and begin truly living or will we be encouraging them in their spiritual dysfunction by acquiescing to the zeit-geist? The two acrimonious sides of the Church universal either deny reality or give themselves over to anything the culture lifts up as good. We must be wise to not fall into those traps.
It will no longer be a concern about how we might compete with the prevailing culture, which infuses so much of current religious-talk and strategizing, but how do we present the counter argument in a way that those who can hear will hear.
It will be by demonstration – living a life that is full of integrity, content, and not hypocritical – starkly different and not simply by words. This is the failing of the one side of the Church – there is little difference between them and have no consideration for God. There is so much difference between the other extreme in the Church and the experience of regular people that non-Christians cannot hear the Gospel through that side’s rhetoric and hypocrisy.
Can we be strong enough and wise enough to make plain that this Way of ours is not easy, is not broad in relation to the dysfunction of the culture, and is not like the world? If we cannot, then narcissism and like attitudes and conditions will reign, thus making “loving God with our whole self” and “loving our neighbors as we love ourselves” impossible, let alone truly and utterly loving our enemies. (Well, because the “its all about me” will be so absolute, we will have far more enemies individually and socially. We will end up being very isolated and lonely people.)
Now, can we talk about Second Life?

Blast from the past

I was given the book “The Practice of Religion” last year by a good friend. It is an older and little Anglican book that sets out the Faith and the practice of it, particularly the Catholic expression of Anglicanism. The rector of St. Paul’s said that he wished the book was still in print, because it is this book that he would give as a gift to all those kids who prepare for their first communion.
Three sections in the back of the book:

Spiritual Growth:

Life shows itself in growth. It is so in the practice of religion. “We go from grace to grace and from strength to strength.” This implies being ever ready to receive the truth. Many persons make no progress because of pride, prejudice and ignorance, which oppose anything which they do not understand or in which they have been imperfectly instructed. To advance spiritually one must follow the guidance of the Holy Ghost and especially welcome any new blessing or privilege which the Church brings out of her “treasures of things new and old.” In the restoration going on in our part of the Church today, all souls should gladly receive and follow anything that helps to develop their spiritual life and bring them into closer union with God.

Manners and Morals:

“Manners maketh the man.” Character shows a close connection between Manners and Morals. Not necessarily the polished Manners which should be the “noblesse oblige” of those of birth and education but those possible in any walk of life where there is consideration of others and a refinement bred of high ideals and standards. As “a face is the index of the soul” and “one is known by the company he keeps,” Manners reveal Morals, as Character expresses itself. The coarseness and vulgarity so common today are but the evidence of the decline in Morality and Religion.

True Joy:

God wills us to be happy, but happy in the things of God more than in those of the world. True Joy comes in pleasing God not self. Live for self and happiness is never found, for all the lavish gifts of the world. Live for God and true joy is found, in trouble and trial, in sickness and sorrow, as well as in joy, peace and prosperity. Without God, nothing is really worth while. With God, naught else is necessary, yet all that God sends is welcome. He who has True Joy in God is always thankful. For as Saint Augustine wrote, “When God gives earthly blessings, give thanks; when God takes away earthly blessings, give thanks; for it is God Who gives and God Who takes away but God never takes Himself away from one who gives thanks.”
The Lord preserve thy going out,
The Lord preserve thy coming in.
God send His angels round about
To keep thy soul from every sin;
And when thy going out is done,
And when thy coming in is o’er,
When in death’s darkness all alone,
Thy feet can come and go no more,
The Lord preserve thy going out
From this dark world of grief and sin,
When angels standing round about,
Sing, “God preserve thy coming in.”

The City #16

What’s the difference between walking to work in New York City on Wednesday, August 8th and swimming?
Swimming is pleasant!
My gosh, the humidity and heat after the storms this morning where horrendous. You get wet not because of rain or sweat, but simply because of the humidity in the air. I found out once I finally got to work that there was a tornado warning for Brooklyn until 7:45 am. In Brooklyn? There was a lot of thunder and lightening and lots of rain, but a tornado in Brooklyn?
Of course, the amount of rain that came down in such a short period of time flooded a lot of the subway tunnels. This is not the beginning of a pleasant day in the City.

Spin or misunderstanding (maybe lies)?

I don’t know whether this is simply spin in order to rile the “faithful” to action, or whether it is simply ignorance by a group of American Evangelicals/Fundamentalists commenting on the actions of a Church Catholic (meaning the ecclesiastical structures and workings of the Episcopal Church USA). My better side wants to believe that it is ignorance of the how and the why we do things, but I have too much experience with the distortion and misrepresentation of facts dished out by this and other politicized Religious Right groups in order to attempt to prove or bolster their arguments to think that it is purely ignorance.
Anyway, from Focus-on-the_Family’s daily e-mail update, CitizenLink, this comment on the dismissal of 20 Episcopal priests in the Diocese of Virginia by Bishop Peter Lee. The article refers to Lee as a “liberal revisionist bishop.” Anyone who knows Peter Lee knows he is not a “liberal revisionist,” so is the statement spin, intentional misinformation, ignorance, blatant lie, or what?
Plus, the priests were not inhibited and deposed because they are against homosexuals being bishops (or priests or deacons or even lay-leaders of the Church for that matter), they were deposed because the “abandoned communion with this Church.” They could have asked Lee for Letters Dismissory (the canonical way to do rightly what they attempted to do rebelliously) and joined the Nigerian Church, but they didn’t. They chose to follow a certain path and this is the result. Plain and simply. Again, lies, misunderstanding of the workings of an episcopal church, spin, or what?
It sure sounds good, doesn’t it? It sure makes their followers all the more fearful of the evil they perceive as attaching them, the true holders and defenders of the Gospel of Christ, and the Gospel itself, doesn’t it? It sure makes the leadership of these organizations all the more powerful – send more money, do what we tell you to do, and all will be well, doesn’t it?
I don’t know. I am immensely frustrated with what passes for Christianity in this country, particularly as presented and lived-out by those who have a high responsibility to the non-Christian world due to their visibility – they are examples and prophets of a very deficient kind of Kingdom of God.
Anyway, here is the short comment from Focus-on-the-Family:

Twenty Priests Defrocked over Opposition to Homosexuality (8-30-2007)
Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter J. Lee ejected 20 of his former clergy from the priesthood this week after they quit the denomination in December over the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who is openly homosexual.
The Washington Times reports that the move comes seven months after 11 churches — along with their clergy — voted to leave the diocese and the denomination. The departing churches have formed the Anglican District of Virginia.
Most mainline Protestant denominations, including the United Methodist Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, take the opposite tack by defrocking sexually active homosexual clergy.
“The action by Bishop Lee comes as no surprise,” said Caleb H. Price, research analyst for Focus on the Family. “In diocese after diocese throughout the United States, liberal revisionist bishops like Lee are persecuting priests, vestry members and the laity for seeking to faithfully adhere to the historic and apostolic faith once delivered.
“The fact of the matter is that it’s not these priests who have abandoned the church, it’s Lee and the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church USA who have abandoned the faith.”

It makes me think of –
Micah 6:7-12 (New International Version)
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.