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Be About the Work: St. Martha and Mission

Anyone who worked in the Hospitality industry, for however short a time, can tell you the importance of the dishwasher. Not the appliance, but the person.

A dishwasher in the weeds means a restaurant in the weeds. Everyone- servers, bartenders, and chefs alike depend on a steady flow in and out of this person’s hands, and they’re typically the lowest paid and least respected person on staff. They are seen as replaceable (they’re not) people doing low-skilled (it isn’t) work that makes up the base of the cursus honorum of the kitchen. But every night I walked into the restaurant to start a shift I could predict the flow of the night with near certainty based on who was in the dish-pit. The labor that is so often valued least, is the labor that makes or breaks the whole enterprise.

The impulse to undervalue essential labor is a sinfully universal impulse, and its one that effects the Church as much as anyone else.

There is a consistent refrain among missional circles that needs to stop— The refrain that maintenance is not important. That we over-encumber ourselves in keeping house, and because of that, miss the chance at making connections and growing the Church.

It’s not that this refrain is wrong— It just misses the point that no connection happens in a vacuum. With the same sinful blindness to the grunt work of hospitality, it ignores the fact that someone has to do the pre-work of creating space for the encounter to happen. Or it doesn’t happen at all.

If we make connections out in the community (as we should be doing) we have to acknowledge that the only thing we have done is to have contracted the work of spacemaking to someone else.

If we meet in a coffeeshop, do we see and value the barista?

If we meet in a bar, do we see and value the busser?

If we meet in a library, do we see and value the custodian?

(And if you are going out into the community and not over-tipping tipped workers, then may God have mercy on your immortal soul, because you have missed the entire point.)

If we’re going into places where people work, and not connecting with them as people, regardless of their role, if we’re not seeing the holiness of their labor, then we’re not going to see the Spirit in them.

This isn’t entirely our fault. There is very little in our Culture or our Church that has prepared us to see this way. Today’s the Feast of Saints Mary and Martha, whose story lays plain the ways that our tradition has taught us to undervalue spacemaking.

“Are you a Mary or a Martha?” is a ubiquitous question. Are you spiritual, or are you a busybody?

As catastrophically wrong as that question is, and many of us see how it is problematic, we can’t shake that impulse. To be near Christ we can’t be in the kitchen. (To say nothing of the way in which this undervalues labor traditionally coded as feminine…)

If you remove Martha from that story, you remove Mary’s encounter.

Martha made the meal that the meeting centered on.

Martha is the one that sends word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick.

Martha is the one that meets Jesus on the road.

Martha is the one that rolls away the stone from Lazarus’ tomb.

Martha cooks Lazarus’ first meal back from the dead.

These actions are essential, and not just the action, but the person. To think that anyone could have replaced Martha in these roles is to disregard the way that God works in our lives and to buy into the lie that the labor we produce is inherently alienated from who we are. That St. Martha is somehow interchangeable with any other ancient Palestinian woman. That St. Martha’s house is interchangeable with any other location.

That kind of thinking is foreign to the Gospel, and should be foreign to us. No one, regardless of the labor they produce, is a one-for-one replacement for anyone else. No space is a one-for-one replacement of another. No matter what franchisers would have you believe.

We can absolutely take a critical look at what kinds of maintenance we’re doing, and what kind of spaces are worth preserving, but we cannot ignore making space, which means we can’t ignore the people that make the spaces that make encounter possible. We can talk about whether systems or parishes are sustainable, but once that conversation has been had, then we need to be about the work of making spaces that are warm and hospitable, clean and functional, bright and beautiful.

Hospitality is not just extending welcome. Its about creating welcome. And that means being about the (good and holy) work.

Generous God, whose Son Jesus Christ enjoyed the friendship and hospitality of Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany: Open our hearts to love you, our ears to hear you, and our hands to welcome and serve you in others, through Jesus Christ our risen Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Uncategorized

Creemos.

I have the honor of pastoring a community of Latinos. They venture downtown every Sunday to make it to mass in a building a stone’s throw away from the ICE offices for central Indiana. They show up in the center of our city hungry for the Word. Hungry for the Sacrament. And they do this at no small risk to themselves.

On Tuesday night I had numbed out. I, like many others, was so shocked and ashamed by what I was seeing, I couldn’t feel, much less find words to describe whatever feeling I was lacking. My newsfeed was a chorus of outrage and shock, building up the walls of noise that kept me pinned to the floor in front of my TV, glancing back and forth from phone to television.

It was all sound and fury. I was overwhelmed.

I don’t know if it was mental effort I have to put in to switch into Spanish that pulled me out of it, but a colleague posted “Necesitamos un milagro por favor, please.” [We need a miracle, please, please.]

And I broke. It got quiet. I wept.


This afternoon en la Misa at 1pm, without anyone asking, without an announcement or encouragement, members of our English-speaking community showed up for Misa. They grabbed bulletins in Spanish, and they filled the pews.

During the sermon, our Dean saw this, and, almost moved to tears himself, invited the English speakers to stand.

“We are one community, and we stand with you.”

It was moving. It was powerful. It was the most tangible vision of a community of solidarity and support that I’ve seen in a long time.

The English-Speakers sat down. The sermon ended. We all stood up together. And we said “Creemos en un Solo señor….”

Creemos. We believe.

Creemos. The word hit the walls like thunder, bounced back and bowled me over.

I broke. (And I composed myself quickly and without drawing attention, because I am the worst of the repressed white men.)


There is still a place where we can stand together and say we believe.

We believe that God made this world good.

We believe Christ became flesh to call us back to goodness.

We believe we will have to account for our lives.

We believe we are called to be together. Holy, catholic, apostolic. Together.

I don’t have much faith in many other things right now, but I believe that.

When reformers wanted to get the Church back to their roots, the Ecumenical councils and the Creeds were the first place they started. That’s something I understand now. In my bones I understand it.

When the rest falls apart, we start with what binds us.

We say we believe, then we go from there. Conjuntos. Together.

 

 

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Anglicanism, ChurchNerd, Uncategorized

UnAnglican: How GAFCON’s Ecclesiology is Breaking the Communion.

It doesn’t surprise me when the mainstream media gets coverage of Anglican polity wrong. The Washington Post’s horrendous coverage of the 2016 Primate’s announcement has caused more consternation and than is necessary, and many in the Church are rightly pointing out just how wrong WaPo got it, and why we shouldn’t hail this as the end of TEC’s time in the Communion.

What I am seeing discussed in Church circles, by and large, are questions of Authority, How little or how much does this mean? What power do the Primates actually have?

The general consensus is; It hurts a lot, but doesn’t really mean much.

Bishop Curry has been wonderful in couching this in explicitly Biblical terms, and for the first time in my life as an Episcopalian I’ve been proud of the way we’ve borne the shocks of being called out on a worldwide stage.

I think that’s because we’ve stepped off the defensive. At this moment in our life together we are clearer than we’ve ever been about our vocation to extend the love of Christ unequivocally to all, and are articulating it in positive theological terms that speaks powerfully to the world around us. Suddenly we feel like a Church with a voice.

And we’re going to need to hold on to that voice, because I don’t think things are about to get easier for us, or for the Communion.

I sincerely encourage everyone interested in whats happening now to go back and read The Jerusalem Declaration issued by the GAFCON provinces in 2008. What it proposes is the clearest articulation of the ecclesiology that is being pushed by very vocal providences in the Global South, and we have done a very bad job of contending with it at all. To operate like there is at all a consensus about what Anglican ecclesiology does or should look like is to bury our head in the sand, and to ensure that what happened at this years Primate’s conference is something that keeps happening. 

Within the declaration, interspersed between benign language about the Lordship and saving work of Christ, are claims that need to be called out for what they are: Foreign to Anglicanism as it has existed as a historic Communion.

For example:

6.) We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.

This runs against the fundamental concept of subsidiarity, with individual provinces abilities to formulate liturgy independently of one another. It invalidates the Book of Common Prayer in; The United States (Every book since 1789), Scotland, New Zealand, Mexico, and Chile among others…

The ability of independent Provinces to revise their own liturgies substantially predates the publication of the 1662 BCP, and to set a Communion-wide standard is an innovation that runs against what has been true since the 17th century.

It can’t be disputed that the 1662 was the Book of the British empire, and holds a dear place in the GAFCON provinces, the desire to set a standardized BCP across provinces betrays an impulse for standardization that I doubt few American (or Scottish, for that matter) Anglicans share.

The statement about the Ordinal follows the same lines. While the American Ordinal is built around the 1662, the differences are enough as to be profound.

The statement that, “We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.” Implies another assumed norm that simply doesn’t exist. When read as a statement pointed toward concerns over Sexuality it has a bit of a firmer foundation, but taken as a stand alone statement it borders on being disingenuous that the Church is at all (or ever has been) remotely uniform in its reading of Scripture.

I would like to believe that the GAFCON primates wouldn’t be so naive.

The Jerusalem Declaration is an affirmation of an Anglicanism that has never existed. It assumes authority that hasn’t been exercised sense before the American Revolution, and it sets it as the sine qua non for Communion.

It isn’t Anglican.

It isn’t, but it could be.

We’re going to need to watch this like a hawk. We have to be able to call out this innovative and destructive ecclesiology whenever and wherever we see it, because letting it creep into our common life together is to see what happened this year intensify in years to come.

This means we have to stay at the table. And we need to fight like hell to retain our vote while we’re there.

When the Archbishop of Uganda left the Primates conference he did so because he was disappointed that the Primates didn’t exercise an authority that they did not have. 

Foley Beach is calling for more sanctions, when the Primates are unclear about their ability to give real sanctions in the first place.

GAFCON has been telling us that this is what they’re after since 2008. It’s time to call their ecclesiological claims what they are: Unfounded in history. Ungrounded in our common heritage. UnAnglican.

 

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

On Priesting: I’m alone a lot. And that’s ok.

When I started this up I wanted to do the Church equivalent of a Gear review site. But then I realized that would involve my own money, which there is very little of. I still intend to talk about Church Supplies, but It’ll have to wait until I’m a not-quite-so-broke churchman.

What I can do frequently and for free is talk about what I do. And it’s become very obvious that this needs to happen. The Priesthood needs more priests talking about what we do, and I don’t mean simply complaining that we’re overworked (We are), or that we’re underpaid (That too), or endlessly feeding the cycle of “Why the Church is/is not dying” click-bait. (Please, stop it.)

We need more of us talking about being Priests. Loving it. Living it.

So here goes:

I’ve become convinced that a big part of why I got into this is because I love being in churches by myself. Which is helpful, because 90% of the time I’m at my parish I’m by myself. I serve a parish that, like most other parishes in the country, is horribly underutilized during the week. We need to fix that, but until we get serious about treating Churches like public spaces, they’ll continue to stay mostly empty during the week, and Priests will continue to hang out in empty churches.

For the moment, I’m ok with that. Not only because I’m an unrepentant introvert, but because there’s never a time where I’m able to see a church as truly empty. They’re always a part of that great choir. Always home to the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is resting, candle swinging overhead. Letting you know that the light is still on. Christ is still with us.

It’s a privilege to get to stand in the middle of that. To be the one who keeps the candle lit and the Sacrament stocked. There’s a pocket of holy silence, of eternal vigil, and I get to tend to it.

Some Priests loathe having to stay on top of building maintenance and upkeep. I’m not one of them. If we take sacramentality seriously, if we take bread and wine seriously, then we can take brick and fiberglass, copper and wood just as seriously. The Benedictines are pretty clear that it was ora et labora, not ora vel. Part of being catholic is to deny any Manichean dualism that says otherwise. Material matters. Buildings matter. Bodies matter.

And I can say that by standing by myself in a building that, at that moment, is performing no other function than to be a roof over an altar and a tabernacle.

Sometimes I joke about having a key-ring like a custodian. Heavy and with a jingle you can hear from a mile away. But its an essential part of what we do. There are the I DID NOT GO TO SEMINARY FOR THIS moments, (They mostly involve poop.) but they’re few and far between. And this is, in fact, what I went to seminary for.

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