Sunday, February 8, 2015

Lleva esta

So, the church in the Dominican is a bit more... conservative than the church in the US.

This is one of the difficulties of multicultural ministry—different cultures are at different places and have different perspectives on the question of the day. I remember when I was in seminary in the Churches of Christ in Texas. The University was seeking very hard to effect reconciliation with the segregation and racism of its past. (It was, after all, only desegregated when the federal government forced it to be.)

So, they were reaching out to historically black Churches of Christ, seeking to build relationships and bridges.

At the same time, they were moving forward with the question of women in ministry. Though ordination is not a part of the theology of the Churches of Christ, there are still questions about who an individual congregation will and will not receive as a pulpit minister. There were several women in my M.Div. program—many of them immensely more gifted than most of us men—but they knew that the odds of them getting a pulpit ministry job were remarkably slim.

But the historically black Churches of Christ were generally opposed to women in the pulpit, to the leadership of women in official positions. And they saw it as another example of "white privilege" that this university would ignore what the historically black churches believed to charge ahead with women in ministry.

What does one do in this situation? Which part of Christ's body do you cut off to save another?

There is no perfect answer—absolutely none to this question.

I spent the past weekend in Santiago. One of the seminarians, Domingo, took me there and I spent my time at La Anunciación. On Friday night, the vicar of the parish, Padre Tony, and his wife took me out to dinner.

They took me to this rather nice restaurant. I ordered a burrito and they said that was not enough. They cancelled my order and ordered me instead churrasco con arroz con pepinos (grilled skirt steak over rice with peppers).

It. Was. Heavenly.

We talked (entirely in Spanish since they didn't speak English) about our lives, about the church, about the Dominican Republic, about many things. At one point, they asked about my wife and I talked about how she is a therapist who has recently opened her own private practice. Padre Tony's wife said that she also is studying for her Master's degree in counseling and she started telling me about how much she is enjoying the work.

Now, when you are learning the language, your comprehension level in any conversation varies. In this conversation, I was at around probably 70%... until I heard one word: homosexualidad. At that point, I started comprehending more because I realized she was telling me about what she was learning when it comes to helping gay people change.

What does one do in this situation?

As I listened, I considered not saying anything, perhaps smiling and changing the subject. But then I thought, "No, this is a colleague and his wife. If I was in the states, and we were speaking English and they were white, I would have no problem charitably disagreeing and sharing my own perspectives."

And so I did.

After she talked for a while and Padre Tony talked for a while, she asked if I was understanding what they were saying.

"Si." I said, "Si, lo entiendo." Then I took a deep breath, "Pero para mí el problema es esto. No hay ni una sola asociación psicológica que cree alguien que es homosexual puede cambiar lo que son." But for me the problem is this: There is not a single psychological association that believes someone who is homosexual can change who they are.

What proceeded was a thirty or forty-five minute conversation—entirely in Spanish—about the question of sexuality, the bible, and Christian theology. We were all charitable toward each other... but we were all honest as well.

At one point, when Padre Tony's wife was gone, I told him how this year I celebrated a wedding for two men in my church, two men whom I deeply respect. I told him how I was honored to do it.

"Y esta es la pregunta. ¿Me puedes aceptar como un sacerdote cuando he hecho algo que tú crees que está mal?" And this is the question, can you accept me as a priest when I have done something that you believe is wrong?

He leaned back and closed his eyes. "Sí, esta es una pregunta muy difícil." Yes, this is a very difficult question.

The night ended and we went back to the church. The next day, I explored Santiago with Domingo, learning about the city, speaking only in Spanish the entire time. I was blessed to have lunch with his family at their home and spend several hours with his wife and son.

Saturday night, at the church, when I was around Padre Tony again, we wound up talking about Sunday. I told him I was happy to do whatever he wanted. I didn't have a small suitcase and so only brought a small change of clothes—no vestments. I was happy simply to sit with the congregation.

I didn't know, to be honest, if he would want me celebrating at the altar in the parish.

Then, this morning, I came down in my clericals and took a seat near the back. His wife saw me and immediately came up, inviting me to the sacristy. Padre Tony was just exiting, clearly ready to start the service, but he welcomed me in and said he had brought vestments for me. I said thank you, and went back with him. I put on the stole. I knotted my rope cincture and kissed the stole before draping it around my shoulders.

And then he took off the chasuble he was wearing and held it out for me, offering to help put it on me like the custom at a priestly ordination liturgy.

"¿Quieres que yo celebrar la misa?" "Do you want me to celebrate the mass?" I asked.

"Si, por favor." he responded, with solemnity.

The entrance hymn was new to me, "Alabaré a Mi Señor."
Alabaré. Alabaré. Alabaré. Alabaré.
Alabaré A mi Señor.
Alabaré. Alabaré. Alabaré. Alabaré.
Alabaré A mi Señor. 
Juan vio el numero de los redimidos
Y todos alababan al Señor
Unos cantaba, otros oraban,
Y todos alababan al Señor [Coro]
Todos unidos alegres cantamos
Glorias y alabanzas al Señor
Gloria al Padre, gloria al Hijo
Y gloria al Espiritu de amor [Coro]
The sexton played guitar (classical guitar at that, and rather beautifully) and the singing was full of life and vitality. I looked around at the crowd singing, knowing that I couldn't quite translate the words of the song on my own but aware that they were words of profound praise.

Then, all of the sudden, I felt the tears start rolling down my cheeks. I was, quite literally, overcome with emotion.

I had wondered—I truly had—whether I would be welcome at this altar, whether my more liberal exercise of priestly ministry would be too much. And this priest—who does indeed disagree with me—literally took the chasuble off his back and put it on mine.

Aquí. Lleva esta. Here. Wear this.

With all of these Goddamned (and I use that phrase intentionally) walls we build around each other, pretending that we are carving out a community that believes properly... and this community welcomed a priest who believed things they thought were probably wrong. They put the chasuble on me. They asked me to celebrate Eucharist with them.

Tears, my friends. All throughout the service tears of gratitude that these people saw me as theirs. Not someone other. Theirs.

And it wasn't because I kept quiet about my beliefs. I spent the better part of an hour arguing as forcefully as I could in my broken Spanish, insisting that the partnered clergy I knew were some of the best clergy in the church, that the church always needs to be testing our practices, asking if they truly are consistent with a God who is beyond our limited perception.

I was clear... and still, "Aquí. Lleva esta."

Later, with the help of my friend Luis, I looked up the translation to the song from this morning. It goes like this...
I will praise, I will praise, I will praise, I will praise,
I will praise my Lord.
I will praise, I will praise, I will praise, I will praise,
I will praise my Lord
John saw the number of those redeemed
And all of them were praising the Lord
Some were singing, some were praying
And all were praising the Lord 
All sang happy together
Glory and praise to the Lord
Glory to the Father, glory to the Son
And glory to the Spirit of love 
We will all, I imagine, arrive to heaven rather soiled and screwed up. Having tried our hardest, we will still inevitably get things wrong. But the number of those redeemed—they wear white robes that were given to them just as much as the white robe Padre Tony gave to me today.

None of us earn that robe through the orthodoxy of our beliefs or the perfection of our prophetic stances. No matter what, in the end, we are redeemed, we are purchased back from the powers, from all the things we thought would save us, that we thought would make the world right.

We are bought back from that.

And those Goddamned divisions are thrown into the lake of fire, while we all join together. Some sing songs that are a little strange to others. Some pray. Everyone is doing it differently, in different languages and styles, but somehow in the mystery of God I believe it rises like a perfect blend of sweet smelling incense.

Because there will indeed come a day when we will all be together, praising the Lord.

This morning, at church, I saw a glimpse of heaven.... and, like I imagine heaven is meant to do, it almost obliterated me.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Celebramos juntos.

You may have noticed that the rate at which I'm writing these essays has slowed some. That's primarily because when you spend almost all your waking hours either doing homework for class, sitting in class with a private language tutor, or studying more Spanish on Rosetta Stone... well, there's really not a whole lot to talk about.

Except, of course, when there is.

On Friday, I ended class feeling remarkably discouraged. We were working with verbs that require an indirect object, and at the same time, conjugating them in the past tense. "She gave it to me." "Ella me lo dio."

It basically requires several steps all at once: conjugate the verb properly (in the past tense), use the proper word for "it" (masculine or feminine), and discern the proper pronoun. And with the words all being so short, you can't cheat and think about what comes next while saying the current word.

And I kept getting it wrong.

I'd use the wrong pronoun, or mistakenly use a masculine object when it required the feminine, or I'd screw up the tense of the verb entirely.

I felt like I was never going to get it.

I was describing it to the TEC missioner who lives across the hall from me, "Es como que hay una pared y no puedo superarlo."

It is like there is a wall, and I cannot get past it.

The move from passable Spanish to fluent Spanish is not an easy move to make.

I was really upset, feeling very discouraged. She told me it was OK. She told me that she actually completely broke down on her fourth day of intensive Spanish, crying and telling the teacher she just couldn't do it. But she kept trying, and eventually it came to her.

Perhaps the best advice came from my friend, the cathedral Sexton, Victor, who said, "You need to stop trying to think of it in English. Just learn the Spanish."

I don't know if that makes sense to you, but it makes complete sense to me.

This morning, after my fruit, yogurt, and coffee, I went down the cathedral and vested for the English language Eucharist. I celebrated in English and preached in English. I felt very much at home, very reminded that as much as I'm struggling with some of the more difficult concepts (for me) in Spanish, there are some things I know how to do!

Then, I tried to prepare myself emotionally and spiritually for what would follow: my first time celebrating Eucharist in Spanish.

I finished my coffee in the sacristy with the other clergy and ministers and told the deacon, Alejandra, that I was going to go spend some time practicing with the missal. I went into the sanctuary, set the missal up on the altar, and started working my way through the service.
Bendito sea Dios: Padre, Hijo y Espíritu Santo... 
Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...  
Dios omnipotente, para quien todos los corazones están manifiestos, todos los deseos son conocidos y ningún secreto se halla encubierto... 
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all secrets known, and from whom no secrets are hid...
Before I knew it, Alejandra was standing at my right elbow, "Mmmhmm, bien."

This is, of course, the traditional place of the deacon during the Great Thanksgiving, at the right of the priest, assisting as needed in the liturgy.

And, just like her order called her to, she came up alongside me, and helped me work through the Spanish, correcting a pronunciation here and there, but most importantly telling me I was actually doing it well.

She was quickly joined by a lay person, Luis. Luis is from Cuba and was originally in seminary as a Roman Catholic, but left the church and here, in the Dominican, discovered the Episcopal Church. Well, first he discovered it through books, he told me (something I can relate to!), but then he discovered it in person here at the Cathedral.

Now both of them were at my side, a deacon and a lay person, both committed to God—and to helping me not stumble through these holy words.
En verdad es digno, justo y saludable, darte gracias, en todo tiempo y lugar, Padre omnipotente, Creador de cielo y tierra... 
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and every- where to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth...
When I stumbled over a word, they waited and gave me a chance to try it again. When I asked how to say something properly, they said it a few times for me, getting me comfortable with the word or phrase.

After going through it all, before I knew it, I was vested and at the back of the church. Dean Ashton nodded to me, and I began the liturgy as is customary here at the Cathedral, with a preparatory prayer said from the back.
Oh Dios omnipotente, que derramas sobre todos los que lo desean, el espíritu de gracia y súplica: Líbranos, cuando nos acercamos a ti, de tibieza de corazón y divagaciones de la mente, para que, con firmes pensamientos y calurosos afectos, te adoremos en espíritu y en verdad; por Jesucristo nuestro Señor. Amén. 
O Almighty God, who pours out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and of supplication: Deliver us, when we draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The organ began, and the procession, started. I fell into my place after the dean and from there... well, it just flowed.

Good liturgy is like a river, I think. One merely needs to step into the current and let it carry you. I was reminded, over and over again, I know this. I know how this works. When a word seemed about to get stuck in my mouth, I paused, took a breath, opened my mouth wider, and worked through it.

I'm sure there were a few mistakes—absolutely confident—but the people were kind. They were right there with me. Even if I stumbled in my line, they responded confidently with theirs—reminding me that we, the corporate body of Christ, are the celebrants of this feast. I am merely the presider—an honored position, no doubt, but not the place where the totality of God's work in the liturgy resides (thankfully).

At the announcements, Soila welcomed me once more, telling the people how this was my first time celebrating the Eucharist in Spanish (or something like that—Soila can talk very fast). The clapped, looking at me with such happy kind faces. I bowed, so grateful for the opportunity.

Es digno, justo y saludable, darte gracias, en todo tiempo y lugar, Padre omnipotente...

It is right, good, and a joyful think, at all times and in all places, to give thanks to you, Father Almighty...

I still feel like I have a wall in front of me, one that I must surmount. I still have to battle my way through these more difficult tenses and irregular verbs. Fluency seems, at times, like a far-off distant land that I've heard of... but can only imagine.

However, today I was reminded that as I run at that wall, I will not need to try to jump over it on my own.

The people of God are there, reaching out their hands, giving me a boost. When I fall, they encourage me to try again. When I succeed, their embraces as as full of God's grace as the hugs you wind up getting during the Peace in a Dominican Eucharist.

Celebramos juntos. Siempre juntos.

We celebrate together. Always together.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

¿Que es común?

Episcopalians like to say that what unites us is our worship. That is, while other Protestant and Reformation era groups were drawing up Confessions and Creeds, we were drawing up a prayer book.

And while some of this is probably better rhetoric than history (we did, after all create the 39 Articles, even if they never had the same pride of place as other confessions), it is pretty good rhetoric. It certainly describes a significant part of the heart of Anglican Christianity.

But rather than saying we are united by worship instead of confession, I think it is perhaps a bit more accurate to say we are united by agreeing to disagree about worship—and still worship together. This is why the Book of Common Prayer and the rubrics are so essential to the Anglican tradition, they articulate the boundaries that we, as a community, have agreed upon when it comes to our corporate worship. They do this so that our worship, no matter the style or flavor, can always be common, can always be shared. They do this so our worship can be común.

And yet, one of the tricky things about multicultural ministry—particularly multicultural worship—is that you realize other cultures see lines in different places than you do.

Tonight, I joined the seminarians for Evening Prayer, as I have most nights I've been here. We gathered in their small chapel (capilla), which is really a converted classroom. Someone lit the lights on the altar and the officiating seminarian handed out a trip-fold with the words to some Spanish-language psalms on it.

So far, this is pretty common. We actually have an official hymnal for Spanish-language worship. Trouble is, it's rather difficult to buy (see Amazon). If you try to search for it at Church Publishing or Cokesbury, it doesn't even list as existing. Instead, both direct you to a "words only" edition, without music.

This is not helpful.

At Nuevo Amanecer last year, we used an overhead projector. Most Spanish-language Episcopal services I've attended either simply list the words in the bulletin (no music) or they use one of the older (also words only) collections of Spanish-language praise and worship songs.

So, like I said, being handed a sheet of paper with Spanish words on it to sing is not new to me, even if it is frustrating as a musician. But, I'm used to it. It didn't phase me. I was still ready to say Evening Prayer with my new friends.

However, what we proceeded to do was then sing several songs, do a small portion of Evening Prayer (phos hilaron, psalm, Scripture readings, and canticles), sing several more songs, and then have an extended time—about 15 minutes—of extemporaneous prayer. We closed with the grace.

The singing was without instruments (because there were none there to be played). It was profound and heartfelt, a few hands up in the air, some swaying to the singing. The prayers were clearly from the heart. They were more like the evangelical prayers of my youth (full of reputation and short phrases, which actually made them easier to translate in my mind).

It just didn't feel... Episcopal. It felt like someone took Evening Prayer, chopped off a few pieces, and then put it in a blender with an entirely different praise & worship service, one that has a totally different aim and purpose than Evening Prayer.

In short, it didn't feel like we really did either Evening Prayer or an evangelical/pentecostal praise & worship service with ample time for free intercessions.

This raises, I think, one of the great questions every Episcopal church will have to face as we approach an increasing tide of Latino people in our communities and a worship that is very... English. It is one of the great questions we will have to wrestle with as heirs to a tradition that has rather strenuously insisted upon a certain form an structure to worship.

How do we worship as Episcopal Christians in a way that is authentic to the culture from which the worship comes?

This raises important questions. Is my desire that Evening Prayer follow the rubrics, that it contain an opening versicle and response, the Phos Hilaron, a psalm and canticles, followed by the creed and then the prayers, only then with an open time for "an office hymn" and other prayers... is that fussy English-ness? Or, is the structure of Evening Prayer inherent to Episcopal worship, no matter the culture in which it is practiced?

When I was at Nueveo Amanecer, I often felt like the services of Holy Eucharist paid little attention to the rubrics for how Eucharist is intended to be celebrated. Praise songs were thrown in liberally without attention to the fact that our BCP is actually very clear about when hymns may and may not be inserted. Is that because the rubrics are untranslatable to another culture?

Are more low-church, evangelical, and almost pentecostal approaches to worship inherent in Latino culture, are they the only way in which Episcopal liturgy can be celebrated and be authentic to the Latino community? Or, do these approaches instead reflect the great success that Pentecostalism has had in sinking into Latin American culture—including Roman Catholics?

¿Que es común?

What is common?

I suppose I couldn't expect every day here to be filled with deeply moving experiences of grace. I suppose there had to be days of wrestling as well, days of hard questions, days when I, as a priest, look myself hard in the mirror and ask what it truly means to be an Episcopal priest—who is also Anglo, who specifically and intentionally left evangelicalism—what it will mean for me to lead a community in Latino worship.

Not will I do this—I am firmly convicted that God has called me and my community to give this a shot. We can't just ignore the over $10,000 that UTO invested in this. We must try.

But what will that try look like?

What does it mean to be Episcopal AND Latino AND to be authentic to both, ser auténtico para ambos?

I don't know the answer. No sé la respuesta.

But at least now I think I know the question.

Pero al menos ahora sé la pregunta.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Es lo mismo y es diferente.

One of the great sadnesses, I think, of modern Christianity is the way in which the sacrament of Holy Communion has become a signal of dividing lines rather than the sacrament which unites the Body of Christ.

In the tradition in which I was raised, Holy Communion was very important. The leaders of that tradition, at the beginning, were the very first protestant leaders to successfully institute weekly communion. Luther, Cranmer, Calvin... all of them tried with little success. But the Stone-Campbell movement, they pulled it off.

However, by the time I was growing up, it had become more of a dividing marker. First off, since only adults were allowed to be baptized (and be members of the church), only adults could take communion. Thus, my first memories of communion were that it was not for me. I wanted it... but I was not a part of the group, yet. Not fully. And, our insistence upon it was specifically in distinction to other protestant groups that did follow the pattern of the early church in celebrating communion weekly.

And though I exist now in a more open tradition, one in which all the baptized are welcome at the table, the language in the church still becomes a hurdle for some.

Roman Catholics call it Mass.

Low church protestants call it Holy Communion or just "The Lord's Supper."

The orthodox call it the Divine Liturgy (probably my favorite name for it).

We call it "Holy Eucharist"—probably not the most welcoming name for those who don't know what in the world that is.

[Full disclosure, when we redid the service times on the church sign at my parish, I changed the previous sign from "Worship" to "Holy Eucharist." I believed then—and still do, to some extent—that strange language is an important part of church life. If you disagree, I encourage you to go read Willimon's book Peculiar Speech and then come talk to me.]

And though the Episcopal Church's BCP is very clear that all these names are appropriate (see page 859), most Episcopalians prefer "Holy Eucharist." Some low-church Episcopalians prefer "Holy Communion." And high-church Episcopalians prefer "The Mass." Which you use becomes an indicator of your churchmanship, of how you are different than those around you.

Why is this on my mind in the Dominican Republic?

Porque aquí, en este país, es lo mismo y es diferente.

Because here, in this country, it is the same and it is different.

At 7:00am Morning Prayer, I discovered that not all Dominican liturgies start a little late. I got there at 7:03am and the seminarians were already gathered, all in their white cassocks (probably actually cassock-alb, but close enough) and their black band cinctures. They were in the midst of the Confession. ("Dios de misericordia, confesamos que hemos pecado contra ti...") I slid into a pew, feeling awkward in my shorts and t-shirt, and joined in with them. ("No te hemos amado con todo el corazón...")

They said the psalm in the traditional manner—with a pause at the asterisk. I almost fell out of this pew as this small direction in the third paragraph of page 583 is unknown to most Episcopalians.

At Holy Eucharist, the movements were clean but not fussy. There were clear genuflections at appropriate points. They sang hymns in the normal places—but with no musicians, they simply sang them a cappella.

As I went forward to receive, I noticed that the custom was for the minister to intinct the wafer and place it in the mouth. I have always found this method of receiving profoundly humbling, a physical representation of the truth that when I approach God's grace, the best I can offer is an open mouth—like a child—to receive what God has for me.

Es lo mismo y es diferente.

At Nuevo Amanecer last fall, I kind of got the idea that the only way Spanish language services were celebrated were rather low-church. Make no mistake, I don't think that's bad at all, I just kind of gathered that this was more the Latino culture.

But this morning, I saw something different. The language, the music, was definitely Latino... but the reverence... the style... the approach... was profound.

During the reception, I noticed none of the seminarians got up. I wondered at first if perhaps they didn't receive (maybe they are REALLY traditional?). But then I noticed, it was those who came for the breakfast, the poor and hungry, they went first. Each one, in the line, walked forward and opened his or her mouth to receive the sacrament. And while some probably did this because it is expected at the cathedral that those who come to breakfast first come to mass... it was clear that for others this was a profoundly important moment.

Only after all the poor, todos los pobres, had received did the seminarians get up and get into line to receive the sacrament.

The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Los que ahora son los últimos, serán los primeros; y los que ahora son los primeros, serán los últimos.

It's likely that many of those who came to the service this morning were Roman Catholics who truly believed this was the Mass (la Misa). After the words of institution ("This is my body... this is my blood...") a handful cried out, "Señor mío, y Dios mío." This is what Thomas said when he encountered the risen Lord, "My Lord and my God." It is actually what I say when I bow after the words of institution and then again at the Great Amen.

Es lo mismo.

It was equally clear that some had a more Pentecostal background. I could see them raising their hands during the hymns. I could hear them, praying audibly during the prayers of the people.

Es lo mismo.

This morning, I saw how when a culture cares more about God than it does about the name on the door, all the wonderful variety of God's children can worship together. This was, after all, the true genius of Anglicanism, right? Let's come up with a book of prayers that all Christians can use, regardless of the "flavor" of their individual belief.

Es lo mismo y es diferente.

And when, at the peace, the nearly blind old man with dirty torn clothes (who also knew all the words of the liturgy by heart) reached out in the aisle to hug me ("¡La paz!"), it was as though Christ himself reached out.

Y yo abrazé le.

And I hugged him.

And was grateful that it is the same, even if it is different.

Y yo estaba agradecido de que es el lo mismo, aunque sea diferente.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Esta es comunidad.

The people who do the work of the church are often rather unseen.

One of the great things about working in a church is that you see these people. You know the people who will always show up when a need arises, the people who have the time and the energy to make ministry happen day in and day out.

Today, I met two of those people at the cathedral. The first, Ana, was already at work when I came down to the storage room to help. We were making bags of groceries (rice, beans, oil, and either canned sausages or canned sardines) to distribute to the fifty some people who come to the cathedral's weekly Tuesday morning breakfast.

Ana is "un abogada," a lawyer. But this morning, she was scooping rice into bags faster than I could tie them. Working with Karen, the three of us got all fifty bags done in no time flat.

Around the time we ended, Soila showed up. She had thought we were starting at 9:30am instead of 8:30am.  After apologies for the confusion, she helped us reorganize, straighten, and clean the room out. During the conversation, she gently corrected my grammar here and there—una profesora muy buena. When we finished, we sat and talked about learning languages (she understands English but doesn't feel like she speaks it very well) and the best way to eat avocados (mix them with milk and a little sugar in a smoothie).

The sexton, Victor, then showed up to cut some avocados off the tree. He caught some right after he cut them, others fell and bounced, a few came rather close to the heads of those of watching. He gave me two of them. "Necesitan cinco días. Es mejor si se les cubre con un periódico. Entonces estarán listos para comer." "They need five days. It is best if you cover them with a newspaper. Then they will be ready to eat."

This evening, I saw another side of the cathedral. Since I had an opportunity to go to the grocery store to pick up a few things for my apartment, I mentioned to Karen how much I would like to cook for the seminarians (since they will be cooking many of the meals I will eat). We discussed some options and I decided to go with one of my wife's favorites: baked ziti.

Making it in the small kitchen in a seminary apartment reminded me of cooking in the even smaller kitchen in Bethany and my first house in Alexandria, VA. The food she could make come out of that kitchen, that she could get off of that stove with burners that could barely even boil water... it was always amazing.

I remembered how we leaved next to a family of undocumented Hondurans. I remembered how much we loved the smell of their carne asada. I remembered standing near the fence in the backyard, sharing a bit of my scotch with the father in the family as he shared some of his favorite tequila.

I remembered the pain I felt when they all left unexpectedly. The awkwardness of when the new young white couple bought the building and talked with us about how they basically felt the need to gut it because of the condition it had gotten in when twelve people lived there.

I miss my Honduran friend. Even today.

The meal itself was a delight. I've spent more than a few hours with the seminarians now and I've truly enjoyed getting to know them. It's fascinating how every seminary community has the same people.

Marcos is middle-aged, I think, and is funny but also listened to. Esteban is from Ecuador and can make me laugh harder than anyone else. Lourdes is a deacon with a family, but she has come back to seminary to study to be a priest. She carries a quiet experience and is very gentle with the other seminarians. Esteban and John, the deacons from Colombia, fit right in as John demonstrated the bit of English he has learned—much to the delight of all.

It is remarkable how quickly we can love people, isn't it?

Esta es comunidad.

This is community.

There is this idea floating around that one can be spiritual but not religious, that you can be saved on your own without engagement with the church.

Sure, I think God can save whomever God wants. In fact, I'm pretty sure that in the end God's mercy will turn even the hardest of hearts...

But I think it is a great error to think salvation happens outside of community. It doesn't have to be traditional Christian community—God's grace is, like I said, pretty powerful stuff no matter where it is discovered—but there is indeed something about Christian community that is salvific.

There is something powerful about a lawyer filling bags with beans and rice so people will have at least one meal less to worry about.

There is something powerful about a fiery old woman gently helping a young anglo priest speak better Spanish.

There is something immensely powerful about the laughter and stories and smiles around a meal of shared food. Even if we don't all share the same language, we always understand more than we thought we would.

Esta es comunidad.

This is community.

Y me alegro de que esta es la forma en que Dios me salve.

And I'm glad that this is the way God saves me.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

No es perfecto, pero es fiel.

Why can't I sleep in on Sunday mornings?

After massive amounts of time working through Rosetta Stone for Spanish on breaks, time speaking Spanish with employees and parishioners at the Cathedral, and walks in the city, I'm pretty worn out at the end of the day. Though it's definitely hot and muggy, the fan is nice and I've been sleeping fairly well.

But still, today was Sunday morning and so I was wide awake at 7am. I didn't even have to be in the church (which is literally a walk across the parking log) until 8:30am. But, my body knew it was Sunday and so woke me up.

Dean Brooks had offered to let me celebrate the Spanish language Eucharist at 10:45am today. I declined, insisting that learning a new liturgical space in a language I'm still not fluent in would probably not, in the words of #MarionofBlessedMemory, be "edifying to the people." Instead, I said I would prefer to celebrate the 8:45am Eucharist so I could get a little used to the space. Then, next Sunday (when I'd had a week to practice with my tutor), maybe I could take my first shot at celebrating the liturgy.

But still, 7am seemed a little early to wake up. Nonetheless, I made coffee, spent some more time working through Rosetta Stone lessons, and then made my way to the cathedral.

When I was at Nuevo Amanecer in August, one of the things I learned in a presentation about cultural difference between Anglos and Latinos is that Anglos value time and Latinos value relationships. That is, whereas it is kind of a thing for Anglo Episcopal Churches to start on the nose at the appointed time (I may have put atomic clocks in my own parish...), Latinos would rather spend five more minutes talking to someone than start anything on time.

So, though I was vested and ready to go ten minutes early (my vergers would be so proud), around five minutes AFTER the liturgy SHOULD have started, I was still in the chancel listening to the organist tell me about the difficulties of maintaining the only tracker organ on the entire island in this heat, without even proper electrical grounding. Finally, though, the liturgy got underway about fifteen minutes late (seriously).

I think that is why they announce an 8:45am start time, so everything can actually get underway at 9:00am.

Celebrating for the first time in a space you don't know, with a customary you don't know, is difficult. Thankfully, Dean Brooks is a class act and has that gift some clergy develop for subtly directing the celebrant what to do when and where. (He left a spot in the middle for me in front of the altar, then when I got there, waited for me to reverence for us all to go together and then softly gestured to the side and chair I was supposed to go to).

My celebration was not flawless (the bulletin didn't list a hymn number for the Gloria and so I began it spoken before Deacon Alejandra touched my shoulder, causing me to stop and allowing the organ to begin), but it was... earnest.

Someone told me once that I am a very earnest priest. I hope that's a good thing.

The rest of the liturgy was like that, a flub here or there, trying to be in the right place in the right time knowing every church does things a little differently. Dean Brooks wanted us to sing a different hymn for the sequence than the one that was printed, and so just went ahead and went to the back, got a different hymnal for the twenty or so worshippers, and told us all we were going to sing this one instead.

It's fine. No es perfecto, pero es fiel. It is not perfect, but it is faithful.

Given the Gospel reading for today, his substitution was natural. It was actually the first Latino worship song I ever learned: Pescador de Hombres.

A group sang it at the institution of Bishop Katharine as Presiding Bishop. I remember liking the sound of it and looking up the lyrics... I couldn't even get through the first verse and chorus before the tears started flowing:
Lord, you have come to the seashore,neither searching for the rich nor the wise,desiring only that I should follow. 
O, Lord, with your eyes set upon me,gently smiling, you have spoken my name;all I longed for I have found by the water,at your side, I will seek other shores.
One of the dangers—the great dangers—of liturgical worship is that we become so focused upon doing it properly that we lose sight of what we are attempting to do: to create space to be present with God. Hence, one of my favorite liturgical dictums, "The greatest mistake to make in liturgy is worrying too much about making a mistake."

There were indeed mistakes and flubs today. I generally prefer liturgy I organize to run a little more smoothly. I could not imagine our organist, John, calling out to me before the Sequence Hymn, "Was that the tune you wanted, or did you want the setting next to it?" I shudder to consider what would happen if I handed out an entirely different hymnal in the midst of the liturgy because I wanted us to sing a different hymn or because I had made a mistake in the bulletin.

I have learned that Latino worship is not quite as... up tight... as Anglo worship can be. And I say that as a confessed (and avowed) rubrical enforcer—they give us special pins. The goal of carefully prepared and orchestrated worship is that all of the worshippers can blend into the liturgical action, no one wondering what is happening next and no one person ever standing out.

And true, the celebration of Holy Eucharist today was not perfect at either service, but it was faithful.

No es perfecto, pero es fiel. It is not perfect, but it is faithful.

Because our desire for perfection can be a distancing move. Our practice of liturgy can be a distancing move, one that keeps us from truly seeing Christ in the sacrament, sonriendo, gently smiling. It can keep us from seeing that all Christ wants is for us to follow. Tan solo quieres, que yo te siga.

Oh Señor, yo quiero aprender a seguir.

Oh Lord, I want to learn to follow.

Porque a veces ser fiel es mejor que sea perfecto.

Because sometimes to be faithful is better than to be perfect.

No. Siempre es mejor ser fiel es mejor que sea perfecto.

It is always better to be faithful than to be perfect.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Algo Hermoso

This morning, I pulled myself out of bed at 7:25am (6:25am my time, to be fair), to go buy flowers.

Yesterday, Karen told me she was going flower shopping early in the morning. She does this each week on Saturday morning, heads downtown to the market where all the trucks filled with flowers have come off the mountain to wholesale to the rest of the city. She tries to spend no more than RD$500 Dominican (around US$11), and that buys enough flowers for two arrangements of altar flowers.

Apparently, when she arrived here as a missionary with the Episcopal Church, they were just buying a simple bouquet of flowers and sticking it in the vases. She started buying more varieties of flowers and arranging them. Eventually, the cathedral housekeeper tentatively expressed interest and Karen readily agreed to teach her. For the first several arrangements, Karen would do one and the housekeeper would copy her. But she eventually got the hang of it and now has done it on her own several times.

Whenever she does the arrangement for Sunday, people tell her how beautiful they are and, apparently, she glows with pride.

Algo hermoso. Something beautiful.

My own parish back home gets our flowers from a local florist who delivers completed bouquets and puts them in vases on the reredos. You can pay the cost of the flowers for a week (about $50 for the two arrangements) as a memorial gift and very rarely—if ever—is there a week that someone has not already marked down.

And though we've talked, from time to time, about starting a flower guild and creating our own arrangements. But everyone is very busy and we've never had enough of a critical mass to head in that direction. I do still like the idea, though, of a flower guild.

Even if, like at Catedral Epifania, it is a guild of two.

When I met the housekeeper, I told her how I heard she made beautiful flowers. ("Karen diga me que cuando estas haciendo las flores, tu flores son la mas bonitas.") Sure enough, she beamed as she said, "Gracias."

Later in the day (after a nap), I went with the cathedral dean and two clergy from Colombia to visit San Marcos in Haina. This is a relatively poor city, about 12 miles from Santo Domingo. It is best known to Americans as one of the the ten most polluted cities in the world, sometimes called "Dominican Chernobyl" because of the lead contamination caused by a battery smelting company that used to operate in the area.

Make no mistake, the Cathedral I am staying at here in Santo Domingo is not in the wealthy modern part of the city. But compared with Haina... it is in a very different place. As the dean said to me when were were driving between the two, "La República Dominicana es un país de contrastes." It is a country of contrasts.

And yet, in the midst of it sits San Marcos, served by one of the very first women ordained to the priesthood in the Dominican. There is a pre-school with Dora painted on the wall. There is a basketball court filled with Pepsi logos. The church itself is lovely and above it is the "salon" (what we would call parish hall), clearly a place of joy and gathering—the presence of some empty wine bottles near the door indicate that it is clearly an Episcopal parish hall, I suppose.

I wonder somedays about the mission of the church. There are so many good things the church does, wonderful things that all seem to compete with one another for attention.

And there are some things we have done—or have failed to do—that make me avert my eyes when I think of them.

But there, in the middle of Haina, is algo hermoso—something beautiful. There is a vicar who works hard to bring algo hermoso into the lives of people who are otherwise surrounded by pollution and poverty. She is able to see algo hermoso in the lives of the people she tends, in her parroquia, her parish.

Es una profunda gracia de encontrar algo hermoso.

It is a profound grace to find something beautiful.

Es más profunda para crear algo hermoso.

It is more profound to create something beautiful.

I wonder what would happen if we saw that as central to our mission as the church?