Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Perils of Failure to take Resurrection Seriously #Baltimore SCP #TractSwarm Two

I'm on a lovely and wonderful vacation right now, visiting my mom and stepdad in England. I've mostly adapted to the time change, sleeping through the night regularly now.

Except for last night.

Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night, wide awake for some reason. I did what my wife lovingly reminds me I shouldn't do if I want to go back to sleep... reached for my cell phone. I clicked open Facebook and  saw what was happening in Baltimore. I read through the posts beginning to appear as the violence was escalating, a city appearing to fall apart while I peacefully slept in my mom's house among the Yorkshire dales.

"Fifteen police injured in clashes with protestors in Baltimore" was the first headline I saw.

I clicked through more posts and saw police in full riot gear, hiding behind a tank.

I clicked more and came across my friend Broderick Greer, a seminarian in our church, tweeting his perspectives on what was happening. (One of his posts: "It's difficult to be injured or in grave condition when you're waging war on black bodies from a tank." Broderick captured the anger and outrage at the sheer sense of injustice felt by so many black Americans right now. He tweeted one particular post that really struck me. It said,
Christians: "Jesus, it's not nice to turn over those Temple tables."  
Jesus: "It's a sin to exploit the poor." 
*crickets*
Photo from the Baltimore Sun
As I read post after post, I got more and more unsettled by the anger in the streets, more and more unsettled by the violence of the state, and more and more unsettled by the inability of so many to understand what is going on, by my own inability truly to understand and appreciate the real situation of my black sisters and brothers in our country right now.

I was reminded once more that I, a straight white middle-class male, am not particularly qualified to speak to that anger and rage.

True, I longed for the protests to remain non-violent, for that powerful image of hands raised in front of the advance of a heavily militarized police force to hold the day... but the violence levied by the state only continues to grow, teasing violence out of an unheard group of people. I knew that I probably never had to worry about my life being in jeopardy from police, about being suffocating or having my spine injured so badly it killed me, simply because my color makes me easier to treat as other, as less than... simply because my color makes me appear dangerous to some.

When groups of black people step forward boldly in society they are immediately perceived as violent protestors. This is the problem. This is the disease. Indeed, that parts of this protest have become violent and turned to looting is undeniable. But the perception of violence in black protestors precedes any actual violence, as demonstrated by the police response in the beginning of each protest across our country. Black equals violent in the eyes of the police and in the eyes of the state. Thrown rocks disturb society more than a severed spine.

For Easter, a group that I am in, the Society of Catholic Priests in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, is doing a TractSwarm on the resurrection, on whether or not it matters. It's been interesting because our first #TractSwarm on the sacrament of confession got several diverse and powerful posts. The essays posted on the resurrection have been good... but they have not been nearly as numerous or quick to come.

I think that is probably because the resurrection, in the minds of most Christians, is more about belief than it is about practice. The sacrament of confession is tangible, something you can see and experience and this enables potent reflection. Resurrection, for many Christians, is a doctrine that is not embodied, ironically enough.

I don't know if I can prove the bodily resurrection of Christ to you, if I can find the eloquence and rhetoric to help you to believe in it. There are days I don't know if I can muster the belief in the resurrection, days when life seems too dark to imagine a dead body rising up again.

But I do know what faith in the resurrection forces me to believe, what the resurrection insists the church must believe. The resurrection forces us to take bodies seriously.

And so, as I read through what is happening in Baltimore, I thought of what sort of force it might take for the spine of a body to be severed. I thought of the terrified police officer, sweat dripping in his riot gear, hoping he makes it through tonight, too. I thought about the black protestor who feels the same, but who also feels the same obligation as the police officer to be out there, to be doing what is right. I thought of the protestors sense of moral duty to stand up for the black bodies killed.

The black bodies of protestors are seeking to be agents of resurrection, they are seeking to make Freddy Gray's body alive once more as they pour into the streets in witness to the passionate belief that this man's life cannot simply be snuffed out, his body cannot be eliminated. Protestors are seeking to embody the person whose body was robbed by a violent state, a violent state that has systemically wrought violence against the bodies of its citizens.

The problem is that the militarization of the police has turned black bodies into targets or violent forces to be quelled, it has sought to disembody our black citizens. Militarizaiton seeks to disembody people, whether it happens in a war across the world or in a battle on the streets an American city.

And militarization further disembodies that police officer, as well, by the way. It swaths his body in force and violence, it removes him from his true self and transforms him into an agent for a state that cannot see the bodies of all of its citizens. It robs him of his body.

Resurrection is needed for all.

As I began to pull away from the violence in Baltimore, to try to go back to sleep, I saw a post from my colleague Barabara Lee.  It was a protest sign from a college campus, one that dealt with sexual violence. The sign said, "While he raped me, I forgot how to return to my body."

Faith in the resurrection is meant to return each of us, you and I, to our bodies. Faith in the resurrection should heal that which had sought to disembody us. Faith in the resurrection is meant to return the oppressed and the wounded to their bodies. The state wants those bodies to become, in the words of an essay in the Atlantic, "compliant." The Church, in her fullness, wants those bodies to become alive once more, alive and free, vibrant and assertive in their pursuit of justice.

Bodily resurrection begins with bodily death. Indeed, the first resistance in the early church to the bodily resurrection was because people struggled with Christ's bodily death, with God dying on the cross. It is one thing to insist upon the bodily death of Christ, it is another to remember that his blood flowed because of ethnic and class-based violence. Remember when his own people abandoned him, claiming allegiance to peace and the state instead of to their own prophetic leader? ("We have no king but Caesar!") Christ's blood flowed (at least partly) because of ethnic and class-based violence from a society that had sought to disembody its citizens

There is blood in the streets of Baltimore today, blood that is the same color as that of Christ's, blood that comes from the same root sin, the same root death, the same supposed Powers. I wonder if the blood of protestors is mingling with the blood of police officers, both disembodied by their state, by the forces of evil in our time.

I believe Jesus chooses to make that blood on the streets of Baltimore his blood, too, just he did with wine so long ago, just like he does with wine at altars around the world. Sacraments are meant to be aids to belief in the resurrection, whether those sacraments come into being on altars or on streets.

Resurrection means Jesus is here. Resurrection means Jesus is in Baltimore.

And faith in the resurrection means we ignore Christ's bodily and ongoing presence at the peril of our souls, at the peril of the soul of our community and nation.

#BlackBodiesMatter #PoliceBodiesMatter #ChristisinBoth



Friday, March 6, 2015

All should. Most don't. ~ SCP #TractSwarm One: The Sacrament of Confession

A group I've long been associated with, The Society of Catholic Priests in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, has called for it's first #TractSwarm — exploring the nature and role that the Sacrament of Reconciliation has in the church today.

Christ Church, Detroit, MI
Several years ago, at the SCP conference in Detroit, I had the honor of sitting in a pew in the Nave of Christ Church, Detroit. Someone had suggested that during the free-time those members with a charism for hearing confessions might be open to offering this to conference attendees. This is how I wound up sitting next to the former Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, talking about my sins.

Now, I was raised talking about sin. As an evangelical, we heard sermons on sin, about the need to turn from it. Sin was a scary specter that lurked at the edges of our lives, it was the lion ready to pounce and devour our souls.

I was even raised with the idea that talking about sin with others was actually a pretty good idea. The words from James 5 were taken seriously, "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective." When I was active in campus ministry, it was common to encourage people to have accountability partners, people with whom you would share your struggles. And if you sinned really bad, you were encouraged to go forward during the invitation and confess your sin to the community so people could pray for you.

But I was always deeply intrigued by what I perceived as the "Catholic" practice of Confession. I was fascinated by the idea that one could walk into a church and someone would be there to listen to you confess your struggles, to pray for you—that this quiet and secret place could be expected.

When I became an Episcopalian, I learned in my confirmation classes the aphorism, "All may, some should, none must." It made sense to me immediately. Of all things I learned about the Episcopal Church in those early days, the fact that in this church nobody had to do anything seemed to be top of the list of what Episcopalians believed in.

But as I grew and developed in the Episcopal Church, I grew slightly disillusioned with the actual practice of this sacrament. I discovered that many Episcopalians did not even know it existed in the prayer book. I found how difficult it is to find a confessor. I was taught early on that if you are going to hear confessions you should be making confessions regularly, this keeps your own spiritual life on a strong footing before you seek to offer spiritual counsel, advice, and suggestions for penance to others.

And yet, even if a priest will agree to hear confessions, there is a look all too often that comes in the eyes when you ask that priest when the last time was he made his confession.

That brings me to now, this current Lent 2015. For good or ill, the paucity of a robust practice of this sacrament has made it all too easy for me to put off making a regular confession. Indeed, not since that day in the pew with Bishop Griswold, when he quietly heard me talk about what burdened me and offered be gentle direction and a grace-filled act of penance, not since then have I sat down with God and one of God's ministers to talk about my sin.

Which is a shame.

It is a shame because it makes me less equipped for my priestly role, less able to hear confessions well. It is a shame because it has, ironically enough, slowly turned me into the sort of priest who has disappointed me—one who may be willing to hear confession but does not robustly practice this sacrament.

So, when someone in the Society suggested the topic of Confession for our first #TractSwarm, I knew that the time had come. I sent an e-mail to a colleague who I trust, one who I know practices a robust spiritual life and who, thus, can offer me wise counsel on my own. I suggested a particular time, asking if he might hear my confession then. And if he isn't able, I'll try again with someone else.

Because, though it embarrasses me a bit as a priest, I need to say...

I confess to you, my sisters and brothers, that I have not gone to God in the quiet of confession for far too long.

The aphorism, "All may, some should, none must," remains rather popular. But I think I'd like to retire it.

Because I believe that when we honestly examine our lives, as the Exhortation invites us, when we seek to make right that which we have done wrong... well, I don't think it is possible to do that on your own. I don't know who is holy enough that they would not benefit from talking through this a bit within earshot of a trusted priest.

I know I'm not holy enough that I can turn from sin on my own.

I'd wager that probably pretty much every Christian needs to avail herself of this sacrament at least once in life. I'd wager that most every Christian would be enriched if he practiced this sacrament regularly.

And I'll say something else even more strongly: I believe all priests—every single one—should be engaging regularly in the sacrament of reconciliation. If nothing else, that way when someone wanders into your office and asks, sheepishly, whether or not you might hear their confession, you will not have to say no. You will be prepared. Having been attentive to your own sin and salvation, you will be prepared to assist another Christian in that journey.

Because this space is important. Christians need to know that this safe space exists where they can talk to God about their sin, with someone trained is overhearing to offer guidance. People need to know that they are not left on their own, in the quiet of their reflections and prayers to God, that there is a place where they can get advice for how to turn from sin well. I really do think that when someone is at a point where the burden of guilt and shame has become too much,  someone can put hands on their head and remind them that their sin has been put away.

I need to know that my sin has been put away.

Because if I have not done the work of preparation that results in an actual change of life, if I, as a priest, have not been attentive to my sin, have not been receptive to spiritual counsel that I might turn from that sin... then I am at best a Christian dressing up and playing pretend with rather holy things.

All should. Most don't.

And this makes us weaker as a Church.


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 
[Chorus.] 
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.