Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Twenty-one years ago today

Twenty-one years ago today, the great love of my life died- unexpectedly- of AIDS.
Yes, it was also a leap year then- only something out-of-the-ordinary as that could accomidate such a loss for me, and for the local community of care.

One of those larger-than-life transformative radical re-definitions of one’s life- I’m referring to our time together, not his death. Too short, but so supersaturated with authentic grace. His family name was Pontbriand - shining bridge- and never was one more aptly named.

It was the darkest decade of AIDS here in Montreal: when our caring and support was often cobbled together out of little more than thin air. When even the medical establishment (and the Church of course) were treating our people like literal pariahs. Garbing, masking and gloving as if they were treating martians, leaving food trays outside their doors. And yet I don’t know if I’ve ever known more radiant, determined embodiments of grace, courage, and the determination to live authentically.

Louis hadn't been hospitalized that time however. As part of the mis-diagnosis which had failed to detect the serious KS. in his lungs he'd been fighting what was only supposed to be a flu at home.

Two days short of his returning to work as director of client care at one of the by-then handful of local AIDS organizations: after being mis-diagnosed with a flu, Louis failed to wake one morning when I was off at the dentist. His volunteer caregiver who was there that morning acted on her training and called an ambulance.

But for twenty-one years I’ve lived with the consequences of a medical procedure, built on a series of medical errors, which in the end was the immediate cause of his death.

So this morning is a quiet day here in our tiny house: giving thanks for the extraordinary gift of love we shared in our too-short time together and living with the loss- loss even now. Loss beyond words in the instance of some of the other names I can no longer even recall. Lost, but they thread their way in and out of a dark period when we all lived as giants.

Larger however than all the memories & loss: this morning is large with thankfulness- unconditional gratitude.

je t’aime 'mon grand Bonheur'

Monday, February 20, 2012

Living/Dancing/Dreaming- A Hopeful Lent

There’s a informal ongoing/sometimes conversation- largely by e-mail between the four of us- which has been going on for some time now.

For me, the whole thing began when I posted a comment in defense of a blogger who’d suggested that the concept of heresy was an outdated administrative tool of a medieval patriarchy: that in this complex day and age no one should be tossing such heavy terms around; that situations, which in the past might have raised even a suggestion of the old ‘h’ word should now be occasions for dialogue.

Unfortunately that wasn’t quite the consensus of his readers. So many of the comments posted in response accused the author himself of heresy I began to question their seriousness- or sanity.

When I wrote in his support the vitriol only got more agitated- and deflected towards me. One sentence in particular, suggesting that in complex times such as these one sometimes had to remind oneself that the ‘corporate Church’ and the Living Body of Christ are not necessarily always the same reality.

In the blink of an eye the original issue was brushed aside in the rush to take me on. For the better part of twenty-four hours the comments fell over themselves expressing themselves on my suggestion. And then, just as quickly, the whole thing fizzled when someone reminded the cohort that I’m Anglican. A ‘post-Anglican-anglican’ I tried explaining to the by-then deserted venue, but I’m not sure anyone appreciated the distinction.

Unfortunately since then the original author, a thoughtful academic, who has taken some risks for the integrity of his personal discernment has since given up blogging.

Once the dust had settled however, there was this loose fellowship of caring and sharing- principally by e-mails between four of us.

For more than a year, our exchanges were largely an exploration of the transformative potential within the current distress and deterioration the institutional church is undergoing in so many quarters. One contributor brought a really interesting re-working of much of recent history in the Church of Rome and Anglican-land, citing Macculloch, and Butler Bass’ ‘A People’s History of Christianity. Then last year, during what turned out to be a rather challenging and interesting Lent for me personally, I overheard an interview on Canada’s public broadcaster with J.S. Spong, who once again spoke of the need for ‘Christian spiritual maturity,’ a term which has become the defining context of our ongoing exchanges.

Please, don’t misunderstand our fellowship: our exchanges are anything but doom and gloom- far from it. On the contrary. Diminishing average Sunday attendance and membership rolls might be the occasion for panic, the objectification and on-going condemnation of secular society in some quarters; the four of us however essentially see these as indications that even within the Church, much of humanity is slowly working/feeling/dreaming itself out of the straight-jacket of patriarchy, homophobia and misogyny among other things.

One or the other of the two Anglicans in our group may occasionally sigh (mea culpa) over the latest antics of Canterbury or York, and one or the other of our number will invariably challenge us, ‘hey what about transformative process?’

And then this week there were the press over Ms. Diana Butler Bass’ latest: ‘Religion After Christianity,’ and a post by ‘our Elizabeth’ that I have already suggested would serve as a keynote reflection for a lot of us as we approach yet another Lent.

So why am I posting about either of these hopeful events?

A theme which has been central to each of the issues and exchanges between the four of us has been the church that the Holy Spirit is calling us to become in, through and in spite of all of the regrettable media the ‘official Church’ too often continues to garner.

‘I can’t help but wonder where this is all leading,’ one of our number dared only ask once. ‘Will there even be a Church of the future?’

But here’s where it gets really hopeful- because ever since my initial comment to that blog post on heresey, the four of us insist on working within a paradigm which strives to distinguish the hopeful differences between the living Body of Christ at work and the public persona of the corporate Church, but to also celebrate the occasions when they actualize as a common reality.

By common agreement the Church of the future, not 'the future of the Church' is our working reality.

And it is in this context I welcome and celebrate both of these new arrivals.

No, I have not read Ms. Butler Bass’ latest. With my ever-diminishing fiscal resources and the very real threat of losing our tiny house my book-buying days are a distant memory. I do, however know Ms. Butler Bass’ previous work, the thoroughness of her research and the thoughtfulness of her conclusions.

And as to ‘our Elizabeth’s’ work: it’s integrity, passionate humanity and her love of our tradition- there are few who can match her for the integrity and quality of the work she does on her blog during these confusing/frustrating/awesomely-transformative times in our tradition.

That both of these contributors to the on-going life of the Body of Christ are women gladdens my queer/feminist heart more than you can imagine.

As one of our number in the discerning fellowship I mentioned earlier suggested recently, what the four of us are essentially doing is praying/living/dreaming ourselves into the Church of the future. And that’s exciting!

As another online friend K.- the former Zen priest and cherished sangha buddy keeps reminding me, 'Anglican-land is where it’s really happening', and the Holy Spirit’s the ‘best dance in town.’ So do yourself a favor, check out our Elizabeth’s post before you even consider your personal version of the pancakes and ashes thing this Lent, and get Ms. Butler Bass’s latest as you keep living/dancing/ dreaming your way into the future of the Body of Christ.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

No Names: Nothing Changes

Trying to understand, I asked him about his single condition: that no names or identifying references be used in this post. Is there someone you feel you need to protect? Family members perhaps who are still active in the parish life? Not the bishop?

Eventually he came up with what he admitted was the closest he could manage to an answer: ‘Some messes are bad enough you don’t need to swim through them a second time. Learn you lesson well, because it’s my experience that if you try to change the outcome it will almost invariably make things worse because the other parties will be on the defensive if they’re not busy back-tracking. By the time the air’s been cleared, you’re worn down- exhausted, and asking yourself why you even tried in the first place.’

‘Sounds pretty toxic to me,’ I admitted.

‘ Sometimes the only healthy thing to do is let go: let the consequences of actions beyond your control work themselves out, and get on with your own healing’ he suggested with an audible sigh.

Yes, this unfortunately is an Anglican story. My friend, a cradle Anglican grew up in a family deeply involved in his parish and diocese. Eventually, however, he had his own deep and very painful reasons for parting company with the institution of the local Church.

‘In the rest of my life I, and much of the world were living a reality that the official Church and many of its ‘decision makers’ were politely, fastidiously avoiding. I tried, getting individual priests, and even the bishop involved; ‘ducking out’ would perhaps be the best description of the response I received. Listening to me the first time perhaps; lots of those slightly condescending smiles and pats on the hand- as if only they knew what was really going on, what was really at stake behind the harrowing realities I was describing. However, there was never a second meeting to discuss a concrete commitment. I’d been heard, and apparently that was supposed to be enough.’

My friend and I both belong to a loosely network which a third participant- a theologian- calls ‘the church in exile.’ Some of us, our lives indelibly coloured, the essential architecture of our beings fashioned by our Anglican birthright; others informed by denominations and traditions which overlap ours and inform our fellowship.

‘What d’you call yourself?’ possibly the first question of many from my friend in the rich exchange of prayer and mutual support which spans several years now.

‘ A post-Anglican-anglican?’ I offered, perhaps consciously coining the phrase for the first time.

‘I’m not sure the definition has been worked out for someone like me,’ he’d eventually responded.

Less than a year later the theologian joined our number. ‘A lay theologian,’ he’d made a point of stressing at the time, ‘no vested interests in the corporate monolith we call Church.’

The shape of my friend’s days are almost monastic. ‘Shaped by silence,’ is how he describes it.

The work that he does allows for that solitude. ‘And yet, I’m blessed to be in touch with some of the most vitally interesting, deep thinkers you can imagine.’

My friend is also impressively well-read. What he calls ‘critical theology,’ environmental and social issues; there’s also a considerable exposure to orthodox theology and Russian literature which creeps into our exchanges at times. Which is kind of surprising as the thinkers we’re more likely to share these days are the likes of +Spong, Capon, Heschel, Sacks, Borg or McLaren. For more than a year, the two of us read in tandem the works Ehrman and many of the original texts Ehrman cites.

‘A post-theist Christian, trying his best to embody the consequences of the Incarnation,’ is perhaps the closest he’s ever come to defining himself, and that was only when a mutual acquaintance pressed him. Another time, possibly around the time our theologian friend referred to our loose network of prayer and caring as a ‘Church in exile,’ my friend found himself agreeing.

‘Well, I am Church, if no longer officially part of the Corporate structure- so yeah.’

About five years ago my friend, who works in the world of solutions and ideas, had an idea.

Actually, it was a lot more than a single idea. ‘One thing sort of led to another,’ he told me.

‘When a local Church which had played a part in his Mother’s childhood was closed and sold- along with several others in a very short time within his diocese, my friend got thinking.

As is most often the case, ‘the problem’ was really a lot more complex than simply b.i.p (bums in the pew). Yes, current attendance was a pale ghost of its former self, but equally significant my friend determined was the whole culture of the corporate Church. As much the language they were using as what they were offering. How they were engaging with potential membership. The whole concept of membership itself. Why they were offering it?

All of which led to a lot of deep reflection and what my friend calls organizational doodling. Which of course eventually led to the money of it all.

At that time, not only was his local Church closing parishes, but a Bishop’s Annual Dinner was instituted ($250 per head), an annual Bishop’s Golf Tournament, and shortly thereafter the diocesan paper started advertising annual ‘pilgrimages’- with the Bishop of course- to the Middle East one year, Italy the next. An outside ‘consultant’ was eventually hired, and subsequently made a permanent employee of the diocese: to advise on ‘visibility, access and marketing.’

But back to my friend and the money issue.

A contextual note: This is a Canadian story, and at the time my friend began working things out on paper, the Canadian cell phone market- unlike its American equivalent- was essentially dominated by three national players. Informing his awareness of the development of this market was the fact that one of my friend’s closest friends had occupied senior executive positions in two of these three corporations.

As I said, my friend’s ‘organizational doodling’ had brought him to the ‘issue of money’ in current Church culture: the medieval concept of pledges, frequently tithing; the multiple ‘appeals’ (pressure) on an ever-decreasing laity to assume greater and greater responsibility for the costs of the institutional Church and its infrastructure. One word kept seeping into his doodling ‘patriarchy.’ ‘Essentially a patriarchal monolith’ he eventually told me. ‘A model which was found to be too costly and counter-productive in almost every other sector of our lives... Effectively extinct.‘

‘Except in the Church,’ I’d teased.

Somewhere in all of this my friend thought of his cell phone executive friend.

Not the first time the concept of ‘affinity’ had entered my friend’s life or thinking. Essentially a transactional culture developed for ‘mutual benefit,’ (you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours- gently, caringly, for our mutual benefit) he’d been part of a much earlier experiment in ‘affinity’ in his volunteer life.

My friend did his research: the number of parishes, dioceses, aid and development initiatives within the Canadian church: all beneficiaries.

Knowing church and more specifically Anglican Church culture, my friend them began mapping out a process which could accommodate and work with the objections and resistance he sensed he’d invariably encounter.

Almost like a defining icon, the story of our Lord driving the money changers from the temple almost immediately came to mind- and stayed with him.

This however would be different.

With time another passage from Scripture also came to mind: Matthew 10:16

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves'

Through what my friend hoped would be a series of exploratory discussions, the Church would define the parameters of the plan and accessibility to Church membership. The Church would likewise invite all three of Canada’s leading cell phone service providers to compete for access to that same membership.

With a registered membership of 800,000 in 30 dioceses: but more importantly with 2,035,000 ‘self-identified Anglicans’ in the country according to the 2001 national census (6.1 percent of the population), Anglicans were a group any one of these companies would be happy to talk with in a conversation which could be designed and managed by the Church.

With diocesan and a national newspaper- available both electronically and by home delivery, with weekly bulletins and regular mailings, the Church was essentially an invested market: one with an interest in something more than cell phones: ie the Church.

In the theoretical model my friend proposed, the Corporate partner would perhaps have:

Serious quarterly advertizing of pre-determined dimensions in the diocesan newspapers; bi-annual access to the national Anglican Journal.

Links would also be provided on diocesan and the national Church website for subscription to the plan.

Possibly, the Corporate partner would be granted access to individual parish bulletins as part of their annual stewardship campaign.

All of these details to be crafted by the Church and negotiated with the eventual corporate partner. At no time would direct access to individual participants (i.e. email addresses) be provided to the Church to the Corporate partner.

Members of the Church, their family, friends and even sympathetic strangers would have the opportunity to enrol their cell phone usage with the Corporate partner for the benefit of specific parishes, the national Church or individual Anglican initiatives.

In return, each of these beneficiaries would receive a monthly royalty payment based on a pre-determined percentage of individual enrolled participant’s cell phone usage.

Lifelong Anglican that he is, the process my friend designed was Church-driven and defined every step of the way, and being an unanticipated initiative, the Church would have an obvious advantage in negotiating access and royalty percentages as each of the three leading service providers competed to become the Church’s Corporate partner.

Once again my friend sat down with his corporate executive friend:

Did the cell phone industry currently offer any affinity opportunities? On a very limited basis. Normally within their own corporate culture- to unions and professional associations.

Would either of the corporation she knew so well be capable of instituting a beneficiary code into their system, to identify accounts enrolled in such a plan as well as this organization's beneficial recipient? Yes.

Would a national organization with national membership, infrastructure and exposure- and here he quoted his statistics- possibly be of interest to either of the Corporations she knew so well? Reminding him their personal mandate was not in marketing, his friend responded with a question: What would such a group possibly have to lose by pitching such an idea?

Another thing, once my friend had got the first program worked out, he started what he calls ‘developmental daydreaming.’

‘Once the Church saw the incremental benefits of their plan on a monthly basis, maybe they could even help other non-profits negotiate similar arrangements: breast cancer, Save the Children- who knows.’

That wasn’t all however.

‘I also started thinking about some of the more visible claims on Church finances. Specifically, all those trips the Bishop and Archdeacon make- for meetings of the House of Bishops, for international conferences and diocesan partnerships. Without giving away any details I actually got in touch with the national air miles plan- essentially about the possibility of Church members ceding their air miles points to the Church in return for a tax receipt: effectively rendering most if not all church air travel cost-free.’


‘It was all to be part of my presentation to the Bishop, once I’d got him understanding the possibilities for the Church with affinity’

But sadly- predictably, some might say- here’s where the whole thing fell apart.

Some time previously, my friend had been asked to befriend a recent arrival to the diocese. Church history, critical theology and modern Biblical scholarship were cited as possible mutual interests by the individual who described this third party as ‘someone in need of friends.’

They also ended up being near-neighbors.

Once my friend had completed his ‘developmental doodling’ he sent off an e-mail request for a meeting to the Bishop (a long-time family acquaintance) and shared his proposal with this third individual over coffee.

What he didn’t know at the time however was that this individual, after having completed all the necessary academic requirements had been declined as a candidate for ordination. This person had ‘issues’ and had essentially become a ‘power player’ within the corporate Church.

Unbeknownst to my friend, this individual and the Bishop met for other purposes, but inevitably got around to discussing my friend’s request for a meeting with the Bishop.

Whatever was said, my friend never received even the courtesy of an acknowledgement from the Bishop.

The other party made a point of letting him know of their meeting with the Bishop. ‘Oh, and we discussed your idea.’

‘And?’ my friend asked.

‘That’s it. We discussed it.’

‘That’s it?’ my friend asked, not quite grasping the dimensions of what was going on.

‘You’ll just have to wait and see,’ the third party told him, with what he mistook for coy amusement.

So why am I writing this- probably five years after the fact.

Because, just days short of Christmas, my friend was out grocery shopping and literally crossed paths with that Bishop. ‘He was coming straight at me... No question that he saw me, and knew who I was... For a moment old habits almost kicked in. I almost greeted him by name. Instead I simply nodded and smiled- I mean it’s not as if we were exactly on speaking terms.’

‘And what about the Bishop?’

‘His features flushed, he lowered his eyes, and kept walking- right past me... I actually stepped out of his way to make it easier for him.’

‘How did that feel?’ I asked only when it became clear there wasn’t more to the story.

‘I was almost all the way back home before it really hit- this only-too-concrete proof I was no longer even recognized by this particular embodiment of the corporate Church... I can’t say it didn’t hurt.’

The other day, thinking of a couple of responses to something I had written and published in another quarter, my friend’s pre-Christmas pain came only too readily to mind.

When I e-mailed him about writing this post, his only question was ‘Why?’

Because you deserve better

Your work deserves better

The Church deserves better,

and besides, they’re probably still closing parishes and selling off the real estate, I reminded him.

‘I did what I could: cast my bread upon the proverbial,’ he told me.

‘What are you feeling?’ I asked only after the question persisted.

‘Nothing really. Not now at least.’

The problem, however, was I only too well remembered his pain last Christmas.

‘What do you think really happened,’ I couldn’t help but ask.

‘Who knows?’

‘That other person you shared the programme with?’

‘She’s actually left the diocese- moved on.’

‘But whatever she might have said- for her own angry ends- bottom line is the Bishop didn’t even have the courtesy to respond to your request or listen to your proposal.’

‘There is that.’

‘Did you ever think that possibly your proposal was more than he could handle. Just maybe the old guy wasn’t quite up to getting his head around it.’

‘He’s not that old.’

‘So... maybe it was just too far outside his ‘box.’

‘That’s just it,’ my friend finally admitted. ‘There’d be a decided shift in the transactional power exchange in financing the Church. An expansion of the individual parishioner’s investment in the Church.’

‘Isn’t that a good thing?’

‘Yes, but that could also bring with it an increased expectation of accountability and transparency- over how those new funds are being spent; how this considerable change in the Church’s fiscal situation is being reflected in the Church’s priorities and performance.’

‘You just might have something there... Accountability and transparency in corporate Church culture? What a thought!’

‘Yes, but in a whole other context that’s already changing for the Church with the internet,’ my friend thoughtfully posited. ‘That’s why I’ve let the whole thing go- for now at least.’

My friend? He’s gone on to other things. Currently that includes an alternate model for disaster relief housing; three inventions, lacking only the funding for their patent applications, and another project ‘too tentative and new to even have a name yet, ‘ he told me.

‘But what about affinity?’ I asked, when we spoke the other night.

‘The Church obviously wasn’t up to it- not even for entertaining the possibility.

‘And in the process, they’re probably still closing churches, putting the squeeze on those in the pew.’

‘Yeah, well...’

There really wasn’t anything more to be said.

I did however keep my promise: no names or identifying details. ‘You mean to protect the guilty,’ I’d teased when we spoke last.

‘Maybe to protect me,’ he’d eventually admitted. ‘I don’t need the grief.’

‘Love you-‘ I reminded him just before hanging up. ‘And I still say you deserved better from your Bishop if no one else... a lot better.’

‘I love you too.’

My friend, this one’s for you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Do they even stop to think?

A conversation several days ago, with one of the living blessings who has become very dear to me. We live in different countries: until recently we’d only ever connected through the blogosphere and e-mails. But, as we’ve grown to know each other, and shared several heart-felt telephone conversations, V. has become a treasured partner in the tortured/difficult/exciting transformation our Church is undergoing.

V. is a university academic: literature; with believe it or not a doctoral thesis on Spenser’s Fairie Queen. She is also a ‘convert. Having grown up in a defiantly secular home, where my Dad was a physics researcher, and Mum was a hospital administrator.’

V. fell in love with the Anglican tradition because of our liturgy- ‘its transcendence. It’s only recently I’ve got into the history, issues and theology behind it and the insufficiency for our complicated times of much of the thinking and worldviews which gave us this poetic beauty.’

When V. called she was tears, having read a news story of the on-going antics in the British Synod over the proposed ‘protection’ of the delicate sensitivities of priests and parishes unable to accept the oversight of women bishops in the English Church.

‘Rowan is actually tying the English Church into a legislative straight-jacket to normalize misogyny within the Church.’

I listened.

V. had apparently picked up the story in what I believe is called her ‘news feed’. One of the keywords is Anglican, another is Episcopal Church. Which is actually quite surprising, because four years ago, when everything was gearing up for Lambeth 2008, and it became clear that the Giant of New Hampshire was going to be excluded from the councils under the Great Big Blue circus tent, V. resigned from her post as People’s Warden and had her name removed from the parish lists. When school started that fall V. became a the mainstay at the twice weekly Eucharist at the University where she teaches; eventually becoming a server, ‘ an experience I still find beyond words,’ she’d told me only months earlier when we’d also discussed the possibility she might be discovering a vocation to the priesthood in her own life.

‘You know, I’m actually wondering has Rowan... bumped his head or something?’ she eventually asked. ‘Do he and the Archbishop of York really think they can get away with this? Didn’t they learn anything from the scandal over the appointment of the new Bishop of Southwark?’

I listened.

‘You know what I’m thinking... Something you said, one of the first times I called you- about one of your posts... How sometimes Church can be like a toxic parent.. How even when you leave home, you still try to keep an eye on them- covertly, or at a safe distance.’

'Guess that explains your news feed,' I kidded her.

‘So what do I do?’ she asked. ‘What am I supposed to do with this... latest mess?’

I waited, to see if there might be more before suggesting that the first thing- the only thing really she could do: to essentially unplug- from her news feed at least- to take some time for serious self-care. And perhaps, when she’s ready, to write about it.

‘You know, I used to take real comfort in the fact that the Anglican tradition wasn’t one of those churches that expected you to check your brain at the door... That people could disagree, and still live into something larger- the Living Body of Christ.’

‘But when I see these stunts- there’s no other word for it... I really wonder.’

Our conversation went on a lot longer and on to other topics, but even after more than an hour on the practice bench, I still ached for my friend’s deep existential pain.

Not the first time I have come across it in fellow people of faith, or perhaps most sadly in fellow Anglicans. Sitting there, after we’d hung up, I thought of the manifestations of that same deep trauma and pain expressed in the lives of too many of our poz clients here in Quebec as they faced their approaching deaths in the first two decades of AIDS. Bone-deep, defining pain, yes, most commonly experienced through the excesses of the Church of Rome during its years of excessive power here in Qu├ębec: the madness of the Church at its worst lived out in the agonies, fear and pain of too many gay men- but also in the anger, indifference or bitterness of the current unchurched majority in this province today.

Do they have any idea of the consequences of their actions? I asked myself after V.'s call, thinking most particularly of Canterbury and York? Remembering the scandal of Lambeth 2008, the rejection of Jeffrey John’s vocation to the ecclesia, the insult to +Katherine’s office when she visited Britain, and now this. Frightened old men in purple skirts, with their big rings and pectoral crosses. Only a few days later, a priest I truly cherish shared with me the cheeky theory that perhaps sometimes the shock of consecration is too much for certain individuals, dissolving their backbone during the laying on of hands. I’ve also heard another theory- that it’s the weight of all that big jewellery, the insignias of their office, or perhaps they’re believing all those complimentary headlines they wished someone would write about them?

Whatever, it’s worse than tragic, when one sits with the loss- not even for the Church, but for the individuals who can no longer live with what the church is doing to them, to the people they know and love, or even just in the headlines.

One of the other aspects of the current scandal in the English Synod V. and I went on to discuss is the embarrassing silence from both of our respective provinces on the issue of women bishops in the English Church. In the last several years, as we know only too well Canterbury, York; several African provinces, and un-numbered self-appointed voices of Anglican orthodoxy have flayed the American and Canadian churches with opinion, threats, invective, and most sadly with insults.

Not that I am suggesting that ++Fred or ++Katherine respond in kind. However, with so much of the current scandal in the English Synod making international headlines, it is my sense that both the Canadian Primate and the Presiding Bishop could provide an important public example by publically reassuring the English Church of their prayers in this matter, as our experiences of sisters in the Canadian and American episcopacy have been some of the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit recently experienced by our provinces. A public message, not only for the English Church, but for the likes of my friend V.

In closing, I want to cite three blog posts of recent days. None of which received the credit they each really deserve. Each of them by individuals of integrity and faith who I cherish. Three women within our Church, who nourish, challenge and bless me on a regular basis.

Two of these cherished sisters are priests- awesome priests, the third is my personal Queen of the South; each of them living gifts to our Church- living proof of the insulting wrong-headedness of the current treatment of women with vocations to the episcopacy within the English Church. Examples of the high price this proposed institutionalized misogyny will continue to inflict on the English Church.

from Wounded Bird

from Telling Secrets

from Leave it where Jesus flang it

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An interesting call this past week-end: from Jamie and his incredible grandmother Hazel.

I’ve mentioned Jamie before in the early days of this space. The two of us were brought together more than a couple of years ago now, when, in his late forties Jamie began coming out to his family and friends. His eldest sister had been the first, and when she saw how anguished but determined he was, she somehow thought of me- who she’d met at a conference on organizational transformation several years previously.

This time, when I asked Jamie & Hazel if I might share our conversation in this space he told me ‘Of course- only no more initials.’ And when he’d explained to his grandmother what he was referring to she agreed, ‘I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,’ she told me. ‘Yeah’, Jamie interjected, ‘Grandma’s out too,’ sending all three of us into self-perpetuating gales of laughter.

But about the call this week-end.

For those who might not remember- Jamie is a very successful lawyer, who abandoned government law when 'the Bushes and their ilk' began spending ‘too much time on Pennsylvania Avenue.’ A self-confessed workaholic hiding the fear of his God-given sexuality behind achievement, he soon recycled himself into working for an international non-government agency which moved him to Europe.

Jamie was back in the U.S. this past week-end however: for the ninety-third birthday of his beloved maternal grandmother: the truly remarkable Hazel. And Jamie wasn’t travelling alone either- more on that later!

It was late enough when they called that Jamie apologized and expressed concern that he might have hauled me out of sleep. But it had been long enough since anything more than affectionate, electronic Christmas wishes that I knew it had to be important, so I’d slid to the floor, resting my back against the bed and listened. Within moments, Willie the unconditional daschund had shifted under the covers and was sympathetically resting his head on my left shoulder.

It turns out that after a long pre-celebration- just the two of them- Jamie had got to sharing details of his current life with his grandmother. Turns out, Hazel has obviously giving a lot of thought to her cherished grandson’s life and had questions- ‘lots of questions,’ Jamie assured me with a chuckle. ‘Why had he waited so long?’ ‘Who in their rather large family had been to chief obstacle to Jamie ever feeling comfortable enough, confident enough to share his deepest truth with the family?’

Turns out there was one question Jamie was asking my help on.

But first a little background. Turns out Hazel’s paternal grandfather was a ‘rather well-known’ Episcopalian bishop. Which of course meant our family essentially forgot about Church once grandpa... had passed on.' Sadly, apparently Hazel’s father never really ‘found himself professionally.’ He was however adamant about his three daughters all receiving a university education. ‘For the longest while, I wasn’t sure I wanted –or even needed to marry,’ Hazel told me, ‘so I ended up getting my PhD. . Taught university for a very short while, got married,’ she admitted with a chuckle, ‘and then went into the world of publishing.’

Hazel’s only child- Jamie’s mother, died only months short of his ninth birthday. In Jamie’s words, it took his father one disastrous re-marriage (‘too soon’) before he found the ‘dream step-mother’ for his two children. Hazel however, largely through her determined efforts never lost touch with her grandchildren, sharing, among other things Jamie’s first taste of Europe and ‘some of the most incredible holidays you can imagine.’ (Jamie’s account).

Oh, and that one question they’d called me with?

Hazel, after obviously a lot of research and thought wanted to know whether Jamie thought ‘same-gender-loving folks would always have to be labelled gay- queer, or that other horrible clinical term? ’

Did she possibly have an easier question we could start with I asked to peals of laughter on the other end of the phone.

‘Hey, my Gran’s no light-weight,’ Jamie interjected on the extension.

The conversation which followed felt so... sacred. One of those times when a lot more is being addressed than just the obvious; one of those spontaneous exercises of discernment where Spirit sometimes works unimagined healing, bonds are deepened and life offers itself even more unconditionally because of ‘understanding.’

Without going into my personal particulars Hazel and I identified several of the more obvious features of the landscape of growing up gay in my generation; the costs and mechanics of ‘otherness’ and the degrees & varieties of fear behind most homophobic violence.

I also reminded her of the remarkable transformation of our LGBT tribe with the lived horror of AIDS: the personal transformations, the unexpected healings, the discovery of gay voice(s) - the slightly ironic freedom found in taking a stand- even in the face of so much terrible loss.

‘But what about Jamie and Michael, are their kids always going to have to live with folks calling their dads gay... queer or worse?’

I told you Jamie hadn’t travelled solo, and warned you his grandmother had a talent for questions that would stop you in your tracks.

After a deep breath,(on my end of the line), we eased ourselves into an exploration of the gifts, strength and blessings of ‘owned otherness.’ How when our people own their deepest truth they bring an incredible load of unexpected experience, lived truth and talents to every situation and conversation- gifts, whose absence has previously impoverished everyone’s experience; the solutions or discoveries a group might be working towards; or the event they may be celebrating.

Hazel had heard about blessed Ed Bacon on national television telling Ms. Winfrey that being born gay is a God from God.

Which led us to a whole discussion/celebration of the prophetic role LGBT folks are playing within our own denomination.

Turns out Hazel had even met our +Gene. During one of his first visits as bishop to her city. ‘This was before I really knew about Jamie,’ she told me. ‘But when I’d read about his election and consecration, it was so clear to me that God was truly at work here. When I heard he was coming, I knew I had to go see for myself.’

‘One of the most wonderful services I’ve ever attended,’ she told me. ‘The cathedral was packed with the most incredible people- many of them probably gay couples, but I wasn’t trying to decode the congregation. The energy in the cathedral was.... incredible. I didn’t know whether I expected the sound of a rushing of wings or for the roof of the cathedral to peel back for a glimpse of the stars, but something was definately happening.’

‘The incredible thing is when it came time to go up to receive communion, the line on the side where Bishop Gene was administering was so much longer, and as they got closer to the altar other folks kept switching over... I must have been a real mess; there’d been tears during his sermon, when he spoke of his understanding of what God wants for the Church. And afterwards, the line of people wanting to shake his hand at the door was so long and slow I had to sit down- at least a couple of times, but when it was my turn, I couldn’t stop tearing up. I kissed his hand and simply said thank-you, though I’m not sure he could hear me, I was that full up.’

Having been there myself- July 27, 2006- Hazel couldn’t know I too have known those tears of incredulous joy. Friday night, it was a moment or two before she continued.

‘There was actually a reception, after the service- for people to meet the Bishop. But I went to my car and just sat there for the longest time. It may sound strange, but afterward I realized I guess I was feeling the reception... didn’t quite belong to me- that it was for the folks who had paid a price for who they are, and who had kept insisting – on the value, the validity of their own lives.'

It was about then that Jamie, on the extension, with real feeling in his voice had interjected, ‘Oh Grandma.’

Which is where I guess I get to tell you about Michael.

In the first months- still essentially in orientation for his posting to Europe- Jamie had met Michael while boarding for a flight between Zurich and London. Michael is a British-born PhD., teaching in Britain and working with the U.N. agency to end famine relief.

Michael is also an ‘out gay Anglican, who has been much heartened by the developments in the American church,’ as he told me when we first spoke more than two years ago.

Jamie and Michael are now legally married, in the process of disentangling Michael from his academic commitments to work full time in famine relief, and have already set up a shared home which has been approved for adoption of their first child- a mixed race daughter who should be with them fulltime by this summer.

Almost ten years younger than Jamie, Michael and he are talking of a family of four. ‘Two kiddies and their dads,’ Michael explained when we'd first spoken.

‘You won’t be able to call them ‘kiddies’ for long,’ I'd teased.

I have no idea how long the three of us talked Friday night. Intentionally, I didn’t check the LED digits on my bedside clock before folding myself back under the covers with the ever-patient Willie.

Shortly before we hung up Hazel asked ‘why do I feel like this conversation has been one long, very real prayer?’

Neither Jamie nor I answered.

However, I did suggest to Hazel that perhaps it was time she told Jamie about ‘the Love beyond our wildest imagining.’

‘I remember-‘ Hazel told me, her voice equal parts amazement and joy. ‘That’s when Bishop Gene... broke my heart for the first time in his sermon. I was a blubbering mess,’ she reminded me.

‘Love you both,’ I reminded them before hanging up.

‘I love you too,’ Hazel confessed, at least slightly amazed by her own admission.

As promised, Jamie and Michael called again, on Sunday afternoon. Hazel was napping.

‘You wouldn’t believe Grandma,’ Jamie told me. ‘After church this morning, we went out for brunch, and she was asking Michael and I if there wasn’t some sort of organization for people like her- with rainbow blessed children she called us,' he added with a chuckle. 'Ninety–three years old and she’s talking about getting in touch with P-Flag, to see if there’s anything she can do to help.’

Apparently Hazel’s birthday celebrations were quite the occasion. Hosted by Jamie and Michael; Jamie’s sisters, their partners and families all made it- along with more than seventy guests.

‘But you want to know something,’ Jamie asked, with real feeling in his voice. ‘The biggest gift this week-end, for me at least, was our call to you Friday night... Michael had gone to bed, and the two of us were sitting up with the last of our first bottle of celebratory champagne-‘

‘Only the first of many,’ Michael interjected with a chuckle. ’And never mind Grandma, you should see my husband, I’ve never known him so....’

“Alive?’ I suggested when Michael was reaching for an apt descriptor. ‘Love beyond our wildest imagining,’ I reminded them.

‘Indeed,’ Michael responded after a moment, perhaps not quite sure what he was agreeing to.

Their e-mail, late Tuesday morning?
‘Home. LOVE YOU. Just spoke to Grandma on the phone and she sends her love too. Jamie & Michael’

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Empire: Insanity & Excess

Is this bothering anyone else?

NY Times leads this morning with the story of Lambeau Field Wisconsin:
subteranean pipes filled with a patented solution
imported heat lights, running 24/7
suspended overhead:
high enough that
over-extended grass can be nurtured, groomed & pampered,

‘The “frozen tundra” is a myth. The ground at Lambeau Field, legendary home of the Green Bay Packers, is heated. It has not been frozen during a football game since it was dubbed the “frozen tundra” more than 40 years ago.’

so the cleats – CLEATS
of superannuated thugs in overpriced protective gear-
so the CLEATS take hold
providing enough traction for the spectacle of televised ‘sports’
so the boys with their brewskies, across the nation can lose themselves
in suds and spectacle long enough
to get through another day.

“The payoff and the benefit is now,” Johnson said. “We have a more full canopy and more grass than we would without it. The green color is a side benefit. That’s aesthetic. The main benefit is stronger, healthier grass, thicker grass in places where it’s usually difficult to grow.”

but on the front page of the NY Times it’s worthy of headlines-

‘The ground below Lambeau Field has been heated since 1967’

And in Haiti, Turkey, Darfour they’re still in tents
Cholera anyone?

‘That changed in 2011, thanks to 24 hours a day of artificial sunlight provided by 1,000-watt bulbs’
“It’s just like playing in the summer on the grass,” Green Bay offensive lineman T. J. Lang said. “It’s never hard, it’s never frozen.”

Having objectified everyone/everything else
Nature’s is the problem de jour
‘fooling Mother Nature’ they call it
and damn the cost.

‘Not only did the lights cast a warm and eerie glow from inside Lambeau Field through the night, they extended the growing season for the grass well past the normal date of dormancy.’

This from the self-anointed ‘greatest nation on earth’
and damn the cost;

‘Johnson said grass needs three vital elements to grow well: warm soil (check, thanks to Mr. Lombardi), good light (check, thanks to Mr. van Vuuren) and warm air (hmmm). By mid-December, when daytime temperatures rarely rise above freezing in Green Bay, the lights and warm soil are not enough to offset the frigid air.’

The show must go on
(all together now) and damn the cost.

‘The contraption fools Mother Nature. Johnson used the lights 24 hours a day from October to early December, moving them every other day between games.’

The cleats- THE CLEATS
and damn the cost

out-distances words: even
my limited vocabulary for rage or obscenity

‘For 30 years, those coils kept Lambeau Field soft, with one exception.’

Oh America, I
fear/for you. How long
How long O Lord?
can Nature tollerate
your heated cleats?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Some days... 2012

Some days it can be a real mindful breath-by-breath practice the far side of any good reason not to give up and just walk away.

I’m talking about our Church here- our denomination, our Communion. The institution rather than the living reality of being a member of the Body of Christ.

Over the holidays there was a painful call from C., a life-long Anglican, who only since the death of her husband has she really found her own place within our tradition ‘as a living/loving/reading and critical-thinking Anglican'. Only to find it all seriously threatened by the ‘latest hi-jinks’ of their interim rector.

Last fall he was seriously uncomfortable with a suggestion the Bible Study Group study Ehrman’s ‘Jesus Interrupted.’ But this- this latest...’ Christmas night, through tears she told me over the phone that probably for the first time in her 68 years she’d missed Christmas midnight mass in her home parish. Instead she’d surprised one of her granddaughters and the granddaughter’s partner by joining them at the local MCC service.

Just days before the feast of the Incarnation, there’d been another pain-filled, long-distance conversation with L., a pastor I’ve been in fellowship with for several months now. Last summer L. had felt he could no longer live with the 'hollowness and patent in-authenticity' of his current charge. Strangely enough, he is currently on sabbatical, living in another city and worshiping with a ‘rather unusual’ Episcopalian congregation' and exploring Zen practice. It was through the latter community L. was put in touch with me; by one of my on-line sangha friends who thought L. might benefit from contact with a fellow Christian practitioner.

For L., being away from parish ministry this Christmas ‘broke me. I’ve never before felt so unnecessary in my whole life. But the miracle of the Incarnation has never been more real, more raw or more immediate.’ L. ended up spending Christmas Eve bundled up outdoors, walking under the stars-‘weeping myself into what appears to be something new.’ L. ended up making his Christmas communion at the 8a.m. Eucharist, Christmas Day, and tells me though he has no idea where all this might be leading he’s never felt more alive.

Not untouched by recent events, I admit my own Christmas practice this year, like that of many others was on what might aptly be described as pretty rocky ground. The images and accounts of the Duarte Park arrests, preceded by TWS’ inability or refusal to meet or negotiate with the occupiers- even with the generous offer of the good offices of Bishop Packard resonated only too painfully for me with memories of the shameful treatment of the Occupy London demonstrators; the prophetic sacrifice of Father Gilles Fraser; and St Paul’s embarrassing concerns over their ‘lost revenue.’

One of the wealthiest parishes in the world and a landmark cathedral- extra-ordinarily wealthy itself; the one resorting to property law, the other worrying about its tourist revenue, while the purple shirts of Lambeth continue to threaten us all with the greatest-misnomer-yet in this century - a game plan to impose their own Vatican-like reign of punnishment & enforcement. Hard as I try, it’s beyond me to find even the slightest suggestion of the Body of Christ alive and at work in any of this.

For me personally, all this recent self-inflicted bruising of Anglican credibility resonated with my memories of another recent date of Anglican ignominy- during the 2008 Lambeth Conference. July 27, 2008: when at great expense, the primates, bishops, their wives and conference retainers were all bussed up to London for a... camera opportunity. A millennial march to end poverty. The march, which lasted minutes short of an hour, but which was followed by a leisurely day: first, luncheon in the garden of the Archbishop’s London palace, and then afternoon tea with Her Majesty the Queen on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. As if the obscenely-expensive rental of the ‘big blue tent’ were not indicator enough of the hollow irrelevancy Lambeth 2008 would turn out to be, there was the spectacle of the London ‘camera-opp.’

And then today, as if we needed further proof of the of Canterbury’s ambitions, there’s his not-so-good friend Bennie of St. Peter’s proclaiming myself and many of those I love 'a threat to the future of humanity.’ Of course the Pope also went on to pontificate on poverty, and social and economic injustice- all while seated on a guilded throne, dressed in the obscenely expensive costume of a medieval prince, sporting a gold ring of office which would probably feed several developing-world families for at least a year.

I hadn’t shared any of this with C. when she called; she’d brought enough to the table. ‘Why stay? Why do you event bother trying,’ her anger and pain as obvious as her challenge.

Drawing a deep breath, I told her I wanted to tell her a story:

A couple of years ago, a ‘power player’ in both the local diocese and national church asked me to accompany her to a local function: a whiskey-tasting at one of the downtown churches. Essentially a rather poorly attended fundraiser, I think she was offering the experience as well-intentioned proof of...... something or other.

Shortly after we arrived the Rector came rushing over to our table, to 'talk Church’ with my host. Eventually I was introduced, only to be immediately asked: ‘Oh, are you Anglican?’

Hesitating, out of fear of offending this priest who I respect for her work of the local refugee committee among other things, I eventually admitted to being a post-Anglican-anglican.

I’m not sure the description even registered. She certainly didn’t need to know any more- ‘Oh, one of those,’ and she was off.

‘Just like that protestant minister, who wrote complaining about how she was exhausted and fed-up with people who told her they were spiritual but not religious?’ C. suggested.'Why stay? Why even bother?'

Bottom line for me? The radical, reality-shifting truth of the Incarnation and the fact that no matter how big a mess and embarrassment the purple shirts of our own denomination or the gang of St. Peters may make of it, the Church is not theirs.

Long before the first stone of patriarchal ‘official Christianity’ had been laid, Ruach- the Holy Spirit was calling us- and continues to call- us into the living reality of being members of the Living Body of Christ, here and now.

So no matter how tragically irrelevant; embarrassingly ridiculous; insulting; threatening or disingenuously manipulative the gate-keepers of ‘official Christianity’ might be at times, this is why I still bother. That and because of the endless possibilities within the sacred-tension beneath Hooker’s three-legged stool.

Tonight, however three of the finest priests I know of are very much on my heart. All three of them have, within the last two years paid extremely high prices for the integrity of their priesthood. E., in an unseasonably-early retirement; L., waiting on the Spirit to find out where she is to serve next; and blessed M., happily, after much suffering and loss about to head out to serve in one of the most challenging corners of her nation.

That day at Duarte Park, there were also, among many others two other priests of our church: Michael+ Sniffen and John+ Merz along with +George Packard and his truly remarkable wife.

As a Montrealer I’m allowed to reference Leonard-the-Cohen: the cracks that let the light through however doesn’t quite cover it. Radiant, shining embodiments of the living truth of our collective vocation to live into the reality of being members in the Body of Christ each of these beings. Prophets in a 'not-for-prophet Church' which has yet to learn our Church was never called to be an end-in-itself, but rather the mid-wife to ‘life more abundantly’ Spirit unceasingly calls us all to.

Which I guess brings to another reason for ‘still bothering:’ my deep and hopeful sense that perhaps as never before, our Church- THE CHURCH has a lot to learn. And as frightening as that might be at times, none of us are alone in this, TBTG.