Monday, March 31, 2008

The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin

There is so much that could be said about the special convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin in which we confirmed a provisional bishop, seated new clergy including three other women and myself, and restored the structure of the diocese so that we can get on with participating in God's mission in the world.

You can read more at Episcopal Life or at Fr. Jake's or numerous other places. Here, I offer you the Presiding Bishop's words from Saturday morning. It says it all, I think.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
San Joaquin convention
March 29, 2008

I bring you Easter greetings, good news of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. As he says repeatedly to his disciples, "peace be with you," and "fear not." These may have been trying and traumatic months, but you are already clearly experiencing resurrection.

There is new hope here for a church that can tolerate and even welcome diversity. There is new hope for a reconciled community. There is above all new hope that this part of the body of Christ can focus on the needs of neighbors who need to hear the good news of God in Christ.

The varied band of people Jesus gathered around himself, whether those he healed, fed, or taught, was a surprisingly motley crew: tax collectors, political zealots -- even some calling for violent revolution, women, Jews and Samaritans, fishermen, shepherds, even more than a few Gentiles. They were certainly as diverse as those of different parties in this part of God's vineyard. Jesus was the common reason for their community, as he is for ours. And if that body could come together, then there is hope for us.

Those disciples brought others with them, and they did have their struggles over who was acceptable and who was not. As Mark's account puts it (9:38-40), "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us." Whoever is doing God's work is not beyond the possibility of relationship. Be generous in your welcome and in your reconciling work.

Those early disciples struggled in other ways, too. Not long after the resurrection, the great controversy was about whether Gentiles could be part of this gathering or not. It led to the first great council in Jerusalem, which didn't easily or fully resolve the issue. The struggles have not stopped since -- either in Jerusalem or in the wider church. Yet, when we are bound in the fellowship of the body of Christ, miracles of community and reconciliation are indeed possible.

The work ahead of this diocese in the coming months is going to be about identity, reconciliation, and mission. As you seek a renewed life together in Christ, you are going to be invited to remember who and whose you are, why you're here, and what you're going to do about it. A useful shorthand might be: identity, vocation, and mission as members of the body of Christ. I have just a few reminders as you seek answers to those questions:

1) Jesus is Lord. In the same sense that Jesus is Lord, and not Caesar, remember that no one else -- not any hierarch, not any ecclesiastical official, not any one of you, is Lord. We belong to God, whom we know in Jesus, and there is no other place we find the ground of our identity

2) We are all made in the image of God. Even when we can't see that image of God immediately, we are challenged to keep searching for it, especially in those who may call us enemy. There is pain and hurt here to be reconciled, and searching for the image of God in those we have offended and who have offended us is a central part of our reconciling vocation.

3) In baptism we discover that we are meant to be for others, in the same way that God is for us. Jesus the best evidence of that. And that means that God's mission must be the primary focus, not our own hurt or indeed anything that focuses on our own selves to the exclusion of neighbor. For when we miss the neighbor, we miss God. I believe you are already discovering that God is healing old wounds as you work together. The work is just beginning, and it may not be easy, but it is essential. Focusing on the other, the ones outside this body, is going to be a vital part of discovering resurrection. Archbishop William Temple famously said that this church is the only human institution that exists primarily for the good of those outside of it. There is plenty of need here in this part of California -- among migrant workers, single parents, young people with little sense of future or direction, returning veterans… Put your eyes upon Jesus in the form of those strangers, and you will find resurrection.

And, finally, remember that you are not alone. This part of the Body of Christ is only one limb. The rest of the Episcopal Church is with you, and will continue to be with you. A few people have joined you here today as incarnate evidence of the love of Christ, known in community. We stand with you in the firm and constant hope that this body will grow and flourish and bless the central valley of California in ways you have not yet dreamed of. And we will celebrate with you as that becomes reality.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Looking for Suggestions

I'm working on a curriculum on mission for groups of youth and adults involved in outreach. It begins with a Bible Study on Genesis 1, affirming that mission begins with God in creation. God reaches out beyond God's self and creates everything, and it is good.

I need an activity or two to accompany the discussion. What would you do to help express this idea?


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Millennium Development Goals

Are you familiar with the MDGs?
I hope that they have become so familiar that everyone knows about them, and about the goal to achieve these eight goals by 2015 - just seven years from now.

It's possible. It only requires each country to increase foreign giving by 0.7% - that's "point seven percent." Less than one percent. Non-profit organizations, communities of faith, and individuals can participate by committing 0.7% of their income to achieving these goals. My support is going to the Dominican Republic right now, to a community that I got to know several years ago through a church mission trip.

There are lots of places to learn more about the MDGs, like the UN MDG website, or at at the ONE Campaign site. And here's a video I just saw on youTube which I think is excellent.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Urban Spirit

A week from today five Pacific students and I will be in Louisville, KY at Urban Spirit, a non-profit organization that teaches people about poverty through a week-long poverty immersion experience. We won't really be living on the streets, but in a church basement, earning "Urban Spirit" dollars at minimum wage and using those dollars to pay for food, shelter, utilities and many of the other necessities of life like transportation and insurance, or not! What we can't afford, we don't get.

In truth, I'll be sleeping in the comparatively luxurious dormitory with an actual mattress while the students are in the basement. I completed the program three years ago, but I trust that I will learn and re-learn as much as I did the first time. The program was started by Dr. Deb Conrad who sees her mission as "changing the world by changing the way we see the world." It's different from many other service trips in that we won't build a house or do much that we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands. We will spend time each day working with local agencies in Urban Spirit's neighborhood, like Neighborhood House and the Boys & Girls Club. That's important work and will certainly make us feel good about ourselves. The other stuff probably won't make us feel so good, but it will make us more aware of the reality of systemic poverty in our country, and it will motivate us to work harder to end it.

People aren't poor because they are lazy or stupid or morally lax. People are poor because we not only allow them to be, but because we insist that people stay poor. One year ago this week I fell down a flight of stairs and badly dislocated my right elbow. (I am right handed.) It was painful and frightening and recovery was slow. But I had good medical insurance and a job that allowed me to take time off when I was on pain meds, and to work from home when I couldn't get dressed alone. And my insurance covered the cost of my physical therapy, which is what gave me the use of my arm back. It was an expensive fall, but because I have had easy access to education and reliable employment, I could afford it.

It could have been very different. If I hadn't had insurance, I would be in deep debt, having to choose between paying hospital bills and paying rent. I might have lost a great deal of mobility in my right arm from a lack of enough physical therapy. And I might have lost my job when I didn't show up for a week and tried to work every other day for another two weeks. One fall can be the difference between stability and destitution. In a country with such great wealth, life should not be that precarious.

There are numerous other reasons why people fall through the economic cracks in our society: mental health issues, lack of education, natural disaster (such as in New Orleans), domestic abuse, and on and on. We are smart enough and compassionate enough to make things better for everyone, if we are willing to change the world by changing the way we see the world. Urban Spirit is going to help me do that - again.