Saturday, July 7, 2018

Truth and Reconciliation...It's Time

I appreciate the boldness of the promise in the Baptismal Covenant about evil and sin. It states: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? And we all reply, “I will, with God’s help,” often not fully digesting the promise we’ve just made.
I appreciate the boldness that in that promise, we don’t quibble about if we are seduced by evil, if we explain, justify, or even enjoy the benefits of evil and sin. We admit we do, and we remind ourselves we, as Christians, are never defined only by our sins because repentance and reconciliation is always — always — an imperative for Christians.
Repentance and reconciliation are not merely options, but expectations Jesus has for those who follow him. We are invited to repent and return to the Lord. This repentance, this turning away from sin and its consequences in our lives, gives us new life and hope.
We promise this to God and to each other, to recognize the times we’ve embraced sin and its consequences, and to repent and find our way forward into restoration and reunion with love.
I love that part, that reconciliation, that restoration of community and relationship, when what has been done and what has been left undone is cast in the past and we step into newness of life. Angels sing, the sun shines brightly, and unicorns skip across the meadows.
What I don’t love is the muck to dig through to get there. I don’t enjoy hearing how I have sinned, how I have benefitted from sin, and even how I have knowingly and even unknowingly sinned against others. I don’t love the truth part of reconciliation.
None of us do, I imagine. Because hearing we are far from perfect, hearing we have acted in ways that do not respect the dignity of others, hearing we have not loved as we can love is not an ideal way to spend an afternoon or a convention.
Yet that part, that hard, messy, even painful part that we call confession, is an act of courageous love. To hear about sin and to hear about the pain sin inflicts, not explaining it away, not saying, “But I didn’t mean to…” (because let’s face it, many of our sins that cut and wound each other are often unintentional), in the face of another’s truth, is a moment we connect to the meek king who is Jesus.
In February, the president of the House of Deputies asked me to chair a subcommittee on Truth and Reconciliation regarding women and sexual abuse, harassment, and gender discrimination in the church. Before accepting the chair, I sat for many days with the promise we as members of the Episcopal Church make to God and each other about sin and repentance. I thought about the sin that places women in an inferior category that allows and even invites inequality, abuse, and harassment. I prayed about how even to begin a process of truth and reconciliation for a sin many leaders in the general church believe is either a figment of the imagination of women or is only a rare event, perpetrated by an occasional bad apple in a leadership position.
Studies and surveys from other mainstream denominations refute both of these propositions.  Instead, they reveal to us that the systemic sin of ignoring, demeaning, and debasing those who identify as women is pervasive in the church, and damaging both to the women who are victims and to the community of the church. These studies show that women do indeed tell their truths, but that those in leadership positions do little or nothing to respond.
Statistics tell us that a woman you know, from whom you have received the Body and Blood of Christ is being subject to harassment and abuse simply because she is a woman. And she is being subject to this harassment and abuse by a fellow Episcopalian.
We have indeed fallen into this sin. We are sitting in the muck and mire of a dearth of justice, equality, and love.
But the Good News is we don’t have to stay here.
Jesus holds out his hands and invites us to take them, pulling ourselves upward and outward into newness, into equality, and into love. We can turn from this sin, to strive for justice and peace, mercy and love, and equality and dignity for women in our church and in our world. We have a chance to step into the messiness of confession and hear the truth. We will feel uncomfortable as we hear these truths. We will want to explain situations away, argue the budget can’t afford this work. We will want to move quickly to an easy but unhelpful and fragile restoration, saying fervently that hearing the stories is enough.
Our process of reconciliation and restoration in the church calls for confession and a turning away from this sin, an action that changes us. Some call these acts of contrition. I call them doing justice. After all, as Cornel West reminds us, justice is what love looks like in public.
I had the privilege of speaking with the Rev. Allan Boesak, a minister in the South African Dutch Reformed Church and anti-apartheid activist about his work with truth and reconciliation in South Africa. I asked him what he would suggest to us as we contemplate a truth and reconciliation process. His answer was profound.  He said, “We forgot to ask what justice would look like to those who were harmed.”
The holy words of truth, justice, and love guided us and filled our prayers as our subcommittee engaged in this process. Two resolutions came from the time of conversations, prayers, and work of the women on this subcommittee.  In committee, the two resolutions were combined. The resolution calls for a creation of a task force to hear the truth of women and men in our church who have been demeaned, abused, harassed, and discriminated against because of gender. Thankfully, our Methodists sisters and brothers did a comprehensive survey several years ago and have generously offered to assist us as we begin the courageous act of faith and love to hear the truth in our own denomination.
We explain in the Resolution:
for the purpose of helping the Church engage in truth-telling, confession, and reconciliation regarding gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls in all their forms by those in power in the Church, making an accounting of things done and left undone in thought, word, and deed, intending amendment of life, and seeking counsel, direction, and absolution as we are restored in love, grace, and trust with each other through Christ;
My hope is that the General Convention heeds the example of Jesus and thousands of years of faithful Christians and humbly, lovingly, and courageously enters this time of confession and reconciliation as we strive to love each other as we desire to be loved. My hope is that women and men of the Church will want for those who identify as women in the church the same rights, dignity, and safety as those who identify as men regularly receive. My hope is that we pass the resolutions as a tangible witness of our belief in this reconciling love Jesus preached, lived, and believes we can embody.
My fear is that we find speaking words of justice and love much easier than acting on them, that voices will continue to embrace excuses and shortcomings as “that’s just the way it is” or we will continue to deny that gender discrimination is alive and even nurtured in the Church. My fear is that we will continue to deny the place of women in our faith.
I fear, but I hear the voices of women and remember always, always to hope.
We are the children of Tamar, of Rahab, and of Ruth. We drink the living water brought up from the depths by the Samaritan woman who asked for that living water at the well and who held with Jesus one of the longest conversations in the Gospels. We cry out for justice and help with Hagar, the first person in Holy Scripture to name God.  God heard her and hears our cries yearning for justice and help in the face of oppression. And we sing with Mary who birthed Jesus into the world with courage and love. We live in the hope of the women who went to the tomb and who were entrusted, above all others, to announce the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because of their witness, because of their love, we live in hope. I live in hope that we will follow their witness and as a church, embark on the journey to be restored to that place where women and men are equal in all aspects of our faith.

Many thanks to the women who served on the subcommittee for Truth and Reconciliation and especially to Jennifer Reddall and Julia Alaya Harris for their dedicated work, faithful prayer, and many editing sessions with me as we wrote this Resolution.  The Resolution can be viewed here and should come up for a vote in the House of Deputies today or tomorrow. Your prayers and support are welcomed as the Episcopal Church hopefully takes this courageous step into truth and reconciliation.

This article originally appeared in House of Deputies News, July 6, 2018 at the this link.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Expansive Language...It's Time

God is…

What words come to mind? Maybe something from Holy Scripture. God is love. Maybe a story from childhood. God is the Good Shepherd. Maybe a prayer from liturgy….God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

For many of us, a visual comes to mind. And for many of us, that visual may be an older white man, the one from certain paintings and art. Lovely as those images may be, they are human created and not fully representative of God.

God is beyond those human limits. God is male and female and neither. God is Abba, Father and the Mother who gathers her chicks under her wings. God is the sound of still silence and the unquenchable fire that burns but does not consume.

God is the vastness of poetry and art and movement.

And yet, in the words of our liturgy, God is often held within the constraints of male pronouns and titles.

Among the most expressed sentiments leading up to this General Convention is that words matter and that we are in immediate need of more expansive language for God available for use in our worshipping communities. Prayer Book revision addresses this need and will be discerned and debated at this convention, yet the process of Prayer Book revision is rightly a long and extensive process.

The Church needs expansive language now.

How can we, as a Convention, address the immediate need and longing for expansive language in our churches while honoring the rubrics and canons of our Episcopal Church? How can we reflect what many churches are already doing by changing male pronouns to God or adding in the women after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

At this General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a proposed resolution offers a trial use of expansive language for the Holy Eucharist, Rite II. Yes, Enriching Our Worship offers expansive images of God in excellent liturgies, and we recognize some congregations seek the familiar words of the Eucharist found in the Book of Common Prayer and hope those words can capture the expansiveness of God. We should, as a Church, find expansive language in both newer liturgies and the familiar cadences and prayers of those that have been celebrated in the church for almost 50 years.

This resolution does not seek to usurp any future revision. It does hope to present a trial use of the familiar liturgies of Rite II used in many of our churches that reflect the expansiveness of God, the width and depth of God. Many churches are using this expansive language already in their worship; this provides a consistent liturgy approved by the General Convention. 

This resolution invites us to worship the God…who is.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Horses Speak of God

Thanks to WTVQ in Lexington for interviewing me about Horses Speak of God.

Horses Speak of God is available on Amazon, through Paraclete Press, at Brier Books in Lexington, Kentucky, or through your local bookstore. Contact Paraclete Press if you'd like your local bookstore, church bookstore, or favorite horse supply store to carry Horses Speak of God!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Write What You Know...and Discover

Essay comes from a French word meaning, “to attempt.” In the sixteenth century, Michel de Montaigne, a Frenchman, wrote what most scholars believe to be the first essays. He categorized his writings as attempts to describe his thoughts and ideas, from the grief to the act of posting a letter. 
 I didn’t set out to become an essayist, much less an essayist on faith and horses. I began my writing career as a romance writer. I went to local meetings of romance writers and read romance novels. After all, if you want to write, you’d better read. I wrote short stories and chapters and eventually a whole book that involved a missionary and a soldier of fortune in Jamaica who save the world and fall in love.

To say my novel was an attempt at fiction writing is a generous assessment. Two editors from large publishing houses read it. Both rejected it. One said she liked my use of words and wondered if I’d considered non-fiction writing.

No. No I hadn’t. I wanted to write about exotic locales and create intricate, flawed characters and have book covers that make the reader catch her breath at their beauty. But my dreams of becoming the next great novelist went into a filing cabinet with my first novel when I went to seminary where I studied to become an Episcopal priest. Seminary meant writing papers about the significance of women mystics in the Middle Ages and memorizing Greek vocabulary. Seminary led to ordination, and ordination led to a full-time ministry as a priest. 

I began to write non-fiction. 

You’d probably call them sermons. 
I wrote out my sermons each week. One day, one member of my congregation asked if she could have a copy, because she liked the way I used words. I gave her a copy, and I remembered that editor’s rejection of my fiction long ago.
So I began to write essays.
And I wrote. I eventually discovered the world of blogging. After more writing and blogging, editors discovered me and wondered if I’d be interesting in being published in a book.
 Yes. Yes I would.
So now I write essays. 
And one day, I wondered what I might discover if I wrote about God and horses. Writing essays are attempts at explaining and discovering the world we experience. They are words placed one in front of the other, moving towards something that is yet fully formed until the last sentence. 
A common imperative in writing is write what you know. I start that way, until I wander into what I don’t know and have to stop and rest. For me, writing is a walk into a profound wilderness. I begin with words and sentences I know, until I realize I’ve wandered into a deep thicket of emotion and vulnerability and am lost among the sentences. Then I have to stop, find a log sturdy enough to hold the weight of my self and soul and sit. As I rest in this place, I explore what I’ve discovered. 
 If an essay is truly an attempt, that means, for me, that I will discover something I didn’t know as I write my way into the essay. I attempt to write as if I have any idea what I’m doing. I realize I rarely do. 
 Humility is a beneficial companion for writers. 
But not, however, as beneficial as a stable filled with horses.
For this book, this collection of essays, when I’d written myself into the world of don’t know, I would find my way to the ones who did. I would go ride horses. They never failed to deliver their wisdom. 
They reminded me of the power of words like “trot” and “halt” as well as the importance of no words at all as I sat deep or guided them with slight leg pressure to change direction. They pulled me out of my words and into my body, reminding me to feel and experience first, then describe. They nuzzled me and communicated that they trusted me with their stories not because I was great, but because I was learning.
Riding horses and writing essays are attempts, every single time. Some attempts end with feelings of accomplishments and accolades. Some attempts end with reminding myself that learning experiences are important, too, and being thankful that no one else saw…or read.
Horses Speak of God is a collection of attempts to share how I experience God in creatures who have held the devotion of humans for eons. I have worshipped God in the great cathedrals of our world, in the small chapels of our communities, and in the stalls of a barn. I am broken open and bound together by God in all these places. I am made whole by the spirit of God embodied in horses.
In the end, I wrote about the exotic locale of a barn in Kentucky, where intricate, flawed humans meet exquisite, inspiring, and, at times, rebellious horses in my attempt to share the grace and love they have shared with me.
And because horses are on the cover, I even got a book whose cover image makes me catch my breath at its beauty.

            Horses Speak of God, published by Paraclete Press, is available now on Amazon and other online booksellers and at your local bookstore (we love supporting local bookstores!).