Monday, February 27, 2012

Pride, Rainbows, and Lenten Paraments

So this morning I walked into the primary worship space of my seminary. It was decked out in the colors of Gay Pride in a way I have rarely seen, and I have personally decked out several worship spaces for Pride Eucharist, the problem is that it was decked out this way for a Lenten Worship. I was hurt, I was angry, I wanted to cry. I have talked to others and realized that I was not alone in this reaction.

Worship is all about expressing the meaning of symbols. On the first Sunday of Lent this year, one of the symbols presented to us is the Rainbow, the sign of the First Covenant of God with all the people of the earth. It is the symbol that no adversity we face is meant to annihilate and destroy us and that God will never seek so to do. It is the symbol that outside of any law code, level of sinfulness or holiness, or decree of judgment there is God’s overwhelming Love, Mercy, and Peace to all.

It is a good symbol to have as the church enters Lent. It reminds everyone that the reason of the present adversity and penitence is so that we can become more fully aware of God’s love. It is the spring gushing from a rock that will follow us throughout our Lenten dessert journey until we reach the festival Oasis of Easter.

So while it is a symbol that frames lent it is not a Lenten symbol. It is not a symbol of penitence. It is not plain, austere, and hesitant it is beautiful, full, and loud. For many people it might be only slightly jarring to find it presented in the midst of a Lenten service and with the context of the Genesis’ reading and proper explanation of why it is there and what our penitence means… it could work.

Except for me. For me and for most of the LGBT community, the Rainbow is the universal symbol of inclusion, love, and acceptance. It is the same meaning as embodied in the story of Genesis but for us the meaning is exponential. We who have truly been locked up for years in the arks of our closets struggling against the storms of a world that does not tolerate us, of family that rejects us, of isolation and fear; we who have spent years scared to have any association with a Rainbow in fear it might “out us”; we who have to struggle and overcome a world telling us we are not made beautifully. When the dove finally brings us that branch, when we have finally found that dry land, when we have finally seen the rainbow and know that we are beautiful individuals that are loved. There is nothing like that symbol. It is one of the primary contexts in which I understand Easter.

Yes, I do roll my eyes at the LGBT community’s over use of Rainbows. But deep down it is one of those deep visceral symbols, a symbol of new life, of light, of truth. It is like the word A--e-uia, often overused but a powerful symbol that we hold back from use in Lent for the sake of being able to fully enter it later.

I do not know if I am going to be able to worship in that space for the time being. The symbols are so jarring that I cannot really enter into any space but emotional fervor. The lack of understanding around the meaning of the symbol of the Rainbow and how inappropriate it is for Lent in a community that includes LBGT members leaves me in a space I cannot even really define.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Defining a Radical Parish Ministry

            I have no illusions of ever taking part in the parish model that the church created in the fifties. I have been told not to expect it from every angle. As far as I can tell no one has a clear understanding of what priest will actually be doing in thirty years. I do, however, have three basic expectations for the new setting.
            First congregations whose disappearance will have no affect on the surrounding community will have disappeared. Congregations must take ownership of their parishes and become centers of community organizing and services. The time of the Christian Social Club is over the time of the Christian Societal Servants must return.
               Second we must realize that assimilation is futile. Congregations must be expected to change themselves as much as they change others. We must stop bowing to the idols of our ritual proclivities and narrow interpretations of truth, adiaphorae, and walk into the Unknowable Truth.
            Third we must stop attempting to evangelize. Instead we must begin a pilgrimage of discovering how and where God is acting in the lives outside of the church institution. This involves not only stopping to listen but also interviewing and in the end responding from our resources.
            Obviously these are not three linear points but three points in a circular relationship to each other. This is my interpretation of the current popular phrase “missional” but I feel is the same call to reform that has rampantly existed throughout the history of the church.   

Friday, February 17, 2012

Inclusive Eucharist

Inclusion in the Eucharist…

I have had this insane thought. Let us change the rule “Only the baptized can receive the Eucharist” to “The Eucharist can only occur when all who wish to receive are baptized”. Maybe I am insane but if there is someone sitting in your parish pew who is not baptized but wants to receive communion then it is a problem with the parish and not with the person. The parish is the one with the power in the situation.

I remember a Sunday a bit back when I was at an Episcopal Church with a group of guys who where all actively engaged in building a relationship with God but were not yet baptized. Now this was not my regular church and I was rather shocked when the Priest came out and made a very emphatic statement about how only baptized Christians should take communion. It was as close to a “we are going to check membership at the communion rail” statement I had hear in the ECUSA. Now the guys looked at me for some sort of clue as to what to do and I said we will go up and get blessed. Now they were confused and one said “but you are baptized” and I said “sure, but I am here with you”.

As far as I can tell when the religious establishment draws a line between people who are in and people who are out, Jesus wants us to be with the people who are out. The problem with inclusive Eucharist is that instead of the people of God making a sacrifice, which means making themselves holy, to be with those who the church has put on the outside we are instead seeking a way to not actually give up any of our power or comfort for the sake of this other, for the sake of the very person we are supposedly present in the world to sacrifice for.

What would this mean in practice? At the end of the offertory the priest asks “is there any one who wishes to take communion with us who is not baptized” and if there is any one then there is no communion. The community recognizes the value of the new individual by recognizing its incompleteness in not having that one in their midst and thus recognizes it is now unable to have a Eucharistic moment. Or if that is too much to ask that there be a group of baptized Christians who place themselves aside each Sunday and instead of partaking of the Eucharist gather to pray and have community near the Baptismal font and make a catechumen community there. If there are non baptized to come to that group or not that group places itself apart as a sign to the greater community that even in the midst of the Eucharist we are not yet fully whole and the kingdom is not fully come.

I am not sure it is the best solution, as far as I can tell this is a situation where all things are messy and mixed. But I have not heard it before and I think it considers being on the table.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gender Fluid Language not Inclusive Language in Liturgy

God has Gender. If nothing else God has attributes that humans will continue to frame in the context of Gender even if at some point we take up a mode of Gender that is completely fluid.

A lot of the hold up about God around issues of Gender comes about due to bad science. God is held as progenitor and it was not until the past five hundred years that science began to consider a different hypothesis than the male semen holds all things requisite for life. Science now has proven that human’s limited progenatorial act requires equally male and female biological aspects. This is of course not contrary to the earlier creation myth of Genesis where humanity is first made in the image of God and only then divided into to distinct sexes and it is only after the Edenic state that gender roles came into play.

So viably over a millennia bad science and societal habits enforced its understanding upon the earlier myth leaving us in the state of considering gender polarized and dualistic. There is Male, there is Female, and there is Neuter in between. Or in the case of language there is Male, there is Female, and there is Inclusive in between. What Inclusive language can quickly, and rather sadly, become is language that excludes any gender reference. And, because of how we conceptualize gender, this means that we quickly move from descriptive roles like “father” to descriptive gerunds like “creator”. Which force God out of an incarnational setting and into a remote abstract setting. 

What I want to suggest is that we start looking at Gender as a fluid dynamic in regards to God, and viably ourselves as well. We need to stop attempting to have “Inclusive Language Liturgy” and allow for “Gender Fluid Liturgy”. We need to stop making people worship a God that forces them to ritually neuter themselves. Instead we must create liturgy that allows each person to worship a God that reflects both that person’s gender identity but also makes an Icon out of the gender identity of others.

What does this actually mean in practice?

Any reference to the community that is worshiping needs to not limit itself to one gender. So references to “man” or “mankind” still need to go. Oddly this is an easier prospect with Episcopal Rite I services than Rite II. But do not go with stereotypical inclusive language abstracts like “people”. So “and to give thanks for all men” should NOT become “give thanks for all people” BUT “give thanks for all whom you have made” or “give thanks for all God’s children”. Strive always to use the option that is less remote and more experiential.

Reference to God should be gender fluid, all over the place, but not disharmonious within the context of a single liturgy. This means at times a whole liturgy can refer to God within the context of male roles. It also means that a whole service can be made that can refer to God within the context of female roles: God the Mother Hen who calls us to the protection of her bosom [Gospel Image], Jesus the Holy Wisdom [Haggia Sophia] who calls us to her marriage bed [Wisdom Literature], the Holy Spirit who is the sea that gives us both tempest and calm. Or in most cases a harmonious use of both as appropriate to some larger context of the service.

In the end it is a matter of approaching liturgy not with the idea of erasing Gender but with the idea of enfranchising the Mythic Truth that the Image of God is most truly reflected in spaces where Gender is fluid and dialectic and not ones where Gender is at odds, dualistic or removed.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ad Orientem, what we have lost...

This is not a call to return to Ad Orientem, or a celebration of the Eucharist where the Priest and the People all face the same way. It is only a brief musing over a few things that have been running through my mind as of late. It is really just meant to be a moment to highlight a few things to consider as we go about worship.

The major complaint I have heard about Ad Oreientem celebration is that it makes the Priest and the Eucharist “remote” or “detached” or “not connected”. This is a good critique and it is true that the old style was usually too remote, too detached, and too not connected. The problem, however, is that the Heavenly Banquet needs to be a bit remote, detached, and not connected to our comfy American largesse. If I am in worship and there is not some sense I have left my day to day and entered into a space that takes me out of that there is a problem. Liturgy needs to reflect that transition.

I also hear “the priest doesn’t speak to me” and “God doesn’t need to hear it the people in the pew do”. Most of the complaints I hear about worship in the Episcopal Church is that we do not allow the laity to behave as if they were at a concert or movie theatre. Our pews are not that comfortable, we are constantly standing or kneeling or bowing, and a few lucky of us even get to genuflect upon occasion. The laity are not supposed to be the receptive audience of a worship experience but the primary participants. The clergy are not there to speak to the congregation but with the voice of the congregation.

When the deacon proclaims the Gospel it is the Gospel the congregation is supposed to be proclaiming to the world at large. When the priest preaches the Gospel it is the supposed to be the words that clearly state and illumine the inner working of the Gospel in the hearts and minds of the congregation. When the Presider celebrates the Eucharist it is the statement of the community as to what it strives at its deepest essence to be, participants within the heavenly banquet. The entire event is a statement of the community about its nature about what it believes and what it is. The community, and individuals there in, only “receives it” in as much as it comes to hear itself more clearly.

Part of the offering every participant in a communal ritual act, like the Holy Eucharist, is asked to do is offer up part of themselves for the community, part of this is to allow the leaders to speak on their behalf. This is actually what is occurring during the Sursum Corda, it is the space where we become unified in voice, heart, and mind with the words of the celebrant. In our world of “I statements” and “every one has their own opinion and it is rude to talk as a collective” this is a difficult act if entered into fully. That is why we try to hide it away, but by doing so I feel we have lost much.

Which is not to say we need to return to Ad Orientem but that we need to find effective ways to make this reality a part of our circular worship so that we come back to all worshiping in one voice instead of a clergy that has all the mojo and a laity that watch the show. It is also not to say that there are times when I have walked into church and had only the capacity to receive. It is to say that what I received was in part that which is God working in me and calling me and refreshing me that I have such trouble hearing by my lonesome.