Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Bigotry of "bi-vocation"

The church, in my opinion, needs to stop using the term “bi-vocation”. At this point every time I hear it my mind simply says “time to listen to some (uncalculated) lies, (outright) denial, and (unintentionally) bigoted opinions”. It is time to stop being “nice” and get real about our situation. We are not going to do that with a lack of discernment, clericalism, and parochialism.

I have met bi-vocational priest. They have discerned with the church and God amazing ministries that have them living out a personal call within two distinct ministry settings: Priest/Doctors, Priest/Teachers, Priest/Social Workers, Priest/Carpenters, and many other permutations. The church has not discerned that form of call in myself, nor with the majority of my seminary peers, nor with many of the priest currently in ministry. A priest called to a position that requires supplementing income with another job is not suddenly “bi-vocational”. They are just a priest who needs to make sure they can eat. Personally I am all right with this being a possible personal reality, things are tight out there for everyone. Just be honest with me about this reality, do not try to glorify it by calling it “bi-vocational”, do not dishonor my friends truly called to bi-vocational ministry.  

I have met congregations where the laity have been honored enough to recognize their gifts to lead worship, preach, and provide each other pastoral care. Generally, however, the church is still afraid of empowering the laity to the point where they feel they can worship without a priest present. One priest cannot be in four places on Sunday but the priest can meet with a group of three trained lay preachers for bible study and breakfast and hash out sermons together each week. Maybe each community does not have Eucharist each Sunday, but a schedule can be coordinated so that each community has access to the Eucharist each week. This is a matter of lay education, lay empowerment, and taking priest off of pedestals. AKA this is a matter of really hard work that will be ridden with conflict and risk versus the easy route of “bi-vocational’ clergy.

The major hurdle there, of course, is our latent parochialism. The church has infected its parishes with generations of defining themselves against each other, of refusing to see our commonality and being proud and defiant of our differences. If clergy, lay church administrators, lay church ministers (education, music, etc.), and the people in the pews began looking at themselves as ministers of the Episcopal Church in geographic region X that holds parishes A, B, and C instead of opposing forces A, B, and C fighting over the scarce resources of region X then I swear the majority of our issues would disappear. Imagine area clergy coming together and having one 24 hour emergency pastoral care phone that gets handed over week after week. Or instead of three quarter time parish administers there was one full time running one office and one bulletin production house. Imagine having an area associate to cover youth and young adult ministries, clergy sabbaticals and vacation, and a different view from the pulpit.

So please stop using the term “bi-vocational” and thinking exhausted priest working part time jobs that are not their vocation while doing full time ministry to a parish is actually the answer to our problems and not an inherent, if requisite, problem in itself. Please start respecting those priest truly called to bi-vocational ministry, please start empowering the laity, and please stop fighting with the parishes that neighbor the one you go to.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Remember that CPE is to Ministry what the Woodshed is to Jazz…

So in jazz, and realize I am not a Jazz musician just a fan, woodshed is a verb. It means to practice one’s musical instrument. More specifically it is that really dirty, messy, not so pretty form of musical practice best done in a woodshed in an isolated area. It is the hard requisite work necessary to get to know an instrument and how to play it so that one can perform well. On the actual day of the performance the only woodshed stuff the audience is going to hear is when musicians make sure they are in tune, warmed up, and ready to go.

CPE is basically the ministry equivalent to the Woodshed. It is really dirty, messy, and not so pretty and best done with a group of people you will never see again in an isolated area far away from one’s actual ministry. It is the hard necessary work to get to know oneself and how one reacts to crisis so one can perform well. In the actual midst of working with someone, a known individual with whom one has regular interaction, the only CPE stuff this someone should see is that the pastor is listening, available, and ready to be there.

In my personal experience there are four times I want someone to engage in “reflective listening”:

  1. I have never met the person before and they are learning about me in the midst of this crisis.
  2. I am in the midst of a confessional booth and the priest is seeking clarity.
  3. I am fully in the midst of crisis and obviously need some one to help me hear myself think but there better be some deescalation in addition to reflective listening.
  4. I am opening up with a person about something for the first time need to be sure they hear what I am saying.

Otherwise what I want is a companion and a natural conversation around the issue at hand. I want the minister to truly listen to me, I want the minister to not be reacting out of their own baggage… aka I want, need even, the minister to have gained the core skills brought about by CPE. What I do not want is to feel like verbatim fodder. I do not want to be a time to catch up on rusty listening skills. Most especially if I am interacting with the minister on account of their faith tradition then I do not want a series of responses that do not involve the critique and advice that tradition holds and would form me towards in relationship to the issue at hand.

I might be half way decent at analyzing people, but if someone is coming to me seeking analysis they need to go elsewhere. It is not my job and for the ordained it is against the canons of the Episcopal Church to dally there. I need to be able to listen, I need to at least know where the handle on my baggage is, but I also need to be me and connect a pastoral conversation into the greater relationship I have with a person. Overwhelmingly I need to be doing ministry with them not CPEing myself at their expense. If I need to CPE myself then I need to go back to the woodshed. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Marrying your brother… why Adelphopoiesis Liturgies are not early Christian Same Gender Marriages…

So in the late 1970’s early 1980’s John Boswell, an extraordinary academic in many ways, wrote about Adelphopoiesis Liturgies and postulated the concept of Same Gender Marriages between gay men in the early church. This and many other piercing questions to the history we take for granted are found in his text Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. This text is not a revisionist history but consistently points out the exceptions that prove the general consensus, that the past was 100% homophobic, to be quite wrong on many accounts.

Recently, for reasons I am not quite aware, there has been a series of memes on the internet about his research, specifically from his text Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. In this text Boswell shows that certain individuals who took part in an Adelphopoiesis Liturgies also had many other major markers, such as mutual gravestones and cohabitation, which would mark them as a gay male couple. To consider these specific couples to be known gay couples the church blessed using an available liturgy is a plausible hypothesis. To call the Adelphopoiesis Liturgy a Same Gender Marriage Liturgy, however, is not.

Let me throw out a hypothetical situation. In less then a week one of my good friends is getting married, I am one of his groomsmen. Mutual friends describe our relationship as an “epic bromance”. In the early centuries of the church male Christians who found themselves in the midst of an “epic bromance” would take part in an Adelphopoiesis Liturgy to name each other brothers before the church and God. They would place their hands on the Gospel Book, the priest would pray over them asking the Holy Spirit to give them the gifts requisite to being true brothers to each other. They would also take on all legal and cultural obligations that brothers have for each other.

Now let us say me and my soon to be married bro did this. We would be brothers, but not husband and husband. The relationship recognized in the rite is a spiritual one and has no mention or expectation of us physically consummating our love in any way. It would be expected for me to be a witness, just like a familial brother, at my bro’s wedding. What would happen there, by the way, is his bride would come in covered in a veil, be blessed, and the priest would witness the transaction from the bride’s father’s household to her husband’s household. If something would happen to my spiritual brother I would quite possibly take his wife into my household and might even be responsible for producing his heir through the Greco-Roman form of leverite marriage. Needless to say this is not what we are talking about any more when we use the term “marriage” nor are the basic expectations of the Adelphopoiesis Liturgy what are being sought by most same gender couples that I know about.

To return to Boswell:
“To insist, for instance, that in order to constitute “marriages” homosexual unions of the past must emulate modern heterosexual marriage is to defy history. No marriages in ancient societies closely match their modern equivalents. Most were vastly more informal; some were more rigid. Most cultures regard marriage as a private arrangement negotiated between two families. No precise criteria could be specified as constituting a “legal” marriage during most of the period of this study: two people who lived together permanently and whose union were recognized by the community were “married”. Even early Christian theology recognized the difficulties of deciding who was and was not married; Augustine was willing to designate as a “wife” any woman who intended to be permanently faithful to the man she lived with (De bono conjugali 5.5)”[1]

I want to highlight two major points from this. First is that no historical reality is going to viably represent modern day concepts of marriage. Second that Boswell is looking through the historical record for gay couples that were “two people who lived together permanently and whose union were recognized by the community” and found that some probable candidates had taken part in Adelphopoiesis liturgy as a way to be recognized as family by the community. He did not find any evidence that Adelphopoiesis Liturgies regularly constituted anything equivalent to the marriages sought by modern same gender couples; he simply found that they were at some points used to constitute a community recognition between two men who show other markers of possibly being a long term committed same gender couple. 

Having now possibly dashed the dreams of a pure precedent for same gender marriage rites within the Christian tradition let me close with a few of my hopes. First that the church will continue to seek a theology of Marriage that speaks to a life long committed emotional, physical, and spiritual relationship between two equal and mutual individuals. Second that the church will invest its time in developing liturgies and theologies around friendship and spiritual family that we had in the past but now completely lack. My dashing of the idea of ancient same gender marriage comes from the barrier this causes to the development of both goals.  


[1] Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Isaiah 53: 7-12 poetical paraphrase

I worked this out for a retreat liturgy I am putting together. It is a poetical paraphrase of Isaiah 53:7-12 where I strove to remove the distinctions between the parts of the trinity played out, at least in a Christian perspective, of the text...

Oppressed… yet submissive,
like a sheep being lead to slaughter
like an ewe, dumb before those who shear her
not even opening her mouth

Taken away by oppressive judgment
Who could describe that place?
sliced away from any nourishing earth
by the sins of those who deserved punishment

Buried amidst the wicked liars,
In the cold tombs of the oppressors
One who had warmed the hearts of victims
And ever told the truth.

God longed to be open to our pain
an offering for our guilt and shame,
so that we might have abundant life,
might prosper and have purpose

Anguished tears bring vision
Loving devotion brings full joy
Cut off once from all that is living
Bearing away all that is shame

Once again to make things whole
God having now known death
Having been numbered amidst the wicked
Intercedes for the sins surely born.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Who does God want me to love most?... some reflections with the BCP

"Who does God want me to love most?"... this is a question that I have encountered in multiple ways. I remember a Bible study where one individuals adamantly felt that since the verse reads "Love your neighbor as yourself" that love of neighbor must come first because "neighbor" is first in the sentence. I also have come across, and find great value in, liberation theologies that recognize the intimate relationship between the suffering of Christ and the suffering of current victims of oppression and injustice. Recently a friend sent me this article by Fred Clark advocating that the priority of our compassion should be towards the victims of oppression until such time that justice has occurred. These theologies are an understandable reaction to the inherently bad theologies that perpetuate victimization in the name of celestial rewards.

I do not think, however, that these are the only two options on the table. I do not think I am limited to a choice between theologies that ignore the dignity of the oppressed in the name of a future heavenly kingdom or theologies that ignore the dignity of the oppressor in the name of exceptionally important issues of social justice. I believe there must be another path to walk.

I think about my personal wrestling with "loving my neighbor as myself". I have had to do a lot of work on loving myself. To this day I battle with issues of shame and self worth. I also can get caught up in my own thoughts and my own vision and ignore the needs of others. To this day I battle with issues of slowing down and hearing and integrating the experience of others into how I see the world. I believe I am called into a path that will always have me reflecting and balancing with only the occasional graceful moment along this tight rope.

I have wrestled with this in my Bible readings for quite some time. The issue is that I found myself constantly encountering biblical passages used by both traditions, often they are used well if quite differently. I often could not readily differentiate where reading into the text ended and reading from the text began. At some point I found myself putting down the Bible and looking to my tradition for possible clarity. As an Episcopalian this meant that I began to flip the onion skin paper of the Book of Common Prayer.

Where I found myself was balancing the Baptismal Covenant (p 305), the Examination of Deacons (p 543), and the Examination of Priests (p 531). I think that in these four liturgical spaces the church has expressed its theology around this question rather clearly. I am not looking at these in the context of "this is what Lay People do", "this is what Deacons do", and "this is what Priest do"; I will even put forward that such separation is inherently problematic. I do put forward that these are the places where we present how we nuance the situation and recognize that some individuals are called to live into certain nuances more than others for the sake of the whole.

The core statement, by default, is the Baptismal Covenant. The ordination examinations are simply two highly limited methods of working out a life of ministry in the context of the Baptismal Covenant. The last question and answer of the Covenant is:
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will with God's help.
I think that at this point the ground is pretty clear. I can neither ignore issues of social injustice nor can I fail to have compassion for and recognize the dignity of every human being. Every human being means everyone, regardless of where that individual is in the midst of issues of social injustice.

This is then reiterated in the Priestly Examination. In the examination for priests the candidate is must be able to affirm a call "to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor". That word alike is pivotal. Priests are called to preach by action a loving and serving of all individuals regardless of age, wealth, or power. They are called to lead others to similar lives of love and service by such example.

The trap here, the obvious and overwhelming trap, is how do we not allow those with power and wealth hold us captive. This can easily happen casually with no maliciousness or ill intent by those with wealth and power. It is how the system works. The answer is Deacons. Deacons live into the ministry that points out the trap, springs the trap, and gets us out of the trap when we fall into it. In the examination for deacons the candidate must be able to affirm the call "to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely". Here there is a particular interest on the victims and those facing oppression. This particularity is, however, still in the midst of service to all people. I would suggest that this nuance comes from an understanding that service to those oppressed and victimized by society that does not serve all people in society cannot, in the end, bring about holistic and systematic change of society.

The Deaconal nuance is what keeps our Baptismal call "to respect the dignity of every human being" real. It is what ensures that we do not give this vital section of our Baptismal Covenant lip service but truly calls us to ensure that we are not blind to the needs of another in the midst of whatever our particular wealth and power might be. It is the examination and vow all priests take first to ensure that they do indeed "love and serve... alike" by having a service to all people that remembers the particularity of "the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely". It is the requisite work of Deacons to constantly call out the entirety of the church, from the individual to the whole pragmatic structure, to the needs of those who are oppressed and victimized. It is all, however, so that the vital work of the Church, primarily in the hands of the laity, can be work that strives "for justice and peace among all people" and respects "the dignity of every human being" regardless of where they are in the structures of the world.

This is, I think, all a call, a striving, to see each other with God's vision. A remembering that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for no one individual before all individuals. A knowledge that the Love of God that we live into cannot be quantified, measured, or looked at as a form of capital.