Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why I Am A Christian

Missed our Convention address? You can watch part of here where we each answer the question, why am I a Christian?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Jesus and the Modern Man (NY Times)

Our Diocesan Convention this past week-end was focused on the theme "That ALL May See Jesus". This article, "Jesus and the Modern Man"
spoke to me in every way, but particularly through this paragraph below. It often seems that we who call ourselves Christians want to deny the full and permanent Jewishness of Jesus, who we have named Christ, the anointed one.


"Chief among these is the way in which the full and permanent Jewishness of Jesus was forgotten, so much so that his story is told in the Gospels themselves as a story of Jesus against the Jews, as if he were not one of them. Against the way Christians often remember it, Jesus did not proclaim a New Testament God of love against an Old Testament God of judgment (which girds the anti-Jewish bipolarity of grace versus law; generosity versus greed; mercy versus revenge). Rather, as a Shema-reciting son of Israel, he proclaimed the one God, whose judgment comes as love." 


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Our 2014 Convention Address

The text of our 2014 Convention Address has been posted here: http://outsidechurchwalls.blogspot.com/p/2014-convention-address.html

With this report, our work for the Diocese of Olympia  has come to a close.

Thank you to those who have supported our work and have followed this blog as we have poured out our hearts to pave the path we were called to walk.

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ"
2 Thessalonians 1:2

Thursday, November 6, 2014

My Why

When I was 16, I fell head over heels in love. I walked into All Saints Episcopal Church and fell in love. I loved the people that embraced me there. I loved to sing and immediately, the director of the choir was not only asking me to sing but also working with me privately after church on Sundays. I loved the fact that our church’s building was older than the American Revolution. I loved the beautiful stained glass windows and the colors of the vestments and the silver vessels.

Most of all, I loved the smell of the church. It was a combination of beeswax candles, incense and cherry wood; to me that smell still fills my mind and whenever I come across a church that smells similar, I find myself moved to tears.

Church was a safe place for me. I was accepted and loved. It was a nice place to go that made my week complete. I left each Sunday and watched as my parents talked excitedly about the different people they saw at church that day. Did you see Rosemary today? She is going to have that baby any day now. And what about Auntie Em? Didn’t she look well this week—I was worried about her last week.

For many of us, the story ends here. The Episcopal Church fills our senses and our hearts. And that is nice. We are glad to have that weekly sensate experience among old friends.

But pardon me for saying this, but this is a puny why. It was and is a starting place but it is just the beginning. If we are to be church, to be relevant, our why has got to be fulsome; risky, about the ways we have encountered Jesus.

It was in college that I began to understand something more, it was in college that I encountered Jesus,

I was a part of the Campus Ministry at my Catholic College. The Sisters of Charity are well known for advocating for those Jesus would have us advocate with. Our campus minister was a nun who had worked in Bolivia with farmers. Her community had been gunned down in Latin America for because of their ministry. She told us about Oscar Romero and Jesus Christ who set the people free.

One Lent, our entire campus ministry team made a promise with one another; our Lenten spiritual discipline would be to collectively write daily letters to President Botha of South Africa explaining that we were praying for all the people of South Africa and that one day Aparteid would end. Each of us committed to praying daily for the liberation from Aparteid while we took turns writing letters so that Botha would receive one letter a day through out Lent.

We talked about things that mattered deeply to us from the Bible to Faith to feminism to economic policy to the death penalty. And we argued. The way that college students do.

It was later that spring that our campus ministry held a conference Social Justice. We invited a variety of speakers and it was there, in the midst of this conference that stepped beyond church, and beyond religion that I met Jesus. I looked at Jesus square in the face.

We had just finished celebrating the Triduum on campus. I had sung for Easter Mass on campus and had gone to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday at an Episcopal Church. The story of Jesus was still in my mind as I met him.

He was an African American man who was poor and lived in North Carolina. He had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and was arrested for the murder of a white college student in the early 70’s. He had sat on death row for 13 years innocent. He was down to his last appeal when Project Innocence met him and took on his case. His eyes were haunted, and he was angry. He was using his anger to find his voice now and to talk about the ways our justice system is stacked against the poor and people of color.

And there he was—Jesus. Before my very eyes. The story of the crucifixion and the resurrection was made REAL for me. The crucifixion happens every day in our world—do we see it? The resurrection takes places at the blink of an eye—do we gaze into empty caves in our world to notice it?

Church wasn’t just some nice place to go on Sunday morning; faith was more real than that.

My parents would later tell me that I had succumbed to liberal hogwash. In turn I told them that it wasn’t about being liberal or conservative—it was about being a Christian and seeing Jesus in the world right now. It’s about advocating for those that Jesus would have advocated with.

My adventures as a Christian have been immense; from meeting that former death row prisoner to working with homeless, to developing friendships with other children from the family of Abraham (Muslims and Jews) to being inspired by 80 years and taught by 6 year olds. To year after year of being transformed by prayer, Eucharist and living out my baptismal covenant in the world, to celebrating and praying just as my ancestors have for generations.

I am Christian and I love Science. I love Jesus, the Bible and Darwin.

I am a Christian because love is more powerful than any empire, violence or even death. My life given over to Christ is beyond any wealth or happiness that the world could provide.

I share with you my why because I want to invite you to think about your own why. Beyond how lovely Sunday morning is or how much you love St Cyril’s by Sea, I invite you to ask WHY.

Why am I a Christian?

Pray about it. Write it down. Share it.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Passion and Growth

This has been a great quarter for me at the UW thus far. I have finally made it to the point where there are no more literature or geography-crap classes I have to take (sorry to you who like that stuff). From here on out, there is only glorious programming and lots of it (and plenty of math). My grades are up; I’m content and joyful day in and day out. I have a passion for the work that I am doing, and it permeates every moment.

It took me a while to get here. Turning back the pages to my freshman year of college, I had two men I looked up to: Jim and Jerry. Jerry was a psychology professor and Jim is a self-made businessman who sells model trains. Jerry was a wise and experienced 63 year-old man, and Jim middle-aged. To each, at some point during my time with them, I asked the same question: Should I make a career of a beloved hobby?

At the time I was seriously considering pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education, whittling away at perfecting my skills working with children. It was a good enough field, and I chose it only because I didn't have a good reason not to. But by night I would waste hours making electrical components into flashing lights and other fun little circuits just for fun, or play around with various Linux distros on my laptop.

Jerry, the professor, had the college for 8 years, 15 years in clinical psychology, and 20 years as a scuba instructor and small business owner. He swore up and down that pursuing his hobby of diving as a career was a mistake that cost him decades.

Jim on the other hand, had worked quite happily for 30 years in his hobby of model trains. He worked in a retail shop during the day and went home to play for many hours more each day.

I held both men to be wise and experienced, but I was always perplexed how they could have such different views on a pivotal question. Looking back now, I can see that Jim must have been far more satisfied on his straight forward path in life, while Jerry veered dramatically every decade or two. Jim’s satisfaction stemmed from an underlying passion that showed whenever you mentioned trains to him.

In my mind, passion is the sum of two personal truths. Your why, and your energy.

Why: This is the reason for getting out of the bed in the morning. What makes you tick. For me, I love programming and being a student at UW because it gives me an intellectual challenge of abstract problem solving, and that I get to make things in the virtual world. It is my ultimate display of creativity to know that I have solved a problem and in doing so, I have built an invisible world that slaves away to complete the task I named for it.

Energy: This is simply choosing to do something with your why. Choosing to get out of bed, choosing to tick, and having the time and ability to do so.

When I think of passion in the church, the first people that come to mind are the little old ladies who have served on the altar guild or prayer ministry since before I was a thought. They know what they love to do, they do it well, and I know they will never do anything else.

Thinking about these old ladies, I can plainly see that they love what they do because they have a reason for doing it, and are not stretched beyond their means to do so.

Not every person in ministry in the church has this same passion though. There are several people I can think of who have energy, but no reason for doing what they do. This leads mostly to doing more things, which in turn means burning out that energy. Not knowing why you do something gives no barrier to saying yes to the next need that arises within the church walls, because you can’t say no.

After the same fashion, knowing your reason for doing something, but not having the energy or time to act on it leads to some amount of resentment and possibly getting confused about why you love what you do.

The matter of passion must be solved long before we, as a church, can hope to grow. Growing is no easy task and it will not happen overnight. But when it does, it will happen because people know who they are, and who we are as a Body of Christ. That we know exactly why we exist as an Episcopalian and Christian church, and we readily have the energy (which is not measured in money or membership) to live out our calling.


Monday, October 27, 2014

So That All Must See Jesus

That is the theme for our upcoming Diocesan Convention, November 8 & 9, 2014. OCW is a group that has been meeting over the past two years. One of our charges from Bishop Greg has been to find a way for more people to see Jesus. We must, as individuals and congregations, express our belief as practicing Christians to carry out our God given mission of our Lord and Savior to our communities and the world.

One of the most powerful reoccurring themes was a passionate personal faith and a compelling purpose ... a clear WHY? ... personal and corporate growing out of that faith. We each answered our clear personal why be defining “why I am a Christian”.

For me it was joining a youth group at St. Marks Episcopal Church in Hood River, Oregon, and at the age of 11/12 attending Ascension Summer Camp at Cove, Oregon in the Missionary District of Eastern Oregon in 1946/1947. I attended camp at Cove all the way through until high school graduation in 1953. It was Bishop Lane Barton, ministers, and staff who helped me to see Jesus. It was also fellow campers (still friends for life), including my wife of 55+ years, and the ministers who nurtured me as a Christian these many years. The congregations of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Vancouver, WA and now the congregation of St. Peter’s in Seaview, WA. 1968-2014. It has been the love and grace given to me by my wife Doreen and family, including son Al, daughters Pam and Deb, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that have kept me in Jesus’ care and a Christian.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Coming To An End

As the Outside Church Walls group comes to an end, I am experiencing more than a bit of sadness. I've enjoyed getting to know people I would otherwise never have had the chance to meet, much less work with. My thinking has been informed and sharpened by perspectives I would never have though of myself.

My pet angle has, and remains, communication. As an institution, we need to communicate everything we do to the general public. If we don't get our message out, we are complicit in public misunderstandings of Christianity in general, and the Episcopal Church specifically. Having said that, we should be ever vigilant to resist being influenced, both personally and institutionally, by media. Discernment is listening for the Word of God, not reacting emotionally to the latest "if it bleeds, it leads" news story. Media is a tool of public relations that we can put to work for us. However, it can also be a very dangerous weapon when used maliciously or if consumed uncritically. An example of the former is a press release that leads to an article about something positive the church is doing to help address a problem. An example of the latter is the church leaders making public statements about issues they have simply read about without considering the source. It costs thousands of dollars to produce a very simple 30 second local TV commercial; how many millions must it cost to produce a 30 minute international news broadcast... every half hour? It's worth pondering that you aren't charged a dime for it. But it isn't just TV, now of course it's the Interwebz. How much does it cost to host, say, Wikipedia in 99 different languages on who knows how many servers in various countries around the world. And yet, have you ever seen an ad anywhere on Wikipedia? Who's paying for all this? I don't know the answer, but I suspect that the advertising is in the content. Be skeptical.

We know who we are. Many parishes participated in the Church Assessment Tool survey last year. I urge the powers that be to aggregate these so we as a diocese will have a clearer picture of who we are and what our priorities ought to be. This will inform us about how best to communicate who we are. At lunch this summer, two college students who attend St. Paul's Bellingham, Elysia Gemora and Jon Fedele, urged us not to try to change who we are in order to appeal to others, but to state clearly who we are. "We're here because of who you are," they said.

In other words, don't try to put theory into practice, derive theory from practice.

That reminded me of something Eliacin said at one of our meetings: too often we flip a switch when we enter and leave church. We're slightly different people inside church walls and outside them. Our goal should be to eliminate that internal wall within us so we can best engage with others wherever we may find ourselves.

In closing, I'd like to recommend a little book that Doyt recommended to me. It's called "Hour by Hour," available at the Episcopal Bookstore https://www.episcopalbookstore.com/product.aspx?productid=1485 . It's a book of daily prayer four times a day (morning, noon, evening, and compline), for each day of the week. If I had to pick one personal change I'm taking away from the Outside Church Walls experience, it's that developing a sense of spiritual discipline is vital to discerning God's will. That is the only way we can engage successfully with the culture in which we find ourselves.