Full Court Christians

What a significant week this has been in the life of our country!  From the extradition efforts on Edward Snowden to the repeal of protections of the Voting Rights Act, to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act to the upholding of Proposition 8 in California.  On the State front there is still inadequate funding for our schools, major attacks on women’s health, and the immediate movement to obstruct full participation of people of color in our democracy.

As Christians, our baptismal covenant requires of us to seek and serve Christ in all people and to respect the dignity of every person.  Our worlds coalesce today as our politicians and jurists put before us stark and nuanced choices about the worth of persons.  How we treat and think about those who differ from us is a sign of God’s presence or absence in the world.

We may not all agree on every policy that comes down the line as Christians.  As followers of Jesus though, we have to insist on respecting every human person and to do the work of our Lord.  Healing, embracing those at the margins, proclaiming freedom, working for wholeness, caring for the widows and orphans and the demon possessed is our ministry.

Today a major step has been taken in our country by the Supreme Court’s striking down of DOMA and Proposition 8.  Full justice has not been achieved.  May we continue as the Church to model dignity and work for it.

Death and Transformation

White LilyDeath and resurrection are the two poles around which the Christian life rotates.  This elemental rhythm of the life of Jesus is the one his friends dance to as well.  We see this transformation happening all around us because we are looking for it.

Last Sunday as we celebrated the witnessing and blessing of Gary Patterson and Jeff Meadow’s lifelong covenant.  The sense of resurrection joy was palpable.  The love in the room genuinely lifted the rafters.  The music soared.  The smiles were contagious.

Our sense of resurrection sprang from our previous experiences of death, which, of course, take many forms as well.  Some of us are carrying the cross of weariness.  Others of us have suffered estrangement from our families.  Others of us bear the stripes of the culture wars.  Death bears down on us and yet is not the final word in God’s vocabulary.

Transformation happens!  What was dead becomes reborn.  Hopelessness succumbs to possibility.  As we begin our walk into Holy Week this Sunday, let us become mindful of God’s beat in the world around us and within us.  Let’s use this time to reclaim the dance of our faith.

One of the ways we observe resurrection is to offer thanks for special people and to remember  those who have died by offering flowers at  Easter.  If you’d like to order lilies, and see our Easter Sunday activity schedule, please click here.

Amazing Place

This Monday, I had the privilege of going to Amazing Place, a ministry to those who are living with dementia, with our choir from St. Stephen’s School and a number of parishioners from St. Stephen’s Church.  There we were with 30 folks who ranged in age from 45 to 80 something, whose memories are now less reliable, singing our hearts out to Christmas carols.

One participant caught my eye.  He was probably in his seventies and he could no longer read, but he knew the music.  He kept time by pounding out on the table the rhythms to “Rudolf the Red Nosed and Reindeer” and the other songs we sang with utter joy.  He captured the glory of the season by his exuberance.  Light was breaking into darkness.  He beheld it and so did we.

These winter holidays, whether we are observing Advent/Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza, invite us to hone our skills at seeing light as being more powerful than darkness; good triumphing over evil.  We develop this sensibility through symbols and song, not only through intellectual argument.  Our children and students learn to hope and to live a good life by sharing in the light—singing, serving, cooking, eating together, lighting candles, hearing stories.   Our children come to name these longings by doing these practices with us.  These experiences last, even when darkness falls on our bodies and minds.

As we face the struggles and obligations of this season, I hope we can keep our focus on the light and on the practices that nurture it.  Let’s let  the other stuff go.

Same Sex Open Forum

I am enjoying the Adult Forum I have been leading this fall, preparing our congregation for offering the blessing of same gender covenants.  It has been fascinating to listen to the different perspectives folks bring to the conversations.  Single straight people, divorced gay people, transgendered folks who aren’t in relationship, young lesbians who are all bring wisdom and insight to the table.

What has surfaced for me is how wrong my assumptions were coming into this process.  I thought that the questions and issues would pretty much mirror those which straight folks bring to marriage.  Instead, I am coming to know that the gift of couples seeking same-gender covenants bring to the Church is a more sophisticated theological dimension.  When we are not talking about biological function or property rights, we are talking about the nature of fruitfulness, fidelity, companionship, the hope of reconciliation.

This Sunday we will be discussing how this rite will be offered at St. Stephen’s and the preparation which will be required.  I hope you bring your perspective and come to join the dialogue at 9:30 a.m. in Pecore Hall.

Alcohol Free Zone Approved!

Yesterday I went to Houston City Council to testify about St. Stephen’s Episcopal School’s application for a 1000’ alcohol free zone.  The application process was grueling. The scrutiny which we have had to endure and the attitude of many officials has been daunting.  The support of our Councilmember Ellen Cohen has been exceptional.  She pushed back against a structure that is clearly dominated by commercial and development interest.  Today St. Stephen’s is one of only 7 private schools to have successfully received this designation in the past 11 years.

What strikes me as I reflect on the politics of this process is how the public good of our city seems to be limited to what is good for business and development.  The alcohol free zone only prohibits bars from coming within 1000’ of our school.  The notion of limiting development for the safety of children seemed foreign.

Montrose is changing mightily.  More money brings more interests.  More moneyed interests can make life especially difficult for the least among us—children, the handicapped, the poor, the old.  God may be inviting us into new avenues of witness.

New School Chaplain

Diversity.  Living Tradition. Union of faith and reason.  These are marks of both St. Stephen’s Church and  School.

I was reminded of this as I gazed out over the faculty this week as we gathered for in serve, under the leadership of our interim Head of School, David Coe.  Men and women spanning a wide age range, coming from a variety of socio-economic, cultural and religious backgrounds, holding a variety of faiths and none at all, our faculty share a love of students, a commitment to critical thinking, and integrity.

One of the new developments this year is the addition of a chaplain to their ranks.  St. Stephen’s Church and School have collaborated to create this new part-time position to lead worship, teach, research religion curriculum, and organize community service.  Chapel in an Episcopal school setting is not conceived of in the same way as worship in the parish.  According to the National Association of Episcopal Schools’ Guidelines of Good Practices,

  • The school has a fundamental commitment to be an inclusive community grounded in respect for each of its members. The religious pluralism of the school community provides a magnificent opportunity to foster the religious and spiritual formation of people from a variety of religious backgrounds…
  • Episcopal schools have been established, however, not solely as communities for Christians but as diverse ministries of educational and human formation for people of all faiths and backgrounds. Much as Jesus spoke to all present before him, both followers and non-believers, Episcopal school worship embraces the full breadth of the human family.

The Rector, Head of School, and Chaplain work together to steward to school’s spiritual life and to develop its Episcopal identity.

I have called Ryan Beaty, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, to serve as chaplain this school year.  He will work with me to create meaningful worship, to serve our school community pastorally, to begin to cultivate the service learning and world religion classes at our school.  Ryan has extensive experience working with children and youth, writing curricula, and leading worship.  He also brings experience in innovation and technology in church contexts.  While Ryan will guide the day to day spiritual life at our School, I will be responsible for insuring the Episcopal identity of our offerings.

I am excited about this new partnership and the school year and I welcome Ryan into our community of faith and learning.

Finding the Divine in Thin Places

You never know how God will be present in seemingly random acts of kindness and justice.  Today I experienced two such glimpses through our ministry here.

St. Stephen’s will host a vigil protesting the death of Yokamon Hearn by lethal injection in Huntsville.  A group of Quakers coordinates these vigils each time a prisoner is put to death in our name.  St. Stephen’s is part of the site rotation.  It turns out that Naomi, one of our new members who was baptized here on Pentecost, has represented Mr. Hearn for six years as his lawyer.  She called to thank us for being witnesses in this way and to thank us for the support of her ministry.  She will be with his family as he is executed tonight.

The other peek at God action today took the form of Everett.  He called to tell me that he was being released from the hospital and that he has discovered that he has diabetes and will most likely become blind.  Everett has now been clean for one year.  He called to tell me that our ministry to him enabled him to get off the streets and to come to faith.  He also said that his faith will give him strength to face his surgery and the outcome.

I don’t believe in magic.  I am all about the scientific method.  I take subatomic parts seriously.

But I also know that if you look, you can find healing and hope; possibility and love poke through unexpectedly.  You can call it God or not.  I choose to see the divine in these oh so thin places.