Thursday, July 23, 2015

Moving to Falls Church...

I'm thrilled to say that thanks to lots of pro bono work by parishioner project manager extraordinaire Kees Dutilh, vestry member/architect Matt Lee, and parishioners Dee and Bill Thorton, not to mention the substantial financial investment by the Diocese of Virginia, work on restoring and renovating the church-owned house (Rectory) of The Falls Church Episcopal is nearly complete.

I'm even more thrilled to say that (assuming all goes according to plan), this means we'll move to Falls Church next Friday, July 31!

For the past three years, as part of my original agreement with the vestry of The Falls Church when I was first called as its Rector in 2012, I've been commuting from Leesburg. We've lived there since 1999; that's where we've raised all three of our children. But now that daughter Elizabeth, our youngest, has graduated high school and is (in mid-August) heading off to college, we're able and ready to make the move into Falls Church.

Among other things, that means my one-way commute will go from 32 miles and an average of 42 minutes to an easy drive (or bike ride, or walk) of 1 (one!) mile. I'm so looking forward not only to the "found time," but to living and being in the city of Falls Church, and being able to be present, easily and quickly, at community (Falls Church and Falls Church Episcopal) events.

They say moving is a stressful event. Granted, it's a very "first world problem" to have (and a happy one at that), but still, there's no use denying there's stress involved: in the course of one month, we'll leave the town we've lived in for the past 16 years, Mary will start a new job (Abington Elementary) at a new grade level, we'll drop our daughter off at college, and our "nest" will be "empty" for the first time since 1991.

One particular stress inherent in moving is finding new places to do life's "stuff" -- everything from grocery shopping to the dentist.

But the other day it hit me: why not have some fun with this, and involve others - your ideas and your experiences? So with apologies for all you anticipating some Deep Theological Pondering of the Day, how about it?

We've already found the two most important things to find when moving to a new community: a vibrant, active, outreach-oriented church (duh, do you really have to click on that?), and an auto mechanic we like and trust...

...but if you're in the area, who do you recommend (or - perhaps equally valuable info, who would you warn us to avoid!) for...

Our new veterinarian (for Sadie, our dog, and Lucy, our cat)?

Our new dry cleaner?

Barber? Hair stylist?

Our new dentist? 

Our new doctor? (generalist/internist)

And just for fun: when the five of us are all together for the move-in weekend, what one (affordable) restaurant MUST we try?

For the record: yes, I know how to go to Yelp and Google Reviews and Angie's List - what I'm interested in is your personal advice and opinions and experiences. Email me; I'll keep all your recommendations confidential - and will only let you know our choice(s) if you ask -- and if it's what you happened to recommend!

Monday, July 20, 2015

"Righteous Gentiles" -- Trained and Organized to Love

In the liturgical calendar(s) of The Episcopal Church (The Book of Common Prayer, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and the trial-use Holy Women, Holy Men), various days are set aside to remember or commemorate a number of saints, martyrs, heroes of the faith, and occasions.

Today (Thursday, July 16) is a day to commemorate "The Righteous Gentiles."

"Righteous Gentiles" is a variation of Righteous Among the Nations," an honorific the State of Israel uses to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during World War II to save Jews from extermination by Nazis and their collaborators.

You can read a full article here which explains the sacrifices of Raoul Wallenberg (Swedish, Lutheran), Hiram Bingham IV (American, Episcopalian), Carl Lutz (Swiss, Evangelical), and Chiune Sugihara (Japanese, Orthodox).

 But today I'd like to focus on the life of André Trocmé (French, Reformed) and his wife, Magda, who saved the lives of thousands of Jews in France during the Nazi occupation.

 I first learned about Trocmé and the church in Le Chambon of which he was a pastor when I read the book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There by Philip Hallie. 
(Do you know, have you read the book? Let me know.)*

 The book tells an important story: during the darkest and most terrible years of World War II, when the evil viruses of fascism, anti-Semitism, and jingoism came together and Nazi domination of Europe (and beyond) seemed unstoppable, the people of Le Chambon quietly but effectively went about the business of resistance, creating safe haven for Jewish refugees even though they knew it was against the law and extremely dangerous.

 "The people of Le Chambon knew about the false identity cards," Hallie writes, "they knew that sheltering foreign refugees and not registering them under their true names was in violation of the laws of France. But they also knew that sometimes - and this was one of those times - obeying the law meant doing evil, doing harm."

What I find so remarkable about Le Chambon is how "normal" and "ordinary" their actions seemed to them at the time: "Things had to be done, that's all, and we happened to be there to do them," Magda Trocmé said in a typical statement, "You must understand it was the most natural thing in the world to help these people."

As you read the book, you discover why the actions of the villagers was, in fact, "natural." 

 Their actions were natural because they had faith and they were trained to love.  

 When I say they "had faith," I don't mean they subscribed to some intellectual doctrine. "For Trocmé," Hallie writes, "the test of whether a faith was real lay not in patience or in passionately rehearsed imagery [of Heaven], but in what that faith could do to make our own lives and the lives of others precious now, in our homes, in our villages."

And when I say they were "trained to love," I don't mean they were trained to feel certain ways or have certain emotions. I mean they were trained to put love into action by literally opening their doors to those seeking refuge.  

They were not only trained to love, they were organized to love, in a decentralized yet highly structured network of small groups that met at people's homes when gathering as a large group became too dangerous.

 Here's the question I'm asking today: 

"How do we, as a Christian faith community in Falls Church in 2015, develop such a sense of faith and love among ourselves so that helping people -- even when it is unpopular or dangerous -- is 'the most natural thing in the world' for us?"

I'm fascinated by that question - so much that I would love to offer a book study this fall on Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed for anyone who'd like to join me.

I'd like to offer the book study in two versions: a traditional book study group that meets in person, and another virtual book study where anyone can participate online. Interested? Contact me, because...

 "I, who share Trocmé's and the Chambonnias' beliefs in the preciousness of human life, may never have the moral strength to be much like the Chambonnias or like Trocmé, Hallie writes, "but I know what I want to have the power to be. 

"I know that I want to have a door in the depths of my being, a door that is not locked against the faces of other human beings. I know I want to be able to say, from those depths, 'naturally, come in, and come in.'"

*Also, speaking of books and another possible book study: anyone reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt?  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"Independence" and Long Fireworks

This Saturday is the 4th of July, a day on which people all over the United States will watch long fireworks displays as part of their Independence Day celebrations. So today I want to share some thoughts about fireworks and the idea of "independence."

First, fireworks: if you think about it, fireworks displays are really nothing more than a long series of explosions.

But that seems to be a really good metaphor for "independence."

They need to be long, because the fight for "independence" is long.

We designate July 4th as Independence Day because it's the date in 1776 when the Continental Congress adopted the document called "Declaration of Independence," but two other more important dates came a year earlier -- April 19, 1775 -- when the Revolutionary War started at Lexington and Concord,  and much later -- September 3, 1783 -- when the Treaty of Paris was signed, formally ending the Revolutionary War.That's over eight years: eight years of fighting; eight years of explosions, blood, and battle. A long time.

And fireworks, as a symbol of "independence," need to be explosive. We don't just wake up one day and say "I'm free!" -- not a single person gained "independence" the day the Declaration of Independence was signed just because a document was signed.

You want freedom from old habits or addictions, compulsions, attitudes? You want freedom from financial debt? You want freedom from "the spiritual forces of wickedness," "evil powers," or "sinful desires that draw you from the love of God"? You want freedom from prejudice or a -ism? You want freedom from any of these tyrants?

If so, expect a lengthy and explosive process. Whoever or whatever has a hold on us is not, generally speaking, going to let go easily or quickly. Tyrants put up a fight.

Which brings me to another point: as much as we idolize the idea of "independence," there's really no such thing.

That's right, there's really no such thing as independence.

There is only independence FROM something or another as we become MORE dependent ON some other thing or another.

Perhaps "Independence Day" should be called "Independence From Great Britain Day," because in order to achieve independence from Great Britain, early American colonists had to become more dependent on one another. Not to mention more dependent on France.

The point is, no human being is truly independent.

And that's not even a religious claim: a quick study of the process of photosynthesis proves all human life is dependent on a pigment called chlorophyll for every breath we take.

No human organization - no business, no bank, no school or government or church or nation -- is truly independent.

We are all dependent upon, and inter-dependent with others, nature, and God.

So as you watch fireworks this Fourth of July, give thanks for the long, explosive process our founders went through, teaching us something about the process of achieving "independence."

Give thanks for our dependence on and inter-dependence with other people.

Give thanks for our dependence on and inter-dependence with nature, "this fragile earth, our island home," crops, and truckers and interstate highways.  

And give thanks for our dependence on (and at times seeming inter-dependence with!) God, who could have populated this earth with angels to perfectly do God's will, but instead chose us human beings, fighting for independence from that which enslaves, so we are free to acknowledge our dependence and inter-dependence, each day.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Conservative Opposition to Gay Marriage?

Shortly after the decision by the United States Supreme Court that made gay marriage legal in all fifty states, the editor of the local paper, The Falls Church News-Press asked me if I had a statement. After I gave it a little bit of thought, and not wanting to repeat things already said elsewhere, here's what I came up with: 

"I’ve never understood why conservatives, of all people, would be opposed to people lining up and fighting for the opportunity to join the inherently conservative institution of marriage.

"Couples want to marry – to make lifelong promises to be exclusively loyal to one another, to be faithful to each other as long as they both shall live. And some people oppose that? 

"Couples want – to paraphrase the United Methodist pastor and author Adam Hamilton – to share their lives together as one another’s helpers and companions, hold hands, share dreams, help one another when one is struggling, share memories, companionship, and a warm embrace, commit to love one another ‘for better and for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until they are parted by death’ — and some people are somehow against that? On moral grounds?!?

"Committed, unconditional, mutual, exclusive, faithful, and lifelong covenant love is what couples sign on for when they marry each other. None of us keep those promises and vows perfectly. But the Supreme Court has said that that now, gay couples — no matter what state they happen to live in — can at least legally try. 

"I say thanks be to God. 

"And if couples – straight or gay – are looking for a faith community in which to make, and then try to honor those lifelong commitments, well, The Episcopal Church welcomes them."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Love-Hate Relationship with The General Convention

The General Convention of The Episcopal Church officially starts tomorrow in Salt Lake City, and runs through July 3rd. General Convention is the primary governing and legislative body of The Episcopal Church, and meets every three years.

I've always had mixed emotions about The General Convention, but this one in particular is stirring up even more mixed, "love-hate" feelings.

Because I'm not there.

This will be the first General Convention I haven't attended since 2000 (Denver) -- I was in Minneapolis in 2003, Columbus in 2006, Anaheim in 2009, and Indianapolis in 2012.

On the one hand, I LOVE The General Convention, because it's a ten-day chance to catch up with a lot of fabulous people -- lay people, priests and bishops from all over the country (and world) who love The Episcopal Church and all it stands for. Reading Facebook posts and seeing photos, I miss them; I miss catching up over dinners and drinks. I feel like there's a large, fun party going on in the apartment next door, and I'm stuck at home trying to catch up on work.  

I also love meandering around the Exhibit Hall at each General Convention, where hundreds of people from lots of different advocacy groups, church supply companies, Episcopal seminaries, booksellers and others set up shop to hawk their wares and ideas for the week.

I even love attending the quirky, self-conscious worship services held there. Especially after my good friend The Rev. Daniel Simons gave me great advice for attending worship at The General Convention: sit up front, he said, right next to the musicians; changes everything. And you get to not only hear, but see some fantastic preachers: in fact, of the ten best sermons I've ever heard, two were preached at a General Convention.

But unfortunately, those things (fellowship, idea-sharing, and worship) are -- or seem -- tangential to the central purpose of The General Convention.

That's because unfortunately, the raison d'être for The General Convention is legislation. Which means every time there's a General Convention, the Episcopal Church's loud-mouthed cousin called Church Politics shows up. Not only shows up, but takes over.

Now here's the thing:

I used to like "church" -- the institution itself, the way we're organized and run.

And I used to like "politics" -- hell, I worked on Capitol Hill for four years; I was briefly on a Presidential campaign staff; my last job before seminary was as a press secretary in a state-wide race.

So liking church, and liking politics, I used to love church politics. And The General Convention is the Super Bowl/World Cup/World Series of Episcopal church politics. And there I was, being paid to observe, and write about, church politics! Not quite heaven-on-earth, but a blast, a ten-day blast.

But then something odd happened. Not overnight, and not completely. But enough to change things in major ways.

And that's this: I fell in love with the Bible, and with the God-made-known-in-Jesus to whom the Bible points. (That's somehow embarrassing to admit, even though it shouldn't be. But that's another story.)

As a result, over time, I started to be impatient with, and eventually dislike "church."

When I say "I dislike "church," I do NOT mean the Church defined as the Body of Christ gathered for the apostle's teaching and fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers; I still love that dynamic, organic Church.

I mean the church institution -- its bureaucracies, its structures, its "meet-for-the-sake-of-meeting" tendencies, its soul-crushing amendment-to-an-amendment-to-the-fourth-resolved-clause-of-an-even-more-earnest-substitute-resolution about The Issue We All Must Really Care About.



Please, God, no.

The funny thing is, I believe that a majority of people out in Salt Lake City can empathize, or even feel the same way themselves. I've had dozens of conversations about this, with folks who are out there, even now. There's a general and growing sense that the System is Broken, and there's a general and growing sense that We Must Do Something About It.

And so -- ironically -- task forces are formed and resolutions are written and debated and amended to address the brokenness of the system.

It's what we do.

And it's what we'll always do -- as long as we see ourselves as a legislative body that happens to have fellowship and idea-sharing and worship. 

For real change to happen, we need think of ourselves as an idea-sharing, fellow-shipping, worshiping body that happens to legislate.

Oddly enough, that mindset -- thinking of ourselves as an idea-sharing, fellow-shipping, worshiping body that happens to legislate -- is already in place on the congregational level at annual meeting time. It's even in place in some Dioceses at Diocesan Convention time: some Dioceses see their Convention as a time to gather the wider Church together for fellowship, prayer, worship, and idea-sharing, and are de-emphasizing if not overtly discouraging all but the most necessary enabling (Constitution and Canons, plus Budget) legislation.  

My unscientific research concludes those are the healthiest, fastest growing congregations and dioceses.

If that's true, since I'm not there this year to ask in person, may I ask a favor?

And that is -- if I'm onto something here -- may their representatives please speak up?