Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wednesday

My body got me up at a pretty indecent hour, but whatever extra time that may have afforded me got consumed by trying to configure a new iPad I bought yesterday. It was time. Anyway, on the road in time to get to St John's, Decatur by 0930, where it was my privilege to preside at the funeral mass for Fr Bill Toland, who was long retired and infirm by the time I arrived in the diocese. Back in Springfield in time for a lunch of leftovers at home. Then, to the bank to by some euros before, finally, heading to the office. Took care of various odds and ends. Dashed off another lectionary meditation for Forward Day by Day (to appear of November 2019). Drew the drapes and shut the door as a left around 3:30. Tomorrow Brenda and I head to Budapest for a week-long river cruise on the Danube. Then I'm home on "staycation" until 21 August. See you back in this venue then.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tuesday (William White)

  • Task planning at home over breakfast.
  • Rough-processed the hard-copy pile on my desk after two weeks away. Listened to voicemail.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon on a range of issues.
  • Spoke by phone with Fr Swan about the details of Fr Bill Toland's funeral tomorrow.
  • Did some personal prep for the scheduled afternoon meeting of the Finance Department.
  • Spent the rest of the morning working through a long list of tasks that were all generated by incoming emails over the last several days. None of the overly onerous or inordinately time-consuming, and none of urgent importance, but all of them important to the person who sent the email, and with whom I have a responsibility to keep faith.
  • Lunch from Taco Gringo, eaten at home.
  • Book air travel, hotel, and car rental for a conference I'm attending in Dallas in September.
  • Attended and participated in the regular July meeting of the Finance Department. The agenda at this meeting is always to take a first swing at the operating budget for the coming year. Good people trying to do faithful work.
  • Stepped out when the meeting ended around 4:30 for a brief personal errand.
  • Scanned the accumulated hard copy in my physical inbox.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Lord's Day (VIII Pentecost)

Still recovering from the trauma of 12 days away at hard labor, we took things a little easy today, and just participated as part of the congregation at the 1030 Mass at the cathedral. It was balm to the soul. After a nice lunch out with Brenda, I spent most of the remainder of the day working on this pastoral letter to the diocese.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Saturday

A day of travel, and getting reacquainted with our home, sweet home. Left the Hampton Inn in downtown Austin at the humane hour of 0830, ahead of a 1041 departure. There was a short hop to Dallas, a short layover, and a longer leg to Springfield that touched down just past 2:30. We got home, got ourselves fed, unpacked, and just lounged around, because ... it's been a while. Monitored Facebook and Twitter for continued General Convention detritus. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday

It's over. And sooner than expected. While I was at lunch with some bishop colleagues, we learned that the House of Deputies had adjourned. When the HOB came back to order at 2:30, we had exactly one substantive resolution to concur with, and then the Committee of Dispatch informed the Presiding Bishop that we had completed our legislative agenda, and we adjourned before 2:45. This is the earliest adjournment I can remember from my six General Conventions.

There's lot that can be and needs to be written about this 78th such event, and I will have more to say over the weekend. For now, I'l simply observe that we try to do way too much, and therefore probably don't do a lot of it very well. As the HOB was flying fast and low this morning, I had about ten seconds to look at a resolution before being asked to vote on it. Yes, I could have done in advance, but ... in the name of all that is real ... when? So much of what we are asked to do is utterly unnecessary to the good order and common life of the dioceses of the Episcopal Church. 

We could start by banning all resolutions that have to do with public policy, because nobody cares! We're in an echo chamber pretending that we have the power to actually do anything, when we don't. Then, we could continue by banning all resolutions that merely "encourage" or "suggest" or "call on." Usually, they're about stuff that's already happening. Those who are interested are doing it anyway, and those who aren't are never even going to notice.

More later. But ... so glad this is behind us.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday

We're headin' to the barn, and the horses can small the hay, oats, and sugar cubes.
As always, see here for an issues-oriented perspective.

No more committee work. The legislative session began at 0900. The House of Bishops quickly burned through the handful of resolutions that were on the calendar--at this point mostly requests to concur with actions taken by the Deputies--and then we were just plain out of work, from underemployed to unemployed. Strangest thing I've ever had happen at General Convention. After a bit, at the request of one of the bishops, we went into executive session. This was not to cover up a conflict or anything like that, and it was completely unrelated to any General Convention business. It was a time of personal sharing and prayer. 

We broke for lunch about a half-hour early. I grabbed a quick couple of tacos and then headed up to the JWMarriott for another Communion Partner bishops strategy session. We're working on an "Austin Statement" that will be released sometime tomorrow or the next day.

Back in legislative session at 2:15. There was a trickle of business, but we spent an awful lot of time from then until around 4:45 just standing around in informal conversation groups.
T
he Springfield deputation all had dinner together.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wednesday (St Benedict)

See here for a substantive account of the day's goings-on.

Yet another 0730 committee meeting, but we finished all our work for the entire convention at 0830, so there was time for a leisurely breakfast before reporting to the floor of the House of Bishops at 1030 to continue encasing the ground product of legislative sausage-making. This went on until around 12:40.

Brenda was off with some bishops' spouses, so I grabbed a quick burrito bowl in the Exhibit Hall foot court before heading up to the JWMarriott for another strategy session with my Communion Partner bishops colleagues.

At 2:15 we gathered on last time in joint session, this time to hear the budget presentation by the joint committee on Program, Budget, & Finance (PB&F). There was time for a few questions--and there are some real detail wonks among us--before there was a break so the bishops could be kicked out to go to their own room. We continued in legislative session until 5:00. The chief accomplishment was the passage of B012 (see link above).

I skipped both Eucharist and a CP strategy session in order to get a head start on blogging and then enjoy a relaxed and delicious (though not inexpensive) dinner with Brenda. (Spicy margaritas before blackened redfish on crawfish étouffée hit the gastronomical bullseye). 

Back into legislative session at 7:30. We were finished in about 90 minutes. This thing is winding down.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday

  • 0730-1000, committee meeting. See here for an account of a couple of things we did.
  • 1030-1200, joint session for a "conversation" (series of TED-like talks followed by table conversation), this time on the Care of Creation. I found it interesting that one of the speakers, the Archbishop of Capetown, named the male-female binary as "part of creation." This is, of course, an essential piece in the narrative of those who hold the Church's received teaching on marriage, so I don't suspect that the remark was universally appreciated.
  • Longer than usual lunch break (until 2:15), which the Communion Partner bishops took advantage of for a caucusing session.
  • 2:15-5:00, legislative session. See the link above for the details.
  • From 5:15-6:00 I attended another CP caucus, this time with both Bishops and Deputies. We unpacked what the Bishops did on Prayer Book revision and talked a bit about the status of B012, which hasn't hit the HOB agenda yet.
  • 6:30-9:30, Nashotah House dinner at a nearby restaurant. Quite a nice time.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Monday

Another "day at the office."
  • Committee meeting from 0730-1000. I can't take very much more of getting to work this early. Today was spiced up by a torrential downpour right when we needed to start walking over the the Hilton. So I called an Uber, and arrived in the meeting somewhat drier than many of the committee members.
  • Legislative session 1030--1245, which keeping an eye on Twitter for news of the HOD's consideration of B012. (See here for more of the details.) We plowed through a legislative calendar that was relatively mundane and non-controversial. To my dismay, there was an item on the consent calendar (so, no debate, and several resolutions bundled together) that demanded "full reproductive care" be covered in all employee healthcare plans (read: contraception and abortion). With embarrassment for my church, I voted No.
  • Brenda and I grabbed some Mexican for lunch at Uncle Julio's.
  • Back to legislative session from 2:15-5:00. The last hour or so of that time slot was devoted to the resolution on Prayer Book revision.
  • Back to the room to begin my blogging until stepping out at 9:00 for a Communion Partners caucus, with a break with Brenda for dinner at the Thai restaurant across the street from our hotel.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Lord's Day (VII Pentecost)

The schedule today offered an opportunity to catch up on needed rest and regroup, mentally and emotionally. There were also opportunities to do other important things, but they were not immediately related to the work of convention. So the Springfield deputation gathered at the leisurely hour of 0830 for a simple Eucharist on the veranda of the Hampton Inn. It was actually quite lovely, as we watched and heard the world go on by, and some of it watched and heard us.

Brenda and I took took advantage of the respite from work to have a long walk along the Colorado River on a very warm but beautiful late morning, and lunch at a restaurant that advertises its "world famous" fried chicken. It was good.
The convention business of the day consisted of a legislative session from 3:15-7:00. In the HOB, we got through our calendar early, so I caught the last half-hour or so of debate among the Deputies. See here for my reflections on what they were debating.

Out deputation enjoyed a late dinner at the local Brazilian churrascaria, which has become a bit of a tradition now, since we did it in Indianapolis in 2012 and Salt Lake City in 2015. It's a great group of people.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Saturday

About the only encouraging thing I can say is that, a week from tonight, we'll be unpacking our bags at home! 

Another ungodly start time--7:30 committee meeting, which went 2.5 hours. The big kahuna on our agenda was to get a resolution to the floor on what to do with the liturgical calendar, and we accomplished that. The result is rather minimalist--excising from the Prayer Book all lesser feasts in that category Days of Option Observance, sending them to the SCLM with instructions to formulate a single, non-tiered calendar of commemorations, all with the same ancillary resources (which can be any, none, or all of readings, collects, and biographies) in a proposed 2021 Lesser Feasts & Fasts. This will raise eyebrows. We'll see how it plays. 

Regular legislative session from 10:30-1:00, interrupted several times to welcome various groups of visitors, the most moving of which was the family of a young lady killed in the Ash Wednesday shooting spree in Parkland, Florida. The family are active Episcopalians. 

We broke for lunch between 1:00 and 2:30, which I shared with the Bishops of Western Kansas and West Missouri (our wives were all with one another at a spouses' activity). Still, there was barely enough time, as the restaurant didn't seem adequately staffed to handle a convention of people who are all on the same meal schedule. 

Between 2:30 and 4:00, we were in another joint session, this one on evangelism, Essentially, is was a series of four talks in the TED-talk genre, followed by conversations at tables. 

The daily convention Eucharist was offsite, followed by "Texas Night" and a barbecue, We opted to forego those events, and take the time for some much-needed rest and a nap, followed by a relaxed dinner with the Springfield deputation. Felt slightly guilty, but it was the right decision. Beginning to feel slightly human again.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday

  • Committee meetings 7:30-10:00
  • Joint session on racial reconciliation in HOD chamber from 10:30-12:00.
  • Lunch bowls with Brenda at P.F. Chang's.
  • Committee work from 1:15-3:00. See here for some of what went on.
  • Legislative session from 3:30-5:30. There was a bit of drama, as the Bishop of Honduras rose on a point of personal privilege and berated the convention for its lack of hospitality toward those who don't speak English. He's had a particularly harrowing experience in a committee yesterday when people from Province IX wanted to testify, but there was no translator available. When the only response was to delay consideration of the text that was in front of us (a response to the #MeToo event from a couple of days ago) until it could be translated, Bishop Allen became a pit bull and said, in effect, "No business as usual until we address my concerns." The Presiding Bishop quickly appointed a small committee to step out and come back with a way forward. As it turns out, General Convention long ago adopted policies about translators and interpreters that we're just not following. Resources will  be brought to bear, and things will change.
  • 5:45-7:15: Eucharist, with the Bishop of Texas presiding and the President of the House of Deputies preaching. This was the occasion of the triennial United Thank Offering ingathering. The total was something north of $3 million.
  • Brenda and I then gathered with our Class of 2011 bishops and spouses friends for dinner at the nearby BBQ place, after which some of us enjoyed some ice cream concoctions at the hotel across the street.
  • This experience is mental, emotionally, and physically exhausting.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Thursday

This is really grueling. We've been at this barely 48 hours and I already feel tired at a cellular level. The day began with a legislative session at 0800. Nothing substantive, just organizing formalities. It included a roll call of all living bishops, the majority of whom were not there, being long retired and of advanced age. Still, I found it moving to here their names. It brought to mind an interesting array of memory detritus from my 45 years in the Episcopal Church.
We broke at 0900 for a 0930 Eucharist. In keeping with my established practice, and as a matter of self-care, I absented myself and repaired to my hotel room to process emails and bank out this reflection on one of the big issues at this convention.

At 11:15, until 1:15, it was back to committee rooms. Committee 12 heard testimony on resolutions to ...
  • add "care of creation" to the Baptismal Covenant (my take: bad idea)
  • allow access to and use of liturgical forms authorized  by any province of the Anglican Communion, with the permission of the Ordinary. (my take: maybe, but not for the reasons enunciated by its proponents)
  • adopt an official policy that liturgical forms should be composed in expansive (aka inclusive, aka balanced) language. (my take: see reflection linked above)
There was only an hour for lunch. Brenda and I found a place right in the Hilton, where the committee rooms are.

2:15-4:00, back to committee. Most of this segment was spent in subcommittees. In my group, we made good, though difficult, progress toward a response to the SCLM's draft of a revised Lesser Feasts & Fasts.
After a 30 minute "travel" break, we were back in legislative session. Of course, at the front end of convention, the emphasis is on committee time, because every resolution has to get through committee before going to the floor of either house, and this requires hearings before the committee can deliberate and vote. A week from now, committee meetings will be in the rear view mirror and legislative sessions will be marathons. Today, we actually did pass (and, therefore, send to the Deputies) a handful of pro forma and no-brainer resolutions. But we began our session with a substantial debrief on last night's #MeToo listening session, which is, of course, the sort of thing that could be done at any meeting of the HOB, quite apart from General Convention.

We ran out of stuff to do about 30 minutes of the scheduled 6:30 recess. So there was time for a less rushed dinner. Brenda and I did Mexican again, though in a different place. She complained of "menu fatigue."

But wait, there's more. Committees again from 7:00-9:00. I made a decision to bail on my own committee in order to testify at the hearing on B012, the resolution that would keep Prayer Book revision at bay by requiring bishops like me to allow for same-sex marriage by offering to transfer a parish requesting it to the oversight of another bishop (DEPO). I was allotted my two minutes toward the end of that time frame.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Wednesday

The grind has begun, and it's still in the "gentle" phase.

My morning began (and continued ... and ended) with a meeting of Committee 12: Prayer Book, Liturgy, & Music. We heard testimony (mostly on the resolution to include the Dorchester Chaplains in Lesser Feasts & Fasts), talked amongst ourselves in plenary, and worked in subcommittees. I found myself (no surprise) taking a fairly active role in the consideration of what to do with the sanctoral calendar. (See here for more substantive observations.)

After a fairly brief time to grab some lunch (which Brenda and I did in the exhibit hall concession area), the Bishops and Deputies gathered in the House of Deputies chamber to hear homily-like non-homilies from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, followed by actual non-homilies from the Secretary of the General Convention Office, the Bishop of Texas, and the President of the Episcopal Church Women.

We then gathered in our respective chambers for "orientation." This is mostly old information about rules and procedures and the operation of our dedicated iPads that we tedious for everyone, but probably necessary.

At 5:15 there was a quasi-liturgical gathering in the convention worship space focused on stories emanating from the #MeToo movement. A selection of personal narratives had been selected from a batch that had been solicited and submitted, stories of events that no one wants to imagine actually happen in church communities, but yet they do. t was intended as a time of lament and repentance. 

At around 7:00 I grabbed dinner with Brenda at a nearby TexMex place. Afterward, we came back to our room, where I worked on my other blog (see link above). Then I headed over to another hotel to pow-wow with the other Communion Partner bishops. There is precious little strategizing left to do; we have no actual power, and are at the mercy of the convention. The scenarios we contemplate are various degrees of "bad" and "worse." We try not to lose heart.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Lord's Day (VI Pentecost)

With a portion of the 45 souls with whom I celebrated the Holy Mysteries at Redeemer, Cairo this morning. When I came to the diocese 7.5 years ago, Redeemer was down to *one* member, and she was 85! So, yeah, this is a story I like to tell. Three adults confirmations, and three receptions. A very sweet community, which includes the new police chief of Cairo, who is makes progress turning it into a safer place. It was an exhilarating visit.


Sermon for Proper 8

Redeemer, Cairo--Mark 5:22-24, 35b-43

Most of us like to think of ourselves as independent, as self-reliant. But we live in a very complex world, so we’re fooling ourselves, I’d say, if we think so. Every day, we trust ourselves to professionals to do things for us that, in simpler times, people may have done for themselves, or had a family member do it for them—I’m talking about barbers and bankers, mechanics and manicurists, physicians and farmers, attorneys and architects, gardeners and garbage collectors. We depend on them, we trust them to come through for us, to perform the service that they’re supposed to perform.
Sometimes relatively little is at stake—a bad haircut can eventually be fixed, because, you know, hair grows! At other times, a great deal is at stake. I once read about a kidney transplant patient who was all prepped and on the operating table, but when the surgical team opened the container that was supposed to have the donated kidney in it, there was a heart there instead! The man subsequently died waiting for a kidney, and whoever was supposed to get that heart probably died as well. The professionals to whom they had entrusted themselves manifestly did not “come through” for them.

Jairus was a synagogue official in one of the Galilean towns where Jesus was ministering. His young daughter, as St Mark’s gospel tells us the story, was very sick, nearly dead, in fact. Jesus had a reputation for healing the sick, so Jairus, as we might expect, made a beeline for Jesus. He didn’t seem to worry about what others might think. Being a synagogue official, he was kind of a VIP, and here he is asking for help from someone with a pretty sketchy reputation as Jesus. Yes, Jesus had a sketchy reputation. He was known to hang out with the “wrong sort of people.” But Jairus doesn’t care about that. All he wants is for his daughter be healed. He had left her bedside to seek Jesus out and entrust her fate to him. His only anxiety was whether Jesus would “come through” for him.

In his anxiety as he approaches Jesus, Jairus is a pretty good spokesman for each one of us. We all walked into this church today carrying a load of anxieties that we want to turn over to Jesus. We may not have the courage to do so completely, but we want to have the faith to turn everything over to him. And, along with Jairus, we want to know, Will Jesus come through? Will he grant our request? Will he supply our need? We have faith, but at the same time, we want to hedge our bets. Something tells us we should not put quite all our eggs in the “Jesus basket” because, what if he does not come through? What if he’s not everything he’s cracked up to be? What if we picked the wrong horse?

People who invest in the commodities market often protect themselves by purchasing something called an option contract. So, I might have excellent reason to believe—to have faith! — that the market price of corn in September will be much higher than it is today, so I might place an order for a ton of corn to be delivered in September, but at today’s low price, and, of course, since I have no use for a ton of corn, I hope to sell that corn to somebody else to actually take delivery, but at a handsome profit, because the price will have gone up. At the same time, though, I might also spend a small amount of money on an contract that entitles me, if I want to, to sell a ton of corn in September at today’s price, so that if I turn out to be wrong about the corn market, I can cut my losses.
We do exactly that, sometimes, with God. We have genuine faith, but it’s not complete faith. We hedge our bets. What if we’re wrong? So, we reserve an option. We hold back a piece of ourselves—a corner of the heart, a section of the will, a territory within the mind. You know . . . just in case.

When the messengers from Jairus’s home come to tell him that he may as well not trouble Jesus anymore, because the little girl has died, Jesus’ response is to ignore them. He simply tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” Do not fear, only believe. Jesus discerns that Jairus may have hedged his bet and is now on the verge of exercising his option, of bailing out on Jesus and cutting his losses by entering into the grieving process for his daughter who has now been declared dead. Will he retreat to that corner of his heart that he had reserved for himself— with a sign that says “No Jesus allowed” tacked onto the door? So Jesus tells him, “Don’t be afraid, just have faith.” The issue is not whether Jairus had confidence in his mind that Jesus’s could heal his daughter; Jesus’s ability to heal had been pretty well established. His healings were both very public and very numerous. No, the issue was not Jairus’s confidence in Jesus’s ability. The issue was Jairus’s confidence in Jesus.

And the issue is quite the same for us. Inadequate faith is much less a matter of the mind and much more a matter of the heart and will. We can be quite certain in our minds that Jesus is the Son of God, but if we do not demonstrate that conviction by giving him the loyalty of our hearts and the obedience of our wills, if we hold ourselves back from total commitment to him, if we hedge our bets by buying options from other “gods,” then we cannot be said to have any meaningful belief, we cannot be said to have faith.

Our relationship with God then becomes one-dimensional. We are forever making requests of God, always asking for something. Our prayer is constant petition, with occasional intercession, but precious little praise, adoration, confession, oblation, or thanksgiving. God, as far as we are concerned, is squeezed into the mold of service provider, one more “professional” on whom we must rely to do for us what we lack the time or know-how to do for ourselves. Our relationship with God is defined primarily by fear, suspicion, and anxiety, rather than faith and trust.

If the management of a company says they trust and respect their employees, but then enforce strict policies of punching time clocks and turning in detailed receipts for expenses and requiring notes from the doctor in order to justify sick time, their actions speak louder than their words. It is a relationship based on fear, not on faith.

Jesus challenges Jairus to walk on higher ground. “Don’t be afraid, only have faith.” Do not merely believe that I can heal your daughter, believe in me. Some work environments are indeed not based on fear, but on faith. They expect and assume that employees will be honest and loyal. They encourage creativity and innovation. They value everyone’s input. This is an environment of trust that is similar in character to the relationship God wants us to have with Him—a relationship defined not by fear but by faith. Faith in Christ means giving ourselves fully over to him in heart, mind, and will; not holding anything back, not restricting him from any corner of our lives, hedging no bets, buying no options.

When people (who by definition have more courage than I have!) learn to descend from a cliff down the vertical face of a mountain by a process known as rappelling, the most challenging part of that process is learning to do something totally counter-intuitive, and that is to hold on to the rope, plant your feet, and lean back away from the solid and comforting nearness of the rock. It feels like the utterly wrong thing to do, but it is in fact the only right thing to do if you want to get down safely off the mountain. When we can exercise that sort of unreserved trust in God, even when it is counterintuitive, when Jesus’s challenge to Jairus becomes his challenge to us, and our relationship with God is defined not by fear but by faith, then we can rest in the confidence that God’s love is larger than anything that might “happen” to us.

Jairus’ daughter, as we know from reading on in Mark’s account, was restored to life and health by Jesus’s touch and words. During his earthly ministry, Jesus healed a great many people that way. And in every age of the church since then, Jesus has continued to heal miraculously in response to the prayers of his people. Not every request for healing is granted, and this side of eternity, we will never know the ins and outs of this mystery, but God does heal. Yet, even if Jairus’s daughter had not been raised back to life, it would not therefore be a sign that God loved her or Jairus any less. When faith replaces fear, the details matter less, because God’s love completely overshadows them. Sometimes God loves us out of trouble and adversity; sometimes He loves us in them and through them. As St Paul tells us in his epistle to the Romans, words which are echoed in the burial liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, “None of us has life in himself, and none becomes his own master when he dies. For if we live, we are alive in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession.” This is the basis for a life of faith, a life free of fear, a life of complete self-offering to a God who already offers Himself completely for us.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.