Weekly Update (7/17-7/23)

So sometimes I follow through with plan. Here I am with an update that is actually weekly. Go me. Though type of post is morphing into what is a reflection on my thoughts for the past week than necessarily an update on my tasks (which are rather monotonous and boring).

The paradox of human life, the complexity of being human hits home when I think to myself: yes, a win for me. And then, turn around and contemplate all the death and failure littering my landscape. If anything is being driven home to me over the past couple of years (what day of March 2020 is it?) it’s the necessity of finding stability in the midst of uncertainty, and that finding said stability can happen. I’ve joked in the past that me running a church is like a local parish version of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. Every step is uncertain and the only certain steps are the ones I’ve taken (both successfully and unsuccessfully). But this type of uncertain stepping is growing familiar, so is stumbling when that step gives way and the thrill of security of stone beneath my feet.

Everything begins to be redefined when you walk like this, nearly in place but making strides forward nonetheless (sometimes, it’s good to turn around and see just how much progress you’ve made, it’s more than you realize). For me, contemplating concepts like hope and faith, love and grace, fear and anger, take on different complexities today than they did three years ago. All that we have is now and it is what it is are my go to phrases and mantras. New foci come to the surface in these times, walking with such intention and being forced to be so present where you are. For me, someone so oriented on tasks and deeds (read: books and writing) I’ve become more and more aware–in a visceral way–how important people are. I don’t think it helps that I’m waist deep in Dorothee Sölle’s work, a true theologian of the people for the people. (More on her another time, if it’s so desired.) But seriously, people matter. YOU matter.

So, as begin to see how much people matter everything around me becomes about people: does this thing cause people to thrive or does it hinder them? If it hinders their thriving (and especially if it hinders their survival) do we need to eliminate it, redefine it, rebuild it? These questions are important, and we have to ask them because people are dying. And none of us should be okay with that. So, how do institutions like the church and the academy (two institutions I love and serve (in some form)) participate in the people’s thriving or death? If as a priest and academic my works do not bring life and liberation to people, then I must reevaluate and ask why? I must look at the rituals and rites, the demands and expectations, the traditions and tasks, the building and the presence, of both and at how I participate in each realm in perpetuating death and violence and life and liberation.

I must ask hard questions here:

What is the Academy? What is the Academy for? For whom does the Academy exist? What does it mean to be a scholar? What does it mean to be a professor? What is a scholar? What is a professor? What is my focus here? Is it me and my scholarship? Or is it those whom I’m charge to teach and educate? Where is the institution causing unnecessary burnout through too much bureaucracy and administration?

What is the Church? Who is the church? What does it mean to be a priest? A deacon? A Bishop? Are all these rites and rituals necessary? Where do they bring comfort? Where are they bringing death? What does power look like here? Should we even have “power” held by humans in the church? Where has our hierarchy gone haywire? Where are we serving our own spiritual wantonness as leaders of the church rather than the beloved of God? Why are roles being abused? Why has the church been so willing to lose it’s story? (Here I can only ask this of the Episcopal Church, of which I’m an ordained priest.) What do we even believe? Why exist as the c/Church?

What traditionalisms must be put to final rest? What deeds bring the most life? Where is fear running rampant? Why is fear even present here? Where did we lose our way? Where have we (as leaders) gone wrong and astray? Where is our humility? Where is our confession? Where is our self-awareness? Where are we placing unethical financial demands on people? Why are we doing this? Why are we demanding archaic adherence to activities and deeds that worked before Covid happened but no longer work? And, did they ever work before Covid? Where are we still serving patriarchy, abelism, capitalism, selfishism, autonomy, heteronormativity, sexism and racism? Why are we still serving these things? Why and where are we, the leadership of these institutions, further burdening really burdened people?

Where are we stuck? Where are we growing? Are we growing? How do we become unstuck? To what desires must I die? Where am I putting myself too much ahead of others for no good reason? Where do I need to relearn? What do I need to relearn? What do I need to unlearn? Where am I forcing people into my own ideologies and ideas rather than allowing them to self-express and self-determine and self-realize?

Anyway, there are so many more questions we can be asking right now as we walk through this moment in history. My heart breaks as I watch two institutions struggle to maintain what was rather than embracing the transition through death into new life. I know we need something new in both arenas; I don’t know what that looks like. I do think that if reformation doesn’t come to both, they will continue to hinder life and liberation more and more and the bodies will continue to stack up. We cannot continue for too much longer with the way things are. I’m finding it harder and harder to uphold and honor commitments to both when I see people being more and more wounded and sacrificed on the altar of Mammon.

For the love of God, in the name of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, people matter, God’s beloved matters, YOU matter. And for you, I’ll fight.

At This Table

What I bring to the table is what I bring to any table: my flesh and bone, muscle and sinew, my stories and experience. Breaking bread at one table is no different than at another: my substance meets bread substance, and I serve what is broken to those who are gathered. I preside over both a table at church and at home, and I find neither more sacred than the other. Bread is served in both places, and the only thing I can remark as distinct are the words used to harken my people to the table. In one place it is, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” And in the other it’s, “Dinner’s ready! Wash your hands and get your drinks!” Both cries accomplish their goal: bringing people into communion to partake of a common meal, and to give thanks for what has been done for us, to stop and take pause and sit and gather, to eat and be nourished while participating in story-sharing and story-making.

They are both sacred.

They are both sacred because both tables have the inherent quality of encounter with God in the event of faith. One table may be more specifically dedicated to such an encounter for the hearer through the words and linens unique to it, but both contain the verdant actual soil to bring forth that splendid fruit of possibility of encounter. Both tables, no matter the words and linens, participate in the space-making and the time-ceasing of divine presence relentlessly seeking the beloved (you and me). The false dichotomy of the sacred and secular collapses and, with Bonhoeffer, we can proclaim all this is good and of God because of the work of redemption and restoration of Christ.

At both tables I feel the same; I am there as I am here. I feel no surge of power at one more than the other, though there’s more potential for variance in emotional output at one than the other—especially with little people who won’t just come to this table with clean hands and drink. The apron here is white and the alb there a flaxen color, and neither fabric changes me; rather they render awareness to others that I am here mom serving dinner and there priest serving elements, but the person is the same in both. The fabric alerts both groups as to what is being served; I chuckle at the idea of swapping outfits…wouldn’t that make for a good and vigorous communion in both cases!

The words I use at both are filled with the same substance of my voice and presence; the voice, with its lilts and intonations, is the same that populates words at this table and at that table.  Even the event itself of this meal and of that meal is enveloped in robust and profound story, swirling and circling about the wood of the table and the flesh of person, bringing together and uniting in experience one to the other and lifting up all unto something way more profound than I can see and hear with ocular and audial material, feel and taste of senses and flesh.

In this radical similarity of these two tables lies the distinction.

To come to the table in my home, where I am clothed in apron, standing amid the elements of the fruit of the earth, is to come to engage in a multitude of stories in both sharing and hearing. It is here at this table where we are brought together and something new is created in our midst as we share and eat and listen. The actuality of our gathering creates the potential for divine encounter in the present. This event is profound and yet bound to this time and moment. It won’t be repeated and can’t be replicated in detail–any attempt to do so will end in a deadness. This table exists now, in this way, and next time it will be different. The divine ordering of humanity toward humanity thus to God will happen but in very distinct and unique ways each time it happens.

To come to the table at the church, where I’m clothed in flaxen alb and stole, standing amid elements of bread and wine is to come to hear and see a very particular story not restricted to this table but especially to be repeated and replicated at this table. It’s at this table with this fabric, with these elements, and using specific words where we are brought into another moment in time, grafted by word and hearing and seeing into the history of one not ours but is now ours, and united to those who have heard and seen this story before and those who will continue to do so long after we’ve transitioned. There’s a permanence and timelessness here at this table that defies and revolts against the static and temporariness of our present existence. This table persists forever—existing in myriad form and made of various material—promising that next time it will be the same–radical! The divine ordering of God toward humanity through Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and thus humanity toward God in the same will happen once again and always as it has happened then, is happening now, and will happen tomorrow. A promise articulated in every language and at any time, no matter what words or people are asked to tell this story at this table.