Monthly Archives: July 2012

The great family reunion, part 2

So, this really is a family reunion!

Complete with a quiz: who’s the little guy in the shorts? In case you can’t tell from the photo, he’s standing in front of St. David’s, in 1957. Hint: he no longer attends St. David’s, but he is here at General Convention. A fabulous prize will be given to whomever can answer that question. The rules: you need to post your answer as a comment on the blog, along with the basis for your answer.

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The great family reunion, part 1

General Convention is often described as a great big family reunion. Coming from a smallish family, one that rarely reunites, I find the metaphor as overwhelming as General Convention itself. But being here is indeed a great reminder that we are all connected.

The past several days have been jam packed and I haven’t had nearly the time I’d hoped for blogging and otherwise reflecting on the work being done here as well as several other projects that I brought with me that have stayed neatly piled on the other bed in my hotel room.

This year I’m on a legislative committee, which meets for several long working sessions each day, in addition to legislative sessions in the whole house of deputies. I am on the Ministry Committee: a group of bishops, priests, and laypeople reviewing, taking testimony, making needed changes and passing to the House of Bishops a slew of resolutions dealing with a whole range of ministry issues. If you really want the details–and only the nerdiest church nerds among you will–you can learn more than you ever wanted to know right here.

And speaking of additional information, here are several other resources about General Convention which I commend to you:

  • The Presiding Bishop’s opening remarks to the assembled Bishops and Deputies. My personal favorite? “Breathe in Holy Spirit, the source of life….Breathe deep, and be not afraid, for God is at work in our midst.”
  • The President of the House of Deputies’ opening remarks. These provide a wonderful background of the history of the Episcopal Church in the context of the American Revolution and Independence Day.
  • Our Bishop’s blog, containing much tidier descriptions of each day’s work than you’ll ever get from me!
  • Jed Holdorph’s blog. Jed is a fellow deputy, friend and colleague, rector of St. Mark’s in Medford. In his blog you’ll recognize the photo of one of the many examples of public art that surround us here in Indianapolis.

Each of our work sessions–legislative sessions, committee meetings, or hearings–begin and end in prayer. With each day I realize more deeply our dependence upon that prayer to both fuel and undergird our work. I hope that all of you will keep our great big crazy family reunion in your prayers.

Welcome to Indianapolis!

Or rather, greetings from Indianapolis, where most of the Oregon deputation arrived Monday afternoon for the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. The big news the first day here seems to be that it’s hot and humid, and we’re all getting used to it, some more quickly than others.

Here’s a shot of members of our deputation enjoying our first and what might be our last relaxed meal together, at a local establishment eating shrimp cocktail so loaded with horseradish it cleansed all our sinuses of that stuffy old airplane air. It’s great fun being in a new city, although the word on the street is always that we won’t have time to enjoy it. Last night after dinner a handful of us trekked a mile to a grocery store. We walked past the Indiana State Capitol, the court house, post office, and other wonderfully monumental buildings the likes of which we don’t see in the lovely Pacific Northwest.

Resources abound on the internet for background and structure of General Convention for those of you who are interested in such things. Suffice it to say that this gathering is the primary means by which The Episcopal Church does the work of being one, holy, catholic and apostolic expression of the Body of Christ. We do this through legislative sessions, committee work, community worship, and–when time permits–hanging out in the exhibit hall and in hotel lobbies to connect with how others are doing their ministries to carry out the mission of the church. You know how the Oregon legislature only meets every other year for 160 days? The General Convention is kind of like that except that we meet every three years for 8-10 days. (Between conventions, the Executive Council carries out the commitments made during convention.)

The House of Deputies. Calm before a storm?

Here are some “before” shots of the House of Deputies meeting hall. Every deputation in The Episcopal Church has four clergy and four lay deputies (along with our diocesan bishop who hangs out in the House of Bishops), and every deputation sits at two long tables, one behind the other. Along the edges of the room is seating for international guests, the press, alternates, visitors, etc. Tomorrow morning the room will be full and bustling, and the jumbotron screens all lit up like a Timbers game.

Home away from home….

The whole household of God

Grant us, almighty God, to be a holy temple acceptable to you.

Like a lot of other people who end up in strange careers, I was an English major in college. This meant that I spent a lot of time studying Shakespeare. I forgot most of what I learned in school, but my appreciation for the bard was rekindled about ten years ago when I discovered the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland about ten years ago.

Today’s gospel reminds me of a literary plot feature which I’m sure Shakespeare didn’t invent, but of which he was a master: the play within a play. I’ve got two famous examples. The first is in Midsummer Night’s Dream, when the rowdy, raggedy actors put together a hilarious version of the greek tragedy, Pyramus and Thisbe. In this play within a play, the story of forbidden affection and lost lovers serves to highlight the action of the real play, in which loves are lost, disguised, discovered, and loved again. Something like that.

In Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark is haunted by his father’s death and his uncle’s recent marriage to his mother.  He stages a play about someone who poisons his brother in order to wed his sister-in-law. This gives Hamlet the occasion to coin that famous phrase: “The play’s the thing” in context. “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”  And he does. The play-within-a-play is a climactic moment that moves the plot along and clarifies for Hamlet and for us what is happening.

The same is true in today’s gospel. We have not a play-within-a-play, but a healing-within-a-healing. The first healing story takes place on the shores where Jesus has just returned from that harrowing journey storm-tossed journey we heard about last week. We don’t know what he was doing or where he was going, only that the ever-present crowd gathered around him and a leader of the synagogue, named Jairus, begged him to come heal his daughter.

It’s worth mentioning before we even get to the healing-within-a-healing that it is likely Jairus interrupted Jesus while he was doing something else or heading somewhere else. Several people are famously and not-so-famously quoted saying “my interruptions are my work.” It’s important to remember that this is true for Jesus, too. Whenever we think we’ve got our agenda all sorted out, someone comes along asking for—and deserving—our attention. It happened to Jesus all day, every day, and if we’re lucky, it will happen to us.

So there’s Jesus, interrupted by Jairus. Jairus was a powerful, respected member of the community, and it was a big deal for him to fall at Jesus’ feet and beg. It is a testimony to how much he trusted Jesus and how desperately he wanted his beloved little daughter to recover. He loved her so much, he was willing to try anything, even this crazy prophet whose own disciples had so much trouble understanding him.

Jesus agrees to go with Jairus, and on their way, he is interrupted again, by a woman who suffered from what was probably some kind of menstrual disorder. Now, perfectly healthy women of child-bearing age were considered “ritually impure” and excluded from polite society every month when they had their periods. The woman we meet in today’s gospel would have been excluded from society and from practicing the rituals of her faith all the time, not just a few days each month. She would have been on the outside, excluded from the very synagogue where Jairus was one of the chief mucky-mucks.

Jesus grants her healing with the same quick deliberation with which he heals everyone. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.

Just like Hamlet’s play-within-a-play, in this healing-within-a-healing, we are shown a fuller picture of what Jesus is about. He came not just to care for people like Jairus, the officials within the socially accepted religious establishment; he came also to care for those who are cast out. And the reverse is true, which is worth remembering: Jesus came to liberate the poor and the rich.

Jesus is about the whole range of human experience and the whole range of human need. Both the woman with the flow of blood and Jairus’ daughter are included in the whole household of faith, the economy of God. When we pray, as we did in this morning’s opening collect, that we might hang together on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christ the chief cornerstone, we’re praying to continue to grow and nurture this inclusive household of faith.

If what we are to be about is continuing the ministry of Jesus, that ministry must healing. This is a tough one for some of us, especially those of us who came into the church at a time when the ministry of healing was the special property of a special few. I’m not sure Jesus really expects all of us to take away every illness with a particular prayer or a certain touch. But I do believe that as disciples all of us must do our best to take away suffering, to take away the dis-ease that comes from being excluded or separated from community. The good news of salvation is the good news of healing and wholeness. (In fact, if you do a word study on salvation, you get words like healing, wholeness and safe-keeping.)

* * *

Recently I heard someone say that Jesus asked the disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and the best they could come up with was a church. Sometimes our church doesn’t quite look like a temple of healing, wholeness, and salvation. Tomorrow I leave for our church’s General Convention in Indianapolis. The General Convention is the governing body of the Episcopal Church; it meets every three years to work through mountains of legislation, pass a budget, and elect those people to help run the national Church between conventions. While there are a lot of joyful things coming before us this year, our national Church is faced with significant budgetary challenges and the opportunity to rethink how we’re organized as an institution. We who serve the Church through General Convention would do well to remember that all that we enact is a play within a play, a small story within the Great Story that is the Good News.

Healing, reconciliation, boundless grace. At times like this it is always good to remember what Jesus had in mind when he asked us to preach the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth. When we think of our own ministries, our own diverse ways of proclaiming the kingdom, look for the play within a play, interruptions within interruptions, healing within healing. I pray that our church—this parish and the whole household of God—might always be a holy temple that includes all kinds of faith and all kinds of healing.