Monday, November 29, 2010

Coping with Lies about TEC

Yesterday, our delegates to the convention of the Diocese of Missouri (held last weekend) reported to the parish about the convention. In years past, we delivered a dry summary of legislative actions – the budget approved, action on resolutions, people elected. At the end of convention last weekend, we agreed we wanted to take something quite different to the parish. We wanted to reflect on our experience of convention, on the message and energy we took away from that marvelous meeting. Because it was indeed an inspirational gathering.

As I wrote a while back, this year’s convention had no “sexuality” resolutions, nor contentious resolutions dealing with our relationship with the Anglican Communion. The program was all about our mission work in this part of the world. The presentations we heard were inspiring. Our delegates left convention inspired about how we can (in the words of our diocesan mission) “make disciples … build congregations … for the life of the world.” We wanted to bring some of the joyous spirit of the convention back to our parish.

And so we did. I think folks enjoyed it.

I was the third of our three delegates to speak. I began with my reflections and telling some stories about convention, and especially about our bishop’s address. I acknowledged that he had announced his plans to appoint a task force to study the proposed Anglican Covenant and expressed his views on the Covenant. I asked the folks of our parish whether they wanted to hear about his stance. Frankly, I assumed that most of our parishioners don’t even know that an Anglican Covenant is being considered … much less what it includes. But they wanted to hear! A good number seemed aware of it and eager to hear Bishop Smith’s perspective.

And so I launched into it. I think I did a good job of speaking moderately, reflecting our bishop’s own moderate voice.

Somewhere in the midst of it, one parishioner launched into a harangue. [You can call him "Jim," though that's not his real name.] He said that the threat of TEC being “kicked out” of the Anglican Communion was only a fair come-uppance of what we have done to parishes that have resisted the general direction of the Episcopal Church. He said that our diocese had “kicked out” a parish that objected to the general direction of our diocese, had sued them and hounded them out of their church building … and that this was part of a nationwide strategy of the Episcopal Church to “kick out” all dissenters and sue them into bankruptcy.

I was surprised to have a parishioner go off on this weird tangent … but I wasn’t really surprised to hear him spew this stuff. Every time conversations about the diocese, TEC, or Anglican Communion arise, he gets red in the face and spews stuff like this. (Fortunately, he is just about a minority of one in our parish.)

My challenge was to respond to him calmly. You know and I know that what he stated were lies. (And I suspect they are lies he has drunk from the ill-named “Virtue” website.) The Episcopal Church has never kicked a parish out of its building. We have never sued a congregation for disagreeing with what this man likes to call “the party line.”

I replied as calmly as I could to him. I pointed out that TEC had never kicked a parish out of its building. I reminded him (and the other attendees) that the diocese has acted when Episcopal congregations have claimed to leave TEC while retaining the property held in trust for our church. I was able to remind him that a couple of our smaller congregations, who are adamantly opposed to the current directions of our diocese and TEC, receive tens of thousands of dollars from the diocese to help those small congregations remain viable and support clergy to serve them. Far from quashing dissent, the diocese is spending serious money to keep those conservative parishes afloat.

One of the things he claimed was that our diocese is stuck with an “empty building” after the one parish left our diocese back in 2003. Thanks be to God, one of our parishioners pointed out that – far from being an empty building – that congregation is now growing again. And I think it’s growing because it has moved back into the Episcopal mainstream, after a schismatic priest fomented anger and schism and led a rump group out of the Episcopal Church.

Despite my statement of the facts, this man persisted in saying that the diocese had hounded the congregation from its building. I gently responded: “Tthose are not the facts.” I wanted to say: ”You lie!” But I did not. I just tried to insert some facts into his lies.

He is by no means a stupid man. He’s quite bright. But he is also, obviously, angry. It’s also obvious that he has swallowed the lies of the “Virtue” website.

What in the world are we to do when otherwise intelligent people swallow and spew the lies told about our church??

I did the best I could. And several folks told me afterwards that I had handled it well, handled it calmly.

But, for the life of me, I do not understand how people like this can – in good conscience – spout those lies as “fact.”

I suppose my job is to remind the parish, as calmly as I can, of the facts of the situation – despite those who swallow the “Virtue” lies hook, line, and sinker.

Your thoughts? Could I have handled it better? How do you handle those angry people in your parishes?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

New Deputy in the House

I wrote here about my standing for election as a Deputy to the 2012 General Convention. Frankly, I didn’t expect to be elected, particularly since all of our 2009 Deputies were running for re-election. And we had a marvelous deputation in 2009.

Against my expectations, I was elected to serve as one of the Deputies to the 2012 General Convention. For you wonks, I am L4; I garnered the 4th-highest votes for Deputy, so I will be at the General Convention in Indianapolis. I am awed and still trying to take in that reality. I am truly gobsmacked.

I am also sad that some of the people I wanted to return to GC came out as alternates. Jay Kloecker and Don Fisher were marvelous Lay Deputies in 2009. I regret that our convention did not return them to GC2012.

Beth Felice, our marvelous Director of Communications, has updated the Missouri GC blog. It’s here. I expect it will be pretty quiet until we get close to Indianapolis.

Thank you for all your prayers and encouragement. As I said before, I was trusting that what should happen would happen. I suppose this is it. I am amazed to be elected, but I can promise I will work my butt off to be a good Deputy in 2012!

Here's a funny side-effect. I have been a kibitzer on the Bishops/Deputies listserv since 2003. I have made many friends there all across the spectrum of our church, and I have had many fruitful conversations with deputies. Over the last few days, some discussions have emerged, and I've sent notes to my brothers and sisters, asking them to post my comments as a kibitzer to the list. Today, one of my friends informed me that I can change my status to "member" rather than "kibitzer," so that I can post in my own name. DUH! I totally forgot. ... I hope I can maintain my baptismal vows now that I have posting privileges on the HoBD list.

I'm a long-time member of the Order of St. Verbosia. As I also wrote here. I hope I can be careful and respectful in my postings. I hope I can adhere to the Rule of the Order. I hope I can contribute to a dialogue that urges: “Less heat! More light!”

I'm grateful to Elizabeth Kaeton for the "Verbose Crab" image.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Diocesan Convention

Tomorrow, I will be traveling to St. Charles as a delegate to the annual convention of the Diocese of Missouri. I always look forward to convention – which I also term “my big fat Episcopal family reunion.” Over the past decade – perhaps because of my role as Chair of the Companion Diocese (with Lui, Sudan) and visiting many parishes – I have grown to know very many people throughout the diocese, so it feels like a friendly confab to me.

I always feel conflicted at Convention. I enjoy spending time with our parish delegates. But I also want to spend time with people I don't see every week.

If you want to know what’s on the agenda for our convention, you can go here. Beth Felice, our marvelous Director of Communications, has made all the printed materials available there: agenda, nominations, resolutions, reports, everything! Kudos to her!

Sunday I joined our other delegates in offering a “convention preview” to our parish. I said there that one of the things that most delights me is that we’re not going to be talking about sex or the Anglican Communion. There are no hot-button items on the agenda. It’s all about getting on with the business of the Church, and I am glad for that. Of course, some folks may present last-minute resolutions, but I don't hear any sense they will derail us. In this corner of the world, we have moved our focus to where I think it belongs.

Several of you know this, but I’ll put it here: After following national and Communion-wide issues since 2003, I finally decided to “put my hat in the ring” as one of the nominees to serve as a Deputy to the 2012 General Convention. We have seven fine lay people running for the four Deputy slots (and 4 “alternate” slots). Among them, all four of our GC09 Deputies are running for re-election. Given the power of GC incumbency, I don’t expect to be elected. But after spouting off for so long, it seemed only fair that I stand for election this time. As I have said to some folks, I don’t have any ego invested in this election. I am trusting in the Spirit (or dumb luck) in this election. If elected, I will be honored and serve faithfully. If not, I will – frankly! – be relieved. After all, who but the craziest masochist would want to spend 10 days of “vacation time” locked in a convention hall for so many 14-hour days? Policy wonk that I am, even I have better ideas about how one could spend one’s vacation days. We shall see.

We will also be considering the budget, as do all diocesan conventions. Ours is a heart-breaker. Revenue is too low … especially because a couple of our wealthiest congregations choose not to contribute their fair share to the work of the diocese. So the budget is lean, and we will not be able to fund many things we would like to fund.

This year, for the first time in a long time, we are not having a guest speaker and preacher from outside the diocese. Instead, the Rev. Dan Handschy (a priest in our diocese) will be our preacher. I look forward to hearing Dan preach. We’ve served together on the Companion Diocese Committee, and I deeply respect him. I’m eager to hear what he has to say to the Diocese.

After this weekend’s diocesan convention, I’ll let you know what happened. Please join me in prayer for our diocese.

Friday, November 05, 2010

David Fly's Magical Mystery Tour

I am happy to commend to you an essay written by my friend David Fly. He gave it the title, “Magical Mystery Tour.” It’s online here, and it is magical. It might refresh your vision of ministry – baptismal and ordained – and love for the church in these times.

I’m tempted to copy the entire essay here, but I don’t want to hog the hits. So I’ll just provide this snippet from early in the piece:

Over forty years ago, on the eve of my graduation from seminary, I got the jitters. Was I doing something God wanted me to do? How would I know? When would I know? I took my questions to my liturgics professor, Tom Talley. “How often do you know that the Holy Spirit is working in your life?” I asked. Father Talley was quiet for a moment. Then he smiled and said, “Oh, I figure about every ten years.”
I was stunned. This wasn’t the answer I had been looking for.
You must read his reflections on that counsel and how it has come to fruition in his life.

You’ll also read about David’s encounter with a disgusted graduate student who is inclined to ditch her study of statistics and establish a “Society for the Preservation of Amazement.” David has found that Society, and so have I … and so have many of you, I bet, if your eyes and spirits are open.

David’s a master storyteller, gifted preacher, and dear friend. Hie thee hither and read about the Magical Mystery Tour.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Upon the Next Speaker of the House

For the sake of my sanity, living in the benighted middle of Missouri, I really should return to my “home” newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, more often. This evening I spent some time catching up with Mike Luckovich’s editorial cartoons.

Well in advance of this week’s elections, he wrote:

I may be doing a cartoon on John Boehner. If the Republicans take the House, it will be historic because he will be the first person of color to be House Speaker.
I love it. John Boehner is a color not found in nature.

Luckovich followed the comment with this cartoon on the orange Representative:

In this post-election time, I’ll take my humor where I can get it. And I thank God for Mike Luckovich!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

While We Await the Election Results …

I don’t know about you, but I’m totally plugged into the news reports tonight about the election results. Here in conservative Missouri, I assume I will again be in the losing column on just about everything.

Probably like most of you, I was sickened by the negative ads that all the candidates – Democrats and Republicans – ran this year. There were a few exceptions, but most of the candidates simply ran mud-slinging ads. They did not engage the issues. They did not talk about what they would do to improve this country. They ran away from journalists who might engage them in discussion longer than sound-bytes. I am disgusted by all of them. Journalists, too, are complaining that the candidates in Missouri refused to engage in anything more than “sound-byte” answers to their questions.

A colleague who is a historian sent me this clip. We may think mud-slinging is new, but it is not. Watch this short video about early 19th-century electoral language.

Wow! That’s some strong language.

So what’s the difference? This one strikes me first: Back then, people had to read these words in newspapers and other print sources. Today, they’re flooding the TV and radio airwaves. Thus, back then you had to be literate to see those 19th-century diatribes, whereas now they’re delivered in 30-second TV and radio ads.

Another of my colleagues tells of visiting with a young man from Germany. He’s an exchange student here. The family had the TV on, and a series of political ads ran. This young German man gawked at them in amazement, then asked, “What is this?” “Oh, political ads,” the family explained. He was gobsmacked. He said that in Germany, political ads don’t run on radio or TV. They can only run in newspapers. And journalists cover the elections.

Ya know what? I think I’d like to adopt that system.

Thirty second sound bytes have dumbed-down political discourse in this country beyond all imagining. I blame the politicians and their financial contributors for that.

But I also blame an ignorant populace that gets its “information” from those sound-bytes. And those ill-informed people have the right to vote, no matter how ill-informed or illiterate they are.

Of course, dear readers, I am not talking about you. I know many of you, and I know you study the issues prior to voting. I know you dig for answers.

But the ignorance and reactionary nature of the American populace amazes me. For instance, many seem to think we live in a direct democracy, where the majority rules. Of course, that’s not the system of government that was established in the Constitution. The framers intentionally created a republican form of government, in which the minority would be protected from a tyranny of the majority. I am amazed at how many people do not know that. I think the framers of our Constitution would be shocked and appalled.

I expect we will see the result of that ignorance in the election results tonight.