Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Post Partisan - Interdependents

I'd like to homogenize some themes I've read about this morning. First - here's more information about young "Evangelical" Christians who want to work past traditional conservative political issues (abortion, gay rights) in order to respond to other issues such as the poor economy, environmental problems, and the War in Iraq. Amy Archibald says:

"I think it's a new movement starting," said Amy Archibald, 19, a sophomore at the evangelical school. "Most of us would never blindly follow the old Christian Right anymore. James Dobson has nothing to do with us. A lot of us are taking apart the issues, and thinking, 'OK, well, [none of the candidates] fits what I'm looking for exactly.' But if you're going to vote, you've got to take your pros with your cons."
Miss Archibald may be representative of 15% of white evangelicals between 18 and 29 who say they no longer identify with the Republican Party. I'd imagine that a significant number of those young adults would not identify with any official political party. There are, as Shane Claiborne, suggests interested in voting for Jesus. Claiborne says:"It’s easy to have political views—that’s what politicians do. But it’s much harder to embody a political
alternative—that’s what saints do.".

There is a broader group of Christian Evangelicals who apparently desire to emerge out of political ideologies and return to what they believe are the truest roots of Jesus Christ' gospel. These evangelical Christians have released a manifesto that every Christian should read. (The .pdf file is available here). There's a section of the manifest that particularly caught my attention:
"Evangelical means an ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ, and this entails innovation, renewal, reformation, and entrepreneurial dynamism, for everything in every age is subject to assessment in the light of Jesus and his Word. The Evangelical principle is therefore a call to self-examination, reflection, and a willingness to be corrected and to change whenever necessary. At the same time, far from being advocates of today’s nihilistic “change for change’s sake,” to be Evangelical is to recognize the primacy of the authority of Scripture, which points us to Jesus, and so to see the need to conserve a form behind all re-form.

We therefore regard reason and faith as allies rather than enemies, and find no contradiction between head and heart, between being fully faithful on the one hand, and fully intellectually critical and contemporary on the other. Thus Evangelicals part company with reactionaries by being both reforming and innovative, but they also part company with modern progressives by challenging the ideal of the-newer-the-truer and the-latest-is-greatest and by conserving what is true and right and good."
My reading of this particular portion of the manifest invites me into a conversation with such professed evangelical Christians because it provides linkages between scripture, tradition, and reason that are constitutive to my Anglican Christian identity. I don't concur with other portions of the manifesto but that's not the point. The key for me is that there's an interdependent opportunity for greater mutual understanding and communion in these statements.

There's just so much political, conflictive, ideological conflict going on right now. Obama vs. Clinton, Democrat vs. Republican, Evangelical versus Liberal I totally identify with the left. I'm not sure I could ever be a centrist, post-partisan Christian. I admit though that I need to pay close attention to the Archibalds and Claibornes of the world because they are telling me and other organized religious Christians that our conflicts about ideological issues are outmoded and irrelevant. I think they are telling me that there's room and a need for us to work past socio-religious classifications and constituent issues to get Jesus' work done. I don't know if they have listened to older Christian people like me talk about our pain and struggles, our old crap. I would like to think that once we have listened to one another we would agree that Christian unity is more important that uniformity. I'd like to think that once we went out with one another and worked with some inner city kids we'd agree that communion is more important than conformity. I'd like to think we'd just surrender to Jesus, let it go and live into his gospel as best as we could. Those efforts feel like the domain of God that Jesus talked about as he walked around in this world.

Blessings Along the Way,

Monday, May 12, 2008

Making Connections

I just finished watching the Frontline program Kids Online. Ok - so like I'm five months behind on Frontline. Anyway, I received the program as an objective and informative account of why and how young people in North American society, especially teenagers who have wide open access to the Internet, get and stay connected on the Internet for hours on end. Producer Caitlin McNally made a statement about what she learned while she was completing research and talking with kids about the subject of teenagers and the Internet. She said:

"I think kids were generally excited that a bunch of adults wanted to listen to stories about their lives online, especially adults who weren't parents or teachers. We unleashed from them a flood of anecdotes, vocabulary and intricate rules and hierarchies. We repeatedly heard the Internet language that has become ubiquitous: LOL, BRB, POS (parent over shoulder). We learned about alliances, indignations, imaginative creations and secret friendships online. One girl described to us, with great confidence, a long-term and serious online relationship with a boy she had met only twice in real life. It made me think about the sheepishness and discomfort with which a lot of adults talk about meeting a date online.

Despite the research we did, I don't think I was prepared when we started talking to kids for the extent to which the Internet and other electronic communication has permeated all aspects of being a teenager. Almost every kid expressed the utter importance of being connected with friends all the time and how unthinkable a life without that connection would be."
There are two points I'd like to think about in Ms. McNally's statement. First -- teenagers, including college students if I'd have to guess, yearn for adult figures to take an interest in what they are doing online. That feels like a heavy and perhaps loaded statement. Why aren't teenagers interested in letting their teachers and parents know what they are doing on Facebook, MySpace and YouTube? Do they feel guilty, require personal space, want to do stuff that they don't want their authority figures to know about? Probably in many homes and absolutely in some cases. On the other hand ... Ms. McNally's statement suggests that the teenagers she talked with were totally ready to let her into their social networking web.Maybe the students were just psyched about gaining some fame.Maybe they felt like they connected with an adult who was interested in their personae. I don't know the answers to those questions - probably varies from young person to young person. What seems to matter are the answers to the question: "How can other adults such as youth directors, counselors, family friends, television program producers, whatever, connect with positive and meaningful ways that teachers and parents may not be able to make. We need answers to this question as it relates to making positive and healthy connections to Jesus Christ in our parishes and neighborhoods. Where is Jesus hanging out on the Internet? Is he only out there on evangelical websites or in churches where teens can come in and play video games on Internet networked, flat screen plasma displays.

My second question concerns having to stay connected 24/7. Teens, at least according to this producer and the information on the show, hate to be alone or disconnected from what's going on in the matrix of their social network. Non-stopAIM, cellular text messaging, and Video Chat connections leave little or no need for listening to God. Maybe silence is too freaking boring. Are there ways that silence is attractive? That question may be too simplistic. I think that many teens do like hanging out in beautiful natural settings. They just want to take their cell phone with them so that they can take digital photos and share the pics with their friends back home. It just seems to me that we've generally got to prove to some teens that there is some worth in disconnecting from friends and non-stop noise for a little while throughout the week. What would it look and feel like to have circles of silence for more than five minutes. I've noticed that the labyrinth at Chapel Rock works for some teens that walk it. Other campers think it's lame.

In sum, the Internet is indeed here to stay and younger people are linked into it in all sorts of ways. God can be virtual too but Christ as the incarnational presence of God is not principally about Second Life avatars or faceless friends. I feel like we've got to reacquaint teenagers with themselves, their friends, their families, and the Church in less digital and more tacit ways. However, we can't slice up teens' virtual lives from their lives in the "Real World." Interested adults need to be relevant, border-line cool, and genuinely interested in objective but helpful ways - in order to connect with younger people who reside on the other side of the virtual canyon between teens and elders. Sharing the compassionate and wise gospel of Jesus the Christ can be one blessed way to create a bridge between us, them, and God.

Blessings Along the Way,

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Dude It's 9 in the Morning - Pentecost

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o”clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

It's always funny to hear congregants snicker when the lay reader reads Peter's lines from the second chapter of Acts. Peter's words can loosely be heard in urban-speak as "Dude, we're not drunk, it's like nine in the morning. We're amped by God's Holy Spirit and down with the visions we're experiencing." Yes, some young adults do indeed talk in such a fashion.

Other Episcopalians might giggle thinking that it's just not appropriate or customary for Anglicans to imbibe before tea. I can tell you from my days as an Air Force aviator that it's not against the rules to slam back a beer while playing hoops at 9:00 (YIKES!!!)

I'm glad that the Holy Spirit didn't decide to show up on a contemporary campus at 9:00. Most of the students would have slept through the festival or been too busy studying for finals in the library. Noon on a Tuesday would probably work better. However, present-day onlookers of the Holy Spirit's arrival would react just as people did in 1st Century Jerusalem. They would be completely mystified by what was going on with the Jewish Christians. Here were a bunch of Galileans gathered together in one place as God's wind and tongues of fire touch each believer. It's not cognitively possible for God to show up in such miraculous ways, especially in Episcopal settings or on the malls of universities around the country. It seemingly makes more sense, especially in contemplative settings, to receive the Holy Spirit from Jesus, as the disciples did in the 20th Chapter of John. The Holy Spirit (Hagia Sophia) seems prayerfully more available in smaller, communal gatherings.

My faith suggests that it isn't reasonable to limit the manner or timing of God's Pentecostal power or holy breath. It is assuredly possible to sleep through the event. "Dude - it's nine in the morning - I'm sleeping in." "Bro - I'm 24 years old, I'm not into God or Jesus right now." "Father, I'm not holy enough to be a church-going Christian." Pentecost could happen like a tornado in the middle of the night on a different street in our neighborhood. We could sleep right through it without ever noticing. Pentecost informs me that we need to accept God's Holy Spirit in order for transformational Christian life to occur.

I'd like to think that Episcopalians would be willing to try to wake people up. We can be like Peter and be proud enough to say God desires for old and young women and men to see visions and dream dreams of Christ's relevancy, love,and justice. We can be agents of Jesus' gift of the Holy Spirit in the upper rooms of our emergent gatherings, candle-lit evensong services, and early morning mid-week Eucharistic services. We can invite hurried, frightened, and Type-A people to slow down and listen for God's presence in the breaths of Life. We can use the gift of the Holy Spirit's wisdom to be agents of mercy and reconciliation is our cities and towns.

Dude, it's 9:00 am - leave me alone The evangelicals among us would hear such a statement and respond by saying something like - "Yeah, but this is important - come with me to Church." Progressive liberal Christians can say the same thing in Pentecostal ways. We're inviting people to Church because the Holy Spirit can enter into us and give us new ways to understand life. The progressive Holy Spirit's arrival beckons us into deeper understanding of ourselves and God so that we can transform the world that we live in. We are Jesus' disciples and equipped to forgive sins and go into the world as Jesus comes to us.

Pentecost was a mandatory pilgrimage festival for ancient Jews and a central feast of the Church's liturgical year. We need to get our butts out of bed and be about Christ's work in a Pentecostal way more often. We shouldn't let the Saturday parties take precedence of Sunday's responsibilities to Love God and Love our Neighbors. And we surely could invite some one we know who would value a deeper relationship with God and themselves through Jesus the Christ to wear festive red in one of our parishes as our guest.

Besides most of our principal worship services start at 10:00 am.

Blessings Along the Way,

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Drug Busts

I'm a fairly liberal guy. I realize that college students like to party and make mistakes with alcohol and narcotics. I've counseled such students as well as such adults. You only need to visit heinous sites like "TheDirty.com" to observe the realities of what happens when someone drinks too much alcohol or smokes too much pot. I'm not a "ban all illegal substances" and "lock the teenagers up" kinda guy. We have legal and social systems in place to assist people who legally drink alcohol. We have laws banning the use of illegal and illicit narcotics. Moreover, the predominant culture around most college campuses is a culture that offers 2 for 1 beer nights, and free "jello shots." There are thousands of undergrads and grads alike who know where they can get their 4:20. Young adults like to party and all of the legal restrictions in the world won't change that fact. The question nonetheless remains, how and what are the best ways to inform students about the risks they take when they drink too much or participate in the distribution and use of illegal narcotics?

This is my main point, the Drug Bust that went down at San Diego State University exposes a narcotic problem that makes me very uncomfortable and afraid for public school college students. There is evidence to suggest that fraternity houses in and around SDSU essentially served as drug distribution centers. I assume that these houses, or at least their members, benefited from the purchase of illegal narcotics to other college students as well as perhaps to high school students. James Kitchen, SDSU's Vice President of Student Affairs says that six SDSU fraternities have been placed on interim suspension and several fraternity members were arrested as part of an investigation into illegal activities.

We can't legislate reasonable and rational behavior when it comes to snorting cocaine, especially when there is a market for the product. I'm not sure that all sorts of high school education regarding narcotics will help either. On the other hand, we've got to increase our levels of vigilance, and foster transparency in sorority, fraternity, and residential hall communities as far as narcotics are concerned. I don't believe what happened at San Diego State is an isolated event, especially in and around the party schools of the West and Southwest. I'd be terrified to have to call a parent, companion, or friends of a student who overdosed on drugs that they purchased from a fellow student. I'm totally open to hearing suggestions about making sure that we don't have to report the same sort of news on the UA campus, or even worse, read about the death of a student because he/she OD'd at a frat party.

Blessings Along the Way,

Monday, May 5, 2008

Easter 7A

Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. (John 17: 7-8)

I think that it's weird that commencement addresses take place at the end of an academic year as opposed to at the beginning of a term. Commence means to initiate or to start something. Its etymology emerges from the Vulgar Latin word cominitiare (to initiate/consecrate as priest).

Nonetheless, schools and colleges across the country are concluding their academic sessions and we're entering a season of commencement addresses. It's true that collegiate graduates are leaving school to begin new adventures, initiate their professional careers, or commence graduate studies. It's consequently important for commencement speakers to offer their listeners, especially graduates, a knowledge-laden message offering a vision and hope for the future. The question I processed regarding this subject was what commencement wisdom would I offer the Episcopal Campus Ministry Community and its graduating students as we concluded our 07'/08 academic year activities.

I found myself thinking about the meaningfulness of knowledge, specifically what it means to know something, someone, or God as a faithful Christian. Philosophers and historians credit the ancient philosopher Socrates with providing the founding principles and disciplines for Western civilization's philosophical studies. Plato quotes Socrates as saying, The unexamined life is not worth living. This foundational principle provides a framework for the "Socratic method." Lawyers, therapists, organizational development consultants, and other professionals use this dialectic method to explore difficult questions in an effort to explore complicated situations. Participants may discover that a dilemma does not in fact possess a simplistic answer and/or they may be exploring the wrong hypothesis or "truth."

Socrates provides contemporary students a means for understand their values. Individuals may use the Socratic method to discover the reasons they hold the personal beliefs they do. Elizabeth Garrett writes:

The Socratic Method places some responsibility on students to think about the questions silently and participate actively on their own; the element of surprise provides a powerful incentive for them to meet that responsibility. ... The objective is to inculcate in students the habit of rigorous and critical analysis of the arguments that they hear, as well as the practice of assessing and revising their own ideas and approaches in light of new information or different reasoning.
I would hope that students would practice the Socratic method in an effort to not only learn more about themselves, the law, or their professional problems but to benefit other peoples' lives as well. However, undertaking the energy it takes to live an examined life" does not necessarily imply that the student's efforts will impact anyone else in any way. I can learn the basis for my personal questions, values, and behaviors and never take what I have learned from my lifelong learning achievements to benefit someone else.

For example, I recently returned to visit the hallways of my High School. I was an outgoing, musically gifted, fairly smart teenager. I had a relatively solid tennis game. I was also a closeted gay teenager. I "knew" that I found guys more attractive than girls but I did not "know" why I was such a person. This crisis was the beginning of a lifelong, personal Socratic exploration into understanding the reasons for my sexual orientation and how my orientation shapes me as a human being and as an Episcopal Priest. I would note that I, for the most part, examined the questions I uncovered during High School without Organized Christianity's influence. My learning was also principally self-centered and motivated. I have had many friends, Christians and otherwise, who have dialectically engaged me in this process. I'm thankful for their encouragement and support. They have helped me to understand myself more fully. I am learning what it means to be an openly gay person. It can be and has at times been a rather self-centered/focused endeavor.Thus, for all of its worth, the Socratic Method is not the best method for gaining knowledge, at least not for religious people, and specifically not for Christians because it principally values the student, not the students' peers or contemporaries.

Luke's Jesus commands his followers to Love God and to Love their Neighbors as themselves with all heart, soul, strength, and mind. This commandment requires Christians to enter into a lifelong process of coming to know God and their neighbors as much as they know their own situation. It is impossible, according to Jesus' commandment in Luke, to be a self-involved Christian. We are responsible for knowing God. The Greek term that John used for knowing in Chapter 17 is "ginosko." εγνωκαν implies that a Christian disciple must intimately come to know (perceive) God and Jesus Christ. We cannot in fact achieve eternal life without coming to know God in the deepest sense of this word. We cannot achieve eternal life without experiencing God's wisdom and compassion outside of a process to know our neighbors, their fears, hopes, problems, and gifts. Thus, a Christian's vocation begins and ends with living an examined life. The examination method requires us to know ourselves but we cannot know ourselves without knowing God and God's purpose for us. We believe that God sent Jesus to us to offer us The Way to God. We know that this Christian endeavor is learned and examined within the context of praying and acting upon God's wisdom within Christian communities. We have to look under the scariest stones where the worms reside. Why? Because God is there in the shadows of our fears. We have to explore what brings us joy and share such joy with our neighbors. Why? Because God's presence is there in the Christ-like compassion existing in them. The examined Christian life is a life of sacrificial service to one's friends and enemies alike.

This past Saturday I attended the Diocese of Arizona's Day of Discernment. I attended this session four years ago as an aspirant. There was a breakout session with the bishop in the room where the Commission on Ministry interviewed me regarding my postulancy for the priesthood. I reflected upon my experiences in 2004 and 2005 when I was proceeding through the ordination process and where I am today. I know more about living as a priest. Back then, I thought I "knew" what it meant to be a priest. I had a lot of book knowledge about the canonical requirements for being a priest. I had studied a good deal about liturgy, pastoral counseling, Anglican History and Christian theologies. I engaged myself in Socratic opportunities to learn about the priesthood. I now know that I didn't know too much about being a priest. I am still perceiving what it means to "be" a priest.

I have learned through my service as the Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Arizona that priests come to know the meaning of their call through the people they interact with on a daily basis. We come to know our purpose through learning with God in prayer and meditation. We know God through the intimate, sometimes frightening, sometimes joyous, sometimes boring interactions we share with the people God sends to us each day. We know God through Christ's presence in the people who sit or stand in front of us. I've come to know that I cannot "know" God, my neighbors, or myself with sure certainty. The mystery of God is present in questions without answers and questions leading to further questions. The certainty of God's love is undeniable when we demonstrate the faith to live into the questions of Christian priesthood in the secular and holy moments of each day.

My commencement message is to beckon listeners and readers to undertake the arduous, sometimes frightening but all-ways rewarding journey of living an examined life. Begin and end with God's help and Christ's resurrective love. Learn to Love God while Learning to Love One another. Realize that everything that we can know resides in the real and unseen existence of the Word of God, Jesus the Christ. It is more than worth it. The dialectic search for wisdom and compassion will indeed bear fruit. Eternal life is possible, in the here and now with and through the process of "Knowing."

Blessings Along the Way,

Friday, November 16, 2007

109 Miles

Once a year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I go for a bicycle ride with a group of people. There will be about 9,200 of us tomorrow morning. The 25th Anniversary of the El Tour De Tucson spins off tomorrow morning at 7 am. I'll be riding the 109 trip for the fifth time. My personal best is 5:48:13. I'd like to get in tomorrow in 5:45:00 or less but....I'd like to come in with all of my pieces intact too.

The tour is a sort of pilgrimage within a pilgrimage for me. There are good spots in the ride. There are some bad spots. I rode w/ cramps most of the time last year. However, I know the route. I know my body. I know to remain focused, breathe, and to stay fueled. These are excellent lessons on, or off the saddle of a road bicycle.

Say a prayer for all of us. I'll let you know how I do.

The Lord Grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen

In Christ,