Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Easter Vigil: I get it!

After many years of attending an anemic Easter Vigil, I finally understand what it's all about (proving that it's never too late to learn).

Our Easter Vigil started after dark. The Rector appeared on the church porch with a medium-sized pyrex bowl, into which she proceeded to pour a large box of epsom salts. I was perplexed, standing in the back of the nave with the choir -- I had never seen this before. Into the bowl she then poured rubbing alcohol. Moving back from the bowl, she set it afire with a barbecue lighter.

Wow! The flames rose up. It was our Easter fire. The Rector blessed it and lit the Paschal Candle from it. Then she extinguished the bowl by putting on its lid, entered the church, and began the Exsultet. As we processed down the aisle, the person on the end of every pew lit a candle from the Paschal Candle, then passing the flame to his neighbor's candle.

The first half of the service, the reading of lessons (including my favorite, "The Valley of Dry Bones") and the singing of hymns, was illuminated only by our candles, the light over the organ keyboard, and the light at the lectern. I read one of the lessons, and found it so dark that I had trouble navigating from the choir-stalls to the lectern. But that made it all more poignant somehow.

After the reaffirmation of baptismal vows, the Rector suddenly shouted, "Alleluia! He is risen!" The lights came on, we blew out our candles, and the organ launched into hymn 207, "Jesus Christ is Ris'n Today," my very favorite hymn from childhood.

And I got it, after all these years. We listen to our salvation history in the dark of despair. Jesus is in the tomb. Hope is gone. We search for clues, for a ray of hope. And then we get the good news.

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The price

Today I reached out on email to two women who were my close friends at my old church, asking after their families, giving them the news of my own, and wishing them a blessed Easter. It was a chatty little note, with a little news from my new parish mixed in. I thought it was a cordial note. I suggested lunch some Saturday.

I got back, "Happy Easter" from both of them. One line, more or less, including good wishes for my new life. I guess this is what it feels like to be thrown under the bus. I guess it's the price for being honest about what I saw happening at the Church on the Pike.

But sending that letter to my bishop was (as the commercial says).... priceless.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dona nobis pacem


Five years ago today I sat on my bed and watched the "Shock and Awe" campaign of the U.S. military against Saddam Hussein. Against the night sky over Baghdad, fatal blooms of yellow and orange erupted as we dropped bunker-busters. Take that, Saddam! And we were going to find his weapons of mass destruction and put him out of business, not to mention out of the presidential palace(s).

It didn't quite work out that way. The WMDs were MIA.

But it was OK, because we knew anyway that Saddam had been in cahoots with Al Qaeda, right? That Al Qaeda had been in contact with him prior to 9/11?

Nope, wrong again.

We had it all wrong from the beginning. That's the Bush administration: often wrong, but never in doubt. And people on both sides are still dying.

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Palm Sunday: Pansy Attack!

Palm Sunday dawned raw and drizzly here, with a thick layer of morning fog that had mostly burned off by the time I picked up my rider-to-church, a lady named Dorothy who is not able to drive right now. It was a rainy drive, but by the time we had arrived at church the drizzle had nearly stopped. We were able to have our Palm Sunday procession, from the parish hall down to the intersection, across the street and up to the Church on the Hill. This is the first Palm Sunday in years that it has not rained out a procession! We had a full congregation, and most of them processed. We even had a local police officer as our crossing guard!

After the service, the sun came out, and I developed an itch.

Well, it can't be holy week without flowers, right? Even a Holy Week as early as this one.

Soon I found myself at the garden center, almost against my will, having a real pansy attack. I love pansies -- I love the deep, pure colors against the spring-green leaves and the gentle way the flowers nod in the wind. I bought 4 pots: 2 in varying shades of blue, one in bright yellow and orange, and one in a deep, variegated burgundy. At home, I popped them into a pot on the porch that I had already filled with new soil.

Naturally, on Sunday night the mercury plummeted to near freezing. But the pansies seem to have endured it cheerfully -- much more cheerfully that I do. They're willing to wait for spring.

Me, not so much.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What I said ...

Here's a copy of the letter I sent to the Vestry of the Church on the Pike, edited to protect everyone's privacy. Where I refer to recent parish history, you should know that we suffered periods of tumult resulting in "dissolution of the pastoral relationship" (meaning we fired our Rectors) twice in the last 20 years. So we have a history of conflict, but had been through a long period of healing. Until the recent nonsense!

My original email had some attachments, but I couldn't figure out how to attach those documents here. But you'll get the general idea of their content.

"Dear Vestry Friends,

This afternoon my letter of transfer arrived at St. [ ]'s. Forgive me for not saying goodbye to you all in person, but last Sunday was a difficult day for me. Moving to St. [ ]'s is the decision I reached following a process of discernment that began with the first departures from St. [ ]'s, back in September. After 5 months of prayer, tears, help from a spiritual director, input from my friends in the Order of Julian of Norwich, observation of certain trends here at St. [ ]'s, and a very painful meeting with Fr. [ ] in December, it still seems to me that St. [ ]'s is going down the wrong road -- at least, the wrong road for me and many others.

This is not simply a matter of my "not being able to change," which seems to have become Fr. [ ]'s mantra here in the last few months, nor is it simply that I "don't like" Rick Warren and his programs, though that is certainly the case. I have always been open to change, when I see the point of it and agree with the direction. I have particularly resented Fr. [ ]'s suggestion that those who do not agree with him have character conflicts, as he wrote in an email to one of us, and more recently, his assertion that a good leader must have a "strong character" (cf. Feb. 3, 2008 Annual Report, p. 13), which insinuates that those who have left have a fundamental character flaw. What an easy cop-out that is.

I do have strong objections to Purpose-Driven programming on content grounds. I remarked to Fr. [ ] back in December that I felt it was a simplistic, fundamentalist, "See Spot run" version of Christianity - I have read The Purpose-Driven Life once again since I made that statement, and my opinion has not changed. One priest to whom I spoke felt that he knew less about Christianity after he had read it. For people (including, I imagine, many Episcopalians) who don't have a literal view of Scripture, who don't believe that God designed every minute aspect of their bodies (birth defects included), planned out all the events of their lives in advance, or has an instructional purpose in all the bad things that happen to them, the Purpose-Driven Life is reductive and insulting. It's a myopic, fundamentalist fairy tale. The challenges of real Christian life seem to me to be much more nuanced. The Purpose-Driven Life sells Christians short!

Then there's the matter of the damage done to the congregation, including hurtful emotional damage done to quite a few individuals. Page 5 of the most recent annual report indicates that St.[ ]'s added 16 new members in 2007 (and 6 of those were babies baptized), while 91 (!) were transferred to inactive status, which I believe has to happen before they are removed from the membership roll completely. Has St. [ ]'s not been through enough in the past 20 years? Knowing our history, bringing in a program which is well-known to split congregations (see my first attachment) is an unconscionable lapse in judgment on the part of the Rector. I am also responsible for this, in part, because I was a member of the Vestry senior class that prepared the vision statement, and I accepted what Fr. [ ] wrote (which is the bulk of the document) without realizing what the real source was; I failed to do the research I should have done. On the one hand, many aspects of the vision of purpose and ministry have been implemented without asking St. [ ]'s members to goose-step along with Uncle Rick. One example is the Newcomers' Ministry, which was thriving the last I knew. Prayer Fellowship is also flourishing in its expanded format. But forcing people into one-size-fits-all programming designed for seekers, and attempting to enforce uniformity in belief and opinion seems draconian to me, and is a misuse of the Rector's authority. Uniformity in belief and attitude has never been an Anglican requirement (thanks be to God), and should not be an expectation of all a church's leadership. Vetting people who are to run for Vestry is another example of this uncanonical misuse of authority. The recent absence of Vestry elections (by provision of exactly the requisite number of candidates to fill slots) is also disturbing, and is potentially a violation of state law. This is not a criticism of your good selves; it is an objection to the Rector's iron grip on the process.

I don't know what has happened to Fr. [ ]; he no longer seems to me to be the person who came to us in 2001. I no longer recognize that gentle, patient person in him. I don't feel badly saying this to you all, since I have also said this to him. I am at a loss to understand what has happened to him.

I don't know if you have read any criticism of Saddleback and Willow Creek programming or not. I think you might be unlikely to have any handed to you at a Vestry meeting, so I'm attaching some documents that I hope you will read with an open mind. The first (mentioned above) is a Wall Street Journal article describing the breakup of an evangelical (!) congregation after their church became Purpose-Driven. The second attachment is an Amazon.com web page for a book I enjoyed reading: The Reason-Driven Life, which addresses Rick Warren's book chapter by chapter. It is both scathing and witty, and is written by an agnostic Biblical scholar and former born-again Christian. The final attachment is a review of a new book published by Willow Creek, following their experience with the REVEAL survey. It seems they are ready to admit that they've been attracting seekers but not keeping them, and that their methods are completely flawed. Back to the drawing board for them! If only repairing damage were so easy at St. [ ]'s.

My friends, I will miss all of you. I am very saddened by what I see happening in a church where I worshiped God happily for nearly 25 years. St. [ ]'s will always be in my prayers.

Yours in Christ,

Judy"

Friday, March 07, 2008

UNCLEAN!!!

OK, I left my church and found one I liked better.

But when I left, I wrote a letter to the Vestry, explaining my position, why I left, and what I objected to. I also sent them three attachments, in the hope that these would better explain my doubts: why I don't want to become a fundamentalist; why I don't think everyone needs to agree on every point of doctrine; why the "Purpose-Driven" programs are splitting congregations; and why the enforcement of uniform opinion is not in the least Anglican.

First, I sent the email to a friend on the Vestry, and asked her to distribute it to other Vestry members, since I didn't have everyone's email address.

In a couple of weeks, and following a Vestry meeting, it became clear to me that my friend's best intentions had gotten cut off at the pass -- no one got my letter.

So then I got really annoyed, and emailed the letter to everyone on Vestry for whom I had an address, on the supposition that a few are better than nothing.

And what have I heard back?

Let's see. Zip. Nada. Nihil.

Folks, it's like I don't exist anymore. I'm now a leper. UNCLEAN!!

But, gosh, I can't help thinking that God gave us brains so we could use them. No one at the Church on the Pike seems to be using theirs.

I could be sad. Or I could move on. In fact, I already have, with fond glances behind me ...

Monday, March 03, 2008

My bad!

I've been tagged for two interesting memes, but I've had my head in a dark place and didn't notice one of them till today. My apologies to Psalmist, who tagged me way back on Feb. 8 for this book meme. I may be slow, but I do get there!

Book meme:
Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.

Oh, boy, I hope you're not holding your collective breath in anticipation, because I happen to be at my desk on my lunch hour, and the nearest book is (drum roll, please):

Lieberman, Joseph I. In Praise of Public Life, 2000

And the text, according to the rules of the meme, is:

"American politicians have become so hungry for campaign contributions largely because, as I noted earlier, so much of politics has become driven by and wedded to television, which costs a lot of money. In 1974, which was a midterm election year, a record-shattering total of$356 million was spent by the nation's political candidates (at local, state and national levels) on TV ads. That figure was unimaginable just a decade earlier."

OK, I warned you! And this is one of the more interesting books that has come across my desk lately. I might actually read this one!

The second meme comes from my friend Sharecropper, and fortunately I am not late on this one!

Blogging meme:

1. List three reasons for your blogging
2. List the rules
3. Tag three others with the thread.

1. Why I blog:

I'm a frustrated writer. I love horror fiction, and I wanted to be the female Stephen King, but it never worked out. Always had to make a living. Darned money!

It gives me another chance to try to put my faith to work, whether I manage to do that or not.

I get to meet cool, thoughtful people who care about the things I care about.

2. See above.

3. I'll give some thought to whom I want to tag. But I know how busy everyone is!