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We Are the Madding Crowd

One of the weird-but-nice things about my online congregation is how incredibly diverse we are.

The same thing happens to every other vicar. I wonder how they manage it; some days I wonder how I do.

I’ve got an anti-abortion state rep from Oklahoma following me; she used to be with NARAL. But most of my followers are pro-choice, as I am; I’m opposed to abortion as a general principle, but I want it to be legal – because women have always sought it, in every time and place, and I want them to be safe.

My mother considered aborting my brother. I’m glad she didn’t, but when she explained her reasons I could well understand. She was afraid my dad would kill her, which was a constant threat we lived with for 25 years.

Why men blame women for getting pregnant is beyond me; it does take two to tango.

The fortunate news for me is that the Daily Office is really not concerned with abortion, but the simple-complex praise of God. The prayer service is mostly Bible with an added theme or two, and Holy Scripture doesn’t address abortion, unless (like the Vatican) you stretch “Be fruitful and multiply” beyond all recognition. Thus I can happily welcome this Oklahoma woman, who has obviously been wrestling with herself on the subject for years. I’m glad she comes sometimes; she helps me by her presence to remember that “my ways are not your ways, nor are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”

I mean, Josh’s opinion is not authoritative on anything. I might like it to be, but then, you know, I do prattle on. (And here you are, reading more of my prattle.)

Who isn’t pro-life? We’re all pro-life. And we should be; I certainly don’t want fetuses aborted for being Gay. I don’t want them aborted at all, if a woman can avoid it.

But I grew up with my dad, and I’ve seen how violent some men are. So I don’t like abortion, but don’t you dare send my mother to a back alley; Don’t You Even Dare.

That prayer site gets Protestants and Catholics; being an Episcopalian, I swing both ways. Some days I’m a total Catholic; but then Maureen Dowd writes another column (like yesterday’s), wondering why her church is so out of touch and out of date, and I want to shout, “The Protesters were right!”

She never seems to grasp why there was a Protestant Reform-ation. I guess if you go to Catholic school, the nuns just brush right over it.

(Of course there aren’t really nuns anymore in Catholic schools; the pope’s doing his best to get rid of them all. They don’t worry enough about abortion and homosexuality, he says. They’re too worried about the poor.)

But there’s poor Maureen, trying to make sense of her Church again, invoking JFK and Vatican II for the umpteenth time, like they were going to solve the structural problems inherent in the Church According to Rome.

If you set up a dictatorship, it means you follow the dictator. I don’t cry for you, Argentina.

They want married priests now; they’re right about it, though they happen to be 500 years late. They want women priests too, and they’re right about that; but not in your lifetime, Maureen. Wait a few centuries, then maybe.

Otherwise I’m all for mainstream Catholic theology. It’s beautiful, it’s gorgeous, it’s ennobling; it makes us better people.

Just leave out the sex, because they’re all screwed up about that.

I am Protestant and Catholic; that’s what’s unique about the English Reformation. The way we got here was bloody awful, but as a 21st century American I couldn’t be happier with my Church.

We have a woman Presiding Bishop. I don’t like her – she’s cold, political, calculating – but I thank God for her. Maybe she’ll wind up in a BBC mini-series someday, if the Brits can ever get past their own navel-gazing. She could give Tom Becket a run for his money (especially if Judi Densch gets the starring role).

She wears the worst robes you’ve ever seen; never was a woman more desperate for Gay advice. –> But she isn’t about the clothes, and I am very grateful to belong to a church whose male bishops voted in a woman to preside over them. Those men are living out their faith like no men ever have, and I’m in awe of all of them (while taking an appropriately skeptical view of their various pronouncements). This woman is a saint, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t like her. Katharine Jefferts-Schori is my Presiding Bishop.

My congregation reflects the democracy of the internet. We’re pro-Gay and anti-, Catholic and Protestant, Pentecostal and Baptist, American and Filipino.

This is the mind-blowing legacy of Thomas Cranmer, an English Catholic (married) priest who boiled the seven-times-a-day prayers of monastic life into a twice-daily discipline that ordinary people can follow. It’s almost all Bible; you can’t go wrong.

No controversy.

I don’t get why everyone’s not Episcopalian. It’s the only church on earth that makes any sense!

(Of course, it’s very English, and yes, that causes problems, and it’s this too much and it’s that too little. It has a million problems. – But not the essential ones: popes going off half-cocked or TV preachers building cults of personality. Prosperity Gospel? You’ve got to be kidding me.)

Meanwhile I’ve got business executives who come to the site, and ministers with outreach to the homeless. I depend on them, and they depend on me.

I’ve got Gay people and Straight people; neo-cons and Marxists. We’re all just trying to get by; to invite into our lives a little solace, a little strength, a little holiness – because we need it; because we’re sinners. Because we’re loved.

God’s love knows no bounds – and that includes insurance guys, radical feminists, the whole conglomeration of humanity.

I struggle to respond to them sometimes. I worry that my words carry too much weight, that the choices I make (especially in the art and captions) don’t reflect them accurately, don’t nourish them enough, don’t enable them to worship together with people who aren’t like them at all.

I worry it’s a cult of personality. I know there are people who come because I write it.

I want to have fans, but Jesus is the One who matters, not me.

So I can get confused. For example: I have no doubt Barack Obama will win the Episcopalian vote. (That woman PB tells you all you need to know, without dictating a single vote. As a Church, we’re feminists; that’s our moral stance. We’re pro-Gay and pro-choice and we even collect rainwater from downspouts, which is really ridiculous where I live, 75 miles south of the Great Lakes.)

But it may well be that some percentage of my congregation sincerely believes, as a matter of moral conviction, that Mitt Romney is the better choice for president, and I have to respect that.

I cannot follow their reasoning, but if the Daily Office is really for everybody, I have to be welcoming to everybody.

Sometimes this becomes a great challenge; I couldn’t begin to tell you what a rector goes through, dealing with a swath of humanity.

I’m not wise enough to know how to be Jesus. All I can be is Josh, who is no one to take dictation from.

The good news of course is that I don’t have to be Jesus, and I wasn’t put here for this purpose. All God ever asks of me is to be Josh; a better Josh than I am, but “Josh” is good enough. When you love someone, you don’t repeal their very nature; I can’t say “God loves you” unless that applies to me too.

God is infinitely respectful of our unique personalities. The same God who loves me loves you – and the banker, the tailor, the candlestick maker.

I wish I were a better vicar, but I’m not going to beat myself up. We’re all doing the best we can here.

So as I reflect on the burdens and joys of being Episcopalian, someone Catholic and Protestant both, this is the best I can come up with for now: if God loves him and her and him, then I have to learn how, too.

“How” is another matter; I couldn’t begin to tell you how, unless it’s by listening, and respecting, and allowing, and forgiving. Wide latitude is what my Church preaches, even if I sometimes wish it wouldn’t.

I’ve lately declared that dailyoffice.org is a Safe Place for GLBT people; no homophobic comments allowed. (Very few were offered, but there are trolls in this internet universe). My particular gift, I think, or mission or calling, is inviting Gay people back to church. That’s what I want, for Gay-Les-Bi-Trans people to feel safe enough to meet the Living God.

In a way that’s all I want. Just meet him-or-her, and be safe. She can take it from there. (And she doesn’t depend on me to issue the invitation.)

But I also have to be open to people who are in a different place. We don’t all get hit with the Gay Lib Bolt of Lightning; it comes and goes.

I had a chance recently to engage with the mother of a Gay son; she’s come a long way and favors same-sex marriage, although she can’t get past her interpretation of the hammer verses.

We ended up deciding that we could take Communion together, which is the sine qua non of Christian life.

God doesn’t require us to agree; we can be both Protestant and Catholic. We can be neither or both or whatever we want; that’s just theology, which is really not uppermost in God’s mind.

Who eats together? That’s what she cares about.

Because that’s where the healing happens, where love can start to flower; I see you, and you see me, and we can be at peace with one another. That’s what God cares about.

Because she knows that when people eat together, we come away feeling satisfied. We’re at peace; we don’t fight.

The whole of the Christian religion is there in the meal; that’s why the Catholics are right. Jesus said, “Do this,” and he didn’t say, “Once a month, or once a quarter, or once a year, or once a lifetime, or if you feel like it, or if you don’t.” He said, “Do this.” I take that as a commandment.

If you get bread and wine you’re good to go.

So help me, Lord, I don’t know how to deal with these insurance people! Republicans! Capitalists! They’re everywhere! Some of them are even Gay-bashers, which really ticks me off! At least they vote for people who are!

God does not approve of bashers. Beyond that, we need to learn to get along.++

2 Responses

  1. I can´t believe you said you don´t like ++Katharine…I don´t either. I wanted to, I stretched to, I beat my chest to, but I don´t … not now, I´m not a fan of out of touch prelates who pontificate about weird stuff (best left for undergraduate science students) or when simperingly suggesting that I ¨hang in a crucified place¨ (STILL! The still part is ommitted from the gimlit eyed appeal because she can´t figure how to say ¨no way¨ and MEAN it!). Anyway, she´s the PB and I´m delighted she is a SHE because no matter how over her head she is with her depth of Biblical creativity she´s not the first, nor probably the last, to represent pompus mediocrity and blather on about shafts of wheat, star fish and more — all waving in the breeze of unused underwater metaphors…apparently a wanderer amongst the little people she´s not. Hope she´s a one term ready kilowatt.

  2. Thank you, Leonardo, thank you; you said it better than I, both in your criticism and your support of her. The Church is thrilled to have a woman Presiding Bishop; in her very being, she conveys a kind of grace.

    I further believe she has done many things right; she took office in the most perilous imaginable time, in the midst of sinful schism – and she’s seen us through. Even her detractors have to admit that; she’s kept the Episcopal Church together. And she’s clawed back those parishes, dioceses and institutions the dissenters tried to steal. We owe this woman bigtime.

    However, she’s made me aware of what I want in the next Presiding Bishop: someone who can articulate the Gospel of deep, wide inclusion and liberation for the 21st century – which she cannot do. Put her on TV and your eyes glaze over; you have no idea what she just said.

    And this is the representative of my Church? She can’t tell anyone why to follow Christ or be an Episcopalian?

    It’s not her gift, so absolve her and thank her for her service. Then elect somebody else.

    It’s not that we need the super-telegenic; but we do need someone to relate to, and she’s not very good at that. She’s got more $5000 words than Encyclopaedia Britannica, and people turn her off.

    I believe that The Episcopal Church has the best marketing opportunity in its history right now – that is, the best evangelical chance we’ve had since George Washington and William White to speak to people about who Jesus really is; what he really asks of us and expects of us, and hopes for us.

    He’s a Lover – and I want a Presiding Bishop who can say so.

    Male, female, black, white, all the categories, beyond the categories, come one come all: that is the Good News we long to hear. People are desperate for it. They die for lack of hope.

    The Episcopal Church is the only kind of Christianity that makes any sense; not Robertson, not the pope, not any of those guys.

    And TEC doesn’t just have a better theology, a slightly improved take on things, but indeed has arrived at this place in 2012 with a faith that can part the Red Sea.

    Our history, we admit, is bloody awful; Henry the 8th and all that. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. And British imperialism, which wreaked havoc everywhere it went.

    But hey – we’re Americans and we’re democrats. We’ve learned how to rein in these wacko priests and prelates. We empower the laity while we honor the clergy. That has brought us to balance like Nobody’s Ever Seen Before.

    Thus we can reveal the truth forever hidden: Jesus as he really is, today in 2012.

    It’s not that we’re so smart; we have all the problems humans have ever had and always had. Truth be told, we’re sinners. Lord, We’re So Fucked Up™.

    But we have indeed been brought by the grace of God, kicking and screaming sometimes, to a little understanding that can save the world from itself.

    Fifty years from now the polar ice caps may be melted away; New York City may be underwater.

    If you let the humans run things, there’s only one result: Lord, We’re So Fucked Up™.

    Somehow this one little bitty church, in Panama and Haiti and other weird places (Lafayette, Indiana!), has stumbled onto something that the world really needs.

    That’s what I want our Presiding Bishop to say.

    And if the next PB doesn’t say it, I will use every power at my disposal to change the way we elect our Presiding Bishop. Because it’s plain to me that we can’t trust the Bishops to elect one of their own anymore. They gave us KJS, who cannot pronounce the Gospel to save her life.

    God loves her, but we can’t afford incompetence anymore when it’s Jesus against the devil.

    That there’s a knockdown dragout fight, and I’m going with the Nazarene. I predict he will win with the morning’s dawn.

    But it may get real, real ugly the night before, and I want a leader who knows how to gently fight for Christ.


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