Phyllis Tickle dies at 81… May she rest in peace and rise in glory!

By Ken Howard

It is with a mixture of sadness and joy that I pass along the news that Phyllis Tickle − author, speaker, thought leader, and a friend and mentor to me and to many − has died at 81. With sadness because she was taken from us mere months after a diagnosis of lung cancer (“the cough from hell,” as she put it). With joy because we can celebrate hers as a life well lived in the service of the Church she well loved.

I will remember her as a thoughtful and articulate public theologian, willing and able to translate the faith to new generations and courageous enough to risk speaking to the Church about what the future might hold for it, depending on the choices its leaders made. I fondly remember the time I volunteered to drive her from a clergy conference she had led at Shrine Mont in Orkney Springs to Washington National Airport in Alexandria, VA. It was a wild ride, not because of my driving, but because we had the opportunity to speak for two and a half hours about everything from religion to faith to quantum physics to the ultimate nature of reality.* She inquired about my own writings on those subjects, and as a result encouraged my to write my first book, “Paradoxy” (which she later was kind enough to offer to shop to publishers on my behalf). Plus, I got to get out of the rest of the clergy conference, so it was a real three-fer.

Phyllis Tickle: She will be missed by many, not least of all by me. May she rest in peace and rise in glory!


* Note: Ultimately, Phyllis and I disagreed on the ultimate nature of reality. She interpreted quantum phenomena as supporting the Bohr-Heisenberg “Copenhagen Interpretation” (that observation creates reality), while I expressed a great deal of sympathy for the “EPR” (Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen) critique of Copenhagen and leaned towards Everett’s “Many Worlds Interpretation” (aka MWI or Many Worlds or Multiverse). Still we were able to agree upon three things about quantum physics: (1) that Schrodinger was an cat abuser, (2) that quantum entangled states are way cool and profoundly spiritual, and (3) that how the name “Reagan” became entangled with an airport was beyond human knowing.

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The Paradox That Is Church – reflections on a poem by Carlo Carretto

A Letter to the Churchlove_hate

How baffling you are, oh Church,

and yet how I love you!

How you have made me suffer,

and yet how much I owe you!

I would like to see you destroyed,

and yet I need your presence.

You have given me so much scandal

and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is.

I have seen nothing in the world
more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false,

and yet I have touched nothing
more pure, more generous, more beautiful.

How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face,

and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you,

because I am you, though not completely.

And besides, where would I go?

Would I establish another?

I would not be able to establish it without the same faults,

for they are the same faults I carry in me.

And if I did establish another,

it would be my Church, not the Church of Christ.

And I am old enough to know

that I am no better than anyone else.

– by Carlo Carreto, from The God Who Comes


In my book Paradoxy I use the phrase “a mistake made holy” to describe the paradox that is Church:

On the one hand,
there is no evidence in scripture that Jesus (or Paul, for that matter)
intended to start a new religion called Christianity.

Yet on the other hand,
it is clear that God’s Holy Spirit
has become inextricably bound up in the Church.

On the one hand,
it is clearly fallen.

Yet on the other hand,
it is clearly the body of Christ.

This poem by Carlo Carretto draws our attention not only to the paradox that is Church, but also to our profoundly and paradoxically ambivalent relationship with it.

It is impossible to truly and deeply love the Church without sometimes hating it as well.

The Bible & Same-Sex Relations: A Biblical Analysis from an Incarnational Perspective

The-manuscript-of-the-BibleI recently reconnected with a classmate from my high school days. Our first several exchanges focused on updating each other on what had happened in the decades since our graduation. Once we discovered that both of us had become Christ-followers, the discussion turned to sharing our respective points of view on a variety of subjects – prayer, spiritual life, the Bible – and eventually to the issue of sexual orientation. My former classmate was surprised to hear that I had a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture, yet favored the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of the Church. He asked if I would mind explaining my thinking on this subject in a plain and straightforward way. This article is my response to that request.

click here to read the article

#EpiscopalResurrection #G78 – Postlude: “Autoimmune Church?”

imageBy the Rev. Ken Howard

For the last week or so, I have been writing and posting a series of blog posts on the Episcopal Resurrection movement: one post on the Memorial to the Church and ten on the enabling resolutions. No small feat, that, considering that my “day job” is leading a still-growing, mature church plant.

Last night I put the last post – and then myself – to bed. As I drifted off into dream land, I realized that I had two worries:

  1. That the resolutions would not pass.
  2. That the resolutions would not be sufficient. 

In either case, it would be a sign that we are suffering from “Auto-Immune Church Syndrome.”

The medical definition of autoimmunity, one of the least-understood of human pathologies, is when the body mistakes perfectly healthy cells, tissues, or organs of the body for pathogenic threats, causing the body’s immune system to attacked the perceived “invaders,” and either kill them and/or expel them. Examples include, Chrone’s disease, Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Auto-Immune Church Syndrome happens when a church has been sick for so long that its begins to think of its condition as normal, simply because it has become the status quo: one that feels like homeostasis, even though it is really an almost imperceptibly slow slide into death. When agents of healthy change come into an autoimmune church, they are perceived (correctly) as a threat to things as they are, which activates the church’s immune system, which removes those threats from the body.

So my first fear is that the body that is the Episcopal Church will (rightly) view the enabling resolutions sponsored by the Episcopal Resurrection movement as a threat to things as they are and eliminate them: voting them down before they the can do any “damage” to current, longstanding yet not quite healthy, status quo.

My second fear is that the Episcopal Resurrection resolutions will pass but the church’s antibodies, now alerted to the perceived invaders, will weaken them (with “to the extent possible” language) in the process of passing them, or find ways to co-opt them after the fact. To some degree, this is what happened with the Taskforce for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC), to the point that the final recommendations were not substantial nor specific enough to turn the Titanic away from the iceberg. And while these nine resolutions are a great start, they do not cover all the things that currently hold the people of the church back from taking the risks necessary for the church to move from death into life.

One example: the Title IV disciplinary process badly needs amending. The categories of offenses (e.g., “Conduct unbecoming a clergy”) and complainants (e.g., family members of alleged victims) are big enough to drive a Mack truck through. The conditions of the investigation (e.g., the accused is sworn to confidentiality but the accuser is not) are way out of balance. And there is no easy way to identify and dispense with specious accusations, and no provision for penalizing those who make specious accusations. Which means that those of us who push boundaries, experiment, and explore new ways of doing and being church are much more likely to find ourselves dealing with specious charges of “conduct unbecoming” than those who place a premium on playing it safe and offending no one. I can tell you from personal experience that it can be a huge distraction and enough to make on think twice about sticking out one’s neck.

Ultimately, changing structures, processes, and rules, while necessary steps, in themselves are never sufficient to make change. That will require thousands of leaders – and their people – opening their hearts to change. As I and others have said elsewhere before the church can experience resurrection, there is much that we must let die.

Still, for all it’s faults, I love this church, and I pray for its resurrection…


A Letter to the Church

How baffling you are, oh Church,

and yet how I love you!

How you have made me suffer,

and yet how much I owe you!

I would like to see you destroyed,

and yet I need your presence.

You have given me so much scandal

and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is.

I have seen nothing in the world

more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false,

and yet I have touched nothing

more pure, more generous, more beautiful.

How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face,

and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you,

because I am you, though not completely.

And besides, where would I go?

Would I establish another?

I would not be able to establish it without the same faults,

for they are the same faults I carry in me.

And if I did establish another,

it would be my Church, not the Church of Christ.

And I am old enough to know

that I am no better than anyone else.

– by Carlo Carreto, from The God Who Comes

#EpiscopalResurrection #G78 – D011: Eliminate Provinces – “Keep Calm & Defeat Bureaucracy”

keep-calm-and-defeat-bureaucracy-5

By Ken Howard

If approved, Resolution D011 – Eliminate Provinces, will eliminate an entire layer of the Episcopal Church‘s bureaucratic structure.

At first blush, this may sound like a drastic measure. And it is. It is radical, serious, far reaching…and absolutely essential.

I assume that this century-old structure was set up with good intentions. I assume that there must have been a time when the provinces served a beneficial purpose in our denomination (or the system would not have survived its infancy). But IMHO, that day has passed.

Bureaucracies have a way outlasting their purpose – their reason for existing. No organization wants to be without a purpose and the power to achieve it. So rather than terminating their existence, they create a new reason for being. Once in a while, this new purpose is a logical extension of the reason for which it was created. Occasionally, it may even be beneficial. But more often than not, when a bureaucracy has lost the power to proactively benefit the greater organization, it instead resorts to exercising the power to obstruct.

That is where we are with most of the provinces in the Episcopal Church today. The few that are doing positive and beneficial work are the exceptions that prove the rule. One has to ask whether the good done by the few, justified not only the existence of the many but the time, effort, and resources that go into propping them up, especially when those resources must be appropriated from the dioceses to the denomination before being disbursed by the denomination to the provinces. I am a strong proponent of networking and collaboration for the common good, but speaking for myself, I would rather those dioceses use those funds directly to experiment with more creative, responsive, and purposeful ways of networking.

As the authors of this D011 also point out, eliminating the provinces has other benefits, including the ability to adjust the numbers of members on certain committees once provincial representation is no longer required. Specifically, they propose the following membership changes:

  • Decreasing the size of the Executive Council from 38 to 30,
  • Decreasing the size of the Joint Nominating Committee for the Presiding Bishop from 29 to 20, and
  • Increasing the size of the Official Youth Presence from 18 to 24.

Let’s do the right thing here: Have the organizational equivalent of a memorial service. Honor all the provinces for the purposes the once served. Hold up the few that are still doing beneficial work for the great examples of networking that they been to us. And then give the entire structure a proper burial.


Previous Post: #EpiscopalResurrection #GC78 – Rez D010: Clarify Officers – “Alright, Who’s In Charge Here?”

#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78 – Rez D010: Clarify Officers – “Alright, Who’s In Charge Here?”

leadershipteam

By Ken Howard

Resolution D010: Clarify Officers of The Episcopal Church, proposes to clarify the roles of the officers of the Episcopal Church, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and General Convention, providing clear lines of authority and accountability.

By-and-large, it is a clean up, but necessary.


#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78 – D013: Budget Process – “Budgeting Is No Joke”

By Ken Howard

Budgeting is serious business. It process of budgeting needs to be clear, consistant, fair, and just.

Our current canons contain a number of unclear, conflicting, and outdated budget procedures.

Resolution D013: Budget Process for the Episcopal Church proposes to amend our budget process to conform with current practice regarding budget development and budget oversight. It also promoses to amend the process by which dioceses are assessed, in order to clarify that the full assessment is expected and to provide reasonable consequences for not praying the full assessment.

I generally support this resolution. But I’d be less than honest if I did not say admit that I do that I have a little trepidation about the assessment piece, specifically, about how the assessment would be calculated. Is it based on normal operating expenses? Does it also include capital gifts, designated but unrestricted gifts, endowments.

If language were inserted to address these concerns, I believe this resolution would garner broader support.


#EpiscopalResurrection #G78 – Rez D004: Episcopal Elections – “Bishops Move Diagonally”

bishops-2

By Ken Howard

Back before the earth cooled, I served as a seminarian at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill.  Verna Dozier was a member of my lay advisory committee and became my mentor. When it was almost time for my ordination to the diaconate, Verna said to me, “Someday someone is going to ask you if they can submit your name for a bishop search. I want you to promise me that when that happens, you will not say ‘No.'”

I was a bit taken aback, and I said to her, “But Verna, you know I don’t want to be a bishop. I have no desire to wear the funny hat and, more importantly, I don’t want the power.”

But she was insistant. “Ken,” she said, “that’s exactly why you can’t say, ‘No.’ One of the biggest problems we have with the leadership of the church is that too many people who are elected bishops really want to be bishops.” Then, as only Verna could do, she instructed me: reading to me the “Examination” question from the ordination services for deacons, priests, and bishops, and asked, “Did you notice the difference? Candidates for Deacon and Priest are asked if they believe they are ‘called‘ to the ministry of the diaconate or the priesthood. Candidates for Bishop are asked if they are ‘persuaded.’ There’s a reason for that: You aren’t supposed to want to be a bishop. You are supposed to be persuaded.

Vera’s comments have stuck with me. As a result, over the years I have allowed my name to be submitted in three different Episcopal searches. And my ambivalence toward the office gifted me with an odd kind of freedom: the ability to speak the truth without fear of losing something that I badly wanted. I’d like to think this freedom to speak the truth without fear was a gift to those conducting the search as well, even though it may have resulted in them hearing some things they did not want to hear.

This is why I believe resolution D004 – Create a Task Force to Study Episcopal Elections and Appointments of Bishops is so timely. We need to find a way to extend our reach beyond the usual suspects: people whom we all knew, as far back as seminary, already had their sights already set on the Episcopacy. We need to find a way to identify those servant leaders who are ambivalent about the trappings of the office and persuade them to at least allow themselves to be considered, as was the case with this one, who was so ambivalent the people had to resort to a little subtrafuge to persuade him…

384328_romanesque-icon-of-st-martin-and-the-beggar

Now I’m not saying that some of those folks who really want to be bishops can’t become good bishops. As another mentor of mine, who spent many decades on staff at 815, once said, “Quite a few of them turn out to be trainable.” It’s been my privilege to know a fair number of those whom God had trained…and also a few more who could answer that final question of the Examination with the words, “I am so persuaded.”

There’s an epilogue to the story above. Several years after my ordination to the Priesthood and not long after the we planted the church I now lead, our former bishop was visiting our mission congregation. After the reading of the Gospel, he sat down on the chancel steps to have a little Q&A-style sermon with the children.

After they had gathered around his feet, he asked them, “Do any of you know what a bishop does?”

Most of them shrugged their shoulders and gave him quizzical looks. But one, already nerdy at the age of seven, started bouncing up and down, waving his hand in the air, and saying, “I do! I do!”

“Yes, Jeffrey,” bishop Haynes asked, “What does a bishop do?”

Jeffrey, who could already beat most of the congregation at chess, fairly beamed at bishop Haynes and said, “A bishop moves diagonally!”

“There’s truth to those words,” our bishop said, in a wistful aside to the congregation, “More truth than you know…”

I urge you to support this resolution.


#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78 – Rez D008: Amend Article I – “Come reason together… (Joint Sessions)”

CartoonBishopDoyle_GeneralConference

By Ken Howard

Sometimes it just makes more sense to come reason together. But presently, though it has been done on rare occasions, our canons to not allow for it.

Proposed resolution D008 Amend Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution of TEC, simply makes it canonically lawful for the Presiding Officers of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies to call of a Joint Session at Genera Convention, if approved by a majority vote in the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies (and also if provided for in the canons).

It’s a no brainer, IMHO…


 

#EpiscopalResurrection #GC78: Rez D003: Amend Title V – “Merging Dioceses Ahead”

rumors-over-merger

By Ken Howard

I’ve interviewed for many executive positions in my day, both before and after my ordination. Once they’d finished interviewing me and it was my turn to ask them a few questions, I would often ask, “What would you suggest as priorities for my first year?”

Almost inevitably, they would day, “Don’t move too fast. Wait 12 months or so, and get to know us, before you make any significant changes.” Ironically, while this sounds like sage advice, it is actually a recipe for maintaining the status quo. Because while you are slowly considering the changes you think need to happen, the organization is doing one of the things it does best: organizing itself to sabotage any changes.

I learned the hard way that the only way to make significant change in the organization was to do my homework before I ever got there, meet with and listen to a lot of the people there, get a feel for the one or two most important changes that needed to happen (not that I wanted to happen but that they needed to have happen). Then on day one focus intently on those one or two changes, running as fast and as hard as I could in the direction of those changes, until the organization re-solidified around them, and the changes became permanent.

As Rabbi Edwin Friedman points out organizations are naturally predisposed to maintain homeostasis: they resist change and, consciously or unconsciously, they sabotage it (this is not good or bad, it just IS). The time that an organization is most open to change is when its homeostasis has been disrupted, such as in a time of leadership transition. Dioceses, for example, are perhaps the most open to change – especially big ones, like the merger of two struggling dioceses into one stronger diocese – when they are between bishops.

Under Article V of our church’s constitution, as currently written, merging two dioceses requires the written approval of the bishop of both dioceses, which make it specifically impossible to merge dioceses at the time dioceses are most open to change.

This resolution aims to amend this article of our constitution to make such mergers possible. And it just goes to show how tweaking a few legislative words can have a big impact. This resolution, obscurely entitled “Amend Article V of the Constitution,” strikes exactly 24 words from Article V and places them with 6, allowing the ecclesiastical authority – generally bishop or standing committee – of each diocese approved the merger.

Otherwise, it leaves all other checks and balances intact.


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