Wonderings and Reflections:
Wednesday was a long day (hence why this post is coming to you on Thursday morning). We had an evening session, which was long and tedious because it was hard to stay focused on the work before us. Life is like that sometimes.....
Today I was able to spend some time with folks I came to know and love in seminary; we shared a meal. It brought so much joy to my heart to gather again around a table and share stories, laughter, joy and good food. What a blessing. And as I ended today, I thought: God is here---in this place.
Not just in my friends at the table, not just in the deputies who rise to speak to an issue and with whom I am in full agreement. But also in the deputies with whom I deeply disagree. Also in the deputies and visitors whom I haven't officially met, but with whom my path has crossed as we walk down the hallways of the convention center or sit next to one another in worship. Those folks to whom I gave the blessed bread at Eucharist on Tuesday. Those beloved who speak another language and who live thousands of miles away.
God is in the pigeons who have come to take residence in the House of Deputies (much to folks' delight---the pigeons have their own Twitter account and hundreds of followers!), and God is in the folks in this hotel who are going about their business and probably wondering: "Who are all these strange people with nametags around their necks, wearing all manner of pins and slogans?"
The trick, Beloved, in the midst of the moment--whether it be a moment of joy or despair, a moment of frustration or peace, a moment of tiredness or energy---the trick is to deeply breathe in and recognize that you are in a holy space because you are surrounded by the love of God, the wisdom of God, and the people of God.
A prayer from St. Patrick
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
We set our hope on Christ......
Peace and the day's blessings to you all.......
Today: another good day. First of all, I saw some friends from seminary for the first time in a few years; in many ways, this is a family reunion---a great big gathering of people whom you have known and who have touched your life and heart throughout the years and you get to meet face-to-face. Pretty darn awesome.
We had a listening session with the House of Bishops on Creation Care. So, now at the Beloved Community, we need to form a Creation Care team. We do so much with water justice; I am sure God is calling to us to more ways (as two churches and as individuals) to take steps to take care of all of Creation---particularly this fragile earth, our island home. We listened to Bernadette, a woman of the Gwich'in people, an indigenous people of Alaska and Canada. She shared the devastation and oppression her people live with daily as our country (and this administration particularly) have gutted the Arctic---ruining the ecosystem that sustains the Gwich'in people. The Artic Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is being gutted and decimated for greed and profit. People: we have got to get vocal about this and use our political influence to make a change. My heart broke to hear her speak. Two points that continue to ring in my head: “Our children deserve to see the world as it was in the beginning not just when we are done with it." And then Bernadette also went on to say that her people consider a part of the refuge as the "sacred land where all life begins." And the Gwich'in people won't even go there if they are starving because to disrupt the sacred space is to disrupt the origin of life. People, can we have ears to listen? And then take action?
A Bishop from South Africa also spoke to us about the reality of climate change and the devastation of people not having enough water---a reality that we in America have a hard time wrapping our heads around. But, if we keep living as we are living, it won't be beyond our imagination. It will become our reality. We must come to the truth that when there is drought in South Africa----it is our problem!
Also today two resolutions passed that are centered around supporting and recognizing the needs of people who identify as transgender or non-binary in gender. (Which is also Creation Care) And these resolutions passed without any negation from folks or any pushback or any talk of "why are we doing this." They passed with such support. I felt proud to be both Christian and Episcopalian today. This is what the love of Jesus of Nazareth looks like.... My heart sings.....
Oh, beloved, I miss home, and I am looking forward to returning to my husband, our home, to the Beloved Community (and even Ollie the dog), but there is goodness here......and hope....and love....and I will do all I can to bring these wondrous things back to you all, and resources, and ideas, and joy! Beloved, Love is the Way. Let us, the Beloved, be the Love the World Needs. Peace and Night blessings, y'all......
Beloved: today was very, very full with legislation, but also with taking the temperature of the Church and determining where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Of course, part of the trick of this is that when you get some Christians (over 800!) in a room, they will not all agree about what direction the Spirit is blowing. This means there is disagreement. But there need not be disunity. Grace is called upon to fill in the gaps so that we can continue to make room for one another.
Today we talked about the approved Marriage Rites for all people (including same-sex couples) which were approved at the 2015 Convention. In the Episcopal Church, marriage is a sacrament for which the Rector or priest-in-charge of a parish has authority to celebrate or not (except in the case of remarriage in which the Bishop is to be consulted). However, with the resolution passed in 2015, right now a priest who desires to celebrate the marriage ceremony of a same-sex couple must have permission from the Bishop. So the resolution proposed for this General Convention is seeking to place same-sex marriage rites on the same playing field as heterosexual marriage rites, while also insuring that the liturgies themselves end up in any Revised Book of Common Prayer in the future, and not in a supplemental book of liturgies. Since this issue is still tender for many folks, there was much debate. The resolution was overwhelmingly approved in the House of Deputies, but the resolution also needs to pass in the House of Bishops.
We also listened to quite a bit of discussion and debate concerning the desire that the Episcopal Church "continues its firm support for the right of Israel to exist in secure borders as established and recognized by the United Nations, but also continues its strong opposition to Israel’s occupation in perpetuity of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip which is now recognized by the United Nations as the sovereign state of Palestine." The resolution is asking for the Church "to develop a human rights social criteria investment screen based on the social teachings of this Church and 70 years of Church policy on Israel/Palestine ." This is not easy stuff. The Church wants to make clear that this is not an anti-semitism statement, but a statement of recognizing the rights of both Palestine and Israel and to make sure that our investments line up with our social teaching of the Gospel. You know, living out what is preached. It's complex and complicated business. (as it is for all of us on a day to day basis). This resolution passed the House of Deputies.
And then, as if that were not enough, today we also considered a resolution about Seeking Truth, Reconciliation and Healing regarding sexual harassment and abuse within the Church. There was quite a bit of testimony given, allowing people to bring their voice to the conversation---voices that have often been silenced when the Church has been complicit in the harassment and the abuse. This resolution passed the House of Deputies.
And beloved, it warms my heart to say that when we are coming up to a vote that we know will cause pain to folks within the House due to the strong feelings about the issue, we stop and pray---collectively---and we remind ourselves of two truths: We are one together, and All manner of things shall be well.
As part of taking care of many resolutions (over 450 have been presented to the General Convention), many resolutions end up on the Consent Calendar. This is a list of resolutions that the committee dealing with the resolution feels will not need debate or resolutions that are not being moved forward for action or that have been rejected by the committee. A resolution can be taken off the consent calendar in many ways, including at the request of any three deputies. For example, yesterday on the consent calendar was a resolution to continue developing "a church-wide network for planting congregations, training and recruiting planters and mission developers." (This is the source of the Mission Enterprise Zone grant Intercession Episcopal received in June of 2017). Since a similar resolution has passed in the past two conventions, it was placed on the consent calendar. The resolution asks for almost 6 million to be provided for this effort because there has been a lot of success from this endeavor in the past 6 years. Now it moves to the Bishops' calendar....as do all the other approved resolutions.
Beloved, it seems to me that we are at a time of great discernment, a time of taking the "temperature" of the Church and trying to adjust the sails to move with the Holy Spirit. Some of the Beloved agree with my take on the direction, and some do not. No matter where I might personally wish the Church to go, the Gospel calls me to make room for the One(s) who does not agree with me and my understanding. The Gospel calls me to recognize that, ultimately, God has the ship in hand and to trust that God's will shall prevail---even in the storm or the wind or the waves----and to recognize that if a sibling in Christ seems to be standing on the other side of the shore, I cannot just abandon my sibling. I must find my way toward my sibling, repairing the breach, seeking common ground and refuge for all. Pray for us all as we listen to stories and desires and people's very real woundedness. Pray for us to listen well to our siblings, members of this Body of the Risen Christ. Pray that we all might know that this work of discernment isn't about "winning." Pray, Beloved, pray that we keep our hearts leaning in toward God's justice and dream---leaning in toward one another so that Jesus can continue to bind us together. We are one together. Gospel Truth.
Today, beloved, we were the church.
It began at 9:30 am by gathering with people in a park to pray, sing, and listen to the witness of a family destroyed by gun violence. They pleaded with us to take action; to no longer be complicit in this senseless violence that is an epidemic in our nation with our silence and our willingness to let other folks make the change happen. We listened to a prophet of today, a freshman in high school, who demanded that enough was enough. She proclaimed that we cannot be satisfied with our youngest school-aged children having to learn lock-down drills, with our young folks being afraid to go to school, with legislators and gun enthusiasts demanding that their desire to have assault rifles somehow justifies one's ability to kill multiple lives in seconds.
From there we rode by bus to the Hutto Detention Center where women, who came to this nation for asylum, are held---apart from their children. This wasn't a protest, but a prayer service. But this wasn't simply "thoughts and prayers; " this was a call to action and a reminder of what our nation is truly about. A call to make America great again by making America good again. This was a time to be reminded of our core values---our values of welcome because we are called to love our neighbor. To love without exception.
Beloved, now is the time to be a witness.....to be a prophet.....to proclaim love, to point to love, to be love in action. God is waiting: Can God get a witness? Will we be witnesses to this profound love? Will we show the world the Way by living and being the Way? Let us be the witnesses God calls us to be. There is no other time but now.
Oh Beloved, what a day.....what a day. My heart is filled with love and hope, but I also have seen the grief and sadness of the brokenness of our humanity. Walk with me a moment, won't you?
So first of all, I had my first morning "off" from meetings/hearings, so that was renewing in and of itself. I spent time in prayer and solitude.....refreshing! And then we went to session to listen again to thoughts and amendments for Prayer Book Revision. Actually the plan is for three years of study and conversation toward drafting, consulting many folks before actually drafting and crafting in the next triennia (3 years). After much debate, prayer, and listening, the amended resolution to move forward in the study and plan toward revising the Prayer Book was passed in the House of Deputies. I am pretty sure the House of Bishops will amend, and the discussion will continue until it either be completely passed or not. But the breath of renewal seems to be among us. It gives me hope as I believe study and considering, discernment and listening is a good thing. And I trust that God is moving here.....but I also hold my siblings who disagree with me in prayer. Their hearts are heavier than mine for this process...
And then we listened to April Schentrup, mother to Carmen Schentrup who was murdered in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, as she asked us to consider more than thoughts and prayers, but to actually take action to end gun violence in our nation. She asked that we would support and take action for sensible gun legislation in our nation. My heart ached for the family's pain; my heart aches for the reality of our nation and the violence that consumes it. It was a weighty morning.
In the afternoon we considered evangelism, and I heard a truth for me: that priests and pastors are not meant to simply be fundraising CEOs of a non-profit, but we are to be Provokers of Curiosity. We are to provoke people's curiosity about the love of God....to speak words that help others to want to know more about Jesus and the love that is Jesus. And I say YES! to that....
Tonight we attended a Revival....an Episcopal Revival! Who would of thunk this could actually happen? I mean, I always dreamed it....But it made my heart sing. And boy, did we sing! And pray....and were prayed over and prayed with.....and the PB preached! (you can see songs and the sermon on my facebook page, but also check out: generalconvention.org for livestreaming.....) Oh my heart is full....with hope and love and joy! Beloved, let's be about the Way of Love. Let's commit to it and jump into with the entirety of our being....as individuals, as a community, as the Beloved Community. Love is the Way and the antidote this world needs. Let us Love! Peace, y'all, and night blessings.......
Are we ever ready? Are we ever ready when the Spirit blows through the community and stirs us to new action? In my experience: not fully. We'd like to think we are, but the Spirit has a way of taking us further than we ever imagined or dreamed. Because the Spirit is headed in the direction of God's dream, and that is always beyond our imagining.
Today we heard from some magnificent speakers and poets to open our hearts, ears, and minds toward racial reconciliation. Real and lasting reconciliation is first going to require some healing and a whole lot of justice. We have quite a journey in front of us. And first, we must face the truth of the extent and nefarious indwellings of prejudice and racism within us and within our society and systems. But, beloved, let me tell you: the Holy Spirit was blowing throughout the Convention Center today and calling us to a new way and a new day. I give thanks for our speakers and their witness and testimony.
And then a bit later, a resolution called us to take up the holy listening and considering of taking a path forward for the revision of the Prayer Book. If you read my facebook page, you know where I stand. But that is simply my stance, it need not be yours. The Spirit calls me to listen and ponder, to hear all voices, and to stretch out my spiritual antennae so I can hear the Spirit and feel God's vibrations as we ponder and pray, discern and take action.
But the truth, beloved, is we are never truly ready for change. We are never truly ready to cross to the other side. We are never truly ready for the "new thing" God has in store for us. But as Presiding Bishop Curry reminds us, if we "keep our eyes on the prize," if we keep our hand to the Gospel plow, and keep our eyes on Jesus, we will cross safely to the other side. God has us well within God's reach. We are held, guided, and beloved. All shall be well.
Peace, my friends, and night blessings......
So here's a fun fact about General Convention: Today, my third day here, is actually the first official day. You need to come one day early to get oriented and learn what you need to learn and to organize the houses so you can get down to business. And then, if you are on a committee, you begin meeting two days before the official start of business.....so day 3 is day 1. Whatevs....
This past 24 hours for me has been a place of holding the tension between pain and joy. A place we are all familiar with; the place where Jesus often meets us. In many ways, it is a "sweet spot" for vulnerability.....
Last night the Convention held the Listening Session for the House of Bishops on Sexual Harassment in the Church. It was a prayerful liturgy with testimony read by the Bishops, but testimony written by various voices (most of them women) in the Church who have experienced harassment on some level. The Truth is that women are still treated differently in the Church (and not just in leadership) than men. The Truth is our society still treats women (and pays them) differently than men. The Truth is that much of our language, our authority, our image of authority is male-centered and male-dominated. Last night was about the Church beginning to face that reality and to have honest conversations about it, seeking to right this injustice. While the liturgy was painful in many ways, it was also a step toward cleansing. Leaving, I felt heavy and raw in many ways---deep within my heart---hearing my voice in some of those others-----and recognizing some elements of the harassment have still not been heard. Because the reality is that the denigration of women (which leads to one's ability to treat women in lesser ways) is woven into the very fabric of our society, our culture, and our language. We've got lots of untangling to do here, folks; there is much work to be done. But I am heartened that we recognize this reality, and we are beginning.
And then today in the hearings I participated in with my committee were filled with great discussions, and hearing the thoughts and inputs of folks all over the church---and all the voices championing the hope that the Church has life in her yet and we are finding new ways to be and live Church. I heard many witnesses of collaboration and new ideas and fresh starts and growing discipleship. It all made my heart sing (even though it was a very long day and now I need some sleep!)
I posted Bishop Curry's sermon on my Facebook page, but I will try to share it on the two FB pages of the Beloved Community as well. It brings inspiration (which means to be filled with the Spirit) and speaks to our truth that in these spaces of tension between pain and joy (where I found myself today)....Jesus meets us there. Without fail. I am in good hands. We are in good hands. Jesus holds us in the tension and urges us onward.
Beloved, I will take my rest now. I continue to hold you all in prayer. I ask that you do the same for me, for those among us who are recovering or struggling in any way, for our neighbors and friends, and for all those doing the work of God here at General Convention. Sending love from afar.........
So today it officially begins...the Convention that is. Yesterday was just a "pre-convention" day...
So here is what I saw today:
Stopped in the Exhibit Hall at many places, but also a fair trade place out of Israel----seeking to make us consumers of goods that actually support our fellow human beings and brothers and sisters in God's Kingdom
Mixing in with the House of Deputies: people in the United States, but also people outside our national boundaries, and realizing that God calls us to seek the wellness and wholeness of all of Creation--no matter our origin, our skin color, our gender or sexual identity....we are One in Christ.....
Taking part in Committee work that seeks to make the Church vital and flourishing so that God's Good News spreads throughout the world .....encompassing all that we do and all that we are......
Listening to our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: "A way of Christianity that looks like Jesus" and the President of the House of Deputies, Gay Jennings who calls us to remember that we were once strangers in Egypt so we are called to care for the strangers (aliens, refugees) in our midst, and to the President of the ECW who referred to Verna Dozier who wondered: Are you a follower of Jesus or do you just worship him? And, Verna asked, What difference does it make that you believe.....?
And then participating in the liturgy for the reality of sexual harassment and the #metoo movement in the Church and dreaming of the day when the Church responds in a healthy way to the wrongs and injustices that take place within it...
Oh, beloved, it was a long day, but a good day. A day focused on the redemption and the healing of the love of Jesus.....
This, this is what I live for...on this fourth of July...I pledge allegiance to the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus Christ.....This I believe....This I trust...I set my hope on Christ.
From today until July 13th, I will be blogging about my experiences at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church being held in Austin, Texas. I am serving as a Deputy from the Diocese of Fond du Lac and I am also on the Committee for Diocesan and Congregational Vitality.
So today was early wake-up in order to travel, and then after arrival: beginning to see friends. Some from the Diocese, some from Seminary, some from various experiences and connections.....and that is what this is all about: love and connection.
And by "this" I mean General Convention, but I also mean this way of discipleship, this Jesus movement, this Church. This life is all about love and connection. So often we think of love as the "connector"; it is the glue that binds us together. And it is. But we forget that if we "love" another person, this means we will maintain that connection----even when it is challenging or uncomfortable or downright hard. Love means you do not simply abandon or walk away. It means that even if we are not "friends," as a fellow human being whom I love (for that is what God asks of us....to love) then, somehow, I must maintain a connection.
Right now, I find it pretty challenging with all the horrifying and damaging words people are speaking and all the destructive decisions that are happening in our country and in this world. Frankly, there are quite a few folks (and/or groups of folks) that I would rather just walk away and close the door. But God is asking something different of me, of us. And as difficult as I find this to be, out of my love for Jesus, my trust in God, I am going to wrestle with this challenging truth until I can find a way to connect to the one I think of as the "other," the one I consider my enemy. Because here's the thing: God's promises that this way of reconciliation---remaining connected to all people---will bring about not only my wellness and wholeness, but it will bring about the redemption of the entire Creation. And folks, call me crazy, but I trust this. Completely. I trust God's promise.
The trusting doesn't make it any easier. But the trusting does demand something of me, of us. Love and connection. Not only with those whose presence fills me with joy so I run to greet them, but also with those who cause a sigh to rise up in my throat and my welcome feels half-hearted. And, beloved, even with those who cause so much angst in me right now that I am going to have to pause and wrestle with the Holy Spirit before I can find a way to greet them. Even those.
And that is what I will experience these next 12 days. Remembering that if I "love" these brothers and sisters of mine (the lovely ones and fun ones as well as the annoying and exasperating ones) then I have to work to stay connected. But, oh, beloved, oh what fruit can come from love. Peace and blessings, y'all. Good night.
All my life I’ve missed the point of this Gospel story. I thought it was just one of those “here’s what happened today with Jesus.”
But now, after having lived some life, after spending some quality time with Jesus and trying to follow this One that is love incarnate, I think there’s so much more to this Gospel story than: Remember that one boat ride with the Messiah?
The story starts like this: When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”
Let us go across to the other side. I don’t think Jesus is talking about the lake or the sea or a river. Jesus is talking about the other side…..moving from darkness to light, from death to life, from this world’s Kingdom to God’s kingdom…….Let us go across to the other side.
And then Jesus just settles down…..gets comfy….and falls asleep. Because for Jesus, it ain’t no big thing….or maybe Jesus knew it was going to get rocky….. whatever the reason, Jesus is definitely calm, cool, and collected.
But for those disciples……crossing over to the other side was a whole different story. It was risky. There was wind and lots of waves, their boat was getting swamped…..it was rocky and nauseating and they thought they were going to die.
Friends, for me this is a pretty accurate description of any time my worldview, my way of seeing and understanding things, has been uprooted and challenged….any time I have had to make major changes or I have had one of those personal growth experiences…..any time I have been confronted with my own ignorance or my own pettiness, my own darkness and brokenness….it feels like a storm a’brewin’ and just like these disciples…..I don't like it; I become fearful, often nauseated, and I want it to stop!
Crossing over to the other side might be nap time for Jesus, but it is hard, risky, life-challenging work for the rest of us.
This is true for the Church as well. Whenever the Gospel has demanded that the Church re-learn its truth, whenever the Church has had to own up and confess its own brokenness, it is some messy business.
In my life in the Church, I’ve experienced this a few times---most especially with women’s ordination and same-sex marriage. As I’ve lived through these issues, as a priest’s kid, as a faithful person in the church, as a mother raising kids, as a youth minister leading young folks, and as a priest finding her way and figuring out what it means to be a pastor, I have felt the wind in my face and have seen the waves swamping the boat.
Let me share two small stories with you when I’ve felt the storm shake my security. I went to my high school Prom with one of my good friends. We went to junior high together in Eau Claire, but then my family moved away, but I continued to return to Eau Claire regularly and see my good friends, so when Prom time came, one of the guys in our friend circle asked me to come to the Prom with him in Eau Claire. I said yes. It was fun, but not romantic. We had a serious, Prom-night conversation and decided we were just friends. And we continued to be good friends when I came to college in Eau Claire a few years later.
And then one night, my friend shared with me that he was gay. He talked about how hard it was for him to tell his brother and his family. He talked about how he often felt alone.
After our conversation, I really wondered about the church’s belief that homosexuality was a sin. I knew my friend; he is a good, loving person. He is kind and gentle, caring and compassionate. I wanted him to be loved, the same way I wanted to be loved by someone. I didn’t know what to do with what I had been taught, what I had believed my whole life, and the truth of who my friend is.
Several years later, I was serving as a youth minister and one of our youth was a foster child of a family in the church. She was a fragile young woman with several emotional issues. She and I had connected pretty well, and one day she asked to come in for a conversation. She shared with me that one of her very close friends believed she was gay.
She asked me if I thought this meant her friend was going to hell, if her homosexuality was a sin. I hesitated. I told her my truth at the time: I don’t know. I really don’t know. Because, you see, I had never really wrestled with the issue properly and completely. The chasm that had opened up between what I had been taught and my lived experience and truth of my friend was something I had just left gaping….I didn’t know how to close it up so I just didn’t walk too close to the edge. Then this young woman asked me if the Church thought homosexuality was a sin. I told her there was struggle and conversation in the Church about it, trying to hedge my bets, and then she said, yeah, but what does the Church really say…like, officially, about it?
Sighing, I said: That it is a sin.
That moment is etched in my memory. I know the pain those words brought to this young woman who was already so tender. I wanted to erase them, sponge them out; all I could do was love this young woman. And to tell her that she and her friend were loved by me, loved by God….that much I knew. That much was true.
Both of these experiences were the waves swamping my boat and the wind stirring up the water----I didn’t know it then, but I was crossing over to the other side…..and Jesus was in my boat whispering: Have faith; don’t be afraid.
Beloved: Humanity makes God into our own image; it is part of our brokenness. In our understandings and descriptions, God ends up looking and acting quite a bit like us; after all, we like calm seas. The voice and leadership of Western Christianity has been predominately male, white, privileged, and educated.** Therefore, our images of God have been predominately male, white, privileged and educated.** But here’s the thing: God isn’t male or female. God isn’t white or black, Asian or native. God isn’t cis-gendered or transgendered, heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual or bisexual. God isn’t any one of those things. God is all of those things. Why do I say this? How can I believe this? The Bible tells me so: Genesis, chapter 1, verse 25: Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us…
Humanity is made in the image of God, not the other way around. And humanity is female and male; humanity is white, black, Asian, Latinx, Middle-Eastern, and indigenous; humanity is transgendered and cis-gendered, gay, straight, bi, pan, and hetero. Humanity is all of these things, and so is God. If I want to know God—deeply and broadly---faithfully and as fully as I can—then I must come to know the width, depth and breadth of humanity, for it is in the full rainbow spectrum of humanity that God dwells, that God lives and breathes. It is the entirety of humanity that reveals God’s image and truth. The Bible tells me so.
My name is Jane Johnson. I am a heterosexual, cis-gendered female and my pronouns are she, her, and hers. I believe in the Holy, Beloved Trinity of God, who is no gender, and yet all genders and all the spaces in-between. God’s pronouns are they, them and theirs.
When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”
**Upon reflection: I should have added: straight and cis-gendered to this description.