A mile wide and an inch deep

My family’s roots are in Montana, especially in the southeastern part of the state. The Powder River that meanders through the dry, hot buttes and rangeland there has the reputation that inspired the title of this post.  The image came to me as I was reading Heidi Campbell’s “Understanding the Relationship between Religion Online and Offline in a Networked Society.” She writes persuasively about the notion of “convergent practice” which, she writes, “encourages users to draw from traditional and new sources simultaneously.” So far, so good, right? It may well form the church of the future in beautiful and unforeseen ways.

But we will have to keep an eye out for each other! Campbell writes: “…it is increasingly being recognized that within Western society, individuals perform religion in ways that draw from multiple sacred and spiritual places, rituals, and meanings in order to create their own hybrid spiritualities. This is echoed by research that suggests people are ‘more spiritual and less religious,’ or less likely to affiliate with set religious institutions or forms of practice.”  Fr. Thomas Keating only half-facetiously refers to this as seeking to be “spiritual without the inconvenience of religion,” by which he meant the inevitable conflicts, disagreements and emotional turmoil that always arise when people gather in community.

So what’s the response? A number of churches have been quick to accommodate, perhaps too quick, so that they have truly lost their “saltiness” by which I mean the very thing that gave them continuity and identity. It seems those are the churches loosing membership most rapidly.

Other churches have responded by deepening their own identities. Several AngloCatholic churches in the U.S. have done just that and find themselves growing, including in the Pacific Northwest, until recently the most unchurched area of the U.S. In apparent defiance of some interpretations of Cambell’s study, the presentation of depth seems to draw people of all ages. (The fastest growing parish in the Diocese of Olympia is St Paul’s, Seattle, stpaulseattle.org the primary AngloCatholic parish in the area.) So what’s the dance that moves and navigates between preserving deep tradition and roots, and responding to what God is asking of us from the future? How do we maintain depth without surrendering breadth?


Meditation on the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mother Mary. Santa Maria. The Blessed Virgin. The Mother of Christ/God/Jesus. Theotokos. The Feminine Face of the Divine. Our Lady of…
Within that spread of theologies, for so many Christians, Mary is a focal point of prayer, devotion or inspiration. She is nearly archetypal, which means that images of her are, for some, lighting rods and for others sources of deep comfort, and images of her provoke a wide variety of other responses, most of which come with baggage and graces that differ from those that come with other Christian images.
My hope with this meditative offering is to touch on many of these feelings, sensations and thoughts without attempting to interpret them for the individual meditator. My intent is only to offer a container within which anyone who chooses to view, pray or meditate with this six minute set of images will find an opportunity to interact with God or with Mary or however each of you chooses to name the Divine.
I chose a form of mediation called visio divina specifically on this evening of the Solemnity of St Benedict as a platform that marries an ancient Benedictine practice with images from across time and technology that is fairly recent. (This is also a reflection of my personal sense and love of the strength of AngloCatholic theology, liturgy and practice!)
In this visio divina meditation, you will encounter images of Mary that have been lovingly created from different times and cultures. Some may puzzle you, some may surprise or challenge you, and some may provide some sense of solace. I invite you to simply allow yourself to be present to them as a witness, neither rejecting nor embracing any individual image, but simply noticing what arises, and to conclude with whatever prayer seems fitting at the end.

A View to a Call (with apologies to James Bond)

It has taken me some time to characterize my reaction to “Click 2 Save” and more than a week of reflection have brought me to an intriguing conclusion: I think it’s related to my ministerial call. This book is geared, in my opinion (and understanding of the Episcopal tradition), primarily for diaconal ministry and secondarily for priestly ministry. There is so much in it that I appreciate, but can’t imagine having time to make happen myself, but I can imagine being enthusiastically supportive of a deacon or lay-person taking on some of the brilliant ideas in this book. 

When I do consulting for religious communities (www.cdcollege.org), I will occasionally ask leadership to think about who is in the congregation.  It and be remarkably eye-opening to make some broad, subjective estimations of about what percentage of people show up as what might loosely be considered “mature practitioners” (those who embody the essential practices and charism of the place—the heart of the sangha, congregation, assembly or whatever they call themselves)—and who are more like the “regular attenders” (in a church, these are the folks who come most Sundays) and finally a guess as to who and how many tend to be “occasional attenders” (those who come, for example, on Easter and Christmas.)  Then we talk about guests, visitors and so forth, but when I ask “Who else is in your congregation?” I often have to remind people that there are people in the community who consider their church, temple, ashram or what-have-you as “the one we don’t go to.” They may hear your bells or see you walking around the building in identifiable clothing or sleep in your garden at night something along those lines, but they might be very unlikely to ever chose to set foot inside the door. Well, these are a part of each religious community’s ministry as well, and this population can be as small as one person, say, the woman sleeping in her car in the light of your porch-light or as large as, perhaps, oh let’s say France, where the Roman Catholic church is still the church most French people don’t go to. (Just as many don’t go to Anglican churches in France, of course, but they would never say that the nearest C of E is the one they never go to!)

But I am now much more attuned to a still wider ring: those who connected to your community electronically, either by visiting your website, reading your blogs or following you on Twitter! It’s my opinion that the more priestly calling is primarily (not exclusively, mind you!) to focus ministry on those who tend to be physically in the building, while it is a bit more of a diaconal or lay calling (again, not exclusively and not without support) to focus ministry on those less likely to be in the building (always welcome and invited, mind you!), but who may find themselves more connected and perhaps even finding themselves drawn in to the physical space by the diaconal/lay ministry.  And it is specifically those beginning to connect in the ether that “Click 2 Save” will help me to consider.

Building an ark for the digital flood

In her closing sermon at General Convention last year, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori said this: “…step on out there past this narrow ledge of safety and love one another. Step out there and expect to find your Friend on the other side. Cross the chasm and you will find the other – and every single one of them will bear the image of God.”

She was referring to deep hospitality, but she could just as easily have been challenging all of us who worry about technology’s increasing presence in and influence over our lives as a global community and as individuals.  Countless books, editorials and, yes, blogs and list-serv entries have been written about the chaotic, burgeoning and largely free-flowing internet is affecting the church for good or ill. But very little has been presented that helps to create, as Daniel Pink wrote, “a lifeboat for people who want to participate in new technologies without drowning in the flood.”  He was referring to  Howard Rheingold’s “Net Smart.” It is the first book I have read that has pointed out a navigation system for me, and what I am most grateful for is the engagement of my (of our) physcial, mental and emotional humanity in the engagement.  Crossing the chasm will be substantially easier for me with Rheingold’s insights!

“Here Comes Everybody” (except…)

Reading Clay Shirky‘s excellent book in a seminary setting has been an intriguing experience. Shirky presents a compelling and provocative perspective that, in the main, offers a sense of possibility where I have mostly felt more than a little overwhelmed without his insights! Before reading this book, my sense of the online world overall tended to bring into stark relief a whole new aspect to Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.”  (1 Cor. 6:12)

Having finished the book and pondered it for some several days now, questions remain (many of which have been skillfully addressed by another author, but that may wait until tomorrow!).  First, I wonder about Shirky’s premise that “humans are natively good at working in groups.” Really? and if I grant him that premise, with the knowledge that groups of people in my own lineage were natively skilled at working in groups like the Crusades, I wonder if “good” is what he really means.  Postmodern American thought can be fairly quick to dismiss various forms of control, authority and expressions of power, and Shirky rightly points out the massive redistribution of power, but I wonder who’s watching and tending to “the good.” Are there enough of us? Do we have the necessary influence? Who is listening to and on behalf of those who do not have access? He also discusses the shifting roles of both librarians and journalists (my wife is the former and I was the latter for several years), and here he also seems to have a confidence in the human ability to sort, process, analyze and collate data into information and to take the time to process, prod and transform information into knowledge.  If journalists and librarians are out of the loop, as Shirky seems to suggest they will be, do we really have the capacity and the will to do this on our own? And where will we access the nearly alchemical skill of turning knowledge into understanding and understanding into wisdom? Shirky does not address this question sufficiently for me, but that’s fine.  My hope lies elsewhere. I believe that we have truly relied on the Spirit up to now anyway and that, in our best moments, we remember that. And so perhaps this emerging new chaos is just the birthing place the Spirit is seeking to bring us ever closer to that which is always, already present and not yet. Thoughts?

Writing straight with crooked lines

I was talking with a couple of folks over the weekend who are enamored with Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and others who promote an interpretation of scripture that I don’t share (and, in fact, one that deeply concerns me). As a seminarian, I find dispensationalist views of eschatological possibilities deeply troubling and unworkable.  The next Sunday, I heard a Roman Catholic priest preaching in an Episcopal Church (have the end times already started?;) ) who chose to berate these very views in his sermon and I found myself reacting again, but in rather an odd way. After some reflection, now a day later, I think I am quite in awe of God yet again.  While I find Hal Lindsey off-putting, his writing brought this group of people (one in particular rather astonished me!) to a point where they were accepting of God, interested in learning more and who were reading Bibles (some for the very first time).  It strikes me that, rather than condemning them for views that I find limiting and exclusionary, I might do well to look beyond my own reaction to see a God who can inspire people through a source that doesn’t feed me.  But the still greater lesson is the reminder that, at best, my view is partial as well–robust enough to trust (for now!), but incomplete and open to recalibration.  God writing straight with my own crooked lines…awesome.