Sunday, August 30, 2009

13th Sunday after Pentecost 30 August 2009

13 Pentecost - 30 August 2009 - Proper 17 B
Song of Solomon 2:18-13; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
James V. Stockton

Twentieth century historian and author Jaroslav Pelikan once observed that, "Tradition is the living faith of the dead; [while] traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." I read a story about a parish and their new interim priest. The Rev. Mr. Hall offers thoughtful and lively sermons, is quick to respond with pastoral care and attention, and his manner is a balance of reverence and comfortable ease. But people notice immediately that the Rev. Hall is not doing Holy Communion the way that they have always known it to be done. And as good a fit as he might be, some begin to wonder if Fr. Hall might be downright audacious.

In terms of audaciousness, the Song of Solomon, or Song of songs, is the one book of the bible that fits that description. Reveling in the gift of senses, and in the sensuality of creation, here is the lover celebrating the arrival and embrace of her beloved. And the book never even mentions God.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

12th Sunday after Pentecost - 23 August 2009

12 Pentecost - 23 August 2009 - Proper 16 B
1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
James V. Stockton

A fellow priest commented recently about preaching from the Gospel readings for this month of August. “Bread, bread, bread!” he said. “How much can I think of to say about bread? Remind me,” he added, “when Year B of the Lectionary roles around again, to take the month of August for my vacation.”

I’m glad to be back from vacation. And I say this not because I somehow managed to avoid for the most part a repeated emphasis at this time of the Church’s year upon Jesus’ teaching of the familiar if mysterious metaphor of ‘bread, bread, bread’ as somehow representative of, or equivalent to, his flesh. To the contrary, I’m glad to be back with this, my community of faith because while distance may ‘make the heart grow fonder,’ yet it is proximity that enables trust in God to do what it is meant to do.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Whose Tolerance?

My point about patience is that tolerance is a luxury that can be invited only by those on the inside. Those still being excluded, still having their access to the earthly expression of God's Kingdom denied, have little investment in tolerance of those who are barring the doors. That there is difference of opinion is plainly evident. Even that some of those who are homophobic or who are are all too eager to condemn gay people and we who are their friends may be sincere, let's accept this proposition for the sake of argument as well. But what then is the relevance of this to the Gospel or the Church?

People make choices. If they cannot follow the Gospel into the Episcopal Church, or cannot follow the Episcopal Church into the Gospel, so be it. I can admit, for the sake of argument, that people who despise gay people and who loathe us who advocate for their full welcome and integration into the life and ministry of the Church, can be intelligent, sincere, and honest. Done. But how does this translate into a some vague Utopian vision wherein none of these differences matter? Is it the suggestion of those calling for tolerance that humility before God, such as at the Eucharist, equalizes everyone in some practical way? Surely they can acknowledge that this isn't so. Instead of trying to pretend that the Church is a place and a fellowship where differences don't much matter, can't we instead be proud that this Church, now joined by the ELCA, is one that says that the difference between prejudice and bigotry on the one hand, and the Love of God on the other, is a difference we are proud to emphasize?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Whose humility? Whose patience?

Implicit in the analysis of some that 'we all need to be more humble' is the plea to wait for wider consensus, as represented in the image of everyone on their knees at the Eucharist. It's a nice image, I agree. Just to ground things in reality, though, it's useful for us, I think, to remember that people have been and are today divided even around their respective personal and denominational understandings of Holy Communion.

More importantly, though, when I hear or read these pleas for those of us who are passionate in our pleas, either for the Church's overdue expression of the inclusive Love of God for all, or for the Church to declare itself opposed to same, I am inclined to ask those folks to stop speaking and kindly to leave the room or at least to remain silent until invited to speak or to return to the room. So, I invite you, who are asking the rest of us to be quiet, to imagine that I've asked you please to refrain from commenting any further, at all.

I invite you to pause, spend some time with your reactions, and reflect upon how willing or not you are to comply. How passionately would you defend your 'right' to participate in the conversation? How passionately would you defend your right to be passionate about it?

Recently, I was invited by someone to 'go slow' in speaking up in our diocese and to our new bishop about honoring the recent actions of General Convention. It struck me that this person is a member of two minority populations in terms of representation in the membership and the leadership of our Church, and more profoundly so in our diocese. I could not help but wonder to myself how differently this person might have responded had this person still been on the outside, still being denied access to the conversation, still being denied full membership in this Church? Yet, now benefiting from still-recent changes in the canons of this Church, this person now was calling for further delay around the inclusion of others, of those still denied in this Church the manifest Love of God for all. I found it difficult to fathom how this person in particular could be asking for political prudence, but there it was.

Whenever people ask us for patience, for willingness to consider the matter of inclusion of LGBT people in the life and ministry of the Church as still undecided, which is no longer the case, I want them to pretend that someone has turned to them with condescending expressions of complacent sympathy, and told them that they must be silent and must wait until called upon before they may participate; and then, only in the limited ways that they are allowed. Then they would ask themselves if they really want to invite others to be more patient, to wait a little while longer, to remain outside, on the margins to which they've been assigned by those who enjoy full privileges.

It's one thing to experience the spiritual fellowship of humble faithfulness around the Eucharist. It is quite another thing to experience the hypocrisy of receiving the Eucharist with the dominant majority of God's people, while others of God's people are discouraged or denied their place beside us. The Eucharist doesn't make God's people what they are supposed to be. God's people make the Eucharist what it is meant to be. Or we don't.

Jim +

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Concerning the Conclusion of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church

Concerning the Conclusion of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church concluded its work for this year. It will meet again in 2012. Please know that the Church did far more than address the two resolutions that made a few headlines during Convention. These other matters, equal in importance to the more sensational ones, include adopting the new practice of incorporating into the Church’s budget financial support for the Church’s seminaries. This has never been done before and is long overdue.

The Church also adopted a health care plan that will provide coverage for both clergy and lay persons employed by the Church and which should lower existing costs for these items. The Church called for greater participation by our Youth including seating on Vestry (a proposal that ECR’s own Vestry has been considering already and the logistics of which have been under review for a couple years.) The Church recommitted itself to being intentionally and proactively anti-racist. The Church has also reduced its overall budget and reduced by two the number of days that General Convention shall be held. The Episcopal Church has renewed its budgetary commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, and expressed a new focus upon economic justice for the poor in the United States. All of which helps demonstrate that the Episcopal Church is alive, well, and responding conscientiously to its many responsibilities.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


With Fr. Jim away for vacation, this edition of the Radiant Cross provides a good opportunity to help our members and friends know a little more about our rector. Here is an updated biography of Fr. Jim.

Fr. Jim and his wife Lee Elena recently celebrated their twenty-first year together. They met in St. Louis, Missouri where Jim was born and raised, and near Lee Elena’s hometown of Monticello, Illinois. Lee Elena is a Nurse Practitioner working at a clinic in Giddings, an area designated by the state as under-served. Their three children are Valerie, 19, Emily, 17, and Melanie, 14. Fr. Jim attended a Lutheran elementary school and credits his early education in this Christian environment as formative of his faith in God. It was there that he began to sense a vocation from God to Holy Orders.

Before attending college, Jim worked variously as a self-defense instructor (earning a black belt in Chinese Kenpo), as a carpenter building custom homes, then as a laborer and/or department supervisor at a variety of manufacturing companies. Responding to a re-emerging sense of call, Fr. Jim returned to church life in his mid-twenties. Having drifted from the Lutheran Church of his childhood, he looked up “Church” in the white pages of the phone book. There he found a local Church of Christ congregation listed and began attending worship services. It was at this congregation that he was blessed to meet Lee Elena Mathis, his wife-to-be.