Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hearing Sandra Bland -- It has to be personal

It has to be personal.

After Michael Brown was killed, I sat on my front porch every morning during my prayer time and I pictured his body lying in the street – only instead of his face I would put the face of my sons – Schroedter and Hayden.

Why? Because it has to be personal.

Then I would text my friend and colleague, Traci Blackmon, and I would ask her for one thing I could take off her plate that day. And, blessedly, she would always oblige.

Why? Because it has to be personal.

We will never stop “racism.” We will never end “homelessness.” We will never eliminate “misogyny” or “LGBT discrimination” or “sex trafficking” any other of the infections that plague us … as long as we view them as issues.

Because we will never care enough. Those of us with privilege and power will never care enough about an “issue” to do what is necessary. Because what my faith in Jesus Christ teaches me is that the only real change comes from laying my life down for someone. And even God didn't lay the divine life down for an idea. And created in God's image, we are the same. We don’t lay our lives down for ideas … we lay our lives down for each other.

It has to be personal.

Two months after Michael Brown was killed, I was hiking with a friend in the hills of Northern California, and he asked me of my involvement in Ferguson:

“Man, why are you throwing yourself on this fire?”

His question was one of deep brotherly concern. And it was a great question.

And in that moment faces flashed in front of my eyes. People whom I had met even in those two months in the movement. Friends I had known before who had shared with me their stories of growing up and living black in America. Members of our Christ Church Cathedral community who have lifetimes of oppression and microaggression. I saw their faces, and my eyes began to fill with tears, and I gave the only answer I could give:

“Because my friends are on that fire.”

It has to be personal.

I’m on vacation right now. And until this morning, I had put off watching the Sandra Bland video or reading too much about her. Because I’m on vacation. Because I need a break.

But as I sat on the beach this morning during my prayer time, it came to me that my friends on that fire don’t get a vacation from being black. They can’t choose not to be harassed this week because they are on vacation. I realized I had to watch that video … right then.

And so I did. Right there.

And as I heard Sandra’s voice – a voice of defiant power. A voice asserting her rights. A voice spelling out clearly exactly what sins were being committed against her and refusing to back down and submit to injustice.

As I heard Sandra’s voice, the voice changed.

And instead of Sandra Bland, I heard Traci Blackmon. I heard Alexis Templeton and Brittany Ferrell. I heard Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and Karen Anderson and Leah Gunning Francis and Dietra Baker. I heard Alice Dowd and Ashley Yates. I heard Regina Mullins and Ty Johnson. I heard Leah Clyburn and Huldah Blamoville and Maggie Linck and Lorraine Kee and Patricia Altemueller.

And I began to fill with rage. And my eyes began to fill with tears.

Because it was personal.

And I knew I had to do something.

Even if it was just writing about this.

Even if it was just committing to keep saying her name … and saying their names … and asking “what can I do today to lighten your load just a little bit?” … and continue to fight through my own shame and defensiveness and uncomfortability about white supremacy and racial oppression and not let myself get distracted by the next thing that comes along that demands my attention.

I have to keep it personal. Because I know if I don’t, I will never care enough. If I don’t, my passion will flag and fail. If I don’t, I will get distracted and lose focus.

But if I keep it personal, I will realize that it is my deepest honor to stand beside these amazing black women. It is my deepest honor to amplify their voices and use my privilege to point to them. It is my deepest honor to have them get in my face and call me on my privilege and all that I take for granted.

But it has to be personal.

Friday, June 26, 2015

275-19, a tsunami of stupidity, and why I stand with the women.

275-19. By my count, that's the ratio of women to men in the Episcopal House of Bishops. 6.4%. That's more than three times worse a rate of representation of leadership than the U.S. Congress (19.4%). And yet it gets worse: Only 3 women -- Mariann Edgar Budde​, Mary Gray-Reeves​, and Cate Waynick​ are diocesan bishops. And the problem doesn't stop there -- and I'm part of it. In our own Episcopal Diocese of Missouri​ -- despite a cadre of amazing women clergy -- not one of our large parishes in St. Louis City or County has a woman rector. All are led by white men. Ironically, South Convocation -- the most politically conservative part of our diocese -- is benefitting from a majority of women rectors (great leaders like Annette Joseph, Edie Bird, Suzanne Wolfenbarger and Aune Strom). But that is also the part of the diocese where rectors have some of the lowest salaries because of the deep problems we have in our clergy compensation system.

It has been more than 40 years since we first ordained women to the priesthood and a quarter-century since Barbara Harris was consecrated in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts​. We have literally decades of experience of incredible, Jesus-centered, Spirit-led leadership of women everywhere:

*When I was out on the streets in Ferguson, the clergy with me were mostly not white men ... they were women -- Rebecca Ragland​, Traci Blackmon​, Mary Gene Boteler​, Susan Talve​, Heather Arcovitch​, Deb Krause​, Dietra Baker​, Cassandra Gould​, Renita Marie​. On every level, women are leading this new civil rights movement (Read my blogpost about this here) -- and yet they are shut out of leadership of our church.

*The most transformative movement in the church today is the Magdalene/Thistle Farmsmovement -- the love of Christ literally healing, transforming and saving lives, evangelizing far beyond the four walls of the church and calling the church to repentance, healing and joy -- is a movement of women, founded by the finest leader and preacher in the church today, Becca Stevens​.

*When I needed to have the Holy Spirit take me by the collar and shake me in seminary, it was a woman -- the Rev. Vicki Sirota -- who made it happen. When for 36 hours doctors told me I probably had a brain tumor, it was Dahn Gandell​ who prayed me through it. When I needed someone to come talk with Christ Church Cathedral​ about being fierce in conversation, I called Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows​, Every morning when I wanted to know what to do after Michael Brown was killed, I texted Traci Blackmon. When I needed help with my leadership style, I called Kate Moorehead​. As a college chaplain, I was shaped as a priest by amazing students like Amber Stancliffe Evans​, Hopie Welles Jernagan​, Beth Scriven​, Lindsay Hills​, Emily Wachner​ and others who have gone on to ordination. When I was just starting out as a Cathedral dean in a congregation full of conflict, it was Renee Fenner​ who shepherded and prayed me through it. And every day, Amy Chambers Cortright​ provides some of the most amazing leadership I have ever seen!

And that does not even begin to touch the litany of incredible women clergy who have borne Jesus to me and gotten in my face when I needed it in a thousand ways -- Paige Blair​, Christine Trainor Mcspadden​, Sherilyn Pearce​, Penelope Bridges​, Gail Greenwell​, Yejide Peters​, Elizabeth Easton​, Debbie Metzgar Shew​, Stephanie Spellers​, Amy McCreath​, Pamela Dolan​, Winnie Varghese​, E. Suzanne Wille​, Emily Mellott​ come to mind off the top of my head and there are many, many, more (for those I have left out, know how much I love and admire you .. but it's early and I'm only on my first cup of coffee!)

Our church continues to be deeply impoverished to the point of degeneration by our stubborn and just plain stupid unwillingness to give women the opportunity to lead and offer their gifts at every possible level. All over the world, humanity is learning that women's leadership is the single greatest leverage point for thriving.

This is not a just a justice issue, though it certainly is that. This is not just a theological issue, though it certainly is that as well.

This is, plain and simple, an issue of whether we will continue to get blown out with our best players on the bench. Whether we will continue to look some of our best leaders in the eye and say "sorry, you're not good enough to lead in our church, just because you're a woman." (and, given the state of the church, haven't we men done a marvelous job!)

Whether we will continue to be just plain stupid.

So, yeah, I'm changing my Facebook profile picture to a purple scarf for the rest of General Convention. And like the Black Lives Matter signs, I'm sure there are people who will talk about empty gestures or that I'm denigrating the ministry of men. And that's fine ... have at it.

But this year has taught me something. I have learned it from women like Brittany Ferrell​ and Alexis Templeton​ in the streets of Ferguson and from women like Celeste Smith​ and Tricia Roland-Hamilton​ in our house of Magdalene SaintLouis​. From women like Elle Dowd​ on our diocesan staff and from women like Teresa Danieley​ in her works of neighborhood ministry. From women like Robin Kinman leading from within in an educational system dominated by mediocre men who are threatened by strong, brilliant women.

Even if it is only in a small way. Even if it is only holding a sign or wearing a scarf. Even if it seems like only an inconsequential act of protest against a tsunami of abuse, injustice and stupidity ...

You stand up.

And today, and always, I stand with the women.

Friday, June 19, 2015

At General Convention -- Our Chance for an Exodus 3 Moment

My dear friends, Chris, Jennifer, Dahn, Scott, Thomas, Joe, Clayton, Mike, Wayne, Mark, Lowell, Suzanne, Paul, Becca, the list goes on and on,

As I write this, you are on your way to Salt Lake City for General Convention. My heart is with you … but my heart is also aching. My heart is also filled with dread.

Since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson 10 months ago, I have been challenged and changed by powerful young, black leaders – most of them women. They did not come to me. I had to go to them. I had to go out into the streets to meet them, and they greeted me with incredible and justifiable skepticism. Because for years while they have been being degraded, beaten and dying in the streets, we have been in our churches singing our hymns, preaching our sermons, and having canned food drives. I am learning that it is only as I listen to them deeply, allow them to make me profoundly uncomfortable and physically stand with them against the riot gear and tear gas that I and the church can begin to earn their trust and receive the Gospel gift they have that I so desperately need.

They are convinced that we as the church only care about ourselves. They are lit on fire when they hear of the Jesus who is a revolutionary, loving boldly and without bounds … but instead they mostly hear us preaching Jesus the respectable businessman, talking about Average Sunday Attendance, wringing our hands about building maintenance and hoping not to offend our biggest pledgers

And now, in the shadow of nine black people being murdered while studying the Bible in their church in Charleston, in the shadow of Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, Madison, Atlanta, McKinney, and the list goes on, we are preparing to prove them right. We are preparing to have a convention that is almost exclusively focused on internal matters – the election of a presiding bishop, church restructuring, liturgy and budget.

And it makes my heart ache.

It makes my heart ache because I know we can do so much better. I know this convention is filled with people like you who have huge hearts for Jesus and who are courageous and who in your hearts if not yet in your bodies stand with these young women. And I remember 2006 when we took the dream of meeting Jesus in the lives of those living in extreme poverty and captured the hearts, imaginations and even the budget of the General Convention.

So I know that you know it can be done.

This is the moment God has given us. And we will either grasp it or it will pass us by. And it will never come again. Will we by how we spend this convention send the message that we are about ourselves … or will we proclaim loudly that we, like Jesus, are about giving ourselves for the life of the world.

Right now, some of you are planning for an Acts 8 Moment - a day of prayer and fasting for the church. That’s great. Proclaiming resurrection in the church is great. But if all that does is focus us on ourselves, it will be the death of the church, not the resurrection. And because resurrection needs death to come first, that’s probably just fine.

But what my heart longs for is an Exodus 3 moment.

I long for us to hear God saying:

“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

I long for us to hear that voice of God in scripture and realize that is our call as well.

I long for us to take this gift of the gathering of some of the most brilliant and faithful minds, hearts and spirits in our church and use that gift to:

*Observe the misery of God’s people who are in bondage.

*Hear their cries on account of their taskmasters.

*KNOW their sufferings – with all the deep intimacy that verb connotes.

*Commit ourselves to the mission of deliverance and liberation.

I long for us to recognize that in that story, we as a predominately white, male-dominated, mainline church are much more Pharaoh than Israelite. That our institutions only have value if we recognize that they are the jewels and gold that God wishes to despoil from us to sustain the people in the wilderness on the journey to the promised land.

I long for us to recognize that our hearts have been hard but they need be hard no longer … but that will not happen unless we forswear the original sin of self-concern and, not with a well-written statement or a brief public handwringing, but with all that we have and all that we are commit ourselves to listening deeply to the voices who have been crying for too long and to, with all that we have and all that we are, honor them and follow the Jesus we meet in them.

And so I am praying for your courage, your passion and your love.

I am praying for you to find ways to stand up and change the agenda.

I am praying for you to call out our deep self-focus for the idolatry that it is and call us to the Gospel of one who didn’t even see equality with God as something to be grasped.

I am praying for you to use your privileged place to amplify and direct attention to the young, black voices on the streets so that the Jesus on their lips might be heard and followed. To proclaim with loud voices on the floors of convention that Black Lives Matter in a nation that leaves no doubt that this is not the case.

I am praying for you to not be afraid to upset a church that truly needs to be made upset, to bring discomfort to a church that is far too comfortable and to be agents of the Holy Spirit rousing the Body of Christ from her slumber.

I will help you any way I can from here in St. Louis, and I promise I will always stand by your side and I will always have your back.

You are some of my dearest friends, some of the people I most admire and love on this earth. And this moment is in your hands.

Please be the leaders I know you are. Please make this Exodus 3 moment happen. Please live your love for Jesus the revolutionary out loud.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Considering the Pilgrimage

"The purpose of a pilgrimage is the renewal of identities." 

"Pilgrimage is the arousal and education of desire for God. Displaced from its self-directedness, the self is attracted elsewhere, from its own relative darkness to the light that it comes to know through the name of God."

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Omaha
We are on pilgrimage together. And the purpose of a pilgrimage is the renewal of identities. It is rediscovering what has always been deep inside and all around us -- that we are made for an epic love affair with God. That we as the church exist to be the Body of Christ ... literally the incarnation of the irresistibility of the attractiveness of the Divine. To be Christ in such a way so "the whole world sees and knows that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."

As Christ Church Cathedral, we reflect this in the core of our mission statement: "We seek a deeper relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ." Our purpose is seeking to be drawn more deeply and passionately into this love affair. We do this through celebrating the sacraments faithfully, proclaiming the Gospel boldly, embracing diversity joyfully and serving all passionately as a Cathedral.

We do this not just or even primarily for ourselves but so that we can be an irresistible light to which all are drawn ... the light of Christ.

This week, I am on a smaller pilgrimage, related to the one we all share together.

As we have gone through our own process of renewing our identity as an Episcopal Cathedral in St. Louis, I have been in touch with others -- also early in their lives as Cathedral deans -- who have the same desire to imagine how God might be using Cathedrals differently as we enter this third millennium.

I asked three of these deans (truly, many others could be joining us -- the guest list was more about who came to me in prayer and wanting to keep this small than anything else!) -- Penny Bridges of St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego, Gail Greenwell of Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, and Craig Loya of Trinity Cathedral in Omaha -- if they would be interested in spending a few days together in an intimate gathering sharing our experiences and hopes as Cathedral deans -- and seeing if a sense of common purpose emerges.

Thankfully, they said yes, so from this evening through Thursday lunch, we will be gathering at the Procter Center in London, Ohio.  I asked a dear friend and fine theologian, the Rev. Dr. Bill Danaher, to be our guide and shepherd us through this time, and, thankfully, he agreed. Over our time together, Bill will frame our conversations with meditations, prayer and worship.

In preparation for this time, Bill had us read Daniel Hardy's book ... a remarkable account of his thoughts on the Church at the end of his life ... shaped by his experience of pilgrimage in the Holy Land (something, as providence would have it, all five of us have experienced in the last year).

We are open to these conversations being the beginning of something that could expand in breadth and depth ... and also that this might be five pilgrims meeting at a waystation who might or might not cross paths again.

I am looking forward not only to being with these fine priests and friends but to offering up the work we have been doing these past several years -- and especially the crucible of the past 10 months -- for their consideration and perspective. And at the same time, I'm looking forward to hear from them how they are wrestling with some of the same questions we have:

How are we doing showing Jesus to our city and the world? What does that renewal of identity look like today and what might it look like tomorrow?

As we consider the future of our buildings, how can we use them to draw more and more people into this love affair with God?

In a world that is increasingly self-directed, how can we be bearers of a different and truly irresistible light?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on these things. And please hold us all in prayer during this time ... and I look forward to sharing more about this in a few days.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Fierce Week in Chicago: Day Three -- Feedback and Confrontation

Vicar Amy Cortright, Sr. Warden Lorraine Kee, Chapter member Anne Trolard and I ... along with Diocesan Youth Missioner Elle Dowd ... are at the Nicholas Center at St. James Cathedral in Chicago for a 2 1/2 day "Fierce Conversations" training, where we are exploring and learning in depth an extraordinary model of making our churches, organizations, and lives better one conversation at a time. Every day, I'm posting about what we're doing so you can travel along with us.

"When giving feedback with good intention, I am making the relationship with you more important than your approval. It takes courage to do it." - Jim Sorensen.

Today we tackled two types of conversations that are often some of the most difficult for us ... feedback conversations and confrontation conversations. They are hard because we are challenged to put ourselves out there for each other ... to let people know what we honestly think.

Anne Trolard talks about what we have to gain by having hard conversations
Feedback and confrontation for us as Christians are the methods by which we live out the call of Paul in Ephesians 4

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

We speak the truth in love for the body's growth in building itself up through feedback and, when necessary, confrontation. The healthiest churches are ones that have a clear sense of mission and vision along with excellent feedback loops. It is where we are growing at Christ Church Cathedral with the work we have done on our mission statement and also our Rules of Respect, which mandate direct communication with one another.

We discussed how this can be difficult for us ... about how we will often go to great lengths to avoid not just confrontation but even giving constructive feedback. These conversations are hard, and we need skill development to help us. So we spend much of the day in pairs practicing just this -- how to give and receive feedback and how to have a conversation when you need to confront someone about seriously problematic behavior.

In both feedback and confrontation conversations, specificity is crucial, and generalities are particularly unhelpful. It is naming the real issue and not pulling any punches, being honest about your perspective. But it is also about naming your own complicity (if any) in the situation and opening the door toward conversation that leads to healing.

Emotions are not to be feared. They are to be named, honored and often sat with in silence ... but they are not to be a substitute for the real data of the situation.

Fierce teaches there are four goals to all conversations:

*Interrogate reality (find the real data)
*Provoke learning
*Tackle tough challenges
*Enrich relationships

All of these are important -- and they are particularly important when you are dealing with conflict and confrontation. What you don't see in that list of conversational goals is "winning." The goal is to have the real conversation about the real challenge, to learn together and to grow together.

The goal of all these conversations is the heart of our mission statement -- "We seek a deeper relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ." A deeper relationship. Enriched relationship. That's Fierce.

We heard of a congregation that has a 20-minute feedback period after the sermon and where there is such a culture of feedback that every staff position has a feedback group. Everyone is supported and everyone is held accountable. It is no surprise that it is a thriving, mission-oriented congregation.

Getting better at feedback and confrontation truly is, in the words of Paul, growing up. It's learning not to shrink from saying the difficult thing in love but leaning into the challenge. We are hopeful that the tools we are learning this week can help us all grow into the full stature of Christ. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Fierce Week in Chicago -- Day Two: Beach Balls and Coaching

Vicar Amy Cortright, Sr. Warden Lorraine Kee, Chapter member Anne Trolard and I ... along with Diocesan Youth Missioner Elle Dowd ... are at the Nicholas Center at St. James Cathedral in Chicago for a 2 1/2 day "Fierce Conversations" training, where we are exploring and learning in depth an extraordinary model of making our churches, organizations, and lives better one conversation at a time. Every day, I'm posting about what we're doing so you can travel along with us.

When you think of being Fierce, usually a beach ball isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But that's what we used today in Day Two of our Fierce Conversations training. 

The beach ball is the symbol for the team conversation. The different color stripes on the ball represent the different perspectives people have about a certain issue. The idea is to bring people from different areas out of their silos into a collaborative relationships -- so our decisions come from considering as many perspectives as possible ... and allowing those perspectives truly to change us. 

Our team tested this out with what initially seemed to me a pretty benign issue : Are the announcements at the end of the service too long?  Even in our group of five we had many different perspectives ... and in really listening what I heard is that this is not only about convenience and wanting to get out of church before too long, but about what voices are heard and how do we communicate and build community and how different people come to the cathedral for different reasons. 

It was one more reminder of the wisdom and deep faith we have every time we gather ... and the gift it is to be able to bring so many diverse perspectives to the table, even though that diversity can be so messy and challenging. It reminded me why we name "embrace diversity joyfully" as part of our mission statement. 

The second half of the day we learned about and tried out "coaching conversations." Coaching conversations are when someone comes to you seeking counsel and -- through asking questions and absolutely not giving advice -- lead them through a process of clarifying the issue and the options facing them, the impact of potential decisions, how they are contributing to the issue, their ideal outcome and action steps. 

In short, without being directive, it's about helping people drill down to what the real issue is and help them come to decisions about what to do about it. It's an incredibly pastoral model of conversational leadership because it's about walking with instead of directing. 

This was some of the most powerful time we spent together as the issues my small group shared very quickly drilled down into some foundational conflicts in our lives. It's incredible how quickly we can realize we are in the presence of the holy when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and real with each other ... and especially when the emphasis is not on directing but on listening and walking with.

Tomorrow, we'll get trained in delegation and confrontation conversations ... so the fun is just getting started. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Fierce Week in Chicago - Day One

This week, we're getting Fierce.

At the end of February, the Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, director of networking for the Diocese of Chicago, joined us at Christ Church Cathedral and spent a Saturday afternoon with a group of about 50 people from the Cathedral and other congregations for an event called "The Real Conversation: Having Hard Conversations Well."

Our dinner and opening session
A few weeks later, she contacted us with a remarkable gift -- five full scholarships to a full 2 1/2 day "Fierce Conversations" training at St. James Cathedral in Chicago, where we could explore and learn in depth an extraordinary model of making our churches, organizations, and lives better one conversation at a time. The training -- which includes food and lodging -- usually costs $700 a person.

So this morning, four of us from the Cathedral -- Vicar Amy Cortright, Sr. Warden Lorraine Kee, Chapter member Anne Trolard and me ... along with Diocesan Youth Missioner Elle Dowd (we asked Elle to be the fifth so we could share this gift with the rest of the diocese, and also because she's just awesome) piled into a minivan and headed north.

For the next couple days, I'll be sharing what we are learning. But first, I want to share where we are learning it.

One of the guest rooms at the Nicholas Center
This event is being held in St. James Commons .. the newly-renovated office building attached to St. James Cathedral. Like Christ Church Cathedral, St. James had an old office building that housed both Cathedral and Diocesan offices. They raised the money to do a total gut rehab of the building, which included turning the fifth floor (which had been basically a storage attic) into a gorgeous, modern monastic-type retreat and meeting space called The Nicholas Center.

The Nicholas Center is one of the best designed places I have ever been. It is the perfect merging of modern design and monastic feel ... with every square inch incredibly well used (which is how they get 14 bedrooms and meeting space into what is not an enormous footprint. We have already started talking with some of the diocesan staff here about how they did this, as we are beginning to look intently at the future of our own buildings.

The exterior of St. James Common and the Cathedral
in downtown Chicago
The group here together for the next three days is small -- about 15 including staff (we are by far the largest contingent) with everyone else coming from congregations in the Diocese of Chicago.

Fierce is based on the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, and training individuals and congregations in this way of being has been a keystone of the Diocese of Chicago's congregational revitalization program. We are excited to be able to go through this training and bring it back to Christ Church Cathedral and the Diocese of Missouri so we can continue to grow in health as the Body of Christ.

If you want to learn more about Fierce, you can check out their corporate website at