Harvest Letter, Winter 2018

My Dear Siblings in Christ,

Since our election of Bishop-elect Bascom, people often ask me if I feel that a burden has been lifted from my shoulders. Generally my response is no. No, because the Council of Trustees continues to function as the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese until Bishop-elect Bascom is ordained and consecrated, God willing and the Bishops and Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church consenting, on Saturday, March 2nd.

But this terse response is purely a canonical response. The fuller – and truer – response is that I hear a sense of lightness within the diocese that I attribute to the abatement of anxiety. In the face of a bit more clarity, I hear more aspiration for the possibilities before us. This change in tone is a delight, and something for us to harness.

The Council of Trustees has certainly been wearing this aspirational harness for two years now; this is the principal reason why I have not felt burdened in our service together. Now, in the remaining days of this transitional period, the Council’s aspirational view is expanding – making room for the 10th Bishop of Kansas to join us in this harness. Not to remove the harness from us, but to share it with us as we envision our direction together.

The sharing of such a harness makes the work lighter and more likely to be accomplished. It helps direct the way in which we pull; it makes it more likely that we pull together rather than apart; and it allows those who are new to harness to learn and grow into invaluable members of the team. This last point is critical to appreciate.

So often I hear people say I can’t serve on this or that committee or vestry because I don’t have the right experience or don’t know this or that. Harness is a great way of training – of gaining skills and experience – so that one can move up into leadership and make room for the next disciple. This sort of team building also has the advantage attracting other members because people witness the vibrancy and accomplishments of the team and want to be apart of it.

Where are the teams in your community, congregation, convocation, or diocese that you would like to be in harness with? In case you haven’t noticed, as a baptized Christian, you’re already in harness with the most life-giving and loving team ever conceived – the body of Christ.

In thanksgiving for your giftedness, I am …

Yours in Christ’s harness,

Foster+

We, the Council of Trustees, believe in and trust the God-given gifts that abide in the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. During this season of transition, we will not be fearful. Directed by the Spirit, together we joyfully walk with Jesus the road ahead. [Council of Trustees, February 1, 2017]

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Blank Spaces

Blank spaces [pregnant pause]. Like this pregnant pause – how do blank spaces make you feel? Perhaps it’s awkward. Perhaps there’s an urgent need to fill it in, or a need to withdraw from it. Perhaps it’s filled with anticipation. Depending on the state of our minds, or more importantly the state of our spirit, we may feel all of the above and then some.

The transitory process of searching for and calling the 10th Bishop of Kansas has – at times – felt like a protracted, 20-month blank space. At times it has been awkward as the Council of Trustees has learned to function in different ways. At times there has seemed to be an urgent need to fill the blank space rather than abide its emptiness. At times there has seemed to be a desire to withdraw from the blank space. But much of the time – especially since the names and faces of possibilities presented themselves – the space has been filled with anticipation.

Thank goodness, today marks the first time in over 20 months that what may have seemed the biggest blank space in the diocese has the very real prospect of being filled, for we have a bishop-elect in the person of The Reverend Cathleen Bascom.

We are gathered here to celebrate and give thanks for the fruits of the blank space of our election process, and to anticipate and reflect upon what the future holds for us under her episcopal leadership. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, allow me to remind you that what the future holds is also blank space to be filled. This space also begs our attention and contemplation.

To help us contemplate the character of this new space, I invite us to reflect upon the nature of other blank spaces in our lives in the light of the excitement and anticipation we feel right now. In this light, I suggest that they are not simply spaces to be filled in so that we can move on to the next thing. Rather, I propose that these spaces are an opportunity to cultivate an entirely new thing. In fact we can gain glimpses of the possibility of such blank spaces in our lectionary today.

In Isaiah we find a people who have been subjected to generations of both: exile from their homeland; and a lack of rights in that exile. And now these people are invited to leave these empty spaces for another seemingly blank space – one in which their history has been nearly expunged by the passage of time and the occupation of others. These blank spaces seem to speak of abandonment, emptiness and hopelessness. Yet, this prophet assures us this space teems with water, wine and milk! And as if that’s not enough, we are told we can buy it all “without money and without price.”

If we allow ourselves to be defined by the emptiness or exile of our blank spaces, we might be inclined to argue that buying anything “without money and without price” is an oxymoron – itself just another blank space. From this perspective the prophet’s promise is absurd.

However, if – in the light of our current experience – we are willing to acknowledge that an aspect of blank spaces is the opportunity to imagine something new, perhaps we can make the leap of reconsidering what “without price” means. Perhaps we can entertain the notion that “without price” means “priceless.” Perhaps we can begin to consider the blank space as a place of possibility where what is being offered is invaluable and precious, or having worth in terms that can’t be defined by material value. Or, perhaps better yet, we can think of it as delightfully amusing, odd, or even absurd.

Through any of these lenses, any blank space has the potential of becoming something radically new – a space filled with unanticipated treasure. A space where the Lord may be found. A space where there is an abundance of pardon. A space where the Lord’s word shall accomplish the thing for which she sent it – the restoration of all things to Adoni, the Creator.

To my ear, this is beginning to sound like the kingdom of God. What do you imagine the kingdom of God is like? Mustard seeds and yeast? If I stand in the blank space of self-infatuation or self-concern, the mustard seed and yeast are absurd similes because they seem so insignificant and mundane. But the fact that these parables are uttered by Jesus in almost identical words in all three synoptic Gospels, suggests that we are to look beyond the absurd and to anticipate something priceless.

So what does the kingdom of God look like through the lens of priceless anticipation? It looks like a blank space in which disciples are absurdly sharing gifts “without price.” These priceless gifts are the simple gifts of love: sowing; baking; praying; story telling; teaching; feeding; listening; and showing up.

What the kingdom of God does not look like is grand gestures, or a trophy room full of counted and catalogued accomplishments, or ASA and pledge in the plate. Rather the kingdom resembles a place where improbable things and acts of love have grown beyond measure and calculation; and in doing so have ensnared all creation and restored it to its Creator.

Through this lens, we and the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas won’t be defined by the apparent emptiness of our blank spaces, but be encouraged by the opportunities and possibilities they present – for these blank space are the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.

Harvest Letter, Fall 2018

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As we approach the end of our search process, the sense of anticipation is palpable. Following 20 months of listening and discernment we are about to elect the 10th Bishop of Kansas, whomever she may be. Then, God willing, and the dioceses and Bishops consenting, she will be ordained, consecrated, and seated March 2nd, 2019.

I wonder what this sense of anticipation feels like for you? Perhaps it is one of relief because a demanding task is behind us. Perhaps it is one of apprehension because we don’t fully know what to expect.

The sense of anticipation I am most aware of is one of excitement. Excitement that the process of listening and discernment will continue: continue to draw upon our various gifts as we incorporate this person and her family fully into this part of the Body of Christ that is the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas; and continue as we join her in imagining and envisioning the trajectory of the Jesus Movement in this place.

As I reflect upon different senses of anticipation, I realize that we are not experiencing the end of a period of transition nor the beginning of a period of tenure. Rather we are continuing along the long arc of God’s witness and work in the world. We are the transitory pieces of this story, while the story remains the continuous draw of all humankind toward God’s abiding presence.

Nevertheless, how we respond to our senses of anticipation can affect the telling of God’s story. Therefore, may we all “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[Ephesians 4:1-3]

In gratitude for your giftedness and grounding in the Spirit, I am …

Yours in Christ’s Love,

Foster+

We, the Council of Trustees, believe in and trust the God-given gifts that abide in the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. During this season of transition, we will not be fearful. Directed by the Spirit, together we joyfully walk with Jesus the road ahead. [Council of Trustees, February 1, 2017]

Spiders

About a hundred years ago in India, a Christian holy man named Sundar Singh told this story:

There was once a village girl who daily removed the spider webs from her house. One day as she was doing this she prayed, “O God, as I am cleaning this room, please also cleanse my heart.” Then she heard a voice saying, “Daughter, you will have to cleanse the room again and again as long as the spiders remain. It is better that you drive the spiders from your house.” Unfortunately, she was not able to drive them out because they were hidden from her and too clever to be caught.

This story could be a metaphor for the condition of the room of our hearts. We want to drive out the spiders and creepy things, but they can seem too many and they elude us.

From the beginning humans have sought all sorts of rituals and rules to protect ourselves, and to drive out the creepy things from within and among us. But there seems to be no end to the list of things that worry us or creep us out, and we seem to be unable to eliminate them. As a result we re-interpret the rituals and rules over and over again in a vain hope that these re-interpretations will protect us from the creepy and grimy things that worry us so.

Yet this perpetual tweaking of the rules only creates a new tangle of webs as we are tempted to either add a word to what as been passed down to us; or to take away from it. This sort of perpetual tweaking is what Jesus is responding to during his earthly ministry.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking specifically of the purity codes. Those codes that dictate how one remains ritually pure and undefiled. In the case of hand washing, if we have been doing hard dirty work, of course it makes sense to wash our grimy hands before we eat. But the religious leaders have taken a sensible precaution and turned it into a rule; one they treat as if it is God’s command. If thought of as a command, this hand washing can be taken to extremes. Such as the story of the Rabbi who is placed in prison by the Romans. Daily, he uses the water given him for hand washing rather drinking. As a result he nearly dies of thirst. God wishes the best for us; however, in our spider-filled sense of piety, we just about kill ourselves.

Consider, on the other hand, the 3-second rule. You know the one we use to rationalize the salvage a tasty tidbit that has fallen on the ground. It’s akin to my mom’s explanation that getting dirty is a form immunization, and there is the old axiom, “you have to eat a peck of dirt before you die.”

Just what is the reasonable balance between common sense and command? Does the balance lie in the Pharisee’s question, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”[1] Or does it lie in the disciples’ ignorance and disregard of tradition, or the peck of dirt rule?

Like the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus is an educated religious leader, and he knows the rules. So where does he stand on the issue?

Well, consider that Jesus does not call disciples from among the educated elite and religiously sophisticated. Instead he calls together working people: fishermen, women, a guerilla fighter, a tax collector, people of ill repute; and he asks them to follow him – not the rules. These disciples don’t know the religious system, and Jesus doesn’t teach it to them because its webs will only get in the way of common sense – of seeing and hearing God’s will, which is worthy of consuming – of taking into oneself.

Still, Jesus – personally – does not disregard the rules of orthodox behavior. With the exception of healing on the Sabbath, Jesus tends to observe the rules rather than to disobey them. We have evidence of this today, as it is only “some of his disciples” who are noticed eating without washing. It seems that Jesus is not guilty of defiling himself, but he doesn’t prompt his disciples to do so. I think Jesus sets the stage for this question – this confrontation.

By drawing attention to the washed and unwashed, Jesus is inviting the Pharisees and scribes to ask him, “Why do your disciples … eat with defiled hands?” Jesus invites the question so he can point out how the re-interpreted traditions of the religious are wasted on those who are simply looking for the plain sense of God’s will in Scripture, and trying to take it in and live it out.

In responding to the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus uses this quote from Isaiah to reveal his inclination to the common sense of God’s will:

“This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
  in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

These human precepts – these convoluted interpretations of the rules obscure the plain sense of Scripture. They are akin to chasing after spiders with a broom. You may get a few spiders, but others will scurry out of sight only to rebuild their distracting webs while you are not watching. In chasing after spiders we begin to lose sight of the plain sense of Scripture. In our flailing at the spiders and their webs we often become more entangled and lose sight of God’s will.

Generally there is a sincere desire behind these re-interpretations of the rules to be scrupulous about religious details, but instead of clarifying the rules, they seem to become entanglements that distract us from the common sense of God’s will.

After addressing the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus turns his attention to the crowd. He makes it plain to them: “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. … For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.”[2] So, rather than miring oneself in the webs that surround us, we should tend to the cleaning and removal of the spiders and creepy things from our interior: the rooms of our hearts and minds. We do this by immersing ourselves in Scripture, by taking in the plain sense of God’s will, as revealed by Jesus Christ, into our hearts and minds, and by allowing the healing light of confession to shine in the dark spaces where spiders lurk.

How we live our life is the proof of our faith. “It is better that [we] drive the spiders from [our] house” to make room for God’s will, which is answering Jesus’ call to plain discipleship. So come, partake of Jesus. Take the living Word into your mind and body that he may abide there and reveal the plain sense of God’s will.

[1] John 7:5

[2] Mark 7: 15 & 21

Harvest Letter, Summer 2018

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I pray this note finds you in the midst of, or planning, time for recreation and relaxation this summer. Such sabbath time is so essential to our wellbeing and our recollection that we are partners with God in this creative and generative process called life.

Irenaeus, a Bishop of Lyon during the second century, is attributed with saying, “The Glory of God is the human person fully alive.” I take “fully alive” to mean fully engaged with all aspects of one’s life: the physical, the spiritual, and the mental, and all to the glory of our Creator. Such full engagement in life, as God creates it, requires setting aside adequate time for all the facets of our busy lives, but with a bias toward our relationship with our Creator.

Sabbath time, honors our inclination toward God by giving us space to reorient ourselves away from day-to-day preoccupations and toward our primary relationship with our Creator. In honoring sabbath time this way we honor and strengthen every other relationship we have because the love shared in relationship with God nurtures every other relationship. In fact, with practice sabbath time that honors our relationship with our Creator generates within us a growing capacity to extend God’s love to more and more people, and this glorifies God, and this is the life “fully alive.”

But what does sabbath time look like? It can take any number of forms such as for example, a vacation, a temporary change of patterns at home, a retreat, a mission trip, going to summer camp, etc. Sabbath time is any break in the typical pattern of our life that sets aside time with our Creator as our priority so that we can reflect on how we are living our lives for God’s sake, and for the sake of others.

Sabbath time is absolutely essential if we are to grow into the “fully alive” people God created us to be; people who yearn to live out Jesus’ understanding of the Ten Commandments.

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

As in these two commandments, when we walk with Jesus, he repeatedly challenges us and shows us what it looks like to be that person who is fully alive, that person who rethinks priorities, that person who reconsiders what cultural norms would look like if we were to put our Creator’s interests and those of our neighbors ahead of our own.

Now is a great time to make time and space for sabbath rest. All is required of us is desire to know our Creator and yearning to be “fully alive.” God will make such time and space holy.

In seeking sabbath rest, I am …

Yours in Christ’s Love,

Foster+

We, the Council of Trustees, believe in and trust the God-given gifts that abide in the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. During this season of transition, we will not be fearful. Directed by the Spirit, together we joyfully walk with Jesus the road ahead. [Council of Trustees, February 1, 2017]

Mark, we have a problem.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Welcome to this night of nights. A night of stories and song around this new fire. Stories and songs that remind us who we are, and whose we are. Stories and songs and baptismal water that remind us we are on a journey toward resurrection.

We share these stories, songs, and sacraments of renewal on this night each year – and at every Eucharist – to remind ourselves that this story is not a quick fix or a onetime thing. No, this is a lifelong journey of progress – a process that invites us to immerse ourselves week after week and year after year in its incremental and sacramental pattern of growth, renewal, and transformation.

At each gathering we share similar stories, songs, and sacraments. Yet, despite the familiar order, at each gathering there is variation among the stories and songs that invites our attention – that invites us to consider something fresh and new that may aid us on our journey. Perhaps you have come to appreciate this variation as we progress through the stories and songs of our faith on a three-year cycle. It is this progress through the cycle that brings us to one unique and brief resurrection story tonight.

This story according to Mark has a problem. The resurrected Jesus does not appear to his disciples in this account. There is only the young man in the empty tomb who tells the women that Jesus has been raised. This story leaves us hanging and is not resolved apparently because the women “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”[1]

This story lacks the triumphal report to the other disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead. This story lacks the report that Peter and the disciples should look for him in Galilee. This story lacks these things apparently because terror and amazement seizes the women and they are afraid because they do not personally encounter the resurrected Christ.

Think about this problem for a moment. Where would you be on your journey had you not encountered the resurrected Christ? Perhaps you’re still waiting for that encounter. Perhaps you’re still struggling with terror. Perhaps you’re still more afraid than you are at peace. Perhaps you’re running away or hiding from something in your life because you haven’t encountered Jesus as the resurrected Christ.

Like this story, our personal stories have loose ends. Hopefully we know that these stories are not complete. This story and our stories are works in progress; they are journeys that are moving toward a resurrected conclusion; but they and we need help in this journey.

This is why we celebrate this night of nights year after year. It’s not simply a bridge between a season of lenten penitence and a season of Easter joy. This night is the most important night of the Christian year not because it’s about the quality of our lenten contemplation or reflection. No, this night of nights is about our coming together to share our stories, to remember our baptismal initiation into the body of Christ, and to lay claim to the resurrected Christ so we individually and collectively can take up our journey toward loving one another as Jesus loves us. This journey of love includes reaching out in particular to our neighbors who, like the women at the tomb, may be left hanging in a wilderness of fear and terror because they have not yet heard the life-giving stories or experienced the life-giving sacraments in the company of people who are on this journey toward resurrection.

Remember, this is the night when we are reminded that God brought our ancestors out of bondage and led them through the Red Sea on dry land. May we have the grace to tell our life-giving stories to those in bondage or in the wilderness so they can join us in this journey toward resurrection, because we know Christ is risen!

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

[1] Mark 16:8

From Praise to Pillory

We can be so inconsistent. Just consider the inconsistency of the crowds in Jerusalem. In less than a week they swing from “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”[1]; to “Crucify him!”[2]

This morning, in this one service of two liturgies, we experience this inconsistency within the span of 15 minutes. We go from triumphal Liturgy of the Palms to the heart-rending Passion. We get this abbreviated version of Holy Week today because of a cultural reality. In many churches, lots of people will not attend Holy Week services before Easter. This is a shame, because the pattern of this Holy Week, especially the Triduum, the three sacred days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, help shape our understanding of the Passion, our understanding of Easter, and our understanding of ourselves.

Traditionally, it is on Good Friday that we hear the Passion Gospel. While the Passion Gospel is heart-breaking, it is absolutely essential to our understanding of Easter. We need to immerse ourselves in the Passion Gospel before we meet our resurrected Savior so that we can adequately appreciate our need for redemption. Thus, because so many miss the Good Friday Liturgy, today we get to hear of both Palms and Passion.

In the Gospel lesson from the Liturgy of the Palms, Jesus, the disciples, and a large crowd of other pilgrims are descending on Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. Imagine yourself surrounded by this crowd, immersed in their enthusiastic energy as we are caught up in the cheerful anticipation of our messiah’s coming.

Now imagine the landscape of all this. Jesus and his disciples are coming to Jerusalem from the east, from Bethany by the dry and dusty Jericho road. As they wind down the Mount of Olives, which overlooks the city of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley, we and the crowds join them before climbing the up the temple mount to enter the Eastern or Shushan Gate of Jerusalem.

This uneven topography makes it is easy for the Roman garrison at the Antonia Tower next to the Temple to observe the road that winds down the side of the Mount of Olives; in fact one has an unobstructed view. Thus the Roman occupiers have a clear view of us raucous pilgrims, with Jesus and his followers Hosanna-ing our way into town. Of course everyone else near the Temple has a good view of this procession as well; and they are marveling at the scene and our enthusiasm.

However, just below the surface of this enthusiasm, there is a tenseness and anxiety. Because of the potential for unrest among such large crowds during the Passover festival, Pilate has come to Jerusalem with reinforcements from his palace on the coast to make sure the lid doesn’t blow off.

But today will end quietly without incident after Jesus surveys the temple. Tired and hungry he and his friends retrace their steps back up the Mount of Olives to Bethany and the home of Simon the Leper to rest in preparation for the eventful week to come.

Having witnessed a quiet end to the first day, now we find ourselves confronted with the story of Jesus’ Passion. Again, imagine ourselves among the crowd as we watch the heart-breaking reality of Jesus’ “hour,” which is in fact the sacred three days. We were expecting a victorious messiah; instead we are crushed by grief and loss. In our grief, it is convenient to blame Judas; after all we’ve just heard it is he who betrays Jesus. And perhaps we blame Peter too because his resolve fails him in the face of danger. But I think such scapegoating is a convenient way to avoid recognizing ourselves in the crowd.

Yes, Judas makes Jesus’ arrest possible, but as we’ve just heard, it is the “crowd” that turns on Jesus; and Judas, whose motivation appears to be greed, does after all repent before killing himself. In comparison, the crowd is never presented as repentant – as acknowledging its complicity in its manipulation by the temple authorities into making Jesus a scapegoat for the sake of preserving things as they are.

At the end it is only the Roman centurion – not the crowd – that upon witnessing Jesus’ death acknowledges, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”[3] In the end, it is those at the periphery of the crowd – the women, the Roman centurion, and Joseph of Arimathea who have the strength to stand in that awful place and know who Jesus is. Even the disciples, who flee, will not know until his Resurrection.

But the point is not how Jesus is set up by religious authorities, or who is to blame for his murder on a cross. No, the point of this swing from praise to pillory is for us to be transported to a place of self-recognition – the recognition of our inner Judas, the recognition of our inner Peter; to be borne to our place of deepest sorrow, for us to be shocked and saddened to the point of reflection upon our own inconsistency – our simultaneous betrayal of our Savior, and our need for him.

It is in our deepest sorrows – those dark places and low points in our lives – where our most profound and penitential encounters with God occur. It is also in the deepest sorrows of others that we have the opportunity to be Christ-like amid their pain.

Our self-recognition and our encounters with Christ in these dark places begin to unbind us from our inconsistency. Therefore, embrace these dark places and be liberated so that we can consistently keep this life-giving vigil with Jesus during this Holy Week of Passiontide.

[1] Mark 11:9

[2] Mark 15:13

[3] Mark 15:39