Harvest Letter, Fall 2017

My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I am so grateful to those of you who have shared your stories with me over the last eight months. All of these of these stories have been heartfelt and revelatory. Some of these stories have revealed anxiety about this transitional time; either about the length of the process, or a sense of insecurity when there is no bishop in the house. Others stories have revealed raw or chafed edges within communities. However, the majority of stories have revealed the creativity and resourcefulness with which our sisters and brothers are rising to the opportunities and challenges before them.

What all these stories have in common is they reveal who we are as the people of God in the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. In this they also vividly remind me of the stories of Holy Scripture we read and hear week in and week out. From this perspective I equate the electoral process to the Liturgy of the Word. We have been sharing and collecting stories through listening sessions and surveys, which has been akin to hearing the Old Testament, the Psalter, the Epistle, and the Gospel. Now we are pausing to reflect upon what we have heard.

In a matter of weeks after our Diocesan Convention, what we have heard will be expounded upon – not unlike a sermon – by the Search Committee and the Council of Trustees in the form of a diocesan profile that describes who we know ourselves to be as the followers of Jesus Christ in the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas, and this profile will help the person God has called to be the 10th Bishop of Kansas to recognize herself or himself in our stories.

To continue the metaphor of the Liturgy of the Word, once we have heard the sermon – the diocesan profile – we, and others, will ponder it for a time and then those people who feel called to respond to our profile will share with the Search Committee their own creedal statements through application and interview. Following these creedal affirmations we will immerse ourselves in the prayers of the people and discernment, for ourselves, and for the candidates who present themselves to us.

Then, recalling our need for reconciliation with God and our neighbor, the process will take on a confessional element as the candidates reveal themselves to the search committee through background checks, financial disclosures, and uncomfortable questions. What follows will be an extended exchange of the peace as the candidates meet together and with Search Committee in retreat to learn more about each other and the diocese. From this a slate of candidates will finalized.

This exchange of the peace will continue a bit longer as the process opens to petitions, which undergo the same scrutiny as the candidates. In early October 2018, the conclusion of the exchange of the peace will occur in the walkabouts as we greet the final slate of candidates and nominees and discern for ourselves who God has called as the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas.

Our next act of worship will be the offertory when we gather at Grace Cathedral on October 19, 2018 to offer gifts we have received in the election of the person God has called as the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas. Then at long last we will celebrate the Great Thanksgiving, and afterwards we will be sent with thanksgiving into the world in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Yours in thanksgiving,

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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On the Cusp

Today and for months it has seemed that in America and throughout the world we have been on the cusp – on the brink, if you will – of calamity. We have heard of refugee and humanitarian crises in Syria, Yemen South Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia that have affected more than 20 million people. Closer to home we have heard and seen violent acts of hatred and intolerance played out in American streets with all sorts of blame swirling around as to who is at fault.

Perhaps you have felt yourself on the cusp of being pulled into the swirl of this frightening news, even as we sit in the relative comfort and safety of Sedan, KS. Yet even here we are not immune to the fear and heartbreak these catastrophes elicit from us.

As if these catastrophes we not enough, don’t forget about the after-affects of hurricane Harvey. And then there is the currently unfolding stories of Irma, Jose, and Katia; the earthquake and tsunamis in Mexico and Guatemala; the 65 wildfires in the western U.S.; the geopolitical crises in Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, North Korea, and China.

Day-in-and-day-out, it seems we are confronted by a growing, enormous, and wearying wall of worry; one of biblical proportions that doesn’t even include our local and personal concerns. So I invite you to take a moment and reflect about how you feel as the disorienting news of all this swirls about you like lashing tropical winds. Can you disentangle yourself from your worries enough to see God in the midst of it?

I imagine this must be how the whole congregation of Israel, and Egypt, feel on the night Pharaoh tells Moses and Aaron, “Rise up, go away from my people!” The Israelites and the Egyptians have endured nine perturbing plagues before the tenth horrific and ultimate plague of this night – the death of every firstborn in the land of Egypt. Yet this plague is different for the people of God because it marks God’s intervention on their behalf, as commemorated by the institution of Passover – the primary festival of the people of Israel. We recognize this feast as the precursor of the Last Supper. Through both, God is remembered as entering into the darkest night of his people to deliver her promise of redemption and favor so they might remember and celebrate it as a festival.

The Israelites who mark the lintel and doorposts of their houses with the blood of their Passover lamb find themselves on the cusp. On the cusp between a wall of worry and a wander in the wilderness, God is there; even as they are spared the horrors of this final plague, they are sent away, and told to remember the consequence of this moment for ever.

The consequence of this moment is the reminder of God’s presence in their and our midst for ever. All the same, in the weeks to come we will hear more stories of the wandering of God’s people as walls of worry cause them and us to wander away into our self-created wildernesses where our worries come between us and our awareness of God’s presence with and among us.

As the people of Israel celebrate Passover as the remembrance of God’s saving presence, we too celebrate our own Passover, not only as a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us but also as sustenance for us as the body of Christ. We need to be fed individually so that the whole body is fed, and made whole, and sound.

But we, especially with our American sense of self-sufficiency, often tend to think that we can tough our way through our walls of worry and thus keep them to ourselves. But in doing so we deprive ourselves of nourishment from the whole body, and by extension the whole body is deprived. This is why Paul admonishes us to “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”[1] Perhaps you have never thought of sharing your worries with others as an act of love, perhaps you have thought it is only a burden that you would rather spare them. But in fact the act of sharing your burdens and worries is an act of love. It demonstrates your trust and reliance on the other, and offers them the opportunity to grow in strength and love as a part of the body by sharing the burden.

I assure you that sharing your burdens is an act of love. As I have been privileged to hear your stories and learn of your hardships I have fallen in love with you, and in loving each other we have been able to see each other over our respective walls and care for one another. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”[2] And in the fulfilling of the law, Christ is present through and with us.

Jesus provides us another perspective on how to love another, even as the other opposes us. Loving our neighbor as ourselves includes trying to restore those who would remove themselves from us so as to keep the body of Christ whole. Because the body is all about interconnected relationships we are to strive to keep it in tact, for to fail to do so will have consequences for the entire body and the member that sins against the body.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”[3] In the context of this saying, what we often associate with the word “bind” is condemnation, and what we associate with “loose” is often forgiveness. However, I invite you to consider two other associations. What does it look like if we associate them with fear and love instead? Thus, “Truly I tell you, whatever you fear on earth will be feared in heaven, and whatever you love on earth will be loved in heaven.” In this context we glimpse the power of love to transform our circumstance here and in heaven. We are able to appreciate Jesus’ and Paul’s endorsement of “Love your neighbor as yourself” as fulfillment of the law. For it is only in loving our neighbor that we will find the wherewithal to tear down the walls of worry and weariness that assail us and separate us from our neighbor and the love of God. For it is through love that God reveals God’s self in the midst of it all, and this changes everything. Therefore, choose love, and assail the walls of worry that separate us.

[1] Romans 13:8

[2] Ibid., v. 10

[3] Matthew 18:18

You’re standing on holy ground.

We human beings are a tough crowd. We are so diverse; we are a multiplicity of cultural, racial, social, familial, and individual experiences and opinions.

It’s no wonder we have such a difficult time getting along, much less getting on the same page on matters that are uniformly important and impactful for us all. Except, that is, in moments of shared crisis. Then we often rise to the occasion and our best selves are revealed in our common humanity, such as we have witnessed this past week in the wake of hurricane Harvey and, more particularly, the burial of Roland Cain.

Still, beyond the occasional need to extend ourselves, we often spend much of our time in our self-defined and comfortable boxes – those groups or places where we are most comfortable.

Amid our diversity, one of those places where we keep things to ourselves is our understanding of God. What is God? Assuming we acknowledge that there is a Divine existence that we’re willing to call God; what is God to do with us, who would rather parse, interrogate, and put God into our own boxes so that God meets our particular and peculiar needs? We often want God to be our personal God, as unique to us as we are unique. Perhaps this is where we are mistaken, perhaps we are too preoccupied with our uniqueness and not enough preoccupied with our commonality – our ordinariness.

Sometimes we also want our God to be so exceptional as to be unattainable; so beyond our comprehension and understanding as to be remote, so we can excuse our shortcomings.

These are interesting musings, but where we stand individually is less of consequence than the insight that where we find ourselves at any moment – despite our view of the place – is in fact holy ground.

Moses, a Levite born of an oppressed people, rescued by women who refused to yield to murderous authority, adopted by the privileged, and raised in the palace of Pharaoh; Moses shuns his privileged upbringing by committing murder and when confronted with the resentment of his own native people flees into exile into another land where he starts over as a shepherd on the edge of the wilderness.

Yet this confused mess of a human being, whose identity is ridiculously complicated finds himself – through no action of his own – standing on holy ground in the presence of God. Even on holy ground, Moses tries his best to make excuses, based upon his unworthiness, to wriggle off God’s hook – God’s claim upon him. I think Moses likes the anonymity of his quiet exile; after all the last time he tried to do the right thing he made a hash of it and had to run for his life.

But God gives Moses no cover, God shows him no quarter. Instead God makes Moses God’s agent to God’s people, and more terrifyingly God’s agent to Pharaoh, who probably has a warrant out for Moses’ arrest. The only promises Moses has are the assurances of “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” and “I will be with you.” God tears apart the box that Moses has placed God in, and God gives Moses a new identity – God claims Moses as his agent to the world.

Jesus does the very same thing to Peter. You will recall that Jesus has taken the disciples to a foreign and pagan place – Caesarea Philippi – to poll them. Who do people say I am? And, who do you say that I am? Peter, bless his heart, gets it right and is named the Rock, the foundation on which the Church will be built. But Peter, still in the glow of this affirmation, makes the mistake of thinking he has it all figured out – Peter puts Jesus in the box of Peter’s own expectation.

Jesus proceeds to tear Peter’s box asunder and tells him and the other disciples, you don’t get to make this about you. Yes, you are my people, but this is not your story. To be my people you have to let go of your story – you have to climb out of the box you have tried to place me in and embrace – not only embrace – but also proclaim MY story of suffering, death, and resurrection. In this peculiar and even pagan place, Peter and the disciples find themselves on holy ground in the presence of the Son of God and with a new identity as Jesus’ agents to the world.

God and Jesus do not call the best, the brightest, nor the strongest; they call regular, imperfect people – their children, sisters and brothers. If we believe God and Jesus are selective, we’re just trying to leave ourselves room to wriggle off the hook so we can stay in our comfortable boxes.

In calling us to deny ourselves, our Creator and Redeemer are telling us to tear apart our boxes – those comfortable yet tiny, and confining identities we have created for ourselves. They are asking us to give up our illusions about who we are, and to embrace whose we are – creatures of God’s creation, and to recall we are blessed with gifts and above all that God – the I am – is with us at all times.

Jesus reminds us, “there are some standing here who will not taste death.” This is an invitation for us to shed our boxes and accept the way of the Cross – to embrace an identity greater than that we have imagined for ourselves. Yes, the way of the Cross will include suffering and death, but so does unredeemed life. The difference is that the way of the Cross promises resurrection and eternal life in the company of our Redeemer and all the Saints. So yeah, climb out of the box, you’re standing on holy ground.