In our Midst

Bishop Prior with deacons Jim Shoulak and Chip Whitacre at last weekend's Deacon conference.
I chat with deacons Jim Shoulak and Chip Whitacre at last weekend’s Deacon conference.

This last Saturday, we had an excellent gathering of Deacons from across the Episcopal Church in Minnesota (ECMN). We began the day with worship, including a renewal of ordination vows, followed by a lively discussion on mission — and then an intriguing presentation by Suzanne Watson Epting: Waves of the Diaconate. In the afternoon, there was a presentation from representatives of Sarum College about ministerial development and lifelong formation. Afterward, there was a World Café using missional church questions, and time for networking and sharing Mission Opportunity ideas for the coming year.

One of the presenters made a statement that raised the question about the distinction between secular and sacred. The discussion that ensued focused on the potentially false dichotomy between ‘secular’ and ‘sacred.’ Simply stated, the premise of a distinction between the secular and the sacred is that there are the people of God who go forth from sacred places to bring the Holy to a people and a place that is not Holy.

This, of course, is antithetical to what we proclaim as Episcopalians in our Baptismal Covenant when we commit to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” It is also completely inconsistent with our understanding of God’s mission, whereby we understand that God is fully active in God’s world and that God invites us to join it. In God’s mission, the seminal theological question is: What is God up to in this context and culture, and how might we bring our gifts to bear?

Writer, professor and friend Barbara Brown Taylor describes it this way:

Gradually I remembered what I had known all along, which is that church is not a stopping place but a starting place for discerning God’s presence in this world. By offering people a place where they engage the steady practice of listening to divine words and celebrating divine sacraments, church can help people gain a feel for how God shows up– not only in Holy Bibles and Holy Communion but also in near neighbors, mysterious strangers, sliced bread, and grocery store wine. That way, when they leave church, they no more leave God than God leaves them.

The Holy One is in our midst — we are called to open ourselves and to invite others to share in God’s presence and mission.

1 thought on “In our Midst”

  1. Katherine Jean Wilhelm

    Were those “Waves of the Diaconate”… quantum waves of connection?
    We often find revelation of Truth in the mundane, believing that “the finite” is capable of revealing some of “the infinite”…right now. Is there difficulty in spiritually discerning whether “this mundane” thing or event or relationship is sacred or profane? Probably. The profane “mundane” treated as sacred is idolatry. The treatment of sacred “mundane” as profane is profanation.
    And while we are are about our spiritual discernment of a particular mundane…we exert a quantum physics “Observer Effect,” influencing the outcome or the creation of both sacred and profane. We have the ability as participant-observer-co-creators to transform the mundane. To create sacred or profane. So how do we co-create with God?
    We do this by inviting greater numbers of observer-participant-creators to share their observations, narratives, and giftedness… no matter how mundane or conflict-ridden these “non-cradle” mongrels seem! (And maybe not censoring those bishop’s blogs for political correction too?)
    By inviting more people to join the correct “in-group” there will be arising authentic conflict! This is holy ground for transformation of the mundane to sacred. Do you believe that conflict is or is not a sign of quality dysfunction and chaos? Is conflict and dysfunction indeed opportunity? For road to Damascus Recovery for The Episcopal Church? IS this where the rubber meets that ugly Samaritan Road, the road where the scribes and Pharisees walk by avoiding the mundane, beaten, bleeding “out-group” chaps who lie bleeding in the ditches after robber-beatings?
    “Be Holy, for I Am Holy.”
    Quantum physics says matter and energy do not exist with any certainty of place and momentum. Reality (or Truth) cannot be known because once it is observed or measured, the observance or measurement RELATIONALLY changes place and momentum.Is this where the mundane becomes holy? Is some manured manger? On some criminal’s crucifixion cross?
    What we can know about position and movement of “reality” is only an approximation, or VERISIMILITUDE. We can only approximate Reality or Truth as a “mathematical probability” in something called wavefunction. (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). What about that diaconal WAVE? Is God…Relational Wave Consciousness?
    For “church” the greater the number of observers, the more our collective verisimilitude approximates relational Reality or Truth.
    Truth is collective and relational. Therefore any conflicts among our observervations is a cumulative, positive presence that increases our church’s approximation of Truth.
    Conflict is authentic and inevitable; it is holy ground for increasing collective verisimilitude because we are all a little right and we all are a little wrong! (Rev. Ken Howard’s Paradoxy). I am a little wrong. The bishop is a little wrong.
    But…Conflict is not evidence of dysfunction and church processes must harvest conflict, harvest tension and harvest observations for authentic discernment of an approximation of Holy Truth, setting us free to be a more transformationally sacred, less mundane, people of God.
    It seems most Episcopalians believe in both divine immanence and divine transcendence. God’s divine immanence: the belief that God is present and accessible in the material world. We also believe, as people of mystical prayer, in divine transcendence, that God’s nature and power are also independent of the material world. Immanence and transcendence are not necessarily mutually exclusive!
    We can know now some of what is hidden and incomprehensible in our time-bound “present.” At the end of time, we shall know Truth fully. But what do Episcopalians really believe about their own mathematical probability (their diaconal and ordained and lay wavefunction) as observer-participants of verisimilitude, in co-creating “sacred”? Does “sacred” get moved to become…“scared”? SCARED?
    What dialectic or paradigm do we use when we think about living with relational Truth as a mongrel horde?
    Do people want to create the sacred in messy, collective, relational, transformational Truth-Jesus? Bound by his love and promise to be with us in the midst of conflict, reconciling us? Spiritual discernment of THE WAY of WAVES of CONFLICT is a challenge for God’s people. Whether something mundane is sacred or profane depends upon US…on our being transformed by God’s power and mystery. AND OUR SUCCESS depends upon our willingness to engage the conflict inherent in increasing the probability of TRUTH, verisimilitude. Truth is not about Jesus. Truth is not of Jesus. Truth is Jesus.
    Truth is not exclusive.
    (Truth is not conformity to a doctrinal agreement about Jesus, conforming to the church’s teachings.)
    Truth is not inclusive.
    (Truth is not conformity even to a universal ethical agreement of Jesus, conforming to Jesus’ ethic of love!)
    Truth is collective and relational. A transformational paradoxy. Conflict is inevitable and it is not a sign of dysfunction. It is a sign of opportunity to transform. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
    The more people there are relating and sharing differing, conflicting observations and narratives… the more verisimilitude approximates Truth for creation of sacred. It is a messy, collaborative, transformative process in Jesus, bound by his loving invitation to experience the uncomfortable Spirit groaning, the vulnerable chaos, tensions, and conflicts.
    But Truth has overcome the world.
    Jesus is a spiritual Certainty in a Heisenberg Uncertainty World.
    This leaves us as congregations, challenged. Challenged to spiritually discern Truth between the sacred mundane and the profane mundane.
    And it hopefully will start us speaking about fallout from our sex scandal at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and about healthy processes within the diocese for reconciliation of mongrel whistleblowers as we “Engage ALL God’s Children” in the neighborhood for Verisimilitude.
    We can create the sacred from mundane. We can recognize profane. We can be holy. We can co-create on a Wave with God. A certainty principle.

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