Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sharing Talents...and Worship Spaces

The Gospel lesson read across the Episcopal Church on Sunday is the familiar story of the man going on a journey who gives out talents to his slaves. The one who received the most invested it and made more. Same with the one given the modest amount. But the one given a single talent buried it in the ground. When the man returns from his journey and learns what the slave with the one talent did, he takes that one talent away, gives it to the one with the most and banishes the "wicked slave" for squandering the opportunity he'd been given with his one talent.

Lots of churches use this time as an opportunity to bring up that uncomfortable "S" word: stewardship.  And stewardship becomes uncomfortable because it means talking about money. And money makes people uncomfortable because the people who don't have any can be led to feel guilty that they don't have means, and the people who do have money can end up feeling put out because they're expected to give more. The old saying, "Money is the root of all evil," really is true. Because stewardship gets so focused on the false god of money, we miss the true God over and over.

So, instead of talking money, I want to talk about how hearing this Gospel story made me reflect upon a dust-up in Episcopal circles about the use of Washington National Cathedral by Muslims for prayers last Friday.  You might have heard that the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, opened use of the cathedral's sanctuary to Muslims for their sabbath day prayers. This was an invitation-only event, and included some non-Muslims as well. The purpose was reconcilliation and allowing the many more members of the Islamic faith to pray in peace and show the face of Islam that doesn't make headlines. Security for the event had to be tight due to threats. And even with that, a middle-aged white woman was inside and attempted to disrupt the prayers with shouts about Jesus dying on the cross. She was escorted out by a verger (we do come in handy at times like these!). In some ways, that outburst was similar to what happened to Bishop Gene Robinson when he was invited to preach at a church in London during the last Lambeth Conference. And it is the same source that powers those actions: fear. Fear of something or someone "different." Fear of something or someone "changing." Fear that someone or something is not able to be "controlled." The participants were able to get past the momentary interruption and continued with the service. 

When I first hear that this event was happening, I was puzzled. Had something happened to a mosque in DC that required Muslims to relocate? No, this was a gesture of stewardship. I thought about that some more. I am someone who believes that we, all of us who say we are people of faith, are approaching the same One God. There are those who prefer Goddess, but I use the term God. I also strive to avoid referring to God as a male figure, unless I am referring to Jesus Christ, who I believe is not only a male figure, but the symbol of a fully-realized man who does not see women and the spirit of the feminine as a threat to his manliness and is so completely at one with the One that he is indistinguishable from that source of Holy. I believe that the Holy Spirit is the mysterious, sometimes impish, essence of God that is always around us, above us, below us, and within us, and not only descended onto Jesus at baptism but was part of Jesus from his formation. I am, therefore, very much a Christian. That said, if people don't hold my same Trinitarian views and have a different way of accessing the Divine, who am I to say, "No, you're wrong!"? I believe that as long as people are turning their faces toward more Love, more Light, more Wisdom, then, in my theology as of November 18th, Jesus would join me in rejoicing that some of the "other sheep" have also found their way back to the flock. At times in my discussions with people who also call themselves "Christian" and even "Episcopalian," I have found that my views don't jive with their views of the Almighty, or this idea that there is One God. And from what I understand, that's a lot of what the comments have been on the cathedral's Facebook page and website.

But I want to go back to that word, "stewardship." If this cathedral is called the "National Cathedral," and we are a nation of multiple faith traditions, then it would seem to me that we would open the doors to other faiths as a way of being good stewards to our brothers and sisters of other traditions. As best as I can tell, this gesture of reconcilliation did nothing to disrupt the worship of Episcopalians who call the Washington National Cathedral their church home. In fact, it might have actually planted the seeds for some important, powerful, and spiritual work that I think we must start doing: namely, recognizing the divinity of other people who aren't like us and beginning to address the wounds that have kept us hurting and angry at each other for centuries. It will take a long, long time to do this work, longer than my lifetime, that's for sure. I applaud our Episcopal dean for making a move in this direction. 

Stewardship isn't just about time, talent and treasure. It's about living into our every day call to love one another as we have been loved by Christ... including the call to reach out to the stranger and welcome them in as part of the human family. 

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