Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The P.B. Misses Again: A Sermon About Possession, or Is She Talking About Possessions, and Who is She to Talk?


No! Not that type of possession, but parts of the diagram are appropriate for our discussion today.

Actually, all of us are probably doomed to fail if we dare to lecture others about possessiveness, but there are some who do not appear to possess the gift of seeing in themselves the very thing they lecture against.

Case in point: The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate The Episcopal church who preached recently at St. Andrew’s, State College, PA, and who I swore to never write about again following her worst sermon ever. I waited for someone else to blog about the irony contained in this her latest attempt to gain claim exclusive possession of the coveted brown ribbon bad sermon award, but alas, the task was assigned to me. Time for a fisk,
"Are you possessed? Possession isn’t just something that happened to a few sorry souls in Jesus’ day. That’s really what’s going on in alcoholism or other addictions. People are driven by the need to get something and maintain a supply of it, and sometimes they’re willing to do almost anything to satisfy that need. That’s being possessed by something less than God."
Think, "Church properties"...
"Our relationship to food in this country often looks like possession, and a good bit of it seems to be fueled by prepared and packaged foods with increasing amounts of sugars and fats. They quite literally build an addictive response in our bodies – perhaps by design."
Think, "Am I addicted to the sweetness of the activist menu du jour?"
Many people with cats say their cats own them. Dogs seem to exhibit the opposite behavior, happy to be possessed by people who will feed, walk, and play with them regularly.
Why can't those dissenting Episcopalians be more like dogs?
"What possesses you? Preoccupation is a hint of it – letting something take center stage and much of our attention. When I think about moving, I realize that I am possessed by a whole lot of books – and I remember how freeing it was to give away lots of stuff when I moved to Nevada!"
Hold that thought! Ever wonder how freeing it would be to give up the lawsuits?
"We can be possessed by things that don’t seem terribly destructive – like the kind of collecting that begins to take over one’s life, until it becomes hoarding. I know a man whose money, boredom, and lack of healthy human relationships lead him to buy expensive cars – way more than he needs or can use. Most of us have some urges like that, encouraged by advertising and a culture focused on consumption."
Is she talking about Jay Leno's car collection? Is she possibly suggesting that culture might lead us astray? Isn't her Church following urges encouraged by a culture focused on hedonism?
"We all know about family relationships that exhibit various degrees of possession or possessiveness, though we usually call it codependence, control, jealousy, or abuse."
That sounds like an excellent description of our Episcopal leadership.
"There’s a new movement to deal with another kind of possession. 'Digital detox' is something like summer camp for adults, designed to disconnect you from your electronics so you can focus on your interior life."
That sounds like an idea for a workshop at the next General Convention: Episcopal detox.
"It reminds me of the old story about a competition between Jesus and the devil. They were assigned a major computing problem with a short deadline, and each started typing away until a great thunderstorm erupted. Boom! Crash! Who won the competition? … Jesus saves. [the devil doesn’t]"
Huh? That "old story" seems to have been forced into her narrative. Maybe she should try to work in a real Jesus story next time.
"All relationships – with drugs, food, human beings, stuff, and particular activities – have the capacity to be warped in unhealthy directions, down paths that don’t lead to more abundant life but ultimately only to diminishment and death."
Correct, but her idea of abundant life may not be your idea of abundant life, and that should be okay in Episcopal church circles... Shouldn't it?
"That’s what Moses is talking about – ‘choose life, pay attention to the holy and life-giving ways that God has given and taught you, and you will know what it is to live in peace.’ This isn’t a prosperity gospel that says you’ll get rich if you do or believe certain things. This is about abundant life – full measure, pressed down, and overflowing. When Moses tells his people that they’ll live in the land God has promised, it’s not so much about specific acreage as the kind of nation that God intends, where all people live abundantly because nobody is hoarding, or afraid, or going to war, or abusing neighbors and kin. The promised land is that ancient vision of a society of peace with justice – shalom, a beloved community, the Reign of God. That older term, kingdom of God, might work better, because it implies both a physical territory and an ethic of governance. Choose life, and live in a community that knows all its members are God’s beloved. Choose life, and know whose you are. Knowing yourself as God’s treasured possession makes being owned by someone or something else far less attractive. And God’s role in our lives is not domineering – we are free to respond or not to this wondrous love that is beyond our imagining. We are invited to choose that relationship – we are not coerced."
Psst... I am not trying to coerce you, but it is not about church buildings, or specific acreage, or rival Anglican provinces, or going to court.
"That’s what Jesus is talking about when he says hate your family and count the cost or don’t bother following me. Being his disciples means not fooling ourselves about what is most important. We can’t ignore the need to dispossess ourselves of everything that has slid and slithered onto the center stage of our concern."
Disposess... hold that thought too.
"Maybe this seems like an odd theme for this time of year – more suited to Lenten fasting, perhaps. Yet it is the central theme of Christian living – love God with all you are and have, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what the world is wrestling with when it comes to Syria – how do we best love our neighbors across the seas? Is it by doing what we can to ensure abundant life for all the people of that land? Will a violent intervention help to end the raging violence there or will it unleash even more? We see only in a very dim mirror – just as much today as in Paul’s day. Jesus’ reminder that kings and generals have to count the cost before they go to war seems eerily apropos. What is the best way to sue for peace? And what is possessing each of us as we struggle to find a loving and reasoned response to that tragedy?"
What is the best way to sue for peace in the Church? By going to court I guess.
"When Jesus says you have to hate your family in order to follow him, he means we can’t put their opinions or demands of us above God. That kind of pressure doesn’t just come from blood relatives – plenty of others would like to own us, starting with our peers. Think of the destruction that comes from bullying among teenagers."
What about bullying among bishops and the threat of Title IV charges against those who stand up to the bully? 
"Consider the desire of corporations to possess our business, or direct our consumption."
Isn't TEc a corporation?
"What about the political machinery that seeks to influence voting?"
Yeah, how about those e-mails from 815's political action wing that I keep getting.
"Much of the communication that comes our way is ultimately about ownership and possession by the less than godly – and much of it is grounded in fear: fear of being devalued as a person, or being excluded, fear of losing something. The ground of our faith insists that in the presence of godly love, fear evaporates."
I am thinking of communications from a certain demonic list/serve.
"When we’re afraid, we can respond in a variety of ways, if we’re awake enough to notice the fear. That may be why Jesus uses such challenging language – hate your mother, hate your brother, give up all your possessions. It is a way of prodding us to notice that sometimes our fear of what Mom or Dad (or somebody else) will think keeps us from doing the most life-giving thing, from loving with abandon, from loving more fully and perfectly."
Give up those possessions Kate!
"There are immediate examples all around us. In addition to the challenges of the Middle East, this nation is consumed with fear about immigration, about health care, and about economic issues. Fear is driving the public rhetoric about those who live here already, as though recognizing God’s children in our midst is going to deprive some who’ve been here longer. What is that fear that owns so many of us? Fear that descendants of European immigrants are no longer going to be the majority? Is it a deeper fear or shame about those who’ve been here longer than Europeans? Even beginning to name the fears can bring us closer to a more rational discussion and loving discernment."
Give up the faux social justice please!

"What about health care? The fundamental meaning of salvation is healing and wholeness. Think about salve, a balm, like the balm of Gilead – that’s another vision of the healing kingdom of God. Yet initiatives to provide healing for more of this country’s people continue to generate enormous amounts of fear. What in that conversation owns us strongly enough to hook into the rhetoric of fear? What are we really afraid of losing? If I already have some access to healthcare, will any expansion of the healing pie mean I lose? God’s economy doesn’t work that way. It keeps expanding when the gifts of creation are well-used. All can live in abundance when no one is hoarding."
Those who oppose Obamacare are fearful hoarders? Give up the name calling Kate!
"That economic question about hoarding and greed is another big public conversation. The disparity between rich and poor continues to grow wider in this nation. Poverty rates are growing, especially among children. In spite of what it says on our nation’s money, we do not trust in God. Too often we let ourselves be owned by the fear of scarcity, rather than by the God of abundance."
Could there be any relationship between childhood poverty and the Church's failure to support traditional marriage, or is she afraid to bring up the negative contribution of her church's recent teachings on the subject?
"At the beginning of another school year, maybe the students of Jesus might look to give up some possessions – particularly the willingness to be owned by fear. There is good news in knowing that it’s easier to do in community, with the support of brothers and sisters in Christ." 

Just don't give up any of those possessions to those brothers and sisters in Christ.

"A breath prayer can help. As you breathe in, draw in the awareness that you are God’s beloved, treasured possession. Breathe out, and let go of what possesses you. Help us remember your loving presence, as close and constant and life-giving as our breath."
"Breathe in – love. Breathe out – let go. Love and let go. Keep breathing."
What a way to end a sermon.

She who has engaged in a multimillion dollar campaign to take the properties of those who dissent from the revisionist path that she and her followers are possessed by should listen to her own advice and GIVE IT UP.

Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. Keep breathing.

The last time she preached about possession was during what is considered by some to be the worst sermon ever. That time, +Schori chastised St. Paul for casting out a demon. In essence the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church claimed that what Paul saw as demonic possession was in fact a spiritual gift.

Trying to assimilate the P.B.'s teachings into one cohesive thought from these two examples is confusing at best, and any such efforts are likely to lead to that dreaded degenerative disease we call Episcobrain. When I tried, I was be forced to conclude that some possessions are spiritual gifts and some are not. If Episcopalians look to their spiritual leaders for help in distinguishing the two, then the message they will hear is that hoarding of buildings and properties, the pursuit of litigation, the pursuit of one particular version of social justice through legislation, and the pursuit of happiness through your personal choice of means of sexual expression are spiritual gifts, whereas anyone who is opposed to these things must have a problem with possession, possessions, or possessiveness.

In the long run, what the P.B. means is that you need to give up your possessions to 815. If you don't, then you'd better hold onto your belts because you will get the pants sued off of you by someone who truly, and deeply, understands the problem of possession and who knows best how to handle your possessions for you.

Somebody call in the exorcist!   


  1. When will she realize that people cannot create God's kingdom on earth? It is merely our job to make sure that as many as possible hear the Good News, so they can be there when GOD brings His kingdom.

  2. SometimesWise,

    You have correctly identified a common thread present in her sermons and in her theology: that part of our mission is to bring about the Kingdom of God ourselves through our actions in the causes that she supports. There has to be a name for this heresy somewhere.

  3. "There has to be a name for this heresy somewhere." I think of Abraham helping God's promise of a child by having sex with Hagar.

  4. Good one Dale,

    I am thinking Genesis 11:1-9

    And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

  5. Anonymous7:44 AM

    It is always amusing to enjoy snark over coffee at breakfast - and I must say in terms of projecting one's own personal demons on others you are in a league of your when did Mr Lawrence outlaw Christian charity in his faux diocese?

    1. Thanks Anon for the comments. Snark is the perfect condiment for a meal of Ms Schori's remarks. I recommend a generous over the top application to your breakfast of sugar coated power bombs.