Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Ageism: Yo Church So Old

A few days ago, Crusty tweeted out some thoughts on the report of the Joint Nominating Committee, the entity that makes formal nominations for persons elected or appointed to various church
Yo church so old it got a mosaic of its founding Rector, not a photo.
commissions, agencies, task forces, and Boards.  Crusty noted with some alarm that 60% of the nominees were over the age of 60, and 81% were over the age of 50.   This tweet engendered some discussion, both online and in direct email messages.  When asked by one person what COD thought was behind the disparity, Crusty replied simply:  "Ageism."

That's an oversimplification, to be sure.  And Crusty would like to say from the outset he doesn't personally blame the JNC, or mean to cast shade on any of the nominees.  I'm sure the members did their best, I'm sure they did their due diligence, and I'm sure the people they are nominating are competent, faithful, qualified folks.  But we have a systemic issue with diversity.  The Episcopal
Usual church response to lack of diversity.
Church is old and white.  That's a fact that's undeniable and is borne out by all available data.  The median age of someone in the United States is about 37; in the Episcopal Church, it's about 57.  The USA is 62% Caucasian; the Episcopal Church is about 87%.  This overall lack of failure to be younger and more diverse is one of the main drivers of the Episcopal Church's decline; in 1960, the Episcopal Church was 90% white in a country that was about 85% white.  Nearly 60 years later, the country diversified and the church didn't.

Yet while not personally blaming the JNC, we also can't just shrug and say whatev.  We need to look our ageism issue square in the eye and ask what we will do about it.  Because Crusty hates to break it to you all, sunshine, but the church has a serious issue with ageism.  Implicitly and explicitly, the church repeatedly sends the message than young persons are not really integral to the life of the church and are not welcome.  Crusty will offer six examples.  Three are public, from the 2015 General Convention.  Three are ones he personally experienced in his own life in the church.

At the 2015 General Convention:

1)  In the House of Bishops, in the course of a session discussing the question of same sex marriage, one of the bishops joked that they wouldn't be able to solve the question that day since "We've been discussing matters of sexuality since before Bishop Rowe was born," referencing the youngest bishop in the House of Bishops.  Using someone's age as a
Borat's clueless insensitivity was a parody, not something to emulate.
punchline for a joke should be utterly unacceptable, yet there were some low-level chuckles and nobody said a thing.

2)  In the House of Deputies, the following occurred ON THE SAME DAY.  During the debate on developing policies towards use of alcohol at church events, a deputy stood up, asked the official youth delegation to stand, and implored the House to pass this for the sake of the youth.

This was so utterly, completely bonkers I had to look around and make sure it was actually happening.  Once I did, I tweeted out my astonishment that one member of the House of Deputies could use other members of the House as a prop for a floor speech.

My tweet got circulated quite a bit, and someone even stood up and referenced it from one of the microphones.  This prompted a response from the Vice President of the House of Deputies, who tweeted me.  He noted that the action was out of order, Deputies should only address the chair and should ask permission to address anyone else in the House.  To which Crusty thought:  That's it?  Only noting that it's out of order?  Not noting that even if the Chair granted the deputy permission, it's utterly condescending and unacceptable?  

3)  After a greeting was given to the House of Bishops from members of the official youth delegation, a member tweeted "How were these representatives chosen?  I am not impressed."

There was not a single, formal acknowledgment of any of these incidents nor was anyone ever held to account for them.  Imagine if ANY other demographic group other than age and youth  were involved in any of these incidents.  Consider the following:

--In the House of Bishops, after a difficult discussion of racial reconciliation, they brought the
How were these 20th century martyrs chosen? I am not impressed.
discussion to a close by joking, "Hey we've still got work to do, can't resolve this today, I mean we've been working on racial reconciliation since Bishop Curry's ancestors were slaves, amirite?"

--In the House of Deputies, as part of the debate on approving rites for same sex marriage, someone had asked all the gay members to stand and implored people to pass the legislation for their sake.

--If the Episcopal Church Women triennial gave their official greetings, and someone tweeted out, "How were these old women selected?  I am not impressed."

But yet all of these incidents from General Convention 2015 occasioned no soul searching or response, sending the message loud and clear that young people are jokes, to be publicly shamed, and used as props.

OK, those were the public ones.  What follows just a couple of examples selected from literally dozens and dozens of incidents Crusty could name from my own experience.  Crusty's got a history here.  Crusty's been active in the church almost his whole life: Sunday school, Confirmation, involved in with high school and college chaplaincies and student groups.  Felt the call, went to Yale Divinity School at 22.  Crusty was actually told by many persons at age 27 to go out and get more experience before starting the ordination process, even though I'd been active in the church my whole life; completed an MDiv, including a 2-year parish internship; a year-long, full-time, 12-month CPE residency; and was working in a congregation as a lay formation director.  Then there's my wife, who was ordained at age 25 in 1998 at the nadir of young persons being welcomed into the ordination process (only 300 clergy out of nearly 7,500 were under the age of 30 in 1998) and had the double whammy of being young and a woman.  She had been an active, cradle Episcopalian her whole life, deeply committed and involved in the church.  She was also told "You're too young, go get more experience," and replied to one of the members of the Commission on Ministry, "Your son's a doctor, did you tell him to go be a lawyer first?"  Despite all the bloviating about baptismal ministry, the church sent the message loud and clear that all of our years of lay, dedicated baptismal ministry didn't mean as much spending a decade at a day job you hated. What is "experience" sometimes code for?  

Here are just three ways I have seen the church demonstrate its sometimes downright antipathy to young people in the church:

A)  I was a lay person when our son was born, my wife was clergy, so often I was the one who cared for the kid during services.  One Sunday my wife was doing supply somewhere, I went to a church closer to our home, and the boy was fussy that day.  He was loud.  I took him out, calmed him down, took him back in, did my best.  He was only 9 months old and I didn't feel comfortable leaving him in a nursery at a church I'd never been to before.  I was red-faced and embarrassed because I was getting the occasional glare from parishioners.  I had managed to calm him down and was standing in the back, right by the door, so that if he got fussy again I could take him out.  After the peace, the priest stood in the pulpit and said, literally, "I'd like to draw your attention to some announcements, if you're able to hear them."  Since the only noise had been my child -- no B-1 bomber flyovers or anything -- the intention was clear.

I walked right out and never came back. 

B)  A good friend of mine was priest on staff of a church that decided to reach out to all the young families in their neighborhood.  They created a seeker's service, held at 9 AM, in between their 8 AM Rite I and 10 AM Rite II with choir.  It had contemporary music, was held in the parish hall.  After a year, it worked.  A parish that had 150 ASA now had an additional 100 people coming to this 9 AM service.  When time came for annual meeting, the nominating committee presented a slate that had no one from this 9 AM service despite is making up 40% of their ASA.  My colleague asked why.  The reply, "We don't know any of them."  My colleague:  "I gave you several names to contact."  Reply, "If they want to serve, they should come to the 8 or the 10.  That service isn't really church."

C)  After ordination, I was interviewing for a job at a parish and was told by someone in the interview "We're so glad to have a younger priest considering the position." (I was 40 years old, BTW).  I asked why and the person said, "Because no parents with children in this neighborhood have joined the church in the past 30 years."  Me:  "Really?"  Person:  "Yes, that's not an exaggeration."  Nods around
Homer Simpson's Seekers' Service?
the table.  Another member, visibly agitated and body language showing anger, leaned in and jabbed a finger pointing at me, "Yes, we're hoping you can be the one who gets them to join."  I replied, "Why aren't you asking yourselves what you've been doing for thirty years to prevent any families with young people have joined and instead think I know the answer when this is my first time in your church?"  

These interactions reveal another cold, hard reality in the church:  while there is often just plain ignorance, or implicit or unintended ageism in the church, there's also a strand in the church of open hostility and resentment towards youth and young adults.  Faced with aging congregations and financial challenges, the church at times seems to be saying to young persons, "Join our church, shut up, pledge, and serve on committees where we tell you what to do.  And by all means keep your damn children quiet because our children never, ever made a peep in church."  The church's attitude sometimes seems not all that different at times as Homer's fury when he's losing his election for sanitation commissioner, "I hate the public so much...if only they'd elect me!"

And the things is...there are real, tangible, concrete steps that we can take.  Here's just a few, and not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive:

--We can set quotas for youth and young adult participation.  If we want to be serious about diversity and representation, set quotas.  Crusty has also suggested this for non-Caucasian representation in other blog posts, BTW.  COD repeatedly gets push back on it, often from people saying, "We can't set quotas, that limits the work of the Holy Spirit," or "We can't set quotas, the church doesn't do that."  Hey, everybody: General Convention, in fact, is founded on a quota system:  equal representation of clergy and lay in the House of Deputies.  We can and do set quotas where we feel it is foundational to how we understand representation.  We have set a quota at the highest level of our governance.  We as a church just choose not to do so in other areas.    Hey! Start with baby steps!  Set manageable goals! Maybe make a quota that 50% of our nominees need to be under 60 instead of 60%!

--Think about how we do business differently.  The way we do a lot of our church governance all too often makes it a burden to serve on many commissions and committees, requiring lay persons and people with younger children to take vacation days to go to multi-day church meetings and be away from their families.   We are very much in danger of having a professional class of quasi professional church technocrats who are the ones who have the time and privilege to attend all the gatherings.  And yet we are still unable to shorten General Convention, and we will no doubt restore pretty much every committee and task force we previously eliminated.

--If we include younger persons, include them with equal representation.  Give the youth presence at all our church meetings, including General Convention, voice and vote.  Otherwise we send the message loud and clear that our understanding of youth and young adult involvement is a kids' table to the "real" church.

Because the reality is the only way really to have broader representation of younger persons (and for all under-represented demographics, actually) in the church is: to invest in programs of formation; to specifically seek out, recruit, and nurture those persons; and to create an environment in the church where they are valued, welcomed, and their contributions taken seriously.  This kind of thing takes years, costs a lot, and requires a lot of training an institutional change.  But hey, we can do this.  A generation ago nobody wore seatbelts and people could smoke in public places.  Those behaviors changed because society put a lot if time and energy into education and training and changing a culture.  We've made progress in the church with inclusion of LGBQTI persons because we put a lot of time, energy, and institutional effort into that work.  There are ways forward with ageism in the church, the question is whether there is the will.

It's also important to note the church's the reality of ageism overall systemic sins of sexism, gender bias, racism, homophobia, and classism, among other failings.  While pointing out the issue with ageism, we must
Yo church so white it uses mayo instead of chrism at baptism.
also see where we fall short in the full inclusion of all of God's people.  There are thousand upon thousand incidences of discrimination and abuse directed towards women, people of color, and LBTQI persons happening right now.  And ageism certainly cuts both ways, and there are times in the church and in our society when older persons are marginalized and discounted.  That's wrong, too.  While pointing out this issue with ageism, I would rather not start arguing about what forms of oppression are more or less important.  Crusty spent a good portion of college, seminary, in other places listening to people debate about taxonomies of oppression than actually doing anything about the oppression.  Who we say has to wait often tells us a lot about our own biases, which is why Dr. King said that injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere.

Concern about the future of the church drives much of the issues around ageism in the church.   Yet we cannot be held captive to those anxieties. The Episcopal Church runs the risk of being a kind of Samson, with our aging resulting in us pulling the church down around itself, the way Samson pulled the building down around the Philistines.  A number of our local congregations are already doing this, having effectively chosen to dwindle and die and close. That church where I interviewed ended up shutting its doors, quite possibly still resenting the neighborhood around it.  A church this white and old that doesn't take steps to change deserves to die, with the hope that God can raise up something from the wreckage of our systemic sins that toppled it to a new life that better reflects that diversity of all of God's people.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


The President of the House of Deputies and the Presiding Bishop recently released a letter to the church, reflecting on the current broader movement to address issues of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.  Throughout the fall and winter we have seen the #MeToo movement, where women have shared their experiences on social media, along with the accompanying #ChurchToo movement.  The PB and PHOD write:

"As our societies have been forced into fresh recognition that women in all walks of life have suffered unspoken trauma at the hands of male aggressors and harassers, we have become
We already wear black in church, so we have a head start.
convinced that the Episcopal Church must work even harder to create a church that is not simply safe, but holy, humane and decent. We must commit to treating every person as a child of God, deserving of dignity and respect. We must also commit to ending the systemic sexism, misogyny and misuse of power that plague the church just as they corrupt our culture, institutions and governments."

This is to be commended.  We certainly need a church that is not only safe (which it isn't, BTW, in many contexts), but holy, humane, and decent.  We need to commit to ending systemic sexism, misogyny, and misuse of power.  Crusty has written several times on this blog about issues of sexism,  sexual misconduct, and systemic coverup of misconduct in the church, including at the highest levels.  How are we to commit to this?  The next paragraph is in many ways the crux of the letter:

"Our church must examine its history and come to a fuller understanding of how it has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse through the years. When facts dictate, we must confess and repent of those times when the church, its ministers or its members have been antagonistic or unresponsive to people—women, children and men—who have been sexually exploited or abused. And we must acknowledge that in our church and in our culture, the sexual exploitation of women is part of the same unjust system that also causes gender gaps in pay, promotion, health and empowerment."

This paragraph, frankly, terrifies Crusty.  Not because of what it is calling for the church to do -- Crusty is all for that -- but the way in which this is proposed.  Inviting people into an open conversation around an incredibly sensitive and emotional issue which exposes some of the church's deepest and darkest sins without any parameters is an invitation to a potentially pastoral damaging situation.

--Yes, we must "examine our history."  How?  Who will do the examining?  Most importantly, perhaps, how do we do that in a climate that can create a space for persons to share their experiences of abuse and misconduct?  This is not an academic exercise.  It is also not history. These are sins the church has committed and continues to commit against real, live persons, and is happening somewhere, right now, as I type this.

--"When facts dictate."  Does this mean some kind of forensic investigation of claims of abuse or misconduct before a conversation can take place?  What do we do about people who are no longer living?  What do we do about people in authority who aided, abetted, and covered up abuse?  One of the key aspects of a process of examination is to trust and believe the stories people bring forward, given that false accusations are exceedingly rare; here we have an evidentiary standard introduced without explanation or clarification, as part of this invitation this "examination."

One can only look at the morass the Church of England has created with its handling of the case of Bishop George Bell.  In its haste to make it look like it was doing something, the Church of England has donwplayed its own failures in addressing issues of abuse in the very real present in order publicly to name someone who has been dead for 60 years as an abuser.  Then, when its own commission set up to look at the matter expressed concerns with how this was handled, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to walk back any concerns.  God forbid "examining our history" should prevent us from doing something about what is happening right now.

Look, sorry if you think Crusty may be over-parsing the words here, but maybe be careful when you  release letters on incredibly important but sensitive matters.  What in God's name does "when facts dictate" mean?  Who decides what the facts are?  Will this just reinforce the power dynamic that has allowed coverups to continue?

--"Unjust system that causes gender gaps in pay, promotion, health, and empowerment."

Yeah, Crusty blogged all about that a few months ago.  We already know this: women are less likely than men to be Rectors or bishops; women get paid less for the same work; we have all these numbers crunched by Church Pension Group and have know this for years.  Years.  Anyone who's been paying attention has knows this.  What, exactly, are we going to do about it?  Crusty noted some real, tangible things we could do, things as simple as dioceses enacting mandatory, instead of recommended, compensation formulas in dioceses.  And you know what?  We only have numbers on gender and pay imbalances for female clergy, which means that situation of female lay employees, who are discriminated against in terms of pay disparity and being considered for leadership positions in comparison to male lay employees, does not have corresponding factual data.  Acknowledging unjust systems is easy; doing something about them is what matters.

"We believe that each of us has a role to play in our collective repentance. And so, today, we invite you to join us in an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer on February 14 devoted to meditating on the ways in which we in the church have failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment and to consider, as part of our Lenten disciplines, how we can redouble our work to be communities of safety that stand against the spiritual and physical violence of sexual exploitation and abuse."

Crusty repeats his concern noted above: inviting people into a sensitive, complex discussion without any parameters is an invitation to a potentially, even unintentionally, opening a Pandora's box.  It would be helpful to have a litany of repentance, for instance, to shape these kinds of meditations.  Suggestions for what specific elements could be in a Lenten discipline.  COD, frankly, is terrified at the potential of well-meaning but poorly equipped clergy and lay leaders making difficult situations more fraught, including the potential for triggering and re-traumatizing those who have experienced abuse.

"Neither of us professes to have all of the wisdom necessary to change the culture of our church and the society in which it ministers, and at this summer’s General Convention, we want to hear the voice of the wider church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future."

Thank Goodness, General Convention will solve the problem!  While these issues will clearly need to be discussed at General Convention, and while there are ways in which Convention can speak for the church and take action, addressing issues of sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, sexism, and misogyny are ones which must be addressed at the diocesan and parish level, as well as in other church related organizations (given the abuse experienced at church camps and church schools, for example).

The PB and PHOD are to be commended for their letter.  The church has been a both a source of sexual misconduct and abuse and an enabler, and we must acknowledge and atone for these sins.  Notably absent in this letter are mentions of the need for restorative justice, which is a key element of repentance and atonement.  We can be acknowledge a wrong, and be sorry for it, but what are we going to do to atone for it?  This is where the church, and our society, or instance, has repeatedly failed in matters of racial reconciliation, with a reluctance if not outright refusal to consider elements of restorative justice.  We can barely enforce requirements for anti-racism training, for God's sake.  Just like there are real, tangible ways the church can address matters of pay imbalance, there are real, tangible steps the church can take here to try to amend our systems.  Hey, here's a few:

We could re-examine Title IV.  Title IV was re-designed in the 1990s specifically with regards to matters of sexual misconduct.  Do we need to look at our current processes again?  

--For instance, currently Intake Officers have tremendous leeway in whether to dismiss complaints.  Granted there is an appeal process for when a complaint is dismissed, but do we really want to treat allegations of sexual misconduct with the same appeal process as allegations of rubrical violations?

--What about amending statutes of limitations for coverups of sexual misconduct in our disciplinary process?  As ways to empower restorative justice, some states amended their statutes of limitations to be able to hold persons accountable for sexual abuse.

--What about lay persons?  There is no accountability for sexual abuse, misogyny, or misconduct by lay persons other than firing them and having recourse to civil and/or criminal legal systems.  Initial revisions to Title IV in the 2000s included accountability for lay persons, but this was stripped from the final version. 

--Insist that clergy follow through on their legal obligations as mandatory reporters with clear training and clear consequences for failure to report.  I was giving a Title IV training once and gave a case study which involved mandatory reporting and a clergy person flat out said that they would decide whether to report something like what was outlined or not, mandatory reporting be damned.  

Again, Crusty wants to thank the PHOD and PB for their letter; if the church is not willing to address its own sins in this area, it doesn't deserve to exist.  But COD also, frankly, is deeply concerned at the invitation to conversation without leadership, guidelines, or parameters.  Crusty is also worried about whether this is all talk, and whether there will be any kind of
All too often the church's reaction on issues of sexual abuse.
substantive followup or followthrough.  Our history here is not terribly good.  At the same time we were revising Title IV in the 1990s to reflect issues of sexual misconduct, Presiding Bishop Browning was covering up sexual misconduct of minors by a fellow bishop, and, when this came to light, was never called to account for his actions and died feted by the church.  Several years ago we had one of our bishops murder someone while intoxicated, with people in the church having had numerous warning signs of alcohol abuse, but we have not significantly examined our broader complicity in alcohol and substance abuse. FFS, at one church event Crusty attended  hard alcohol was available at a social gathering.

Here are some real, tangible, appropriate ways we can incarnate what the PB and PHOD are calling the church to in their letter:

        •       Provide more resources for the church in shaping this conversation, perhaps beginning with a litany of repentance for Ash Wednesday.
        •       Look again at Title IV as well as other ways in which we handle reporting of sexual misconduct and harassment, including follow-up. In many ways it is the follow-up on reporting, as well as the receiving of the reports, which is essential, especially for women who have had the courage to come forward, and put themselves and their futures at risk.
        •       All clergy must uphold the law as mandated reporters with clear consequences for failure to do so.
        •       There must be a sustained, ongoing, systemic conversation, something like South Africa's Truth & Reconciliation Commission.  Many women have stories to tell; the church has many sins over covering up or dismissing abuse.  This will take years, involve considerable discussion, organization, planning, and commitment of financial resources and personnel.  
     •       Male clergy need to acknowledge and name their inherent privilege they have in our system.  All those with power and authority in the system must use that power not to preserve or defend our systems, but to diversify and reform them. [FWIW, the three instances where Crusty made the call on hiring for senior leadership positions, he stated that preference would be given to women and people of color, and all three hires were women, including a woman of color.] 
     •       Listen to women in the sexist system that is our church. Listen, and act upon their requests. Don't just "examine our history."

As we move forward in this discussion, we need to say, loud and clear:  Time is up.  The church will no longer be a place through sins of omission and commission with regards to sexual abuse and misconduct.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

An Important Announcement from COD: All Things Must Crust

All Things Must Crust

I was talking with someone a few weeks ago who was not particularly a fan of these General Ordination Exam blog postings, and even thought I was undermining collegiality with my fellow members of the General Board of Examining Chaplains by continuing to post them. It was a good, open, honest conversation: despite the character I play on this website, I like to
My favorite Beatle.
think I’m open to discussion and engaging with people who may hold different opinions than I do. I reminded my colleague that I abide by all the confidentiality and social media guidelines established by the Board: I do not share the questions
with anyone, I do not write a word of these postings, I do post them, but only after all persons have finished the examination. I have violated none of the established standards of confidentiality or social media guidelines. My colleague reiterated that these blog postings were not to their liking. Finally I asked,

Do you know why I started doing this?” There was a pause. “Actually, no,” the person replied.

It’s not to be mean, or difficult, or to undermine collegiality,” I said, “though I realize I have to take responsibility for the reality that I may have offended people, and I need to hear that. I started doing this back in 2012, the first year I served as an administrator. I came up with the idea to post and dissect the questions for two main reasons. (And, BTW, I have stated these reasons over the years on the blog.)

The first is that taking the GOE was one of the most miserable experiences I’ve had in the church. I had no idea how to prepare, I thought some of the questions were confusing and others unfair, and, then when I got my evaluations, my evaluators said some things I thought were unacceptable, making assumptions about me I thought grossly unfounded. And I had no way to respond to any of this: I had no agency in the matter at all. Some people I didn’t know wrote an exam, other people I didn’t know evaluated it, and I was stuck with the results. I thought, at that time, if I can make this experience a little less isolating and lonely in the future for other people taking the exam, then I’d do it. Lo and behold, 18 years after I took the GOEs, I found myself in that position as academic dean at an Episcopal seminary. So I kept my promise and tried to make the exam a little less isolating, tried to create a shared sense of community among those taking the exam. That’s one reason.

The second is that the General Board is not accountable in any way, shape, or form to the broader church in any real way. Sure, we submit a report to General Convention, and sure, dioceses can vote with their feet and decide they don’t want to use the GOE. But for something that’s been around for so long and the vast majority of clergy have taken, it’s a bit shocking there’s no systems for discussion, evaluation, or feedback of the examination. If a question comes out that is confusing, or poorly written, or unfair – there’s no recourse. If an evaluator says something that is inappropriate -- there’s no recourse. If there’s a discrepancy in data – for instance, if there’s a question where there is a huge gap in pass rates between men and women, for instance – there’s no feedback loop. There’s more mutual accountability with my parish budget at monthly Vestry meetings as a simple country parson than an exam that impacts people’s lives and considered part of fitness for ordination. We had more mutual accountability when I was academic dean at the seminary. As a seminary professor, every course by every professor gets a course evaluation. Almost every event, public or private, that the seminary did, from alumni day to new student orientation, we sent out an evaluation. We don’t do don’t solicit feedback for the GOE in any way, shape, or form. I started this blog for this second reason – to try to raise issues and concerns around mutual accountability, because it’s not happening in anywhere else in any kind of tangible or transparent or recognizable way.”

That’s what I said to my colleague. These are the two reasons I started doing this, although I have not been involved the past two years. And I clearly hit a nerve, these are some of the more popular blog posts of the year.

I have concluded that it’s time to bring these postings to a close, and I will not be posting or hosting any GOE discussions. I’ve concluded that because the two reasons I started doing this six years ago, as outlined above, are no longer possible.

With regards to making the exam takers feel a little less anxious and isolated by providing a communal, shared experience: given the changing nature of the GOE, this just isn’t possible anymore. More and more people take the exam asynchronously apart from the four-day period in early January, given the changing nature of theological education, with more bivocational persons and persons trained locally and not in seminary programs. To maintain the integrity of the examination, in good conscience I cannot post anything until everyone has completed the exam, which is now often weeks after the majority of individuals have taken the exam. This is why in 2017, the postings came up to two weeks after the exam began, and almost ten days after the bulk of people completed it. Given the asynchronous way the exam is now taken, the postings can no longer function as that kind of communal experience, because of the need to safeguard the integrity of the exam process.

The second is that substantive accountability cannot be brought about by online commentary alone. Online commentary can raise awareness, but often does not bring about substantive change on its own – it has to be combined with structural engagement. This is why I agreed to be nominated for the General Board of Examining Chaplains, the group that prepares, administers, and evaluates the GOE. I agreed to be nominated because another colleague asked me, point blank, “Are you just going to complain about the GOE, or do you want to have the opportunity actually to do something?” I admitted the colleague had a point, agreed to be nominated, and was elected by the 2015 General Convention to the General Board of Examining Chaplains, and am halfway through my six-year term.

As I have said repeatedly in these postings, the exam is improving. We could list many improvements: the move to a simple proficient/non-proficient evaluation, central to a competency-based testing process; the inclusion of an evaluation rubric that both the exam taker and the evaluator receive; the move towards open resources on all questions, including electronic resources; and more. To be sure, the examination still has room to
Byzantine mosaic of Nyssa's epektasis.
We all do. I’ve been preaching regularly for over 20 years and believe me I can improve. St. Gregory of Nyssa believed that we continued to grow and develop spiritually after our deaths as our souls move into the eternal peace of God. It has improved dramatically and substantively thanks to the faithful work of the members of the Board, who, like me, take this ministry to which we have been entrusted seriously. But it, like all of us, always has room for continued improvement.

I cannot speak for others, only myself, but here are some of the ways I think accountability to the church can be strengthened: by asking exam takers, Commissions on Ministry, seminary faculties, and other constituencies to evaluate the exam yearly just like we evaluate every single course at seminary; if a question has a pass/proficiency rate differs dramatically from other questions (for instance, if every other question has a pass/proficiency rate above 80% and one has a rate of 50% – that’s something to flag), to do a post-mortem on possible reasons why; to collect additional data, such as proficiency rates by gender and ethnicity (to see if, despite best intentions, there may be a gender or racial gap in the exam). When looking at mutual accountability gathering feedback is essential, as well as having systems in place to address what we might find. We do it for almost everything else in the church. For God’s sake, I’m a parish priest, and I didn’t move the placement of the announcements in the service without gathering feedback from parishioners.

Higher education has changed dramatically in the past twenty years, and one of the most important aspects has been the emphasis on measuring outcomes and gathering feedback from constituencies, largely pushed by accreditation agencies. If you ran a seminary in 1990, you had to explain what degrees you offered, how you offered them, and demonstrate you had the resources (faculty; library; financial stability) to offer them. A massive change in the late 1990s and early 2000s was to demand that you show that you were actually doing what you said you were doing, and to be able to back that up. You say you have adequate financial resources? Show me your student loan default rate. You say you are preparing your students for parish ministry? Do a survey of recent graduates and ask them how well prepared they feel. And what happens if you find out you have a high student default rate? What steps will you take to address it? And so on. Collecting data and doing surveys is
Add a question from the Bobs on Annual Reports?
pointless unless you have systems in place to process the feedback and inform how you do what you do. Has this gotten burdensome at times? To be sure. But overall it has been tremendously important in requiring seminaries to create a feedback loop to inform best practice and establish procedures and policies to address issues that might arise.
Imagine if we asked parishes to do something similar, to take any kind of step to see if what they believe they are doing they actually are doing, and what systems they have in place for changing course if need be.

The GOE has improved by leaps and bounds in the past 5-7 years, in part because the General Board has begun bringing best practices of current educational and testing methodology to the exam. An important next phase will be to bring in evaluative and feedback best practices to continue to improve the exam – and, as such, Crusty is committing himself to this process. To put it real simple: if we can improve accountability to the church in structured, institutional ways, we won’t need rambling, pop-culture referencing blog posts to shriek into the wind to hold the exam accountable.

Let me be clear: I have not been formally asked in any way to stop blogging the GOEs. If this had been demanded of me, I would not have complied. I am doing this solely on my own volition.

Let me be clear: I stand by every word I’ve written on this blog or posted by others. I engage the readers in the comments and have answered personal emails sent to me because I believe in being held accountable for what I say and do as I try to hold others accountable.

I am sorry if my words here over the years may have hurt people or been cause of offense. Really, I am. I have a thick skin and let most criticism slide off me, while at the same time having a circle of close colleagues and a peer group I check in with. At times that may make me seem insensitive to others, and not realize how much words can have an impact. I am sorry for any offense. However, while offering that apology, I also would anyone who may take offense to think long and hard about how much of their offense is reaction to hearing negative feedback. Developing standards of mutual accountability, and being willing to process critical feedback, is sadly one of those areas where the church lags behind the secular society we often presume to think we are above.

To all of you disappointed there will be no blogging of the GOEs, I am putting my hope in the
Crusty's not going anywhere, friends.
possibility of living in a world where blogging the GOEs may some day no longer necessary. My thanks to all of you who have read over the years, I am continually amazed anyone has any interest in what a verbose, rambling, expletive-laced, pop culture name-dropping blog that looks like a GeoCities website from 1996 has to say. While retiring the GOE blogging, Crusty is still going to be full of piss and vinegar on other matters and will continue to blog. And, knowing the clusterf**k dysfunction the church serves up regularly, we can all be sure there will continue to be plenty of source material.

So let me close out one more time:

Well, friends, it's time for Crusty to ride off into the sunset for good on GOE blogging.  Thanks for joining me for the ride, and special thanks to Dread Pirate Crusty for filling in for the past two years.

And despite what you may think, and what Crusty has been accused of by some people, COD is not opposed to the GOEs.  Crusty loves the fact the Episcopal Church has always had a competency-based system, ever since the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies introduced by William White.  There's never been a single standard, unlike, say, the PCUSA or ELCA or Roman Catholic Church where degrees are normative, even written into polity in some cases.  With a competency based system, we have an inherit flexibility -- should we ever choose fully to embrace it -- in how we train persons for the ordained ministry. 

So be good, people.    Remember to stay grounded in prayer, Christian discipleship is hard and the only way to make it is to develop and cultivate a life of prayer.  Exercise regularly, it's the only free and 100% effective way to avoid numerous health problems. And have at least one minor vice to show the world you're human.

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Christmas Gift for You: Crusty's Ranking of Christmas Songs

You may have noticed, friends, that Crusty has not been all that active the past few months.  There's one major reason for this: we are in such a crisis as a nation that dissecting picayune, insider issues within a particular denomination pales against the assaults against the social safety net, the right of persons to vote, the full equality of LBTQ persons, and so many other issues.  As COD mentioned in a sermon, "I never thought I'd have to reassert Nazis are bad, anti-Semitism is wrong, and I can't believe we need to bring back duck-and-cover drills, but welcome to 2017."  Crusty has little time splitting hairs on issues of importance in a largely insignificant denomination when the world needs Christians to band together with people from other faith traditions and all people of good will on areas of common cause, in the service of the one who told us that we will be judged by how we treat the last, the least, and the lost in our world.  So please excuse Crusty. I've stopped and started a dozen blog posts in the past five months, each time asking, "Does this really matter in 2017? If not, we no longer have that luxury as people of faith."

But hey: it's Christmas, so time for Crusty's CHRISTMAS GIFT TO YOU.  COD, before he was a
There's only one version of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
history and theology snob, was, and is, a music snob, like Jack Black's character in High Fidelity.  Crusty can opine on how Owen Bradley ruined country music, why Aretha Franklin deserves the Nobel Prize, played in a pre-Dropkick Murphys band trying to be the Dropkick Murphys before there were Dropkick Murphys -- and so on.

So, as part of this Christmas Gift For You, COD offers his definitive top 4 Christmas Songs of all time.  Crusty was going to pick top 3, but couldn't choose only three, so chose four,  since it's Advent, it's in keeping with honoring Mary as co-Meditatrix of Salvation and expanding the Trinity into the Holy Foursome (though, if you're a Lutheran, drop Mary and add Luther).  And by Christmas songs, Crusty is not talking about traditional songs -- no Sinatra or Josh Groban crooning standards -- but originally written Christmas songs of the post-1954 rock-and-roll era.

Here they are, in order of chronological release:

"Father Christmas," by the Kinks (1977)
Remember the kids who got nothing.

One of the few socially conscious Christmas songs, exposing the veneer of commerciality and consumption -- this is a Christmas song for Thatcherite times, just pre-Margaret Thatcher; a song railing against the 1% before we called them the 1%. In this song, the Kinks sing about a group of kids who rob a department store Santa for his money because they have nothing.

The narrator begins by acknowledging times have changed since his youth:

When I was small I believed in Santa Claus/Though I knew it was my dad
And I would hang up my stocking at Christmas/Open my presents and I'd be glad

 The narrator, likely growing up in the 1960s during the shaking off of the post-World War II deprivations and economic expansion, had it pretty good.  He then notes the difference between his childhood and the current reality:

But the last time I played Father Christmas/I stood outside a department store
A gang of kids came over and mugged me/And knocked my reindeer to the floor

They said: Father Christmas, give us some money/Don't mess around with those silly toys
We'll beat you up if you don't hand it over/We want your bread so don't make us annoyed
Give all the toys to the little rich boys

This reflects a Britain that suffered under the 1973 recession, imposed caps on wage increase and limiting of collective bargaining in the mid-1970s, and was about to careen towards the "winter of discontent" in 1978-1979 with widespread civil unrest and labor strikes in response to the economic situation.  Hey, if you'd just listened to The Kinks, you would've known this was all coming.

In a world where Father Christmas favors the rich, the disadvantaged want money, because, well, they need it.  Later, in a plaintive call, the kids who rob Santa reveal their true wishes:

But give my daddy a job 'cause he needs one
He's got lots of mouths to feed

The final coda breaks the fourth wall and addresses those listening to the song, reminding all of us privileged enough to have hi-fi stereos (hey, it came out in 1977):

Have yourself a merry merry Christmas
Have yourself a good time
But remember the kids who got nothin'
While you're drinkin' down your wine
If only Christmas carols, rather than descending into insipid Victorian sentimentality (looking at you, Away in a Manger and Once in Royal David's City) managed to retain as much of the raw essence of the Magnificat, and the way in which God becoming human is meant to overturn the conventions of our world, cast down the mighty, and bring comfort to the poor, as the Kinks managed to do in this song.

"A Fairytale of New York," the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl (1987)

One of the major issues with Christmas is the way it has become some kind of idealized, often largely secularized, projection of how people wish the world could be a certain way despite the fact it is regularly and routinely not that way: wishing for peace in a world torn with strife, briefly taking time:
I want to have been in the room when this photo was taken.
to think about others before returning to self-absorbtion, and so on.  The Pogues, growing up in Ireland but spending significant time in London, were also operating within the particularly UK-specific fondness for Christmas songs that perpetuate this fantasy.  The UK loves Christmas songs, they climb high on the pop charts in a way they don't in the US.  The Pogues explode the cheap sentimentality of whole genre (I'm looking at you,Paul McCartney, in the opening lines of the song:

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me,
Won't see another one

The first time Crusty heard this in 1990 he thought: OMFG this is a Christmas song?  Someone in the drunk tank, rolling over, hearing an old man confess, half to his cellmate, half to God, half to himself, that this might be his last one before the disease which has ravaged his life claims him?

Crusty kept replaying that opening piano riff and opening couplet again and again and again when he first heard this.  The Pogues were telling The Cloying UK Christmas Song To PISS OFF.

Then...then...Crusty needs to take a moment...OK I'm back...they pair Shane MacGowan's growl with the soaring voice of Kirsty MacColl, taken from us too soon in a tragic boating accident for which, to this day, no one has ever been held accountable in her death.

The middle portion is the story of a relationship's rise, fall, and a looking back, in three acts / verses.   If you don't get goosebumps when Kirsty sings, "They've got cars big as bars, they've got rivers of gold/But the wind goes right through you, it's no place for the old/ When you first took my hand on a cold Christmas Eve, you promised me Broadway was waiting for me," you are dead inside.  Shane then joins in as they sing together, to a crescendo of "Sinatra was swinging, all the drunks they were singing/ We kissed on the corner then danced through the night/ The boys of the NYPD choir were singing 'Galway Bay', and the bells are ringing out for Christmas day."

But this is no "Wonderful Christmastime", no idealized celebration of life and love: everything crashes down in the next verse, the bitterness and anger of the breakup culminating in Kirsty snarling,  "Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last."

What makes this Christmas song so incredible is that it is so real.  No one had ever dared to write a Christmas song which makes our sorrows, our disappointments, and our regrets part of the Christmas experience.  There's an attempt at reconciliation in the final verse:  When Shane mewls "I could've been someone," Kirsty stops this self-pity in its tracks, "Well so could anyone: you took my dreams from me."  Finally, broken down, and, as I've always thought, imagining all of this conversation in in his own head lying in the drunk tank as some kind of DT-tremor hallucination, Shane confesses, "Can't make it all alone/ I've built my dreams around you."  This is one of the most fully realized and fully authentic representation of what it means to have love and lost, especially someone struggling with addiction (he is in the drunk tank on Christmas Eve), let alone set within the context of a Christmas song.

The Pogues are precisely the ones to tell us our sorrows do not disappear magically at the Christmas season: oftentimes, they are actually magnified and brought to mind, and if we can't try to come to grips with them, they can destroy us.  And this clearly has struck a chord, since, despite telling the Sentimental Christmas Song to bugger off, this single regularly and repeatedly charts in the UK every Christmas season and is now quite likely the most popular Christmas song of all time in the UK.

"Christmas in Hollis," Run-DMC (1987)

It opens with Run talking about bumping into Santa sitting on a park bench in Hollis, Queens, where Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay grew up, thereby proudly and openly proclaiming and claiming that BLACK FOLK LOVE CHRISTMAS
AND SANTA LOVES BLACK FOLK.  There's a long history of African American artists covering songs written by others (the greatest of which is the Drifters' version of "White Christmas"), and notable original Christmas songs by African Americans include Teddy and Akim's "Santa Claus is a Black Man," and James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto."  But, in general, in both music and much of popular artistic renderings, ever since A Christmas Carol kind of kicked off the modern cultural celebrations of Christmas, #ChristmasSoWhite would have been trending had ever since had there been twitter. Good God, a few years ago we had Megan Kelly calmly and assertively claim Santa is white: "I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa — I just want the kids watching to know that.”

This song also comes at an important cultural moment.  Rap was moving into the mainstream in the 1980s, and Run-DMC were largely (but not solely) the ones who did it.  At the same time, the 1980s continued the cultural demonization  of African American as criminals and drug dealers, and institutionalized this with mandatory sentencing laws that were passed that unfairly targeted African Americans and created the mass incarceration prison industrial complex.  As Melle Mel put it in his seminal rap single "White Lines": "A street kid gets arrested, gonna do some time/He got out three years from now just to commit more crime/ A businessman is caught with 24 kilos, he's out on bail, and out of jail and that's the way it goes."

Run-DMC paints a picture of decent, honest Africans Americans who celebrate Christmas with family and try to do what is right, in contrast to the rampant stereotypes of African Americans permeating the culture.  Run spots Santa on a bench, Santa drops his wallet, and then disappears. Run picks it up and finds it full of money -- nearly a million dollars!  But he immediately says, "But I'd never steal from Santa, cause that ain't right/ So I'm going home to mail it back to him that night." And his honesty is rewarded: "But when I got home I bugged, cause under the tree/ Was a letter from Santa and all the dough was for me!"

After exploding the trope of rapper as proud criminal, and instead making it about doing what is right, in the face of a broader culture that marginalized African Americans, the second half of the
You ever go over a friend's house to eat/ and the food just ain't no good?
song comes from DMC, and is just as proud.  Rather than presuming the Norman Rockwell painting of white people in ties eating the traditional dinner, DMC claims his own African American Christmas traditions:

"It's Christmas time in Hollis Queens/Mom's cooking chicken and collard greens
Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese/ And Santa put gifts under Christmas trees."

Thanks to Run-DMC (and the massive airplay the accompanying music video got on MTV at the time) Christmas, you're not so white anymore.  All I want for Christmas is for someone to be held accountable for Jam Master Jay's untimely and still unsolved murder from 2002.

"The Christians and The Pagans," Dar Williams (1996)

 It tells the story of a same-sex, non-Christian, Wiccan, pagan couple stopping by to see one of their uncle’s while in town celebrating solstice and celebrate Christmas with him and his family. Like all good Christmas songs, it sets the stage in the first lines: “Amber called her uncle, said we’re up here
Dar back at Wes. Couldn't play MoCon b/c they tore it down!
for the holidays; Jane and I are having solstice, now we need a place to stay.” Her uncle tries to talk them out of it: “I know our life is not your style,” he says, before she protests, “Christmas is like Solstice, we miss you, and it’s been a while.”  Like with Run-DMC, context is important here.  An unspoken tension in this song is whether the uncle's hesitation to have his niece come is because she's a pagan or because she's gay. This song came out in 1996, when same sex marriage seemed an impossibility, and to have a song about a same sex non-Christian couple sharing Christmas with their straight-laced, Christian relatives was a little more radical.  Crusty was active in ministry in 1996, he was a CPE chaplain doing a year-long residency who spent a lot of time with gay men dying from HIV-AIDS, often rejected and deserted by their families rather than welcomed to Christmas dinner.  COD preached at his first celebration of a same sex commitment ceremony in 1996, was warned by his sponsoring rector that if word got out it might damage my ordination process.  Crusty only brings up all of this so that we remember how much our contexts have changed.  Just like Run-DMC burst the bubble of #ChristmaSoWhite, Dar helps burst the bubble of #ChristmasSoStraight.

So they all get together, the Christians and the Pagans, and sit down to dinner.

I love this Christmas song not just because it has genuinely hilarious and touching moments, nor because I went to college with Dar Williams, the singer, and we're only two years apart; not because Dar was a religion major and by virtue of being a successgful recording artist is quite likely one of the most successful religion majors Wesleyan University has produced. Not for any of those reasons, as true as they all are. I love this song because I actually think it reflects some central aspects of what God is intending in the story of Jesus’ birth.  

In Luke's gospel, the night Jesus is born an angel appears to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks and tells them, “Do not be afraid; I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” The words that have always stood out for me in this are “all people.” Everyone. You could translate it poetically as “the entirety of humanity,” or “every single person.”

Sure, Christians believe God becoming human in Jesus Christ has particular significance for Christians.  But the angels didn’t say this was for all believers, didn’t say this was for all whom God chooses, the angels say it is good news for everybody. Everybody.  What does that mean?  Do we ever think about what there is in Christmas which transcends the doctrinal ways in which Christians claim and name it?

This is why Dar Williams’ song is one of my favorites: because like the angel, she tells us that Christmas is not only or solely something for Christians but it for all people in a sense. In another verse, her Christian cousin asks her, “Is it true that you’re a witch?” The reply, from her cousin's partner (there was no same sex marriage in 1996) is that, “"We love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share, / And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere." COD has no problem if people find magic everywhere.

Dar even includes an actual, real, tangible way in which people can stop wringing their hands about how the world isn't the way it should be at Christmas, and shows us how we can try to live into those things we claim to celebrate at Christmastime.  Dar later sings, "When Amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, Really, no, don't bother,/Amber's uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father. /He thought about his brother, how they hadn't spoken in a year, /He thought he'd call him up and say, It's Christmas, and your daughter's here."  Whether there's some kind of rift in the family, or perhaps just the busy-ness of life, this visit from these non-Christians prompts Amber's uncle to reach out to that brother he hasn't spoken to in a year.  So this song makes Christmas a little less straight, challenges Christians to live into what it means for Christmas to be good news to "all people," and shows us what we can actually do to try to mend the brokenness in our world.

She concludes by singing, “So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table, /Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able, /Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and /Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold.”  Though, given all that has happened in 2017, Crusty is less sanguine about Dar's claim that "Now when Christians sit with pagans only pumpkin pies are burning."

Well, friends, this is enough Christmas sermon avoidance for Crusty, time to get back to it, as much as I'd like to just read this blog as my Christmas sermon.  Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year's, all.