Wednesday, June 30, 2004

It's Mine!

Demi and I recently went to the beach. Well, at least that's what I thought we were going to do. In my California mind, this included packing a backpack with a good book, sunscreen and a blanket. "What's all that for?" Demi asked. It appears that on this coast, going to "the beach" meant to visit the beach, but not necessarily lying on the sand listening to the crashing waves.

The compromise was to put the backpack in the trunk, "just in case we needed it." We never did. We never touched the sand. Primarily this was because in order to access the surf, you had to stop at these booths and PAY A FEE to get to the beach. I found this absolutely outrageous. I refused to pay.

Maybe I'm just cheap. Or maybe I've been spoiled by growing up with miles of California coastline free to explore whenever I got the urge. Or maybe I'm outraged by the idea of personal property including the sand and the waves.

I've never quite understood the concept that someone could "own" something. Demi blames it on my Native American blood. Since I was never raised in that culture, I doubt that is the source of my confusion. Probably I scratch my head over some folks getting so excited over property rights due to my life experiences of traveling from owning no more than the clothes on my back to having a new house, new car in the driveway, etc. in an upscale neighborhood on the central coast of California. As I recall those memories, I find a clear correlation between the number of things I owned and my feelings of peace. The less I own, the less I have to fret about.

There has to be some compromise between the extremes, of course. If I don't provide for my creature comforts, each day can be consumed with trying to find food and shelter. As in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, some basic security needs have to be met if one is to ever move on to addressing self-actualization needs.

Beyond this is the issue of ownership being fueled by fear. This has been going on since we lived in caves. If you wanted something your neighbor had, and you had a bigger club, you just took it. The invention of the wheel and the domestication of the horse made these acts of pillaging more enticing, as now you could cart away the entire contents of the cave, instead of being limited to what you could carry in your arms. As "civilization" evolved, we find the emergence of walled cities to keep "them" out and "us" in, and standing armies whose life's mission was to protect our property (for a fee, of course). Are we doomed to live life in fear of marauders? Should our best energies be expended towards protecting what is "mine" and scheming on how to acquire what is "yours"?

In the Old Testament, we find the curious tradition of "the Year of Jubilee." Every seven years (in other places, every fifty years...a revision most likely pushed forward by property owners) all the land reverted back to its original owner. Debts were forgiven. Everyone got a fresh start. The concept of ownership, and the importance of commerce, was kept in its proper perspective; just a game to keep folks entertained.

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the early Christians held all property in common. Some of the earliest Church Fathers spoke harshly against the concept of private property:

From St. Ambrose (4th century):

How far will your mad lusts take you, ye rich people, till you dwell alone on the earth? Why do you at once turn nature out of doors, and claim the possession of her for your own selves? The land was made for all; why do you rich men claim it as your private property?

...Nature produced common property. Robbery made private property.

...It is not with your own wealth that you give alms to the poor, but with a fraction of their own which you give back; for you are usurping for yourself something meant for the common good of all. The earth is for everyone, not only for the rich.
From St. John Chrysostom (4th century):

It is not for lack of miracles that the church is stagnant; it is because we have forsaken the angelic life of Pentecost, and fallen back on private property. If we lived as they did, with all things common, we should soon convert the whole world without any need of miracles at all.

For 'mine' and 'thine' -- those chilly words which introduce innumerable wars into the world -- should be eliminated from that holy Church . . .The poor would not envy the rich because there would be no rich. Neither would the poor be despised by the rich, for there would be no poor. All things would be in common.
From St. Basil (4th century):

While we try to amass wealth, make piles of money, get hold of the land as our real property, overtop one another in riches, we have palpably cast off justice, and lost the common good. I should like to know how any man can be just, who is deliberately aiming to get out of someone else what he wants for himself.
Behind most of these quotes is the concept of good stewardship; all belongs to God; we are but stewards, caretakers, during our brief sojourn in this realm of material realities.

But I don't want to travel too far away from the practical benefits of avoiding grasping too tightly to that which I claim as "mine." Let me give one example of how such grasping can be harmful on a personal level. In 1994, when Ford came out with the new Mustang, I had to have one. I loved that car; it is by far the best machine I have ever owned. I washed and polished it every week. On my day off, I would drive for hours, just for the joy of its performance. It was an amazing car. I could take each curve at exactly twice the posted speed with no danger of it breaking loose or flipping over.

But, it was not practical for a family of six. After two years, I had to let it go. It was as if I was giving up a part of myself. Yes, I actually went through a grieving process. Isn't that bizarre? Devastated by losing a hunk of metal.

Just as bizarre as someone claiming they can own a patch of hot sand and the waves that crash upon it (actually, the Atlantic waves don't really crash, do they? They kind of just thud).

So, we didn't walk on the hot sand, or let the waters of the Atlantic cool our feet. If the price of such an activity is that I must pay for it, that I must claim some right of ownership of these natural resources, personally, I'd rather not.

This is a bit of a convoluted message. Maybe a final quote, the source of which I cannot recall, will be helpful. My life experience has taught me that in regard to "things" (which includes ideas, or, as some prefer "intellectual property"...now there's an even more absurd idea, but I digress...) the best approach is "to be open to everything, but attached to nothing."

Since some might find that quote a bit "new agey," I'll offer another one, this time from Thomas a Kempis;

Use things temporal, but desire things eternal.
And one final one, which Matthew attributes to Jesus;

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also...

...Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these...

...But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
J.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Dipper and Rocky; Jesus' Buds?

A little late in catching this, but it appears that a radical new translation of the bible has been released. The ONE translation includes a foreword by none other than Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Simon Sarmiento reports the release of this new translation caused a "blogriot." It appears the conservatives are not pleased. What's all the fuss about? Take a look at these examples;

Mark 1:4

Authorised version: "John did baptise in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins."

New: "John, nicknamed 'The Dipper', was 'The Voice'. He was in the desert, inviting people to be dipped, to show they were determined to change their ways and wanted to be forgiven."

Mark 1:10-11

Authorised version: "And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him. And there came a voice from the heaven saying, 'Thou are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' "

New: "As he was climbing up the bank again, the sun shone through a gap in the clouds. At the same time a pigeon flew down and perched on him. Jesus took this as a sign that God’s spirit was with him. A voice from overhead was heard saying, 'That’s my boy! You’re doing fine!' "

Matthew 23:25

Authorised version: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!"

New version: "Take a running jump, Holy Joes, humbugs!"

Matthew 26:69-70

Authorised version: "Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, 'Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.' But he denied before them all, saying, 'I know not what thou sayest.' "


New: "Meanwhile Rocky was still sitting in the courtyard. A woman came up to him and said: 'Haven’t I seen you with Jesus, the hero from Galilee?' Rocky shook his head and said: 'I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!' "
I am rarely in agreement with the conservatives, but as someone who does have an appreciation for good literature, this sure seems a bit over the top to me. Take a running jump Holy Joes? Surely we can do better than this?

J.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Transparency

Something has been peeking around the corners of my mind today. Not sure it's really defined enough to talk about, but I'm going to try anyway.

It has something to do with the tension between two different self definitions that unconsciously surface unless I stay aware. It's the perspective of being "a worm and no man" and being "higher than the angels." One is the result of false humility, the other of false pride.

Let me give a couple of examples; If Demi and I go to a movie that I picked out, and she enjoys the evening, I'm so proud of myself my buttons are ready to burst. It's as if I directed, starred in, and funded the entire film! On the other hand, if the dog makes a mess in the basement, and Demi discovers it, both the dog and I walk around with our tails tucked between our legs for hours; as if it was equally my fault.

Maybe a more benign example will work. Seeing a rainbow after a summer shower is a major event for me. I happen to really like rainbows. But, if I can share the sight with another, my joy is doubled. Once again, the temptation is to take full credit for that spectrum of color painted against the sky.

Where do these extremes come from? In most cases, I think the first self definition, of being a worm, needs to be dismissed. It suggests I have no role in any of the reality that unfolds around me. Of course I need to take responsibility for my actions, but a mistake is no reason to spiral into a self definition that most likely will do nothing more than justify future mistakes. If I think I'm a klutz, or a fool, or a bad man, that's what I'll be.

Sometimes it's as simple as changing your self definition. Growing up, I was often told that I was a bad boy, and, that's what I grew up to be; a major juvenile delinquent. The kind mothers told their children to stay away from. The species that only prowled at night when the rest of the world was asleep.

Eventually, I graduated from being a bad boy to being a bad man. It wasn't until I was sitting in jail at the age 18 that a simple truth hit me. A ray of sunlight was striking my arm from the window of the cold cell. I was thinking about how good it felt. I went on to reflect on the goodness of light; how essential it was for all life. Then it struck me; if I could identify goodness outside of myself, then there had to be some place within me, some reference point, that knew what it meant to be good. Maybe it was as simple as deciding to be a good man instead of a bad man? Maybe I could change my destiny by deciding to just start living life as a procession of moments in which I chose to simply do the next right thing? That was my last visit to jail as a resident. On future visits, I was a visitor, wearing a white dog collar. But that is another story, which I've already told.

Let me get back to the rainbow. What does a rainbow need to exist? Moisture, light, and an eye to see the colors. I do play a role; the role of observer. If I move towards the rainbow, it recedes; if I move back, it comes towards me. My eye, and my position, play an integral role in the rainbow's existence. I cannot take credit for it, as it is not my creation alone. But, I also need to recognize that I do have a rather critical role in this phenomenon.

What is my role as a priest? To claim it has nothing to do with me is to become much less than I think a priest should be. But to imagine that it is all about me is to deny those who come to me seeking something else, something more than any human can offer.

Maybe another example will help. When celebrating the Eucharist, I was trained to always keep my eyes on the elements or the missal. I was also trained to say the exact same words, and make the exact same gestures at every celebration. This I have done, for 15 years, as I think it is the proper ceremonial. My understanding is that the priest is a conduit of grace; not the source. Consequently, the more the priest can become transparent, to the point if possible of becoming invisible, the better. The focus is to be on the bread and wine, that become the body and blood of Christ. Any distraction, such as a changed word or a different gesture, is never appropriate. It is not about "me." As celebrant, I'm not sure if "me" even exists.

Without the training, I might not have learned how to be so transparent. So, to some degree, it is about me after all. Like the rainbow, it is a matter of the right person being present in the right place at the right time. But I am not blessing the elements. I am not causing the bread and wine to be transformed into the body and blood of Christ. I am not God; but a conduit of God's grace.

So it is in life. Ideally, we are servants, serving that which is greater than ourselves. We are not slaves, but willing friends, who choose to serve. And in such service, we are given the opportunity to be co-creators with God, joining in the redeeming work of constantly making all things new. And that is an important role; a role that a worm, or a demigod, can never play.

Yes, I get a kick out of being the one to raise my fingers to the sky to point out the new rainbow. But my fingers are nothing very awesome, while the rainbow most certainly is.

J.

A Curious Denial of the Facts

Thanks to Mata H. for pointing me to this article, Analyzing Fahrenheit 9/11. It gives cause to ask a few questions.

The most intriguing question for me at the moment is, why were 142 Saudis, including 24 members of the bin Laden family, allowed to leave the country after September 13, when much of American airspace was still closed? Specifically, why has this admnistration continued to deny that such flights occurred, even when it is documented that at least one such flight did occur on September 13? If accusations of unfounded conspiracy theories are to be made, it would be helpful if someone, anyone, would provide an alternative explanation, other than just a denial unsupported by the facts.

Imagine the content that might have been included by Moore if the film would have been able to incorporate the torture and abuse that has come to light, including the President's sanctioning of such tactics.

I found it curious that Moore included video footage of a helicopter crew attacking a truck, but he cut it off before we could see the killing of a wounded Iraqi. I know I linked to this footage before, but I can't find it at the moment. Chilling stuff. As is the other video of a Marine killing a wounded Iraqi as his buddies cheer him on. I'll have to hunt those up. Moore also did not include a reference to the massacre in Fallujah, although such evidence was easily available, and downplayed by the media. I suspect that is because he decided to be supportive of the troops, whom he views as additional victims of this war-crazed administration.

When you hear someone dismissing this documentary as a pack of lies, make sure you ask them if they've seen it. Then buy them a ticket. It appears the majority of the anti-Moore folks are simply parroting lines fed to them by the right's spin doctors.

J.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Good versus Truth

I want to take a moment to highlight one of the most articulate bloggers I have found; Elizabeth Gray Calhoun. Her most recent entry, Good versus Truth, is an absolute must-read. Here's just a taste;

...Truth? Or Good? During the course of the Anglican Sex Wars, I’ve heard over and over again that certain groups are “picking and choosing” this or that from the Bible. It categorizes me as liberal (or heretical, or deluded, or Satanic, depending on one’s Christian tribal affiliation) that I don’t see how you CAN’T pick and choose from the Bible. In fact, I thinking this process of picking and choosing is what we call “discernment.”

Jesus appears to condemn private property and families; yet Christians through the years have persisted in starting wars to protect both. Usury was condemned in the Old Testament as much as homosexuality was. Yet gays are vilified while many a wealthy Christian enjoys investment income to bankroll his/her affluent lifestyle. Catholic Bishops can debate withholding the Eucharist from American politicians who support abortion rights, but none have suggested the same treatment for politicians who supported the war in Iraq or gouge the poor. Finally, there’s the Calvinist invention of Predestination, as major a case of scriptural picking and choosing as ever you’ll find...
This excerpt really needs to be read in context to have the full impact. Go read the whole thing.

J.

F 911

Went to our favorite theater in the area tonight to see the Moore movie. 7:30, 8:30 and 10:30 were sold out.

Went to the crummy theater nearer home. Still had seats for the 10:15. We grabbed two.

Had to stand in line to get in. Place filled up fast. When it was over, everyone applauded. Yea, it's that good.

I'm not going to say much more. Go see it. Take your neighbors, your grandmother, your boss. Rent a van and scoop up anyone who looks old enough to vote.

Ok, I'll just say a couple of things.

I think Michael was too kind to W. He just scratched the surface.

I thought he would target some of the troops on the ground. Just the opposite. He supports them.

There's a couple of choices he made that revealed a sensitivity for his audience that surprised me. I expected more "in your face." The man has more class than I gave him credit for.

Go see it!

In other news, the Senate passed legislation setting fines for the use of indecent language at $275,000 per incident. Time to pay up, Mr. VP.

J.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Rites of Blessing in Vermont

Hugo recently posted about Bishop John Chane of Washington D.C. performing a same sex blessing. In the resulting comments, Jay offered a link to A Report to the Bishop and People of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont
from the Task Force on the Blessing of Persons Living in Same-Gender Relationships.

This is an excellent resource. It includes, among other things, the text of trial liturgies. This is the first time I've seen such texts available online.

What really got my attention was Part IV, Theological Considerations. This is by far the best theological summary of why some of us Episcopalians see no way that we can alter our position on this issue.

I want to offer a few excerpts from the document.

Concerning the interpretation of scripture;

The Rt. Rev. Maurice Benitez, retired Bishop of Texas, was quoted in a March 14, 2004, press release from the American Anglican Council as saying, “We want to emphasize that the heart of the matter is not sexuality or sexual orientation but rather the authority of Holy Scripture in the life of the Church.” Bishop Benitez is among those who believe that scripture is unequivocal in its condemnation of same-sex sexual
behavior and that therefore the Church should not ordain or bless anyone who engages in such behavior. This group argues that their approach to scripture is the only acceptable approach. We acknowledge that this approach falls within the broad embrace of Anglican tradition, but we believe it is far from the only way to read scripture...

...The Holy Scriptures are “the Word of God” and “contain all things necessary to salvation,” but they are not the literal words of God, nor are all things in scripture necessary to salvation. As the writers of the biblical texts were inspired by God through the Holy Spirit, so is the church community inspired in its continual process of interpretation.

The Holy Scriptures represent a variety of forms of expression, written over an extensive period of time by a variety of authors. Each reflects its own cultural and historical context.

Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word of God to whom the New Testament bears witness. For Christians, the revelation of God in Christ is the key to the Church’s understanding of the scriptures as a whole. Individual texts must not, therefore, be isolated and made to mean something at odds with the tenor or trajectory of the scriptures as a whole.

For the Church’s judgment of the morality of actions and dispositions to be authoritative, it is insufficient simply to condemn those things that are condemned somewhere in scripture, or to approve those things that are somewhere approved.

Faithful interpretation requires the Church to use the gifts of “memory, reason, and skill” to find the sense of the scriptural text and to locate it in its time and place. The Church must then seek the text’s present signifi cance in light of the whole economy of salvation.

Chief among the guiding principles by which the Church interprets the sacred texts is the congruence of its interpretation with Christ’s summary of the law (Matthew 22:37-40), the new commandment (John 13:34) and the creeds.

Because the Church’s members are human, their reading of scripture is contingent and fallible, even in matters of faith and morals. In reading its scriptures, the historical Church remains always a wayfaring community using discernment, conversation, and argument to find its way.
This seems to me to be a solidly Anglican approach to the interpretation of scripture. I think it is critical that we hold on to this view, as it will be an essential tool when called to address future issues of morality and ethics which scripture and tradition seem to not address, or are unclear.

Regarding the Incarnation;

Anglican theology, as it has developed from its earliest expression in the first Book of Common Prayer, is deeply rooted in an incarnational image of God as known to us in Jesus Christ and in a trinitarian understanding of God as profoundly relational. Our prayers and collects speak of a deep intimacy with God through Jesus Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

Key to this incarnational and relational theology is the belief that all humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that this gives humankind a potential for relationship with, participation in, or union with God. This claim, however, raises the question, for the writers of Genesis to those of the present day, of how to explain human
imperfection, human sin. Genesis relates the story of “the fall” of the human creatures. St. Augustine’s notion of “original sin” became a dominant theme, and subsequent explanations focused on the degree to which original sin affects the image of God in humankind.

The major theologians of the continental Reformation and their followers in England—represented today by the evangelical strand in Anglicanism—tended to see original sin as virtually obliterating the image of God in humans, making us sinners by nature and inheritance, as well as by our deeds...
The influence of Augustine regarding our understanding of original sin, instead of some of the other Church fathers, such as Irenaeus, and the theological problems that have resulted from this Augustinian influence, is the point I was attempting to make in a previous post.

...The trend flowing from Richard Hooker was to see original sin as an obstacle to full realization of the image of God rather than the cause of its disappearance. And beginning with Whichcote in the seventeenth century, there is a shift away from the notion of original sin as historical fact and as something inherited through procreation. He saw the fall as symbolic. For some contemporary theologians, the explanation does not lie in an original sin—historical or symbolic—that separates humanity from divinity, but in the nature of creation itself, a creation that is finite and, in the case of humans, fallible, capable in their freedom of sin...

...The strand of the tradition that emphasizes the predominance of original sin tends to see a radical separation between humanity and divinity, between creation and redemption, to see God as wholly other and transcendent. It tends, in other words, towards the sort of dualism that separates embodiment from spirituality and locates sexuality in an embodiment that is the bearer of original sin. This strand is inclined to focus on issues of sexual purity and is most concerned to confi ne the expression of sexuality to the marital relationship, one it understands to be ordained by God. Procreation is understood as the primary purpose of marriage between a man and a woman, and any expression of
sexuality outside the bond of marriage is considered sinful. This is the strand of Anglican theological tradition that has found a home in many non-western parts of the Anglican Communion.

We believe the trend in western Anglican theology—beginning with Hooker—is away from dualisms and toward a theology that balances, and holds in unifying tension, notions of God as transcendent and God as immanent in the Incarnation, notions of creation and redemption, notions of body and spirit. The tendency is to describe the presence of
the image of God in human beings less as a quality of being than as a way of being—in other words, in dynamic terms. F.D. Maurice, for example, saw it as the power of related love. For him, as well as many others, this capacity for loving relatedness is key to their theologies of humanity and divinity.

In this view, sexuality can be understood as gift, as one means of expressing profound connection between two human beings. If it is given, in the words of the marriage service, “for mutual joy,” and not simply to permit procreation, then, we must ask, why should its expression be denied to two persons of the same gender who love one another?
I realize this is a lengthy post, with way too many quotes. I have placed it here for personal reasons (I want quick access to it) and for the benefit of others (to refute the charge that those who support same gender unions have abandoned the bible and have no theological basis for this position). I encourage you to go take a look at the complete document.

J.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Loneliness

Some things I've been reading have caused be to reflect a bit about being lonely. I thought I'd offer just a few comments off the top of my head about this, with no intention of offering a sermon, or an academic paper...just some stuff bouncing around in my head.

I suspect that loneliness is a state of being that is much more prevalent than we might think. Few of us will admit to suffering from it, either to ourselves or others. It sounds weak, even pitiful. Yet, I think many decisions and actions, especially during our free time, are driven by our attempt to escape this dark place.

The feelings that we identify as loneliness don't only bubble to the surface when we are alone. We can feel lonely in a crowd. These feelings are very similar to the longing for that elusive "something more" that I have spoken of previously; the feeling that something is wrong with us, and if we can just discover that something "out there," and get it "in here," we'll be fixed. Often, this longing is quite natural to us all, and can even be a positive motivation for personal growth. It does have a shadow side however, which would include addictive and compulsive behaviors.

We sometimes call this "longing for something more" by the term loneliness because that is the situation, or the symptom, by which such feelings are either triggered or identified. We notice the feeling of emptiness when alone, or when feeling somehow isolated from others by some invisible shield. If denied, and not met with some kind of counter action, such feelings can continue to allow us to fall even deeper into the dark pit of self-loathing and depression.

Let's talk about what we can do when we seem overwhelmed by loneliness. Let's begin with the situation of actually being alone, due to job or family situations beyond our control. Maybe another time I'll talk about loneliness in a crowd.

During my elementary school years, I spent 5 years confined to my bedroom. I did go to school each day, so the isolation was not complete. But, the long hours alone taught me a few things, which I have found helpful over the years.

1. Make friends with yourself. This means you have to accept yourself just as you are, and even begin to like yourself. Sometimes this means forgiving yourself for the things you have done wrong in the past. My experience is that replaying the past for too long when alone is usually deadly. This might also mean that you have to recognize that the negative messages you get from those around you about who you are, and your value as a person, are most likely wrong, or at least incomplete.

To entertain yourself, or as the cliche goes, to "be comfortable in your own skin," you have to accept yourself, warts and beauty marks together. Until you learn to be comfortable with yourself, you'll continue to be self-absorbed, and find it difficult to connect with others. Being comfortable in your own skin will allow you to get out of yourself; to engage with others, which is the obvious, and most healthy, cure for loneliness.

2. Use your imagination. Before being confined, I loved television, especially movies. I loved stories. After the isolation, at night in bed, I used to strain to hear the TV in the next room. Eventually, I gave up on that, and started playing out my own stories in my head until I fell asleep. The next night I'd pick up the story where I left off. I sailed the seven seas, discovered magical islands, won many battles, traveled into outer space, fought off monsters, saved more than a few damsels, built a few inventions, flew from treetop to treetop, and, of course, was elected President and saved the world.

When my own imagination seemed difficult to access, I fed off the imaginations of others. I discovered books; specifically novels, although the volumes of the encyclopedia I smuggled home from school were quite helpful as well. To this day, my primary self-description is that I am a reader. That's what I do. Can this become simply escapism? Yes, it can. Anything in excess can be harmful. But it can also stretch us and inform us as we begin to manifest some pieces of those imaginary worlds into concrete realities.

Writing things out is another good expression of the imagination. Keep a diary, or a journal. Don't worry about style or content. Just dump it all out. Be disciplined. Do it every day.

One note of caution regarding the imagination; I have found that reliving scenes from my past, and changing the script, is usually not a healthy use of my imagination. The "what if" game seems to feed the darkness.

3. Talk to God. That might sound terribly corny to those who are not spiritually inclined, but I don't want to dress this point up with fancy theological terms, or even cloak it in the more respectable attire of "prayer." I can't recall a time in my life when I wasn't aware of the existence of something, or someone, beyond myself. Maybe this is delusional, like having an invisible playmate. I really don't care. This belief has served me well, and has helped me get out of myself many times, so I think I'll hold on to it.

As a child, during times when it felt like I was disconnected to everyone and everything else, I'd talk to God. No, I didn't kneel and fold my hands. I didn't use KIng James language. I just talked. And back then, God used to talk back to me. This was before I became "sophisticated" enough to know that I wasn't supposed to admit that God talked to me, unless I wanted to end up in a straight jacket and injected with Thorazine. My memories are of lots of laughter, and gentle words that seemed to caress me and hold me close until I knew that everything was going to be alright.

Anyway, it has worked for me over the years. Keep in mind that you have to put empty places in the conversation, and sometimes wait a bit for your own stuff to quiet down before you can hear God's part of the conversation. And don't always expect words. Often, it seems more like a communication through feelings; "spirit crying out to spirit" kind of thing. And don't get hung up on "the right way" to do it. Just do it. If an eight year old boy, who hadn't been to church for many years, could do it, I imagine just about anyone can.

4. Care for a pet. I can't emphasize this enough. I happen to prefer dogs, but I've had cats, birds, hamsters, fish, and even a culture of protozoa! Besides the comfort of having another living being around, a pet demands that you get out of yourself. They have to be cared for. They have to be loved. Beyond that, pets can teach us beings with oversized brains a few things. An animal is not consumed with regretting the past and fretting about the future. Pets reminds us to live in this present moment. Which is a critical thing to remember; the only thing that is real is that which is contained in this present moment. And usually, in this moment, even when alone, all is well.

This is getting long, so I'd better move on. I need to mention a couple of further cautionary notes;

If possible, force yourself to engage in social events. Join a club (or even a church!), or a support group, take a class, or just get together with friends. Being alone for too long can cause us to become more and more passive in our response to life. Sometimes we have to make ourselves be pro-active. There is nothing wrong with being inclined towards being an introvert. But complete isolation is unhealthy for most of us.

For some, feelings of loneliness can be a symptom of severe depression. This is a condition that can't be dismissed lightly. Those who do not suffer from it cannot understand it. They will compare it to their own periodic blue funks. Depression can be the result of a chemical imbalance; a malfunction of the neurotransmitters, and can be relieved with the proper professional help, which may include medication. If loneliness is a condition that seems to be becoming life controlling for you, seek professional help.

You also may want to get a check up from your regular doctor. In The Spiral Staircase, Karen Armstrong tells about suffering for many years from deep depression and feelings of alienation from others, which later in her life was finally diagnosed as a medical condition (I won't tell you which one, so as to not spoil the story for those inclined to read this excellent book).

Ok, enough rambling on this topic for now. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this. Keep in mind that the comments feature has no length limitations. Get creative. Ramble away!

J.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Sin of Capitalism

Exodus 22: 24-25, "If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him."

Deuteronomy 15:1-11 orders the cancellation of all debts at the end of every seventh year.

James 5:1, "Next a word to you who are rich. Weep and wail over the miserable fate overtaking you: your riches ... will be evidence against you and consume your flesh like fire. ... You have lived on the land in wanton luxury, gorging yourselves — and on the day appointed for your slaughter."

Matthew 19: 21-24: "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. ... Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

The first century Didache said, "Do not claim that anything is your own."

Clement of Alexandria said, "All possessions are by nature unrighteous; when one possesses them for personal advantage and does not bring them into the common stock for those in need."

Basil the Great said "That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat in your closet, to the naked."

St. Augustine said, "Business is in itself an evil."

Jerome said, "A man who is a merchant can seldom if ever please God."

St. John Chrysostom said, "How did you become rich? Can you show the acquisition just? It cannot be. The root and origin of it must have been injustice."

From The Sin of Usury; A question for Catholics: Why is a bank purer than a brothel;

...By far the greatest moral evil of our time is what the Bible calls the sin of usury. It is the very basis of the capitalist system. It has made debt slaves of not only the entire Third World, but also most of the First World, where consumers eagerly seek to encumber themselves with debt through credit cards and mortgages. At one time the church called usury "the queen of sins" and refused the sacrament to its practitioners. Though it has never officially abandoned this moral position, very few Christians outside of the Catholic Worker movement have any idea that such a teaching even exists. Catholic Worker groups have always called upon the church to reaffirm its prohibition of loaning money at interest. We recognize that this puts us on the fringe of a society whose very dynamic is fueled by usury, and opens us up to ridicule. But we realize that until relatively recently, the teachings on usury were at the core. In fact, much of the strident language now reserved for feminists and homosexuals was once directed toward those who lent money at interest. A usurer was barred from the church, and usury was denounced not only because it was, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "unnatural," but also because it was prohibited by both the Old and the New Testaments.
It seems to me that both scripture and tradition teach that capitalism is sinful. Why don't we hear more Christians outraged about this?

10,000 people a day die of hunger or hunger related illnesses; primarily as a result of the sin of capitalism. Yet, Christians prefer to selectively view scripture, and make who is sleeping with whom the line in the sand.

I see no consistency in this. Those who insist that personal morality issues are more important than our corporate morality are picking and choosing their issues, consequently I question if they can be advocating for the will of God.

J.

Commission Invites Submissions

The Lambeth Commission, charged with making a report in September regarding the current tensions within the Anglican Communion, is inviting submissions of evidence;

...Submissions of evidence may be forwarded unsolicited for the consideration of the Commission, provided that the following criteria are met:

Submissions must relate strictly to the terms of reference of the Commission (key questions are set out below), and be sent in electronic format to the email address of the Commission’s Secretary set out below.
Submissions should be in word processed format, and no longer than one side of an A4 sheet of paper or the equivalent.
The Commission may decide to request clarification or development as it feels appropriate. All submissions may be published on the Commission web site at the direction of the Commission’s Chair, Archbishop Robin Eames.

The Commission should be grateful if members of the Anglican Communion, and our ecumenical partners, will hold the Commission’s work in their prayers, together with the life of the Anglican Communion.

Information on the Commission and its ongoing work may be found on the web site: (www.anglicancommunion.org/ecumenical/commissions/primates/index.cfm), or by contacting the Secretary to the Commission, the Revd Canon Gregory Cameron, on commission.secretary@anglicancommunion.org.

Media enquiries should be addressed to the Press Officer of the Archbishop of Armagh:

The Revd Brian Parker
Tel: +44 (0) 28 90 232909
Mobile: +44 (0) 7775 927807
Email: press@ireland.anglican.org

The Commission’s Key Questions:

Taking into account work on issues of communion carried out by Lambeth Conferences 1988 and 1998, and the views of the Primates Meetings since 2000:

1. What are (a) the legal and (b) the theological implications flowing from ECUSA decision to appoint a priest in a committed same sex relationship as one of its bishops? (See LC 1998 Res. I.10)

2. What are (a) the legal and (b) the theological implications of the decision of the diocese of New Westminster to authorise services for use in connection with same sex unions?

3. What are the canonical understandings of (a) communion, (b) impaired communion and (c) broken communion? (What is autonomy and how is it related to communion?)

4. How (do and) may provinces relate to one another in situations where the ecclesiastical authorities of one province feel unable to maintain the fullness of communion with another part of the Anglican Communion?

5. What practical solutions might there be to maintain the highest degree of communion that may be possible, in the circumstances resulting from these two decisions, within the individual churches involved? (eg [alternative] episcopal oversight when full communion is threatened)

6. What practical solutions might there be to maintain the highest degree of communion that may be possible, in the circumstances resulting from these two decisions, as between the churches of the Anglican Communion? (eg [alternative] episcopal oversight when full communion is threatened)

7. Under (a) what circumstances, (b) what conditions, and (c) by what means, might it be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise an extraordinary ministry of pastoral oversight, support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs of a province to maintain communion between Canterbury and that province? (see LC 1998, Res. IV.13)

8. Under (a) what circumstances, (b) what conditions, and (c) by what means, might it be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise an extraordinary ministry of pastoral oversight, support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs of a province to maintain communion between that province and the rest of the Anglican Communion? (see LC Res. IV.13)
In the few months I've been aware of the blogosphere, I've had the privilege of stumbling across numerous excellent Anglican writers. I encourage you to offer a submission to the Lambeth Commission.

J.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Certainties and Sympathies

I've been browsing through Credo, a collection of some of the inspiring words of William Sloane Coffin. I came across this quote tonight. I'm not going to offer any comment on it, as I think it speaks quite well for itself;

There are those who prefer certainty to truth, those in church who put the purity of dogma ahead of the integrity of love. And what distortion of the gospel it is to have limited sympathies and unlimited certainties, when the reverse - to have limited certainties and unlimited sympathies - is not only more tolerant but far more Christian.
J.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Thinking of Fathers

I was going to post today's sermon, but I'm currently of the mind that this isn't always the best place for my sermons. Rarely is a sermon generic; it is developed for a specific congregation during a particular time in their common life together.

Instead, I thought I'd just offer a glimpse of some of the places my mind has been going today; a day set aside to honor the role of fathers in our society and in our immediate families.

Unfortunately, the first memory that comes to mind is not exactly pleasant. It is of a hot California day. The summer after my eleventh birthday, my father and I made the long drive from the San Joaquin Valley to my grandparents house on the Central Coast. He was dropping me off "for the summer." We both knew better. From the balcony on the second floor I watched him turn around and pull out into the street. Soon the only trace of him was a small cloud of dust hovering over the empty driveway.

Many years passed before I saw him again.

Juxtaposed against this memory are others;

As time flew by, I found myself surrounded by children of my own. I was present for each of their births. When my youngest was born, the nurses handed me my newborn son. I moved to a corner where the light wasn't quite so bright, and began to softly whisper to this tiny miracle in my arms. He stirred, as if recognizing the sound of my voice. He struggled a bit, and finally opened both eyes to gaze into mine. This was a moment that will always be etched on my heart. The first conscious act of this child was to force open his eyes to gaze upon his father.

My children are all grown now, and have formed lives of their own. We are separated by a continent, but each of them called today, and we spoke of their struggles and their dreams. I've made many mistakes through the years as a father, but I am fairly confident that all four know the depth of my love for each of them. They continue to bless me with their love. In the end, that's the important part, I think.

Six years ago, my father reappeared in my life. I was sinking fast, and had burnt most of my bridges. He was there for me, sometimes daily, almost always weekly. He walked me through one of the most difficult times of my life. We continue to talk things over a few times each month. New memories are being created, memories that cannot erase the old ones, but do take away some of their sting.

It is never too late to seek to redeem a relationship. Such redemption is the only path I know to healing the wounds that can so easily be passed on from generation to generation.

You, who are on the road,
Must have a code that you can live by.
And so, become yourself,
Because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams,
The one they picks, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by.
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams,
The one they picks, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.......

- CSN&Y
J.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Human Progress

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, is considered one of the primary apologists against gnosticism near the end of the second century. The following is from Against Heresies;

Here, some may raise an objection. "Could not God have made humanity perfect from the beginning?" Yet one must know that all things are possible for God, who is always the same and uncreated. But created things, and all who have their beginning of being in the course of time are necessarily inferior to the one who created them. Things which have recently come into being cannot be eternal; and, not being eternal, they fall short of perfection for that very reason. And being newly created they are therefore childish and immature, and not yet fully prepared for an adult life. And so, just as the mother is able to offer food to an infant, but the infant is not yet able to receive food unsuited to its age. In the same way, God, for his part, could have offered perfection to humanity at the beginning, but humanity was not capable of receiving it, being nothing more than an infant.
...not being eternal, they fall short of perfection...How do we define eternity? One way might be to say it is that which has no beginning and no end; no past and no future. In some ways, "eternal" is similar to anamnesis, the concept that in the Eucharist, we are not simply holding a memorial of some past event, but are bringing the past into the present. Eternity might be said to be containing all time within the present moment.

Humans, being limited, finite creatures, have a need to separate reality into categories of past, present and future. We could not contain full revelation of all knowledge all at once; we would blow a fuse. Knowledge is parceled out to us. We are bombarded with so much stimuli every moment. To keep from overloading, we only respond to a small part of this input. That which we identify as previous knowledge we set aside in order to be receptive to new information. Both past experience and present insight help us to anticipate future revelations. And so growth occurs; we progress from being created in the image of God towards being in the likeness of God; towards, to a limited degree, perfection, as the knowledge derived from revelation gives us a glimpse of the eternal; that in which all times are contained.

The implications of this are rather astounding. The Augustinian explanation of the fall, original sin and the existence of evil simply does not fit into this view. Humanity was not created perfect, and then fell. The only way that might be the case is if you consider that at the moment of creation, a human is perfect, within that moment. But as time begins passing, and the human is bombarded with input, and cannot keep up with this steady stream of new revelations, the human becomes less than perfect.

Irenaeus seems to be suggesting that it was God's plan all along to allow us to grow into an awareness of morality through experience (Irenaeus refers to this as "soul-making). Instead of denying that God created evil, as Augustine does, Irenaeus suggests that evil was necessary to allow us to differentiate between what is good, and what is evil.

As Irenaeus writes in another chapter;

Now it was necessary that man should in the first instance be created; and having been created, should receive growth; and having received growth, should be strengthened; and having been strengthened, should abound; and having abounded, should recover; and having recovered, should be glorified; and being glorified, should see his Lord.
If we understand human nature to be marked by original sin, and progression towards perfection is not possible, that is exactly how the history of humanity will play out. Even if we suggest that through baptism original sin is washed away ( a horrid teaching, don't you think? From this came the idea that unbaptized babies went to hell), once the idea is planted in our minds that we are born with a fatal flaw, our will to push on towards the glory of God is greatly diminished.

If we see ourselves as growing into the full stature of Christ (or as Irenaeus would say, "from image into likeness"), not just individually, but as a species, maybe we could break this cycle of repeating the same evils and creating the same manifestations of suffering over and over and over again.

Shall we continue to perceive the revelation of God to be primarily about the depravity of humanity, or shall we choose to see our relationship with God to be a constant movement towards glory?

J

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Network a Divisive Organization

From a letter by the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley Jr. to the clergy in the Diocese of Alabama (Bishop Parsley voted "no" on the consent of Bishop Robinson. He is a conservative bishop in a conservative diocese), dated May 5, 2004;

In my judgment the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes is a divisive organization outside the canonical structures of the Episcopal Church, the charter of which is undermining the good order and mission of this church. There are several reasons for this judgment, as follows:

* The Network charter states that it will "operate within the Constitution of the Episcopal Church," a statement that conspicuously omits reference to the Canons. The Canons enable the Constitution and are essential for the good order of the church. Its charter also seeks to appeal directly to the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and of other Anglican provinces, rather than the Episcopal Church. This is not in keeping with historic Anglican polity.

* The Network charter further states that the congregations within it "shall come under the spiritual authority of a bishop approved by the Steering Committee [of the Network]." This is a violation of the Constitution and Canons of our church, as well as the repeated resolutions of the Lambeth Conference supporting the geographical boundaries of dioceses, each under one bishop, in the Anglican Communion.

* The theological statement of the Network, "Confession and Calling of the Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes," is of a confessional nature foreign to Anglican tradition and beyond the scope of the Book of Common Prayer and its adherence to the historic Creeds and doctrine of the Church.

* Its Charter states that "all assets, of every kind and nature, held by the Network are and shall be dedicated and inured to the benefit" of the Network. This has the effect of diverting funds from the Episcopal Church and could potentially be interpreted to alienate property, contrary to the Canons of this church.

* A letter written by the Rev. Geoff Chapman of Sewickley, PA about the emerging strategy of the Network reveals its plans to undermine and attempt to supplant the Episcopal Church with "a 'replacement' jurisdiction with confessional standards." This letter has not been officially disclaimed by the Network leadership, even though there has been adequate opportunity for them to do so. Many of the essential points of Chapman's letter are reflected in the charter. I have no choice but to believe that it accurately describes the Network's intentions.

* The Network consistently exhibits a disturbing pattern of secrecy that is in conflict with the great tradition of our church, which is committed to face to face, prayerful discussion of the tough issues of Christian faith and life...

...I wish to be clear that I do not welcome or support the work of this Network in the Diocese of Alabama. Neither this diocese nor I have presented any cause for such affiliation by our votes at the General Convention or by the policies and practices of this diocese on matters of human sexuality being debated in this church. We have striven to be faithful to the counsel of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the established teaching of the church in these matters, and to respect the dignity of all...

...Furthermore as provided in the Canons, I give Pastoral Direction to the rectors of the parishes of the Diocese of Alabama that they are neither to join the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes in their capacity as rector, nor as rector to sign a parish application to affiliate with the Network, and, if they have done so, to remove their signatures thereto. I also direct any priest who may have an inclination to join the Network to speak to me before making any decision or taking any action to do so. Finally, as the Bishop of Alabama I cannot support the decision of any vestry to affiliate with the Network...
Here's another pastoral letter from the Rt. Rev. Don E. Johnson, Bishop of West Tennessee (another conservative bishop who voted against the consent of Bishop Robinson) dated January 15, 2004;

Loyal opposition and honest dissent to such actions are legitimate and should be honored by all. I have been careful to do so. However, deceitfulness and subversive sabotage justified in the name of serving Christ cannot be overlooked. To this point, I direct your attention to an article in the January 14, 2004 issue of The Commercial Appeal outlining publicly the American Anglican Council's "confidential" game plan for the destruction of The Episcopal Church U.S.A. by becoming a "replacement" jurisdiction, even if it means "disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis" as deemed "necessary." At this time I have in my possession the full text of the "confidential" letter cited in the article. In as much as what has been done in darkness has now been brought into the light, I urge you to read for yourself this document that lays out the American Anglican Council's plan of destruction.

I do not endorse, nor will I have this diocese in any way associated with this effort, and I will use all the power of my office to see to it that our clergy and congregations will not be in any formal membership arrangement with this or any other such group seeking to destroy the Episcopal Church. To this end, I am taking the following initial steps:

First, I am posting in its entirety on our diocesan web page (www.episwtn.org) the letter from the American Anglican Council's representative, the Rev. Geoffrey W. Chapman, who writes "on behalf of the American Anglican Council and their Bishop's Committee on Adequate Episcopal Oversight." It is their response letter to Episcopal congregations across the country who have requested what they describe as "Adequate Episcopal Oversight." Specifically, this letter refers to oversight by a bishop who has bought into the American Anglican Council's plan to sabotage The Episcopal Church. This secret plan is very different from AAC's public statements to the effect that it would work within The Episcopal Church under its Constitution and Canons to bring about change in Church policies.

Second, I have called a special meeting of the Standing Committee. I am asking for its advice and counsel concerning what next steps need to be taken by my office regarding our clergy and congregations formally affiliated with the American Anglican Council and, implicitly, with its agenda.

Third, while it may be obvious from the tone of this letter, I want to go on record in saying that I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the American Anglican Council. Further, I do not endorse, support or condone their plan to methodically create anarchy in the Church.

Fourth, until the American Anglican Council made explicit what many already thought was their real agenda, I have spoken with respect for the bishops, members of the clergy and lay persons who have found in this organization a place to express their honorable dissent and loyal opposition. It is to you that I address the following:

It is my firm belief that most of you who have associated with the American Anglican Council did so for honorable reasons with no idea that their avowed actual goal is to destroy The Episcopal Church as it currently exists. However, according to their own documents, they seem to advocate whatever means necessary to "innovatively move around, beyond or within the canons" to do so. I know that not everyone associated with the American Anglican Council is of one mind. However, these revelations that have just come to light may help clarify your thinking about their agenda. As such, I hope that you will see this as an opportunity for you and your congregation to rethink and officially disassociate with this organization.
This week, the Lambeth Commission is meeting with representatives of this para-church organization (AAC, Network, IRD...many names, same faces, same game plan). Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and a deputation chosen by him, will also meet with the Commission. Other groups requesting time with the Commission have been turned down or ignored. Rather strange for the Lambeth Commission, who claims to be speaking "with all parties." By granting this selective audience, the Commission intensifies the erroneous perspective that the current tensions are between the AAC and the leadership of the Episcopal Church.

The AAC (or Network, or IRD...wish they'd make up their mind) does not, and has never, represented the conservative segment of the Episcopal Church. Seven of the Episcopal Church's 113 dioceses have voted to join the Network, with two other dioceses expected to vote on affiliating this year. Fewer than 70 of the 6,800 congregations in non-affiliated dioceses have joined. It is a small but loud group of extremists, driven by the desire to punish and destroy.

J.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"In Communion"

Edgar recently made this comment;

...More and more I struggle with what this whole notion of being "in communion" means. I don't think real communion comes from Bishops or Primates or from being in agreement. I think it comes from Jesus who said I draw ALL to myself. If he refuses to draw lines or exclude any, why should we? If they decide to throw ECUSA out, then so be it...
I'm at the point where I'm afraid I have to agree with him.

His comment did cause me to think a bit about my understanding of the phrase "in communion." In my own life, it seems the degree in which I am "in communion" with God will determine the degree that I am "in communion" with my neighbor. It is through sustaining a relationship with the living God that I am able to nurture a grace-filled relationship with my neighbor.

Tonight I came across the sermon offered on June 4 by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Frank Griswold, at installation of the 12th Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Andrew S. Hutchison. A portion of it may be helpful in gaining a fuller understanding of what it means to be "in communion";

...We speak a great deal these days about communion. Are we in communion or out of communion? Is our communion real but imperfect, or is it impaired? We speak of communion as if it were a human construction, as if it were something we have the power to bestow or withhold. In so doing we overlook the fact that communion is an expression of God's love: the love with which the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father in what St. Paul calls the "communion of the Holy Spirit." And, it is this communion of the Holy Spirit into which we are drawn through baptism, which unfolds within us the mystery of God's fathomless and all-embracing love. The joy of which Jesus speaks in the gospel is the deep knowing that he is rooted and grounded in--and indeed draws his identity from--the Father's love. And, it is this deep joy--Jesus' own joy--which the Spirit of truth works into us over time as we come "to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ."

We frequently begin or conclude our worship with the familiar words of St. Paul: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship--the communion--of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen." And yet, how often do we really reflect upon what we are saying? Grace, love and communion are all dimensions of one reality: God's own life and God's desire to share the love between the Father and the Son with us in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is this being drawn together in the life of God, poured into our hearts as love by the Holy Spirit, which constitutes our true unity: our communion with one another. Looked at in this way we see how limited our notions of communion are in contrast to what the Holy Spirit intends.

And, communion implies difference. There would be no communion between the Father and the Son if there were no distinction between them. There would be no risen body of Christ if we were all a hand or a foot. Communion requires differentiation in order that love can go forth from itself and find another to love. Communion requires that there be singularities that set us apart from one another: that there be various ways in which we seek to inhabit and live the gospel, as well as different contexts in which we seek to discern the authentic workings of the Spirit--who is weaving the love of God into the fabric of our lives and spinning the webs of relationship of which our lives are made.

When it comes to our life within the body of Christ, each one of us has our particular experience, our personal history, a culture that has shaped us, a way in which Christ has encountered us, and faith has been born in us. We have each had our struggles, our successes and failures. We have had to live, in the fullness of our humanity, with all its paradoxes and contradictions, what we might call the scripture of our lives. And, through it all, the Spirit is deeply at work--shaping and forming Christ in us--and conforming us to the image of God's son, loving us into a fullness of being that reveals Christ in us, "the hope of glory."

That same Spirit is at work in others as well "according to the measure of Christ's gift." I may be a hand and you may be a foot. I may wonder at your otherness and strangeness and you may wonder at mine, and yet, we are both part of the same body--knit together in love and without which the body is incomplete. Together we form the full Christ: the Christ who speaks Ojibway and Inuktituk, Nisgaa and French, Swampy Cree, Moose Cree and Oji Cree, Naskapi and English, the Christ who seeks us in the plain exposition of the gospel and in elaborately celebrated sacramental rites, the Christ who lives in a refugee camp, and the Christ who dwells in a Toronto suburb, the Christ present on the right and the Christ present on the left. Only together can we form the full Christ.

I return to Thomas Merton: "If I allow Christ to use my heart in order to love my brothers and sisters with it, I will soon find that Christ, loving in me and through me, has brought to light Christ in my brothers and sisters. And, I will find that the love of Christ in my brothers and sisters, loving me in return, has drawn forth the image and the reality of Christ in my own soul."

Such is the true nature and cost of communion, a cost Christ bore upon the cross in order to draw all people and all things to himself...
...We speak of communion as if it were a human construction, as if it were something we have the power to bestow or withhold. In so doing we overlook the fact that communion is an expression of God's love... I think the Presiding Bishop has nailed the reason why I feel quite uncomfortable with phrases like in/out, full/impaired with respect to communion. As usual, humans must dissect everything.

So, there's some of Edgar's thoughts, some of mine, and some of Bishop Griswold's. I think this reflection is far from over. What does it mean to you to be "in communion"?

I have to add Edgar's "little poem,"

They drew a circle that left me out:
Heretic, rebel, a thing to tout.
But Love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took them in.
J.

Faithful America

In a recent comment Shan left a link to an excellent site;

FaithfulAmerica.org

From the site;

FaithfulAmerica.org is an online community of people of faith who want to build a more just and compassionate nation.

It provides one-click opportunities to impact current political issues and shift the terms of public debate.

It aspires to be an online wing of a powerful, new progressive faith movement, like the ones that fought for independence, abolition and civil rights.

FaithfulAmerica.org is a project of the National Council of Churches with support from TrueMajority and Res Publica.

William Sloane Coffin is its Honorary Chairperson.

What FaithfulAmerica.org Stands For
FaithfulAmerica.org believes in the common good and in community – local, national and global. We reject a go-it-alone culture that reduces our politics and our personal lives to selfishness and fear. We accept the separation of church and state, but not the separation of moral principles from politics.

Drawing on our country’s founding values and the profound social justice message at the heart of every major religion, we stand for:

* Respecting the dignity and equality of all people as part of a single human family;

* Working to end human suffering in all forms and in all places;

* Promoting unity, inclusion and peace among all people and all faiths;

* Acting as stewards of God’s creation;

* Practicing and promoting respectful, sincere political & religious debate that looks for truth on all sides and seeks only the common good;

* Striving in our own lives, as a community and as a nation to live up to the values we proclaim and being honest with ourselves when we do not.
Go take a look around. Make sure you watch the ad clip.

J.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Commission's Comments to the ACC

Last October, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, announced the appointment of the Lambeth Commission on Communion.

The mandate of the Commission is as follows;

The Archbishop of Canterbury requests the Commission:

1. To examine and report to him by 30th September 2004, in preparation for the ensuing meetings of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, on the legal and theological implications flowing from the decisions of the Episcopal Church (USA) to appoint a priest in a committed same sex relationship as one of its bishops, and of the Diocese of New Westminster to authorise services for use in connection with same sex unions, and specifically on the canonical understandings of communion, impaired and broken communion, and the ways in which provinces of the Anglican Communion may relate to one another in situations where the ecclesiastical authorities of one province feel unable to maintain the fullness of communion with another part of the Anglican Communion.

2. Within their report, to include practical recommendations (including reflection on emerging patterns of provision for episcopal oversight for those Anglicans within a particular jurisdiction, where full communion within a province is under threat) for maintaining the highest degree of communion that may be possible in the circumstances resulting from these decisions, both within and between the churches of the Anglican Communion.

3. Thereafter, as soon as practicable, and with particular reference to the issues raised in Section IV of the Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998, to make recommendations to the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, as to the exceptional circumstances and conditions under which, and the means by which, it would be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise an extraordinary ministry of episcope (pastoral oversight), support and reconciliation with regard to the internal affairs of a province other than his own for the sake of maintaining communion with the said province and between the said province and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

4. In its deliberations, to take due account of the work already undertaken on issues of communion by the Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998, as well as the views expressed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in the communiqu├ęs and pastoral letters arising from their meetings since 2000.
Here are a few excerpts from the recent address to the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada by the Secretary to the Lambeth Commission on Communion, the Revd Canon Gregory Cameron, given as the ACC prepared to vote on approving the blessing of same-sex unions:

Within our own Communion, the leaders of twenty-two of the thirty-eight provinces of the Anglican Communion, representing about forty-four million Anglicans, have pronounced that they reject the moves in New Hampshire and in New Westminster as incompatible with the Gospel and with the Christian fellowship of which they are part. They have said that these developments tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level, and a state of broken Communion now exists between ECUSA and some twelve to eighteen provinces of the Communion...
The number 22 is being batted around, but I have no idea where it comes from. Simon Sarmiento identifies 18, but I think he is being generous. I see no more than 15 out of 38. The claim that they represent 44 million Anglicans cannot be understood to mean they speak for 44 million. This group has a history of making misleading statements regarding the actual number of Anglicans who support their stance. All we know for certain is that 15 Primates reject the actions of New Hampshire and New Westminster.

...I really would that this was not so, but I cannot pretend that this is not the reality across the Anglican and ecumenical world at the moment. All of this has become a distraction from the wider mission and ministry of the Church, and innumerable bishops speak of how they are frustrated by the seeming inability of the Church to move beyond this topic...
It does seem as if we are being held hostage by these issues for much too long. As has been said before, we have better things to do.

...The Lambeth Commission, for its part, is painfully, carefully listening to all who will talk to it to discover whether there is a way to hold this great family of ours together - and it has been given a mere twelve months by the primates in which all provinces have been urged not to take precipitate action in order to allow space for the Communion to find a way to heal itself...
With the irregular confirmations in Ohio and the threat of forming a separate Church, it appears the AAC figures this urging "not to take precipitate action" does not apply to them. The big mistake, in my opinion, was in the Lambeth Commission agreeing to even sit down and talk with the AAC, as this legitimized this orgainization that has no official status within the Episcopal Church.

...This week, the eyes of all those other provinces will turn to you, to watch how you decide. It is your decision, and you must bring your collective wisdom to bear upon it, but I'm afraid to say that the context of this decision is so fraught at the moment that the fear must be that no matter what the careful wording of your resolutions this week, the Anglican Church of Canada will be seen to be debating, as I think your Acting Primate recognised last night, the place of gay and lesbian lifestyles in your Church. Fairly or unfairly, the Anglican and ecumenical worlds are likely to react to your decisions on whether they perceive you to support or to reject the possibility of public rites of blessings of same sex unions as elements of your lived-out faith in Canada.

If you say "no" to the motions before you, then you will be in danger of letting down the thousands of gay people in your midst, who are part of your Canadian family, as well as all those others who are looking towards the Anglican Church of Canada to set a new standard in dealing with this issue;

But if you say "yes", the work of the Lambeth Commission becomes horribly complicated, because we will be told that the Anglican Church of Canada refuses to hear the voice, or to heed the concerns of your fellow Anglicans in the growing provinces of the Global South, who are your international family. The reaction to such a decision, without very careful explanation and liaison by the Church of Canada, is likely to be on a par with that currently being experienced by your neighbours to the South...
For the record, they said no. Of course, this did not satisfy the AAC, who had already tried and convicted the ACC as being apostate. The next day, they were busy chewing up the Canadians and spitting them out. I think they backed down for nothing. The last thing the AAC wants is peace or compromise; they want those who do not march lock-step with them punished.

...Now that may be a price worth paying if you conclude that that is where Christ leads. You must do what you believe God is calling you to do - as your Acting Primate said - to do what will expand the realm of God; but I think I would be unfaithful to the task I have been set if I did not say that the implications of your decision for the unity of the Anglican Communion, perhaps even its very survival in its current form, are just about as serious as it could get.
If we consider the possible worst-case scenarios, it is indeed serious. Bishop Whalon has outlined some of these scenarios for us:

The Episcopal Church is declared to be 'an observer' of the Anglican Communion. We would be allowed no representatives on the various inter-Anglican boards, and as with the Churches of India, there would some limitation on inter-communion.

Our ecumenical partners are informed that dialogue with American Anglicans should now include the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Province of America as well as the Episcopal Church.

Dissident Episcopalians belonging to the Network of Anglican Communion Diocese and Parishes are recognized by the majority of Provinces as speaking for the American church.

The concept of diocesan boundaries, in effect among Anglicans since the Council of Nicea in 325 AD (yes, that council), is declared to be temporarily lifted in the United States, allowing all manner of Anglican missions to be founded from offshore provinces. Some primates think this is already their prerogative.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, under pressure, decides that the 53 bishops who participated in the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire will not be invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference. The Episcopal Church House of Bishops decides to boycott the Conference (except for the Network bishops, who de facto end up representing us).

The Archbishop refuses to impose the more stringent measures called for by the Primates, and the Anglican Communion splits along North / South lines.
None of the above are pleasant possibilities. I think we need to face them, however, and not bury our heads in the sand.

What can we do at this point? It seems to me that it is in the hands of the bishops. We must continue to carry on with the ministry and mission of the Church. That includes informing our people of what is going on, and correcting the misinformation when we encounter it. And we must continue to pray for the Church.

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it
with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt,
purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is
amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in
want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake
of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.
J.

Feeding the Hungry

"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
- Matthew 25:35-40
I have added a new link to The Hunger Site. By simply clicking on a link on their home page, you can help feed the hungry of this world, at no monetary cost to you. Here's some information about hunger from the site;

It is estimated that one billion people in the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition. That's roughly 100 times as many as those who actually die from these causes each year.

About 24,000 people die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes. This is down from 35,000 ten years ago, and 41,000 twenty years ago. Three-fourths of the deaths are children under the age of five.

Famine and wars cause about 10% of hunger deaths, although these tend to be the ones you hear about most often. The majority of hunger deaths are caused by chronic malnutrition. Families facing extreme poverty are simply unable to get enough food to eat.

In 1999, a year marked by good economic news, 31 million Americans were food insecure, meaning they were either hungry or unsure of where their next meal would come from. Of these Americans, 12 million were children. The Hunger Site began on June 1, 1999.

Please remember to click every day to give help and hope to those with nowhere to turn. Every click counts in the life of a hungry person.
I have a personal passion for the issue of hunger, no doubt derived from my younger years when it was not unusual to go a few days without food. Over the years, I've been involved in the development and implementation of emergency food distribution sites and food banking. In the USA, about 20% of our food ends up in the garbage. I believe that salvaging this food, and getting it into the hands of those in need not only helps the recipient, but is also a way to practice better stewardship of our resources.

Globally, food distribution programs may only be a band aid. More energy needs to be put into developing a sustainable environment. Many of the problems related to hunger are systemic in origin. Yet, as means to overcome these hurdles are sought, 24,000 people die every day. We cannot wait. We need to immediately commit ourselves, as a global community, to not simply alleviate hunger in this world, but to end it.

I want to offer a few thoughts to the Christians who might be reading this regarding our motivation for ending hunger. I've mentioned my personal reasons; memories of getting weaker and weaker as I slowly starved. Today, these memories are not my primary motivation, however. I am driven to feed the hungry because I understand that is what Jesus would have me do.

There is a tendency among programs reaching out to the poor to separate the "worthy" and "unworthy" poor. The worthy are those who appear to have the best chance of becoming a success story. The unworthy are those who seem to be beyond hope; addicts, mentally ill, etc. We have a bias for the poor, not because they are worthy or unworthy, but because they are deserving of the dignity and respect of a creation of God. We do not feed the hungry because they are worthy, but because they are human!

We do not feed the hungry because we are good people. When Christians get into the front trenches of the struggle against hunger, they find lots of other people already there. Some will be there because of a need to be the "good guys," to assure themselves that they are good people. These are wonderful folks, willingly working hard on many a project, but too much patting oneself on the back can develop a community spirit of egoism and elitism.

We do not feed the hungry because we believe we can make this a better world. In the front trenches we will also find lots of social workers, who will be some of the most committed and experienced members of the community. Their goal is to make this a better world for everyone. This is a commendable goal, yet not the primary one for Christians.

We feed the hungry because Jesus told us to do so. Yes, we want to do good deeds. But the goodness of the deed is not enough. Our compassion is a sign of an even greater goodness.

We feed the hungry, not simply because we are good, but to point toward food for the soul; the goodness of God. We feed the hungry, not simply to make this a better world, but to point the way to the compassion of God, which embraces us all. The unique element we bring to the struggle against hunger is the person of Jesus Christ. Our motivation can come closest to being altruistic, as it is not drawn from our need to prove we are good, or save the planet, but from our desire to glorify God. The good deed and good stewardship of creation are fringe benefits springing from our desire to reveal Christ to the world. What better way to reveal Christ than to follow his example?

Sometimes, simple is best. Jesus cared for the hungry. Christians care for the hungry.

J.

Monday, June 14, 2004

I Want More

Please, sir, I want some more.

These words from young Oliver Twist resulted in shock and indignation from his masters. Surely, the only future for such a rebel was to eventually be hung.

Keep in mind that Oliver is the hero of this well-known story. Such rebellion in the face of abuse and oppression is one of the themes on which the USA has been built; the right to life, liberty and property (as originally stated by John Locke; the founding fathers considered it prudent to change "property" to "the pursuit of happiness"). We are a "great" nation because we have never been satisfied with what we have; we always want more.

No one understands this better than the advertising agencies. We never reach Nirvana; it is always one more purchase, one more vacation, one more relationship away. The problem is, the ad agencies themselves believe in the heroism of Oliver as much as we do. They are not content to simply provide for the needs of the consumer. They want more. So, they create new needs, and then set out to convince us that we have the right to pursue happiness; and our previous happiness was simply an illusion. We have a right to a giant 4WD SUV that holds 9 passengers, even though we are an urban family of 3.

This longing for more has served our culture well. As long as we continue to follow the carrot on the end of the stick, in this case, the carrot named "the American Dream," we will not make waves. We will keep that job we hate, because we have to make those mortgage payments. We will not protest injustice too loudly, as it might hinder our climb to our place in the sun. We will avoid risks, make conservative investments, and silently agree with the premise of social darwinism ( we deserve to make a profit from the misfortune of others, because we are better than them).

There are a few indicators that this kind of thinking may not be serving us as well as we thought it was, however. Along with “more stuff” comes some auxillary stuff; more stress, more worry, more anxiety, more health related problems. Is more always better?

There are a couple of other troublesome ideas connected with our longing for more. Sometimes our preoccupation with "getting and spending" seems not just driven by the programming of the psychological geniuses of our age, the ad agencies, but is also driven by fear. Fear that we might not have enough. The fear of scarcity. If we live our lives in fear of never having enough, we will spend our lives chasing the illusive "more."

If true happiness will be achieved when we finally buy that right house, or that right car, we are constantly living for some future event. Once we get the house, we'll realize that the reason we are not truly happy is because now have to have the right interior decorations. When that is done, we have to have the perfect landscaping. Then a pool. Then an addition...and so it goes. We are always one step away from Nirvana. And while we pursue "more," we miss this present moment. We are blind to the here and now.

If a good Buddhist encountered someone who felt Nirvana could be atained by amassing a few million dollars, the Buddhist would help them towards that goal in any way possible. Not because of a belief that this path would indeed lead to enlightenment; but because of the belief that the way to Nirvana often leads to numerous dead ends. Sometimes, when driven by deep seated beliefs, the only way some people will discover if those beliefs are based on truth or illusion is to follow the path to which they lead.

My experience is that suggesting that consumerism is based on premises that rob us of our freedom and endanger our health and peace of mind is not heard by many; especially the middle class. The poor place little hope in consumerism, as many of those dreams are beyond their reach. The wealthy have won the game, and found the prize less than satisfactory. They are open to alternative messages. But those who are still striving for the prize are usually polite, but dismissive; they know that in the real world, what really matters is who collects the most "stuff" before they die. Maybe they are right. And maybe I should not hinder their journey. Maybe I should even assist them along their way?

If someone has come to similar conclusions about "more is better" being an unhealthy message in our society, here's a few suggestions of how to de-program yourself;

1. Let go of the belief in scarcity. Realize there is more than enough. Recognize that the world "out there" is not some dangerous entity that is seeking to rob us and destroy us. Such thinking gives rise to a life driven by fear.

2. Stop seeing ourselves as victims. This is related to the above. We are not trapped by outside forces. We have choices. Stop blaming "them" for our misfortunes. Be responsible for ourselves. Refuse to play the blame game.

3. As we let go of our fear, we become more willing to risk making changes in our lives. We assess our need for creature comforts, full schedules, and career goals. As the old saying goes, "If nothing changes, nothing changes."

4. Simplify. To be here in this present moment doesn't happen all by itself. We have to make a space in our lives for it. That means we may have to let go of some of the baggage we carry around with us.

5. As we are less and less driven by our fears, and the walls come down, the term "community" takes on new meaning. We begin to see our connection to other people, and beyond that, all things. We begin to see that this life is indeed abundant; that not only do we have enough, we have more than enough. We become willing to share, not because the other has earned it, but simply because we can.

6. We recognize that the longing for "something more" remains, and has possibly become even stronger. It is as if there is something missing; something broken on the inside. Now that we've let go of the illusion that there is something "out there" that if we could just get it "in here," we'd be fixed, we realize that the scratch for this particular itch is not discovered in externals. Happiness is found in an interior place.

The nature of that place, and who or what we encounter there, is another discussion.

J.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

- William Wordsworth