Monday, January 31, 2005

A Democratic Iraq

If the news reports are to be believed, yesterday's vote in Iraq was an historic event that may very well shape the future of that part of the globe;

...authorities hailed the election as a success, saying security measures prevented car bombings and other attacks that many had feared would mar the elections.

"This is the greatest day in the history of this country," Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie told CNN.

He said voters had defied loyalists of Saddam Hussein and terrorist leaders Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden. "I think we have sustained a very big blow on them -- at least psychologically -- today," Al-Rubaie said.

Throughout Iraq, voters' fingers were marked with ink to prevent them from voting more than once.

At a voting center in Baghdad, one man dipped his son's finger in ink.

"This is our badge of pride," he said...
I am thrilled and am rejoicing with the people of Iraq.

Such an election would not have been possible without strict security. In other words, it would not have been possible without the presence of American forces. This doesn't cancel out the thousands of civilian deaths, or Abu Ghraib. So much is wrong about this invasion and occupation. But this time, it looks like we got it right.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

AAC Prepares to Abandon Ship

From American Anglican Council's website; an announcement of their move to Atlanta;

"The covenant commitments of the AAC remain unchanged and both staff and the Board look forward to a new year in which to devote our time, effort and resources to addressing your needs," Canon Anderson remarked. "Once we know the Primates' official plans regarding recommendations of the Windsor Report 2004, we can proceed with appropriate action and assist individuals and congregations in moving forward. There will be much work before us including canonical, legal and property issues as well as mobilizing the faithful to proclaim the Gospel and build up our congregations."

Following its incorporation in 1996, the AAC was based in Dallas, Texas under the leadership of Bishop James Stanton. Upon his resignation, Diane Knippers, who served as Interim President, relocated the administrative offices to Washington, DC where it was consolidated and has remained since. Following General Convention 2003, the AAC experienced significant growth in membership, staff and scope and is now poised to assist with a new level of realignment.

(emphasis added)
What's this all about? Here's a news item that might help refresh your memory as to who the AAC are and what they're up to; Memo discloses AAC's strategy for replacing Episcopal Church;

..."Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values, and driven by Gospel mission," said the memo [see below], dated December 28, 2003 and signed by the Rev. Geoffrey Chapman, rector of St. Stephen's Church in Sewickley, the largest parish in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. "We believe in the end this should be a 'replacement' jurisdiction with confessional standards [and] closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism… We seek to retain ownership of our property as we move into this realignment"...

...In the second stage, which Chapman predicted would get underway "probably in 2004," dissenters would seek "negotiated settlements" with dioceses over property. If such settlements failed, however, "faithful disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis may be necessary," Chapman wrote. "We will innovatively move around, beyond or within the canons" to achieve the group's goals, he said, and time announcements of intentions to realign "in successive weeks to build impact" in the media. Among the goals of the strategy are to "generate significant public attention both within this country and among our world-wide partners"...

(emphasis added)
Probably in 2004, eh? A bit behind schedule, aren't we boys? Not by much, though. Watch for new shenanigans next month after the Primates meet regarding the Windsor Report.

Mark Harris, whose blog Preludium I just discovered today, sums up this move for us;

The move, dear friends, is to this end: to help people and parishes to get out of the Episcopal Church and into another church community, namely the Network. Having called for people to abandon ship, the AAC now has boats launched. As they row away some may look back and notice the ship is not sinking, but rather moving on. It was not hit by an iceburg, but rather by gust of the Spirit's wind, fortunately blowing in the same direction as the ship itself was going. But it is moving away from the AAC boats. Ah well!
"The Network" is the name the AAC has used since the fallout from the Chapman letter. Same folks running the show; new name but same game. They've managed to get a few other right wing fringe groups to join them under this new banner, but not much else has changed. Network = AAC.

As a side note, Diane Knippers, mentioned as the "interim President" of the AAC, is President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an extreme right wing group who originally turned their sights on rooting out communism, but when they ran out of communists decided to refocus on the mainline denominations. You may recall the IRD as one the shrill voices during the witch hunt of a few months ago. The AAC and the IRD have shared an office, a mailing address, and the same well-heeled contributors for many years. I wonder if the IRD is moving south as well, or will they be the AAC's Washington branch office now?


Thursday, January 27, 2005

A Clash of Cultures

The Primates of the Anglican Communion will meet next month to discuss the Windsor Report. Archbishops from quite diverse cultural backgrounds will attempt to arrive at some consensus regarding what may and what may not be allowed if one is to remain a part of the communion. I don't see how this can be accomplished. The cultural differences are simply too vast.

This is the primary reason why I am troubled by Archbishop Akinola's, as one example, insistence that the rest of the world must adopt his cultural perspective. Africa is a quite different place from Europe or North America. Whenever I attempt to point this out, inevitably someone will raise the cry of racism and elitism. Bishop Spong tried to articulate it, and was roundly condemned for his efforts. Consequently, since the 2003 General Convention, the issue of cultural dissonance is avoided. I think this is a mistake. We need to talk about it. We need to say the words, even if they make us wince.

Someone else has finally spoken up. Fr. John Julian, of the Order of Julian of Norwich, responded to a criticism of a quite blunt essay he wrote regarding the Windsor Report. His response is even more blunt, yet I think it finally brings into the light of day some things that have remained hidden for too long. The essay is entitled Understanding What is and What Must Be? Responding to the Windsor Report. Here is the response;

One reader of the essay above responded:

I could hardly believe someone would write: "We are dealing with an inevitable clash of cultures, and the cultures represented by Africa, some of the far East, and the Southern Cone are as much as 200 to 300 years behind the cultures of the West in social progress, societal structure, and the development of the individual."
The statement is condescending and reeks of paternalism. I found it offensive. What benefit is to be derived from heaping scorn upon those whose views are different? Especially where those views happen to be entirely consitent with those of many of the so-called more culturally advanced.

Fr. John-Julian responded:

Since when does recognizing observable, plain, historical, sociological facts become "condescending" and paternalistic?
And it is not heaping "scorn" to say that a culture which approves female genital mutilation is behind the West in social progress. I don't think I am falsifying anything to say that broad literacy demonstrates more social progress in a culture than broad illiteracy. I don't think a culture which solves its massive racial hatreds with machetes and genocide is "advanced." I don't think cultures in which dictatorship is the norm are equal in social development to Western democracies. A culture whose best roads are mere muddy trails is not as socially progressive as a culture with Interstate Highways. A culture in which the majority of its members has no electricity or toilets or medical facilities is surely not as socially developed as cultures in which the majority has all those things. Cultures in which the political opposition is imprisoned and/or murdered can hardly be compared with a culture in which free elections are the norm. What do you say about a culture which in my own lifetime was run by a dictator who actually ate the flesh of his victims? Is there a Western democracy that can compare in social regression to that?

These are not "moral" judgments on my part. I don't think a middle-class American is morally superior to a rural Nigerian peasant. But neither am I ready to say that any American ought to be forced to follow the cultural norms of a nation ruled by an Idi Amin, or a culture in which a government drops bombs on its own people, or a culture where a bishop drive the owners off a huge agricultural estate so he can have it for himself, or a culture in which women are not even allowed to leave their homes, to say nothing of attending school or voting in elections.

The point of my posting was not that we are BETTER because we live in a more modern or more socially-developed culture. My point was only that our decisions and our actions and our choices cannot reasonably be expected to be governed by people who live immeasurably different cultural lives than we do. And the same goes for the reverse: I don't think Archbishop Akinola should be forced to make the same decisions and take the same actions within his culture which we can (and should) take in ours.

I had a gay friend who was an observer at the last Lambeth Conference. He wrote to tell me of a conversation with the wife of an African bishop (who shall remain nameless). The conversation came to an end when she said, "Of course we don't have any homosexuals in our country -- because when we find one, we kill him."

Wouldn't you say that suggests a rather regressive social norm? At least the Bush administration has not been quite so blatant about its hatred of gays.

John-Julian, OJN
"...our actions and our choices cannot reasonably be expected to be governed by people who live immeasurably different cultural lives than we do..." Exactly.

John Julian was the conductor of a retreat I attended many years ago. His passion was almost frightening. He didn't pull any punches. That's not his style. It may not be a style that you are receptive to, but I am thankful we have such passionate people serving the household of God. Sometimes it takes a John Julian for the truth to finally come out.

So, what can we do about this cultural clash? Since the "big tent" of Anglicanism appears to no longer be big enough for such cultural diversity, is it time to break camp? If not, how can we mend the seams that are on the verge of being torn apart?


God's Bumper Stickers

I usually don't care much for bumper stickers. I've never felt the need to broadcast my patriotism with a flag or yellow ribbon. I don't even fly an Episcopal Church sticker. On one car, I do have a rather small yin yang symbol. I like the way it looks, and a reminder of our need for balance is a message I support.

One reason I avoid such decorations is some leftover paranoia from my younger years, which is also the same reason I don't have any tatoos. Why would I intentionally put identifying marks on my car or body? But the primary reason I don't adhere stickers to my cars is that most of them look ugly, in my opinion, unless they blend with the color and body style of the vehicle. I'm picky about my cars. Just ask Demi. I don't think she'll ever get my argument that a two door is always superior to a four door, simply because they look so much better.

Getting back to bumper stickers, the Wittenburg Door offers some thoughts on "God's new bumper stickers," including a picture of a sweet pickup with a vanity plate that reads "BIG GUY." Here's some of their suggestions of what God might display on his/her tailgate;

Grape Juice?

Oh, Evolve!

Allah Allah, in come free!

Put Christ back in Xmas? How 'bout dropping all the co-opted pagan imagery and start celebrating His real Birthday — Aug. 6!

Warning: in case of rapture, I'll be just as surprised as you.

Who died and made you God?

Nietzche is dead.

I practice catch and release.

What happens in Vegas ... still gets back to Me.

God: a dyslexic's best friend.
Any additions to the list?


Monday, January 24, 2005

Killer Robots

The US will be deploying robots equipped with automatic weapons to Iraq as early as March or April. The cost is about $250,000, but when mass produced should drop to about $100,000. From the Times;

..."These robots have no fear," John Pike, director of, an online military research firm in Virginia, said. "They can advance into enemy fire in a way that human soldiers will not.

"What's more, these robots don't need retirement benefits, they don't have to be paid a re-enlistment bonus and they can be boxed up and warehoused between wars. They also, of course, don't have loved ones who miss them and mourn them - and they can be produced in huge numbers."
Units equipped with rocket and grenade launchers will soon be deployed as well.

Welcome to the future of warfare; a future that includes a number of nightmarish scenarios. Those who can afford such deadly toys should be assured of global domination. Right now, these units are controlled by soldiers. How long until they can be programmed to function autonomously? Who knows. Maybe we should ask the governor of California?


Friday, January 21, 2005

We Miss You, Abbie

C-Span carried the protest in Washington yesterday. Those who stood for hours in the cold to represent 49% of America who feel the wrong man took the oath need to have our appreciation. Having said that, I found the lackluster speeches and rather lame chants pretty sad. It was too obvious that everyone was winging it.

Come on folks. This is street theater. If you aren't a professional speaker, swallow your ego and stay away from the microphone. If you want someone to lead a chant, get a musician who at least understands how to follow a beat. These things have to be orchestrated. You knew the Bush administration and the Washington police would carefully choreograph their parts. How about some planned creative civil disobedience? The best they could do was suggest everyone turn their back to the motorcade as it drove by. Yep. Folks were standing on the curb, signs over their heads, peeking over their shoulders. It looked ridiculous.

Maybe I'm just a spoiled old hippie. I'm remembering when Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman appeared in court over thirty years ago. Each day they wore a different costume. Once they showed up dressed as the founding fathers; as the real patriots. Another time they dressed as police officers. They understood the concept of protest as street theater. And some of us still remember them fondly today. Unfortunately, Jerry Rubin sold out and went to work for Wall Street, and Abbie Hoffman went underground.

Or, for those of you who have no respect for hippies, how about the example of James Otis Sargaent Huntington, the founder of the Order of the Holy Cross? He was a big supporter of the unions, and would periodically campaign for particular candidates. He wore a cassock of course, which always got the attention of the media. He didn't lead chants or scream obscenities. He preached. And usually his candidates got elected. That's another example of good street theater.

Since I didn't go to Washington, I suppose I have no room to talk. My experience in New York during the RNC turned me off of the modern version of street demonstrations. Civil disobedience has become a matter of weighing how far we can push the boundaries without getting arrested. Thirty years ago, we made our bail arrangements before going to a demonstration; we expected to get arrested. Being dragged to a paddy wagon is a great photo op; the press can't resist it.

Maybe Vietnam brought out the passion in folks. How many have to die before this current military adventure gets us motivated? Do the marines have to "liberate" Tehran before we get it? That's the plan, folks. And that's not a wild assumption on my part. Listen to Cheney's interview with Imus yesterday. Iran is next on the agenda

I found it rather ironic that Bush used the word "freedom" at least twenty times in his speech. From the LA Times regarding the "detention center" at Gitmo;

...Funds from the antiterrorism budget are being sought for a 200-bed, $25-million maximum-security prison, a state-of-the-art perimeter wall that would cut the need for military police reservists and a $1.7-million psychiatric ward for detainees.

The dual moves toward streamlining and permanence come three years after the first shackled, blindfolded men detained in Afghanistan were flown here Jan. 11, 2002, on suspicion that they supported the masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks...

...Military commission trials have been put on hold as defense lawyers swarm federal courts to challenge the legal processes devised by the Pentagon to charge and try suspects. And an international human rights debate is underway over President Bush's decision that the Geneva Convention does not apply to prisoners here.

Senior military and intelligence officials concede that many of the 558 "enemy combatants" being held here probably will be released in coming months to allow interrogators to focus on those thought to possess relevant information about the global terror network...
A permanent detention center, which is beyond the reaches of any legal process. I wonder what the government is going to say to the 200 "detainees" they release after keeping them in a cage for over three years? Oops? Never mind? Move along now, you bug me?

In his speech, Bush said, "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world." I agree. What I want to know is if Gitmo is an example of how he defines freedom?

There's much to protest right now. Big anti-war rallies are planned for March 19, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. We've got a global stage. Let's start choreographing the show.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

The American Tsunami

Derek Jackson writes in the Boston Globe about the victims we don't even count. The White House has publically expressed deep grief over the loss of lives as a result of of the tragedy in the Indian Ocean. He quotes the President as saying "The devastation defies comprehension." Jackson then makes an insightful observation;

...In Iraq we kill off thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of innocent civilians with our own hands, and we reject any attempt to comprehend what we have done. Countless Iraqi civilians are homeless. We call it liberation.

Bush quoted all the numbers for the tsunami in speeches this week: 150,000 lives lost, including 90,000 in Indonesia; perhaps 5 million homeless; millions vulnerable to disease. That stands in hypocritical contrast to the refusal to count the Iraqi civilians killed in his invasion over false claims of weapons of mass destruction and the crime-ridden chaos of an occupation that did not plan on an "insurgency."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Iraqi commander Tommy Franks both said, "We don't do body counts." Then, right in our faces, Powell said civilian casualty figures were "relatively low." Central Command spokesman Pete Mitchell hailed the invasion for its "unbelievably low amount of collateral damage and needless civilian death." Paul Bremer, Bush's former civilian reconstruction envoy, said, "We have freed people with one of the great military battles of all time, in a period of three weeks, with almost no collateral damage, very few civilian deaths, and they are now free."

The White House left the counting to journalists, doctors, think tanks, and human rights groups. The numbers range from conservative guesses of 3,200 in the first few weeks of the war and occupation estimates ranging from 15,000 to 100,000. No matter if the number was 3,200 or 32,000, this atrocity of silence makes the torture in Abu Ghraib pale in comparison...

...Let us do what we can for the victims of the tsunami. But no matter how much we weep for them, no matter what donations we spare, the offerings will not spare us from history's judgment, if not God's. Lugar said his heart goes out to the victims of the tsunami. No hearts have gone out to Iraqi civilians in this heartless coverup.

Powell said of the tsunami, "The power of the wave to destroy bridges, to destroy factories, to destroy homes, to destroy crops, to destroy everything in its path is amazing." He said, "I have never seen anything like it in my experience."

Yes, he has. It was in Iraq. The tsunami was us.
Pray for the victims of natural disasters, and pray for the victims of human evil. May God have mercy on us all.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Seven Social Sins

Politics without principles

Wealth without work

Pleasure without conscience

Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice

- Mahatma Gandhi in Young India, 1925


Monday, January 17, 2005

Cutting Poverty in Half by 2015

I know; we've all heard grandiose schemes to eliminate poverty before. I'm hoping this one is different. It's sponsored by the UN, includes a detailed plan with specific goals, and uses a realistic time frame. From the NY Times;

...The report says drastically reducing poverty in its many guises - hunger, illiteracy, disease - is "utterly affordable." To fulfill this goal, industrial nations would need to double aid to poor countries, to one-half of 1 percent of national incomes, from one-quarter of 1 percent.

"We're talking about rich countries committing 50 cents out of every $100 of income to help the poorest people in the world get a foothold on the ladder of development," said Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University, who was appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2002 to head what is being called the United Nations Millennium Project...
Prof. Sachs is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia. The details of their 10 point plan are linked here. It looks to me like they've covered all the bases;

...The UN Millennium Project is a three-year initiative conceived of by the United Nations to analyze policy options and develop a plan of implementation for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of clear targets for reducing poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women by 2015. These goals were adopted by world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000.

In order to identify the operational priorities, organizational means of implementation, and financing structures necessary to achieve the MDGs, ten thematically-orientated task forces have been formed.

Task Force 1 on Poverty and Economic Development
Task Force 2 on Hunger
Task Force 3 on Education and Gender Equality
Task Force 4 on Child Health and Maternal Health
Task Force 5 on HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB, Other Major Diseases, and Access to Essential Medicines
Task Force 6 on Environmental Sustainability
Task Force 7 on Water and Sanitation
Task Force 8 on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers
Task Force 9 on Open, Rule-Based Trading Systems
Task Force 10 on Science, Technology and Innovation
There are critics of the plan, however, as noted by the Times;

...William Easterly, an economics professor at New York University, said an incremental approach with more modest goals - for example, prevention of childhood deaths from measles through vaccination - would have been more effective than that of the report.

"Its approach is a sort of utopian central planning by global bureaucrats, a crash program like a Great Leap Forward for poor countries," he said. "This will not work any better than central planning by bureaucrats has worked anywhere else, which is to say not at all."

But Prof. Dani Rodrik, a Harvard University economist, said that while the plan required what he called "a huge leap of faith" that poor countries could handle sharply higher flows of aid, it was worth a gamble, especially because the increased amount of aid proposed is such a small share of rich countries' national incomes.

"It has the potential of making a difference in a number of countries that take this opportunity and put it to good use," he said. "One has to ask the question: If not this, what else?"
Exactly. We need to act now, and not allow ourselves to get sidetracked by another Great Adventure. We have the opportunity to save millions of lives.

So what's the bottom line? What's it going to cost us? The Guardian offers a good summary of the numbers;

...The report lists 10 key recommendations for action, one of which is that rich countries increase their overseas development aid to 0.7% of GDP by 2015 from an average of 0.25% today.

Only a handful of countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands have achieved the 0.7% target although Britain, Belgium, France, Finland and Ireland have pledged to do so. The United States and Japan - the world's two largest economies - only spend 0.15% and 0.2% respectively on aid.
Yes, you read that correctly; out of the largest economies, the US comes in last. The old cliche about learning much about a person's priorities by looking at their bank statement is true. The bank statement of the US reveals a nation preoccupied with military adventures. Here is what Prof. Sachs has to say about such a priority;

...What we learned is easily summarized. For every major problem -- hunger, illiteracy, malnutrition, malaria, AIDS, drought and so forth -- there are proven and affordable solutions. These investments would strengthen the private sector and economic growth, but they require global partnership between the world's rich and poor countries. Most important, the world's richest countries need to do much more to help the poorest countries fight disease, educate their children and protect the environment.

The United States, for example, currently spends around $450 billion each year on its military, but less than $15 billion in development aid. This is a mistake, because only shared prosperity -- not military approaches alone -- can make America truly safe and the planet secure...
Sounds like a voice of sanity in the midst of a world gone mad, doesn't it? The plan looks good, and the media seems to be picking up on this story. Now the question is; how do we build a fire under Washington about this, and keep it fueled for the next 10 years?


Saturday, January 15, 2005

Tsunami Aid; A Concert of Hope

I just saw George Clooney talking about this fund raiser which airs Saturday night at 8:00 EST on NBC, Bravo, and a few other stations (although not Fox, even after O'Reily agreed to show up. Not that I'm anxious to hear more from that blowhard.

The rest of the line-up looks pretty good; Elton John, Annie Lennox, Nelly, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Norah Jones, Mary J. Blige, John Mayer, Kenny Chesney, India.Arie, Tom Jones, Eric Clapton, Gloria Estefan, Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan. Some of the presenters are Clint Eastwood, Renée Zellweger, Ben Affleck, Meg Ryan, Morgan Freeman, Ray Romano, Robert Downey Jr., Halle Berry, Kevin Spacey, Usher, Uma Thurman, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bruce Willis, Danny DeVito, Tim Robbins, Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton will also speak.

The funds raised will go to the Red Cross. You can go to the site and donate now, or you can wait until the show and call. Yes, the stars will be answering the phones. You might get a chance to talk with Brad Pitt. I'm hoping for Madonna (to discuss kabbalah, of course).

I really like George Clooney, and not just because he put Bill O'Reily in his place. I think he's a talented actor. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of the few films I can watch over and over and still enjoy every minute. "That's not Dapper Dan!!" Heh. It doesn't get any better than the Soggy Bottom Boys. I imagine even Homer would enjoy it, regardless of the liberties taken in recreating his epic.

Support the Red Cross in their efforts to alleviate the suffering of the tsunami victims. Then sit back and enjoy the show.


Friday, January 14, 2005

The Bishops Speak

The House of Bishops has released a statement which I'm pleased to say went beyond my expectations. The specific elements that I felt were essential are all there. After stating as clearly as possible their "sincere regret for the pain, the hurt, and the damage caused to our Anglican bonds of affection by certain actions of our church," the statement goes on to make a critical point;

...We note here that our decision-making structures differ from those in many parts of the Anglican Communion and that our actions require conciliar involvement by all the baptized of our church, lay and ordained. Therefore we as bishops, in offering our regrets, do not intend to preempt the canonical authority of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. At the same time, we are keenly aware of our particular responsibility for episcopal leadership...
We are Yankees. We are into the democracy thing. We feel the Holy Spirit can work through the voting process. To ask us to dump this process because those on the outside looking in don't like it is asking the impossible. We don't appoint bishops. We elect them. The people of New Hampshire elected a priest who had been the Canon to the Ordinary (the bishop's assistant) for many years. The elected him because they knew him well, he knew them well, and they felt he was the best person for the job. General Convention was asked to affirm that the election was done properly. It was so confirmed by a vote in the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. End of story folks. If you prefer a totalitarian style of leadership, which does not allow the laity a voice, there are such traditions around. But the Episcopal Church is not one of them. Come what may, we simply cannot surrender this essential part of our identity, even for the sake of unity.

Moving on to another statement worth noting;

...We agree that one important expression of our communion would be a Communion-wide study and discernment process on matters of human sexuality as recommended by Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988 and 1998 and are eager to continue to respond to this challenge. This would be a sign of respect for gay and lesbian persons in our common life and of our ongoing pastoral care for them. We also believe that such a process would strengthen our communion. By doing so, we will be able to share more of the prayerful conversations and studies on the ministries and contributions of homosexual persons in the church that have enriched our experience for many years. The Presiding Bishop has already established a committee to offer a theological explanation of how "a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ" (Windsor Report, paragraph 135)...
We mandated dialogues on human sexuality in the early 90s. The Communion has asked for them since 1978. Those who are now so stridently opposed to the conclusions these discussions offered are the same folks who, in my experience, refused to participate in any dialogue. How could the writers of the Windsor Report miss the fact that by refusing to listen to gay and lesbian Christians, and specifically refusing to hear Bishop Robinson, they showed great disrespect to those who these deliberations particularly concern. If we keep our gay and lesbian members at arms length, they can remain "issues" and never become "persons." The charge of "homophobia" is one that makes conservatives bristle. The Commission's refusal to even talk with Bishop Robinson appears to me to be but one example of a case when the label clearly fits.

One last quote, regarding other recommendations within the Windsor report;

...During this brief meeting we humbly struggled in our deliberations to discern how best to receive the Windsor Report. We had an extensive discussion about a "moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges" (Windsor Report, paragraph 134). We have only begun a serious and respectful consideration of how we might respond. Further, we have not had sufficient time to give substantive consideration to recommendations in the Report calling for a moratorium on diocesan boundary violations or the call for a moratorium and further discussion of the authorization of liturgical texts blessing same sex unions. (Here we note that there are those among us who do not agree with the statement in paragraph 144 of the Windsor Report that "the Episcopal Church has by action of Convention made provision for the development of public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions.")
It is no surprise that they state they must wait for "a new consensus." They don't have the authority to make such decisions. I wouldn't be surprised if much of the "extensive discussion" danced around the practical means by which they could implement such moratoriums even if they affirmed them.

There was a response issued by 21 bishops calling for complete affirmation of the Windsor Report. I found it very telling that in their specific points they left out the clear call for a moratorium on diocesan boundary violations. We currently have African and South American bishops picking up ECUSA parishes that are having a difficult time with their bishop. I don't think the rest of the communion comprehends how reprehensible this is to Yanks. We don't care for aristocracy, and we really didn't like the idea of bishops in the first place. But foreign bishops have always been particularly suspect. The current raiding forays by these foreign bishops is exactly what we suspected might eventually come to pass.

Here is the AP story that summarizes the meeting. Simon Sarmiento offers numerous additional press reports.

So where do we go from here? The Primates meet in February. We'll see what their statement has to say. In the meantime, we press on the Kingdom.

The bishops did well. Regardless of what the future holds, I feel God working out God's purposes in all of this.

As a slightly tangential thought, I've been trying to come up with a name for the Anglican Communion if Canterbury is transferred to Nigeria. I liked the North American Anglican Communion at first, since the Anglican Church of Canada and ECUSA will be the charter members, but then I remembered that Rowan Williams is next on the excommunication hit list. We will need to have room for England (and quell our suspicion of foreign bishops for a season, I suppose), and much of Europe, and parts of Australia and New Zealand as well. The conservative's prize if they successsfully achieve global domination will be the name. To a large degree, that's what these power plays are really all about; to get to call themselves the "real" Anglican Communion. Any suggestions for a new name?

One last comment; I find it so terribly ironic that some of those so upset by the "ick factor" are contemplating going over to Rome. These are folks who clearly have authority issues already. You don't like your bishop? Their answer is to call Nigeria and order a new one. How in the world do they think they'll ever handle Rome's tight fisted ecclesiastical structure? The grass is always greener, I suppose.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Miters Meet in Salt Lake

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church will meet this Wednesday and Thursday in Salt Lake City to discuss the Windsor Report. This report was prepared as a response to a perceived crisis within the Anglican Communion. Here is how Archbishop Robin Eames, Chair of the Lambeth Commission, which authored the report, describes the crisis;

...The decision by the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) to give consent to the election of bishop Gene Robinson to the Diocese of New Hampshire, the authorising by a diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada of a public Rite of Blessing for same sex unions and the involvement in other provinces by bishops without the consent or approval of the incumbent bishop to perform episcopal functions have uncovered major divisions throughout the Anglican Communion. There has been talk of crisis, schism and realignment. Voices and declarations have portrayed a Communion in crisis...
The recommendations in the report are simply that; recommendations. Quoting again from the Archbishop;

...This Report is not a judgement. It is part of a process. It is part of a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation. The proposals which follow attempt to look forward rather than merely to recount how difficulties have arisen. A large majority of the submissions received by the Commission have supported the continuance of the Anglican Communion as an instrument of God's grace for the world...
The best summary of the report I've read yet is by Simon Sarmiento; Windsor Report: the exact recommendations. I hope the bishops read this excellent summation before they gather. There's a lot of misunderstandings floating around regarding what this document actually calls for.

There's plenty of high expectations and demands being placed on the bishops by various groups. I'll not add to those demands. I will venture an opinion, however. The report was a good effort to accomplish what is seemingly impossible, clearly done in good faith, but I cannot see any way that the House of Bishops will accept the specific recommendations, particularly those calling for Bishop Robinson to be excluded from gatherings of the Anglican Communion, and for those who participated in his consecration to not function in leadership roles within the Communion.

That's the calm version of why I have low expectations for the results coming out of the meeting of the House of Bishops. For the more passionate version, I'll borrow the words of another; Katie Sherrod in a reflection that appeared in The Witness entitled "The Pharisee and the Windsor Report";

...Otherwise, why would we be taking seriously a document the goal of which appears to be the desire to handcuff the Holy Spirit, put a gag in the mouth of God, and dam the waters of Justice – all the name of “preserving unity”?

Why would we want to focus on a goal suggested by a document that never once even considers the possibility that what the Episcopal Church did and is doing is a prophetic act that might lead to a new day in the whole of the Communion?

Why would we believe this is a way forward when the report almost totally ignores the largest group of the Baptized -- the laity – and demonstrates an almost willful refusal to understand the workings of the Episcopal Church, the body about which it purports to be so concerned?

Why would we want to use this report as a plan to work on reconciliation and healing when the document itself inflicts wounds without apparent notice?

Why would we take the advice of people who appear to believe that telling us all to quit killing and torturing “homosexual persons” is a step forward?

Why should we listen to yet another group who is willing to tell us what to do with the spiritual lives of “homosexual persons” without talking with these brothers and sisters in Christ?

And why, in the name of God, would we trust the advice of a group willing to produce such a document without ever speaking face to face with the one human being they themselves name as being the presenting cause of the uproar they claim to address...

...The Windsor Report purports to be an honest appraisal of the state of the church, but it, like the prayers of the Pharisee, is so steeped in institutional self-righteousness that there's no room left for God.

There is no cry for help here. There is only a deep desire to maintain the status quo.

I see little room in this report for God's grace and the often untidy work of the Holy Spirit...
Personally, it is my hope that they will reject the recommendations outright, without a lot of verbiage, as I find the document flawed beyond redemption. But I may be wrong. Pray for our bishops to be guided in their deliberations by God's Holy Spirit.

Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in Salt Lake City for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Things Fall Apart

I've been silent the last few days due to a nagging sense that there's been some kind of shift; that something unexpected is on the horizon. With this sense comes the inevitable feelings of dread, but these I can dismiss; it is common to dread any kind of change. Yet change is inevitable.

Maybe this is a residual response to the disaster in the Indian Ocean. It has certainly been a reminder of our mortality. Life is much more fragile, and we are much less in control, than we ever imagined. Or maybe it is fueled by my continued amazement as I watch the conservative forces around the globe slowly tighten their grip on the reins of power. Or maybe it is the response to some unexpected twists in my personal life over the last week that gave occasion for both moments of great elation and deep disappointment.

When I was younger, I placed much more importance on such intuitive insights. Often I was wrong, or at least my interpretation was wrong. Since then, I've learned that dwelling on such things can be a form of self sabotage. To some degree, that which we envision is what is manifested. You expect bad things, you'll get bad things. This is not a novel idea. It was made mainstream many years ago by Norman Vincent Peale's popular little book, The Power of Positive Thinking. The latest guru to champion this notion is Wayne Dyer. There's is much truth in it, although it doesn't take into account the prinicipalities and powers with which we must contend. It's a middle class American kind of thing, which is who Dyer is counting on to buy his books. Oppressed people need to envision, but they must also act, if their dreams of freedom are to become concrete.

But I digress. There's a heaviness in my heart, the source of which I cannot quite identify. So I'm sitting with it, and avoiding dismissing it with simple answers or by playing the blaming game. There's something in the air, and I don't like the smell of it.

I awoke this morning with the lines from a much quoted poem running through my head. Forgive my lack of originality in quoting it one more time, but it captures my internal state better than anything else I can think of;

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

- W.B. Yeats

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Giving "Smart" Aid

David Batstone, Executive Editor of Sojourners offers advice on how to give smart (and compassionate) aid to tsunami victims;

...A smart (and compassionate) aid agency will respond to a crisis with three key phases. The first phase is emergency relief. People have lost their homes, their livelihood, and are on the edge of survival. Immediate food and medical supplies are critical.

The second phase is reconstruction. A good deal of the critical infrastructure in the affected areas of Asia were wiped out. In order to alleviate the demand for emergency aid, reconstruction efforts are primary. A good relief organization will know which systems - sewage, water, housing, food sources - must be replaced, and in what order of priority.

The third phase is sustainable development. Here is where the credible development organization offers a plan for community education, nutrition, health care, appropriate technology, microenterprise, et al.

In consideration of the above, Sojourners is partnering with two faith-based relief organizations to deliver assistance to the victims of the tsunami in Asia: Jesuit Refugee Service and World Vision.

Long before this tragedy, both organizations had a strong presence in Sri Lanka and Indonesia among the poorest of the poor. Jesuit Refugee Service, for instance, had established strong, viable projects among displaced communities in these respective regions. They are now in "phase 1" of their relief efforts, delivering "emergency relief kits." And long after the media coverage is gone, Jesuit Refugee Service will be seeding sustainable development projects. Remarkably, 100% of your donations will reach the victims in Asia. In other words, no agency costs will be deducted.

World Vision has long had a presence in Asia as well with 3,700 staff, most of them members of local communities. They are now leading relief efforts, such as establishing 20 children's centers in Indonesia with special tents where traumatized children can receive physical and psychological support. Meanwhile, relief supplies - tarpaulins, sarongs, kitchen utensils, buckets, and other necessities - are heading toward the devastated province of Aceh in two cargo ships supplied by World Vision.

World Vision has worked out the amount of money needed to supply a single family a "survival" kit, containing things like blankets, water purification tablets, and tarps for temporary shelter: A gift of $100 provides an entire family with the basics of survival. In the spirit of full disclosure, 87% of a gift to World Vision reaches a family in need. Frankly, that relatively low "administrative cost" helps pay for the infrastructure for World Vision to deliver enormous quantities of aid in quick fashion...
Batstone worked in economic aid and development in Latin America for over twelve years.

Jesuit Refugee Service

World Vision


Monday, January 03, 2005

Where was God?

Whenever disaster strikes, there will always be some folks who will either blame God, or blame the victims. Personally, I blame the shifting plates under the ocean, but that's not a very satisfactory response for those who are troubled by the divine allowing (or even causing) such disasters.

The natural laws, the laws of physics, make this created realm spin; and so we could say that the creator is responsible when things go wrong. That's a bit of a stretch though, it seems to me. If a child steps off a second story roof and dies from the fall, I don't think that was "God's will," since God did not temporarily suspend the law of gravity to save the child. Some folks expect God to alter the natural laws in special cases. From such beliefs comes the tradition of "miracles." What troubles me about such thinking is that the one who proclaims the miracle has no explanation for all those who did not experience such a miracle in the same situation. You might recall Pat Robertson boasting some years ago that because of their prayers God spared Virginia from a hurricane. The storm hit Florida instead. Are we to assume that Floridians have inferior faith in comparison with Virginians? You see the problem.

We can't see the big picture. What kind of new catastrophes might be caused by gravity suddenly being suspended when the child falls? Accidents happen. Bad things happen to good people. And we don't really understand why. But I do feel rather certain that when disaster strikes, God grieves with us. As a believer in the Incarnation, I think God has experienced some of the pain and suffering of humanity.

I'm rambling because I don't want to try and offer any answers. I'm not sure how helpful it is to try to make sense out of such tragedy. At this point, for me, there's too much emotion for any clear thought.

I did come across an excellent article, however, if you'd like to pursue such questions. It is by Rabbi Michael Learner, and appears in the current issue of the Tikkun Magazine. It is entitled "Where Was God in The Tsunami? And where has humanity been?". Here's a few excerpts;

...So when I was asked last night, during a guest appearance on an ABC radio call-in show, "Where was God During the Tsunami?", my first response was to say, as I've said about God during the Holocaust, "Isn't this an attempt to avoid the more pressing question of 'Where was humanity?' Why have we been so unwilling to take serious responsibility for the well-being of others on the planet"...

...It's quite amazing to behold, actually, how many people responded to the question on last night's a.m. radio by calling in to give messages that were roughly of the following sort: I am really angry at God, and this is precisely why I don't believe in Him.

I don't know any other non-existing being who gets such a bad rap. It's as if people need to invent God in order to blame Him for something about which they are justifiably in despair.

But of course, I do believe in God, so how can I think about this God and His/Her/Its role in the Tsunami?

I don't know. I think that whatever else I say below, I want to start with the fact that I do not know, that there is a limitation of knowledge and understanding built into being a human being at this stage in the development of the consciousness of the universe. I was not there when the foundations of the universe were being put together-and that is a point that was made too in the Book of Job long ago when he similarly questioned the lack of justice in the world God had designed...

...I have no answers - where answers dissolve the question. I have responses, where a response is understood to be a way of staying in connection with the validity of the question and the questioner. Actually, I want to consider two possible Responses...

1. Global Judaism and a New Conception of God;
...To put it bluntly (for the radio talk show audience): stop thinking of God as some big man up in heaven sitting there and making individual judgments about who shall live and who shall die, where he should put a tsunami and where he should put a beautiful sunset.

Instead, understand God as THE FORCE OF HEALING AND TRANSFORMATION IN THE UNIVERSE, the aspect of the universe that is the source of love, kindness, generosity, social justice, peace and evolving consciousness, and that this aspect of the universe permeates every ounce of being, every cell, and unifies all being as it moves the being of the universe toward greater and greater levels of love and connection and consciousness, and makes possible the transcending of that which is toward that which ought to be. Seen this way, God is not the all-powerful being that determines every moment of creation, but rather the part of creation aspiring toward love, kindness, generosity, peace,and social justice which is evolving toward greater power to shape our common destiny to the extent that we choose to embody it more fully. Or in more traditional theological language, God is a Creator, and the creation is still taking place as the God energy of the universe develops and manifests more and more through the universe, shaping it to be more fully in accord with God's aspiration for a world of love, compassion, justice, peace and generosity.

Heresy, you say? Only if your conception of God derives from a Greek notion of the All-Knowing, All Powerful Unmoved Mover-a conception which at times has seeped into and shaped medieval theologies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but which isn't the only possible way to understand God...

2. The Ethical Biosphere. This is a second approach, not continuous with the first, which I think deserves some attention; the view that the natural disasters of the universe are connected in ways that we cannot know yet with the ethical and spiritual distortions of life and consciousness at its current stage of development. The living planet, the gaia energy of our planet, cannot reach a state of being settled and calm until the moral and spiritual realms are more centered and connected with the universe's ultimate moral design...

...So on this view, the earth is a biological/ethical/spiritual unity, and its functioning is in accord with its aspirations toward consciousness, love, environmental sensitivity, generosity, and social justice. But when there are contradictions or constraints in the development of love, consciousness, environmental sensitivity, social justice, and generosity then there is a malfunction which eventually manifests in physical disorders, whether they be disease or whether they be earthquakes or tornadoes or floods or other disruptions of nature...
It sounds to me like he is going in the same direction as Walter Wink in his Powers trilogy; encountering a disruption, or an evil, if you will, on the physical plane should alert us that there is also something going on in the spiritual realm.

Or, maybe the plates just shifted.

UNICEF, an organization with a good track record, is gathering donations for Tsunami relief. Somehow I left them off my earlier lists.

Pray for those who have died, those who mourn, and those who continue to suffer.