Friday, January 27, 2006

Lambeth 2008 and Anglican Congress 2007

It is still unclear who will be invited to Lambeth 2008. A commentary in the Church Times that appeared last November called for blanket invitations:

...There is, however, one thing that Dr Williams needs to do urgently. He must make it plain and public that all properly consecrated bishops will be invited to the next Lambeth Conference...

...If Dr Williams fails to act now, we might well descend to the next stage in the exclusion process. It is hard to believe that the Global South Primates will let a ban on ECUSA keep sympathetic US conservatives from Lambeth 2008. We can therefore expect to see either an alternative contender for the Anglican title emerging in the US, or the development of a formula — possibly a statement of faith that has to be signed by those wishing to attend — that will separate the conservative sheep from the liberal goats. Anything of the sort must be nipped in the bud, and for that Dr Williams must move off the back foot...
Dr. Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham and member of the Commission that authored the Windsor Report, refuted this suggestion:

...It is therefore hard to see how a "blanket invitation" to Lambeth, such as this paper urged (Leader comment, 25 November), can be issued to all bishops, irrespective of the Windsor-report rubric. This is a matter of both logic and process.

Logic: those who have disregarded the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference, and have not said that they regretted doing so, can hardly claim the right to be part of a body that they have so obviously disregarded.

Process: the Archbishop of Canterbury, having commissioned the Windsor report and convened the Primates, can hardly ignore the recommendations of that report and that meeting. If he is to "hold his ground", as some have suggested, this is the ground to be held. In this, the Archbishop deserves the full support that the General Synod promised him in February...
Keep in mind that it is not only Bishop Robinson who is in question here. The Windsor Report (which is a recommendation, not law, making Bp. Wright's "rubric" reference rather unfortunate) also includes this recommendation:

...those who took part as consecrators of Gene Robinson should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion...
One might assume that being present at Lambeth would qualify as a "representative function".

I've suggested before that if any bishops of the Episcopal Church are not invited to Lambeth, all our bishops should "choose this day" (sorry...couldn't resist) to pass up this invitation. Some who visit here have pointed out that such a response might be seen as "walking away". The suggestion has been made that Bishop Robinson, and any others who might be excluded, be present anyway, and challenge the decision of Dr. Williams. This idea certainly has merit, if the challenge is heard loud and clear, which is questionable.

I find it frustrating for the Episcopal Church to be seen by some as being on the defensive because of our attempt to respond to the pastoral needs of our people. Must we constantly be responding to every new ploy of the extremists bent on destroying the Episcopal Church? Instead of simply reacting, isn't there anything pro-active we might do?

Maybe there is. A proposal to hold the Anglican Congress in South Africa in 2007 is being revived:

Liberal US bishops and clergy will this month revive a failed plan for an Anglican Congress in Cape Town in 2007. But conservative leaders believe that the Congress could be a direct challenge to the authority of the 10-yearly Lambeth Conference. The original initiative of the Anglican Consultative Council for a congress to be held alongside the Lambeth Conference in South Africa in 2008 was rejected by the organising ‘Design Group’ as too costly.

They also opted to return the bishops-only conference to Canterbury and exclude suffragan and area bishops in order to make the event affordable. But led by Bishop Orris Walker of Long Island and Canon John Peterson, the former Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion Office, liberal clergy believe they can organise and secure funding for the event. Canon Harold Lewis, said that the “scope, attendance, venue and dates of the pan-Anglican Congress will be determined at a planning meeting in Cape Town with the Archbishop, Njongonkulu Ndungane"...
The Living Church offers us a little more information:

...Bishop Walker said that Archbishop Ndungane had also invited the Bishop of Washington, the Rt. Rev. John B. Chane; the Rev. Canon John L. Peterson, former ACC secretary general and now canon for global justice and reconciliation at Washington National Cathedral; the Rev. Canon George W. Brandt, Jr., rector of St. Michael’s, New York City; the Rev. James Cooper, rector of Trinity Church Wall Street; the Rev Canon Harold T. Lewis, rector of Calvary Church, Pittsburgh; the Rev. Canon Frederick Boyd Williams, rector of the Church of the Intercession, New York City; and Canon Diane M. Porter, deputy for Episcopal administration in the Diocese of Long Island...
This proposed Anglican Congress is not to be confused with this one, or this one, or this one. Here's a brief explanation of what the Anglican Congress has been in the past, and what it might become in the future, by Ian Douglas:

...Now there are other ways that Anglicans “meet” in the words of Archbishop Tutu. There are the Anglican Congresses of 1908 in London, 1954 in Minneapolis, and 1963 in Toronto, where hundreds of lay and ordained leaders (once again lay and ordained) from each church in the Anglican Communion came together to see how Anglicans around the globe could better serve God’s mission in the world. You might recall the great vision for Anglican mission “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ”(or MRI for short) that resulted from the 1963 Anglican Congress. MRI gave Anglicanism a vision for mutuality in mission that has carried the day for the last five decades. Now a fourth Anglican Congress (or Anglican Gathering as it is being called) is planned for Cape Town, South Africa in July of 2008. And, as in the past congresses, this Gathering will be composed of a majority of lay people and will focus on what we Anglicans can do to make God’s saving and reconciling love known in the world. In my opinion the 2008 Gathering could be one of the most important events in the life of the contemporary Anglican Communion as it galvanizes us to faithful and united service in God’s mission.
The 2008 plan was dropped, due to funding difficulties. Now it is being revived, and scheduled for 2007.

A gathering to "galvanize us to faithful and united service", which includes all four orders of ministry. I like it. And, to top it off, it will be prior to Lambeth, so will be an opportunity for our bishops to hear the voice of the people of God loud and clear. Let's go!


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Nominees for Presiding Bishop Announced

The Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, Bishop of Atlanta
The Rt. Rev. Edwin F. Gulick, Jr., Bishop of Kentucky
The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada
The Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley, Jr., Bishop of Alabama

Photos and bios are provided here.

I have not served with any of these nominees. Does anyone have first-hand experience of working with any of these bishops?


Monday, January 23, 2006

Episcopal Church Yoked with RCRC

It seems the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church recently made the following decision:

...Approved the Episcopal Church's membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The membership had caused some controversy during the last General Convention. In a related resolution (NAC-040), the council asked for a report at its March meeting regarding "membership of or on behalf of the Episcopal Church in external organizations." The National Concerns Committee is considering whether the church needs a more specific policy on membership in such organizations.
The Living Church gives us a little more background on this decision. There's already been some heated discussions in response to this decision. Rather than intrude on that conversation, I'll offer a few of my own observations.

Before saying any more, let me remind you of the official stance of the Episcopal Church on abortion, as articulated in a resolution of the 1994 General Convention:

All human life is sacred from its inception until death. The Church takes seriously its obligation to help form the consciences of its members concerning this sacredness. Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and give birth which is bestowed by God. It is the responsibility of our congregations to assist their members in becoming informed concerning the spiritual and physiological aspects of sex and sexuality.

The Book of Common Prayer affirms that "the birth of a child is a joyous and solemn occasion in the life of a family. It is also an occasion for rejoicing in the Christian community" (p. 440). As Christians we also affirm responsible family planning.

We regard all abortion as having a tragic dimension, calling for the concern and compassion of all the Christian community.

While we acknowledge that in this country it is the legal right of every woman to have a medically safe abortion, as Christians we believe strongly that if this right is exercised, it should be used only in extreme situations. We emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience...

and be it further
Resolved, That this 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.
As some of you will recall, this resolution represents my own perspective. Abortion is always a tragedy, and should be used only in extreme situations. It is not an appropriate form of birth control.

I'm afraid this is one issue in which I part ways with many of my progressive brothers and sisters. I've read their arguments, and remain unconvinced of the ethical stance that they advocate. Even if we allow that a fetus is not fully human, we should be able to agree that the fetus is at minimum a "potential life", and so is deserving of some level of protection. The crux of the argument seems to be at what point this potential life becomes a human being. There is no consensus on this. As I've pointed out before, the "ensoulment at moment of conception" position has some difficulties, as seen in the example of an egg that splits to form twins. Scripture is not clear on this point either, as can be seen in Exodus 21:22-24. For causing a miscarriage, the penalty is a fine. For killing the woman, the penalty is a life for a life. We don't know where to draw the line.

What troubles me is that for some, this lack of a clear line of where human life begins has been taken as a reason to say we can simply make up our own lines. Lack of knowledge is not good grounds for assuming permission. If we admit we don't know, wouldn't it seem that the ethical thing to do would be to err on the side of caution?

The resolution produced by General Convention appears to be attempting to make a cautious stand. But now we see Executive Council affiliating the Episcopal Church with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which is clearly not a cautious organization, and advocates for positions on abortion that are in direct contradiction with the official position of the Episcopal Church. I think the Executive Council has made a serious mistake.

Let me try to offer a couple of examples of why I think this is not a good organization for ECUSA to be yoked with. I'll be referring to a resource document from the RCRC's website, Words of Choice; Countering Anti-Choice Rhetoric. First, they take issue with the phrase "abortion as birth control":

Opponents of choice claim that more than 90 percent of abortions are a form of contraception. Underlying this vague, unsubstantiated claim is the notion that women are irresponsible in their sexuality. In fact, 58 percent of women having abortions in the mid-1990s used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. This high rate of contraceptive failure indicates that available contraceptive methods do not meet the health, economic, and social needs of many women.
58% of women who have abortions are using it as a form of backup birth control? Forgive me for being politically incorrect, but I fail to see any reason for anyone to be offended by stating the plain truth. Abortion is being used as a form of birth control. The Episcopal Church is clearly on record as opposing this, as we should be, in my opinion.

The second example is the offense the RCRC finds in the phrase "abortion for convenience":

Women are charged with having abortions for frivolous reasons. Anti-choice rhetoric depicts women who have an abortion as impulsive or careless.
There is nothing "convenient" about having an abortion. It is socially stigmatized and personally wrenching. Women who have abortions often do so because they care about others - they want to bring children into the world under positive circumstances. The decision to have an abortion often is made because of poverty, concern for the well-being of existing children, and lack of commitment and support by the prospective father.

Since each person's situation is unique, reasons for abortion vary. Forty-nine percent of all pregnancies are unintended; of these, half are terminated by abortion Among those who report having an abortion, three-quarters say they are not ready to have a child because of responsibilities related to work, school, family, and other demands. About two-thirds say they cannot afford to have a child. Half do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner. Each year, about 14,000 women have abortions because they have become pregnant as a result of rape or incest.
If I understand this statement correctly, abortion is an option if you are poor, already have children, are a single parent, are in school, or have a demanding job. Those reasons certainly seem to fall under the category of "abortion for convenience" to me, which is also specifically opposed by the Episcopal Church.

I believe our Executive Council has made a huge mistake by associating the Episcopal Church with this group. I think it is a decision that is going to come back and haunt us.

I will never advocate for the reversal of Roe v Wade, however. Why? Consider this article (Thanks Aelred!):

"Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions."[*] This takes place in countries where churches and schools teach abstinence as the only form of contraception—demonstrating conclusively the ineffectiveness of that kind of program.

By contrast, in the United States, where abortion is legal and sex education is broader, the abortion rate reached a twenty-four-year low during the 1990s. Yet the ironically named "pro-life" movement would return the United States to the condition of Chile or Colombia.
Here's another example of why I think abortion needs to remain legal and safe and be considered an option in "extreme situations", from a letter in the recent edition of Episcopal Life:

Our daughter is 37 years old. Three years ago, she terminated a pregnancy. Her first pregnancy was normal, and she delivered a boy. Her second pregnancy was normal. She delivered a girl who died from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) at 3 1/2 months. Within six months, she was in her third pregnancy. She delivered a normal boy.

Four months later, she developed congestive heart failure. She worked as a respiratory therapist in the ER of a hospital. The virus attacked her heart. Her cardiologist told her husband to get a vasectomy. He chose not to do so because, if our daughter died, he reasoned he might want to have a child with someone else.

Our daughter faithfully took her birth control. However, she was on eight different medications, which may have diminished the effectiveness of the birth control pills. She became pregnant.

A cardiologist, an obstetrician and an internist advised her to terminate the pregnancy, as she likely would not survive and/or the child would not be able to develop normally due to her circulatory problems and necessary medications to keep her alive. She went through with the termination of her pregnancy so that she could raise her two sons. She still grieves for the child that died, and the decision to terminate her last pregnancy was agonizing.

Her husband did get a vasectomy. He realized that raising two boys without their mother would be a lifelong loss for them to deal with.
I appreciate the opportunity to tell this story to persons in addition to my parish. We hope that this will help keep a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy legal. Our daughter's name is Lucy Harlan. Our family attends St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Carmel, Ind.
I believe that our ethical discussions involving sanctity of life issues may be the most critical conversations happening in the Church right now. This issue, if it is immoral to terminate a potential life, is directly connected to other ethical issues; euthanasia, capital punishment and just war theory. If we affirm God as the giver of life, we cannot claim the right to take life, innocent or guilty, without first confronting the finality of such a decision, and engaging in prolonged prayer and reflection on the implications of such an act. We walk on dangerous ground whenever we attempt to take on the role of God.

Will I leave the Episcopal Church over this? Of course not. That is one of the wonderful things about the Episcopal Church; I can protest against the leadership and never fear being silenced, denied communion, or excommunicated for my outrage. I can argue with my bishop, and then share in the sacramental life with him or her. Such graciousness makes room for further reflection and conversation, which often leads to the eventual realization that I might just be wrong.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Why Listen When We Can Beat, Defame and Incarcerate?

Thinking Anglicans has kept us informed regarding a curious story that continues to unfold within the Church of Nigeria. For those who haven't been following it, allow me to offer a brief summary with some background material.

First, keep in mind the following segment of Resolution 1.10 from Lambeth 1998 regarding Human Sexuality:

This conference...recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ...
Now consider some of the statements made by the Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola in 2003:

"This is an attack on the Church of God - a Satanic attack on God's church...I cannot think of how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man. Even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things."

"When we sit down globally as a communion, I am going to sit in a meeting with a man who is marrying a fellow man? I mean it's just not possible. I cannot see myself doing it."
So much for "listening to the experience" in Nigeria.

In October 2005, a brave group of gay and lesbian Anglicans in Nigeria challenged Archbishop Akinola:

Changing Attitude Nigeria achieved national awareness today by having an article published in the Daily Sun, Nigeria's national mass circulation newspaper. The article confronts the Primate of All Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, with the reality of gay and lesbian worshippers in Anglican churches across Nigeria. It reminds the church of the commitment made by the Primates, including Archbishop Akinola, to listen to the experience of homosexual persons in each province and reflect on these matters...
For their efforts, Director Davis Mac-Iyalla and eight members of Changing Attitude Nigeria were beaten and jailed. Undeterred by these draconian tactics, Changing Attitude proceeded with their plans to host the first General Meeting of the Changing Attitude Network in Nigeria in November 2005. It is estimated that approximately 1,000 delegates attended, although this number was strongly refuted by the Church of Nigeria, with some claiming that the event never happened.

Unable to block news reports that offered evidence of faithful gay and lesbian Anglicans residing in Nigeria, the Church of Nigeria then began a smear campaign against Changing Attitude Director Davis Mac-Iyalla. As the Church of Nigeria's website is down at the time of this writing, you can find a tamer version of this scathing "press release" here. The one posted on Nigeria's site mentions Davis Mac-Iyalla by name. The CofE Newspaper carried this story on these accusations.

Changing Attitude has asked the Church of Nigeria to provide evidence to support these allegations, and provided some evidence of their own to refute this attempt to defame the character of Davis Mac-Iyalla.

Rather than respond to what appears to be a case of "bearing false witness", today we are confronted with a new tactic being launched in Nigeria; same sex unions will be outlawed. Archbishop Akinola is quoted in the news report, as well as having his photo included. Note this line from the report:

...Justice Minister Bayo Ojo said the law would also ban "any form of protest to press for rights or recognition" by homosexuals, the AFP news agency reports...
In other words, Changing Attitude members are now identified as outlaws.

Peter Akinola is the most prominent conservative leader in the Anglican Communion. The actions of the Church of Nigeria in this one particular story alone would seem sufficient to give anyone, conservative, liberal or moderate, reason to seriously reconsider if this is the direction the Anglican Communion wants to move in the future.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Anglicanism in 2008

Anglican Postmortem offers us an essay by William R. Coats entitled The End of Anglicanism. It's worth a read. Here's a brief excerpt:

...Soon thereafter the new structure of Anglicanism will come into place following outlines provided by the woeful Windsor Report. There are to be clear lines of authority out of Canterbury in and through our new College of Cardinals, the Primates, with a variety of international committees firmly and subsidiarily in place. Where is the laity? Well, we will squeeze them in somewhere. To top it all off there will be a new covenant: a clear statement of mandated belief, and this time with teeth. Of course there remains one last irony. The Archbishop is still ultimately appointed by none other than the Queen (or, soon, King Charles). Ah, Rule Britannia!

...So come 2008 a newer Anglican Church world will be upon us. I will be proud to have stood firm on the Gene Robinson matter and on the question of the access to the sacraments of the church to homosexual persons. It is worth a split over. And it is still worth maintaining the old Anglican idea. For what did the centralization of power do for Rome? What will it do for Williams and Akinola. They can have it and the eventual corruption and loss of dignity we see whenever power is centralized and unchecked...
That's two predictions I've found this week that the grand finale of the Anglican Drama will be at Lambeth 2008. It's hard for me to imagine that it won't be GC2006. The AAC/Network can only rein in their troops for so long. If something conclusive isn't offered to them soon, they're going to start bolting.

Anyone else planning to be in Columbus in June? I'm not a deputy, but signed up as a "volunteer," so I'll be there. I took a look at the exhibits, and didn't identify too many that might allow a snarky priest in black hat and boots to hang out with them. Any suggestions?


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Schism, Incarnation, Heresy and Expectations

Mark Harris has a good post up that is worth reading, if you haven't already; Campaign Stirrings and a New Offensive Strategy. Mark suggests that the date for the "official" schism to begin has been moved once again; this time from GC 2006 to Lambeth 2008. I think it has already started. The evidence is foreign bishops becoming even bolder in plundering parishes in ECUSA in their rush to gain new assessments.

Tobias Haller offers an insightful critique of the basic argument used by the extreme conservatives. I was particularly struck by this point;

...This notion that Eve is of the same substance with Adam is important as a theological point later on: the doctrine of the Incarnation insists that Jesus is of one substance with humanity solely through his mother, Mary: if woman was "missing" something that could only be supplied by a man (which is the ordinary dictionary definition of "complementary") then the Christ could not be fully human - which is heresy...
Speaking of heresy, Karen (who just completed the GOEs...congrats!) has discovered that she's not a heretic after all! Are you a heretic? Take the test. Some of you might be surprised to know that I scored as being "Chalcedon compliant." My second ranking (67%) was Pelagianism, which came as no shock.

BTW, you may have noticed that I removed the label "heretic" from Jake's subtitle and added "eclectic", an adjective that I've always liked, and one that is quite popular among some of my Pagan friends. It is defined as; "Made up of or combining elements from a variety of sources." Some will certainly consider such diversity heretical. But the label "heretic" made Jake too easy of a target. "Eclectic" on the other hand will make some uncomfortable without knowing why, and will lead others to launch a witch hunt, which could be fun.

I get the word this week if my Big Project is a go or a no. Rather anxious about it. I've been working on this since June, and have dropped other commitments to make room for it. One thing that I had to back away from this last weekend has me feeling a bit guilty, but I need to stay focused on the goal. I'm troubled by my own high expectations. I know better than to set myself up for a big fall. But, there it is, just the same.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What Makes a Muslim Laugh?

In light of all the discussion regarding Daniel, I found this new film Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, intriguing, as it also has great potential for being "politically incorrect."

Here's the story:

The State Department, eager to better understand the cultural gap between the United States and the Middle East, have been directed by the president to make a study of what makes Muslims laugh. Brooks is asked to fly to India and Pakistan and bring back a 500-page report on Muslim humor; told the Medal of Freedom may be his if he comes through, Brooks accepts. With a pair of State Department officials in tow, Stuart (John Carroll Lynch) and Mark (Jon Tenney), and some help from a local assistant, Maya (Sheetal Sheth), Brooks sets out to find the funny bone of India's and Pakistan's Muslim communities...

What will be the reaction to this film planned to be released January 20? Even the film's creator, Albert Brooks, isn't sure:

"This had never happened before," said Mr. Brooks from Los Angeles. "There's been no other American comedy that's made light of anything after 9/11. Nobody knows what will happen. The audience could stand up and walk out, they could boo, who knows? I don't have any road map here. I was told that, 'We think it will be O.K.,' but I was also told that people don't mince words here. If you hit the nail wrongly, it's like your thumb: you know it right away."
Sony dropped the film after Brooks refused to change the title. Warner Independent picked it up. In light of Brook's previous work, I would imagine that this film isn't going to be offensive to anyone. But, most likely, someone will be outraged, regardless of how carefully it was made. The world seems to be on the verge of categorizing laughter as a nonessential commodity. We have given our hearts away...a sordid boon!


Monday, January 09, 2006

From The Witness

Most of you probably read The Witness on a regular basis. For those who are not familiar with this publication that has "been examining the church and society in light of faith and conscience" since 1917, here is an excerpt from their "About Us" page:

...We are deeply committed to raising up the voices of people of faith throughout the world, particularly within the Anglican Communion, to consider justice and peace issues from a broad diversity of cultural and regional perspectives. We embrace the liberation perspective that flows from the very core of Christian belief and values. We side with Jesus' radical claim that every person, every creature, every part of creation belongs to God and deserves the deepest respect and care.
Last month, Sarah Dylan Breuer was named as the new editor of The Witness. Many of us have grown to appreciate Dylan's gifts through reading her insights on the Sunday lessons posted weekly on Dylan's Lectionary Blog. Last September, Dylan was appointed to the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, which is charged with "preparing the way for General Convention to receive and respond to the Windsor Report." With Dylan at the helm, there is no doubt that The Witness will continue to be a valuable resource which we will need to watch closely.

I was recently honored to be asked to make a small contribution to this publication. Not being much of a scholar, and a lightweight theologian at best, I hesitated at first, feeling such an assignment was really out of my league. Then I noted the way it was described in the ENS article, as "a feisty and opinionated journal." Feisty and opinionated? Hey, I can do that!

So, I offer a reflection on the lessons for 2 Epiphany, focusing on the encounter between Nathanael and Jesus; An Antidote to Prejudice's Poison. Here's an excerpt:

...Jesus is amused by this sudden transformation. "You will see greater things than these," he tells him. "You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." Nathanael would have recognized the reference to the story of Jacob's dream of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven. Jacob, the original "Israelite," was quite the rascal, yet was blessed by God. It might just be possible that even a bigot like Nathanael, a tax collector like Matthew, a hothead like Peter, or a sinner like you and me could also be blessed by God and become a follower of the Messiah...
Not terribly scholarly, or theologically profound. But a bit feisty and opinionated it is.

Writing this reflection became an unexpected blessing, as it forced me to struggle with some of the ugly stuff that churns about within me. And, a big plus; most of my preparation for next Sunday's sermon is already done!


Thursday, January 05, 2006

"The Book of Daniel" Debuts on Friday

A member of my congregation stepped into my office this week to ask if I had heard about the new show that makes a mockery of the Episcopal Church. She could not recall the name of the show, but I must assume that she was referring to The Book of Daniel, whose first episode will be aired Friday at 9:00 on NBC.

I must also assume that the notion that the show "makes a mockery of the Episcopal Church" comes from the American Family Association's campaign to get this show off the air. Most likely my member got an email from the AFA asking her to help "save Christianity" (and send in a donation, of course).

So why is the AFA so upset? Here is how the January edition of Episcopal Life describes this new series:

An Episcopal priest played by Aidan Quinn is the focus of a new TV drama series starting Jan. 1 on NBC.

The Book of Daniel focuses on the Rev. Daniel Webster’s struggles with family, painkillers, church politics and Jesus, who he converses with as mentor and friend. Garrett Delahunt plays a “hip and modern” Jesus, according to NBC...
David DiCerto offers a review for Catholic Online. He is not exactly thrilled by the show, but does not respond with the knee-jerk reaction of the AFA, most likely because he has actually viewed an episode. DiCerto expresses his concerns regarding how a couple of issues are addressed, but also offers a few more details about the characters and some positive comments:

Rev. Webster himself is wrestling with addiction to prescription painkillers while dealing with wife Judith's (Susanna Thompson) drinking problem (stemming from the loss of a son to cancer). He is also desperately striving to earn the approval of his own stodgy father, Bishop Bertrum Webster (James Rebhorn), a conservative churchman whose wife has Alzheimer's disease.

More sounding board than savior, the show's down-to-earth Jesus, though portrayed with reasonable reverence, is tolerant to the point of being blase: He has a problem with Rev. Webster's pill-popping but dismissively shrugs off Rev. Webster's kids having casual sex in the back seats of cars. On a more commendable note, the writers avoid making Jesus give pat answers to life's often complex problems.

Show creator Jack Kenny, self-described as "in Catholic recovery," deserves credit for presenting a positive and love-affirming view of religion while exploring themes of faith, family, forgiveness and flawed humanity.
From what I have read, the series will introduce a number of issues; addiction, the grieving process, human sexuality, gender roles and religion's place in contemporary culture. No doubt some of these issues will be portrayed in extreme situations, as that is the nature of writing a TV series that people will watch, and most likely not everyone will agree with some of the content. But I think debating if the show portrays "true Christianity" or not misses the point. Such a show's target audience is not necessarily the choir. It honestly reveals that Christians struggle with some of the same problems that everyone else has to deal with. The AFA may object to it's honesty. But personally, I think it is past time to offer an alternative to the stereotypes of Christian elitism portrayed for decades by the televangelists.

As Susan Russell of All Saints, Pasadena said in the Episcopal Life article:

“How cool is it that a progressive Episcopal priest has a shot at being a prime-time drama protagonist,” says the Rev. Susan Russell, associate rector. “How surprising might it be to many who tune in to find out there actually is a church where women can be bishops – clergy can be human – and there’s enough good news around to extend to everybody?”
This show deals with real issues in many people's lives, without giving pat answers. It is a discussion starter, not a problem solver.

To facilitate possible discussions that might arise regarding this show, The Episcopal Diocese of Washington is offering The Blog of Daniel. Jack Kenny, the creator of this show, recently left a comment on this blog that I want to offer in its entirety, as I think it describes much better than the critics the real motivation behind the development of this series:

Hi. I'm the creator of "The Book of Daniel." I just wanted to say thank you for your input and support. I hope we will continue to do you all proud. Our goal has always been to tell a specific story about a man and his family... a man and his flaws... a man and his own personal, private relationship with his faith - in the embodiment of Jesus... how anyone can be offended by this, and deny the opportunity of others to watch it and make up their own minds is a continual source of confusion for me... It was written with nothing but respect and love for the Episcopal church and it's members - a church that my life partner of 23 years belongs to, and a church that I am strongly considering joining. It was always our marching orders, as writers and producers, to never mock or satirize religion, Jesus, or the church in any way, but to treat them with the utmost respect. Yes, we look for humor wherever we can - that's the job of a TV show... Please give us a few chances, and I'm sure you'll be unable NOT to watch these loving, supportive family struggle with all their own flaws and foibles in life... and ultimately overcome them - only to find new ones... because that is, indeed, life! Thanks for your interest, and please stay tuned!
Tomorrow night, 9:00.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Top Five in 2005

Bob Carlton of The Corner has invited me to contribute to the listing at Top 5 in 2005. So, here's the five posts that I chose, using no criteria other than the peculiar mood I happen to be in today:

1. Raging Madman or Playful Jester?

2. Facing Fear

3. "Apart From Me, You Can Do Nothing"

4. A History of Horrors

5. Seeking God in the Darkness

Bob suggests that we might also list our five hopes for 2006. Since I'm personally not feeling particularly hopeful at the moment in regards to the future, I'll leave that part of this post up to you. What are your hopes for the coming year?