Monday, November 10, 2003

The Anglican Flavor

The ecumenical movement is showing signs of new life. If we are to fully embrace it, we have to begin by developing a firm understanding of who we are. The Episcopal Church is a part of the Anglican Communion. Anglicanism adds a distinct flavor to Christendom. If we are to work for Christian unity, it is essential that we have a good grasp of what it means to be an Anglican so that we do not have to constantly be on guard against the loss or dilution of our traditions through close contact with other denominations. If we have a firm grasp on who we are, we won't have to weigh and sift every prayer, statement of belief or theological stance to see how and if it fits within our tradition. We will know, because being a Christian within the Anglican tradition will be part of the very essence of who we are. Then, instead of being defensive, we can freely share with others the gifts that Anglicanism has to offer.

What does Anglicanism offer to Christendom? We have a rich tradition, which I cannot do justice to in this article. But let me mention just a few of our unique contributions:

1. We worship God in Word and Sacrament. To understand Anglicanism, one must worship in an Anglican Church. Our liturgies are the clearest expression of who we are. As we offer our praise and thanksgivings our focus is on God, Worship is never seen as a form of entertainment!

We believe that through the Incarnation, the "Word made flesh," God has proclaimed that all of creation is not only good, but holy. Consequently, we do not hesitate to use the material realm to point to God.. We use many concrete symbols that speak to us at a deep level about our faith; bread, wine, water, liturgical colors, vestments, the Paschal candle, just to name a few.

We also worship God with our whole being, including our bodies, through the "Episcopalian's Sunday morning calisthenics (stand, sit, stand, kneel, etc.), processions, and forms of personal piety, such as bowing, genuflecting and making the sign of the cross. We worship God by hearing, reflecting on, and "inwardly digesting" lessons from the Holy Scriptures. We worship God by stating what we believe in the creeds. We worship God through prayer, sometimes extemporaneously, but usually from the Book of Common Prayer, a repository of our faith with tried and true forms that connects us with all those who have gone before us, those who have prayed these same prayers for many years, and all those around the world that pray with us today. We recognize that as we offer our worship to God, we break the bonds of time and are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses," as the saints who have gone before us join us in offering God praise and thanksgiving. We worship God through receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, through which we are assured of God's grace, God dwelling with us and in us, and are united with one another as we share in this foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Much of this is foreign to some of the Protestant traditions, which is all the more the reason why we had better understand it! We cannot allow our foundation of worship grounded in "word and sacrament" to
be replaced by the currently popular worship in other traditions that is more rooted in "word and music."

2. We offer a spirituality that embraces all of creation and is quite comfortable with quiet and solitude. Our tradition finds its roots in Celtic Christianity, which flourished in the British Isles prior to the invasion of the Angles, Saxons and Normans. It is a spirituality that recognizes the holiness of all of creation, stands in awe before the mystery of God, and encourages spiritual growth through times of quiet, contemplative prayer, regular corporate prayer, guidance through Spiritual Direction, and living a disciplined life of prayer, study, and action

3. We find our source of authority in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Affirming the importance of having a "reasoned " faith puts us at odds sometimes with other denominations. We have found that God did not quit revealing truth when the canon of the New Testament was closed. For example, even though scripture and tradition affirmed slavery, it became clear to many Christians that God had revealed a new truth; slavery is an evil institution. We continue to combat racism and affirm the dignity of every human being today. Another example would that even though scripture and tradition affirm the subservient role of women, we feel that God has revealed to us the importance of recognizing the gifts of leadership many women have been given by God, and to go even further by recognizing the feminine and the masculine side of each one of us. Women are now exercising leadership within the Church, and have deeply enriched the ministry of us all. Watch out for groups attempting to "enable men to assert their spiritual leadership in the home and church." This is nothing more than an attempt to try and return us to the patriarchal model of men running everything. We've been there, done that. Now we have moved on. We have many excellent women in our Church who are lay leaders, deacons, priests, and bishops. Clearly, women can indeed effectively exercise spiritual leadership.

We continue to dialogue on human sexuality issues, seeking God's guidance as we struggle to know the heart of God in regard to relationships that fall outside the parameters of Holy Matrimony. This is a difficult topic, as we are each already strongly biased by how we understand ourselves as sexual beings. This is a complex issue as well, because it is related to so many other aspects of our lives. We do not accept simplistic, black and white answers to complex ethical questions. As an example, consider the loose affiliation that calls itself the "Pro-Life Movement." With our rooting in the Incarnation, we certainly affirm the sanctity of life. But this issue is about much more than just abortion. It is connected to capital punishment, just war, euthanasia, and other ethical concerns regarding one human being taking the life of another. Most ethical considerations have to include the unique factors of each situation as well, making the majority of ethical decisions beyond the reach of "absolutes."

4. We are a part of a worldwide mission. We play a role in the ministry of the Anglican Communion throughout the world. This allows us to avoid the self-centered narcissism of parochialism (our parish is all that matters) nationalism, (our nation is all that matters), and other false gods that tempt us to legitimize our own self interests. We are part of a cause that is big enough to embrace all people and affirms that God's Spirit is moving throughout the world, not just in our little corner

5. We strive for justice and peace among all people. Again, because of our focus on the Incarnation, we seek to affirm the dignity of all people. We minister to the poor, not because they deserve it, but because they are human! We stand against injustice, not because we are more just than others, but because we see how God has responded to us with justice and mercy. We seek peace because our mission is to be ministers of reconciliation, helping to bring ourselves and all people to be reconciled with God and one another.

Let us continue to try to understand, live into, and celebrate who we are as Anglicans, so that at the ecumenical table we may be gracious rather than defensive, offering our gifts instead of issuing ultimatums, and being willing to listen rather than needing to debate. It is my hope that one day all Christians will be able to join together to work, pray and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. Until that day, let us not shirk from our responsibility to offer to the world the unique combination of gifts that a Christian of the Anglican tradition has to offer to the glory of God.


Thursday, October 30, 2003

The Kingdom

Ok, what to speak of today....hmmm.

How about the kingdom of God? Yes, I said kingdom. I know, Yanks don't need no stinkin king. Get over it. The arrogant Yanks have caused enough havoc in this world. Someone had better cut them down to size pretty soon, before brother Ashcroft declares glossolalia to be the official language of the realm...or should I say Reich?

As you can tell, I have little love or respect for the Texan or his cronies. But, that is another topic.

The kingdom of God; the phrase used more to describe the mission of Jesus Christ than any other in the gospels. The kingdom of God is at hand! No pie in the sky bs here....the kingdom is now! The promise of rewards in the next life is simply another ploy to keep the rabble in line. Its just as oppressive a concept as the "American dream" carrot on a stick used to keep us docile and complacent consumers. Dangled before us is happiness, if we wear the right clothes, drive the right car, listen to the right music, and, the biggest ball and chain of them all, get a mortgage on the right house!

The ad agencies know damn well happiness is not attainable. If it was, they'd be out of business, as those who are fat and happy will quit buying their crap. No, they lure us with the promise that we are just one more purchase away from nirvana. That keeps us living for the future, for some bliss on another day; and blinds us to the reality that all we really have IS THIS PRESENT MOMENT! And in this present moment, the kingdom of God is at hand.

What is this kingdom about? Justice and mercy. And no, when I speak of justice, I'm not talking about "criminal justice" which is what people think of today. Its not about law enforcement. Its not about storm troopers threatening you with lethal force if you don't scrape and bow to them. Its about being just. Its about struggling against injustice. Its about telling the CEO that it is decadent to take a limo when the janitor of his firm has to work 2 jobs to feed his kids.

Its about standing up against oppression, wherever it shows its ugly head. Its about breaking the chain of violence that threatens to destroy this planet.

What does this chain look like? Oppressor's make victims. We are programmed early in life to detest the feeling of being a victim. We'll do anything to escape it. So, we become an oppressor, to rid ourselves of the victimization feelings. The boss chews you out at work. You go home and yell at the kid for the toys in the driveway. The child pulls the dog's tail. And so the chain goes, being played out on a global level among the nations.

How do we break the cycle? Not by use of force. Not by acts of violence. Not by the tools of oppression. But by turning to that which balances justice....mercy. We refuse to make victims. We make peace with those who we are tempted to victimize. And the chain stops with us.

This is what Jesus taught. "The gentiles lord their authority over one another, but not so with you!" The example of the cross stands before us as an example of this way to break the chain. We do not respond to violence by making new victims. And, when we are reconciled with our victims, we are given the opportunity to encounter the one Pure Victim.

Does this mean we are door mats? Absolutely not. Both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. got the message of Christ. They stood up against oppression, but refused to make victims.

The kingdom of God is at hand. And, against this kingdom, the legions of hell will not prevail!


Wednesday, October 08, 2003

We've Got Trouble; Right Here in ....

I'm a bit anxious today. And no, it's not about Governor Arnold. Being a 5th generation Californian, I'm not that surprised. A social moderate, fiscal conservative with the Kennedy clan as in-laws and the Republican establishment backing him? Of course he got in. Never mind that I think the whole recall thing was simply a power ploy by the Republicans. The Governor-elect claims it will no longer be "politics as usual." That's not what I see from my perspective.

Interestingly, Howard Ahmanson, the millionaire extreme right-wing owner of the company that makes the electronic polling booths, got in on this election. He threw his wealth toward Mclintock, the original Republican front runner. Ahmanson funds a number of right wing causes. For 23 years, he was on the board of the Chalcedon Institute, whose leader, Rushddoney, advocated the establishment of a theocracy, with biblical law becoming the law of the land. Such a law would make "crimes" like homosexuality a capital offense.

This gets me to the real reason I am upset. A group of conservative Episcopalians are meeting in Texas right now, planning how to take over the Episcopal Church. It seems they are very upset that this Summer, our General Convention (our governing body, which meets every 3 years), approved the election of gene Robinson as the bishop-elect of New Hampshire. Canon Robinson has served well in that diocese for many years. The people know him, and selected him out of a number of qualified candidates, to be their next bishop. Since it was so close to General Convention, the "consents" of the other bishop and dioceses was done at the convention itself. These consents are intended to be an affirmation that the election was done properly. They were never intended to be another search committee, made up of the entire Episcopal Church.

So where is the problem? Gene Robinson happens to be a gay man, who is living in a committed, long term relationship.
Now, there are a number of "issues" that might need to be discussed concerning this; the authority of scripture, tradition and reason, for instance, regarding this situation. But, once Gene was approved, the conservative minority, who voted against the approval (46 bishops out of 300) immediately began organizing to leave the Episcopal Church.

So, in a nutshell, there is the situation. It gets much more complicated. But, to tie it to my initial comments, let me add that the group that has risen as the umbrella organization for all the conservative groups is the American Anglican Council. The President and CEO of the AAC is David Andersen, who was previously rector (priest in charge) of a parish in Newport Beach, California. Howard Ahmanson was also a member of this parish.

Howard Ahmanson turns out to be the primary contributor of the AAC. He has pledged $200,000 annually to the organization. There was discussion to add his name to the letterhead of the AAC, but cooler heads prevailed. It would not be wise to allow such a blatant connection between the AAC and an extremist. Instead, Roberta Ahmanson, Howard's wife, was appointed to the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. The IRD happens to share an suite of office in Washington DC with the AAC. The IRD is notorious among most of the mainline denominations as advocates for conservative movements, with their clear agenda being to be a subversive element, until they can get their own right wing candidates in positions of authority within the Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal and Lutheran churches.

In the meantime, a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion (no, not the great apes; the archbishops) is scheduled later this month. It appears the shouting of the conservative minority in the USA has been joined by shouts from a few Anglican Archbishops in Africa. This is rather curious, as in 1998, the Anglican Communion, meeting at Lambeth Palace, agreed to allow African converts who were in polygamous marriages to keep all their wives. This was done for pastoral reasons. No one shouted about it. But now, 5 years later, these same bishops sound like a broken record, wailing about how awful it is that one small diocese in the USA will have a homosexual bishop. It doesn't add up. I suggest someone follow the money.

The homosexuality issue is a complicated one. Its not as simple as pointing to a handful of bible verses and saying its wrong, although that's what many seem to be doing. On other issues, such as circumcision, kosher laws, Gentile converts, slavery, women's ordination, birth control, divorce and polygamy, we have been able to listen to the scriptures, and recognize the context in which they were written, and then explore the possibility that God was teaching us a new thing in light of contemporary culture. The same process was used in regards to tradition; how the Church has responded to these issues in the past. These considerations were balanced with reason, and some changes were made. Not so this time. The conservatives have drawn a line in the sand.

Why? I can only conclude it is the "ick factor" at work. Here's how that factor operates:

I hate cooked cauliflower. My grandmother used to pinch my nose and make me eat it. I can't even stand the smell of cooked cauliflower. It makes me nauseous. I know for a fact that it is a sin to cook cauliflower, and I think it should be against the law!

Some heterosexuals get nauseous just imagining what gay sex might be like. They know it must be sinful, because it is so "icky." Armed with these feelings, they find a handful of various scriptural passages, and teachings in the Church (written, no doubt, by others under the sway of the "ick factor"), and claim they know God's mind on this issue.

Personally, I find no passages in scripture that refer to the situation we have today; same sex relationships within the confines of long term, committed, monogamous unions. Most of the passages seem to be referring to heterosexuals engaging in homosexual sex. This is not surprising, since the authors understood everyone to be born heterosexual.

The reality is, there have always been gay and lesbian Christians in the Church. Some of them have been clergy. I've known more than a few over the years. I was trained as an Anglo-Catholic (smells and bells), ands so I have known quite a few gay clergy. For some reason, the High Church tradition is especially attractive to gay men. I don't know why, but it is a statement that is true to my experience. The tradition of the Church has been, "Don't ask, don't tell." As long as you stayed in the closet, your sexual orientation was not a problem.

About 20 years ago, the Episcopal Church decided this was dishonest. They decided we needed to announce that there were gay and lesbians among our members, and to encourage folks to talk about it. So we have been talking and talking this issue to death. In some places now in the Episcopal Church, same sex blessings are offered for couples requesting the blessing of the Church over their union. In my mind, this is an issue of honesty and integrity.

We can't have it both ways. Either gays and lesbians are full members of this household of God, or they remain second class citizens.

Anyway, I am troubled. We have a small but vocal group meeting in Texas plotting how to get the Primates to recognize them as the official Anglican presence in the USA, and kick the Episcopal Church out of the Anglican Communion. We are supposed to be kind and loving towards these extremists (whose smear tactics and death threats made it necessary for Canon Robinson to wear a bullet proof vest and hire body guards at Convention), but I am feeling neither kind nor loving to toward these schismatics. But, I am keeping my mouth shut, except on this blog. No one reads these things anyway, right?

Whatever happens, right now, the way I feel, no clergy member of the AAC had better set foot in a parish in which I have the ecclesiastical authority. They will be ordered to leave, and if they refuse, I will have the police remove them, with charges of trespassing to follow.

I suppose I shouldn't be so worked up about this. But it breaks my heart to see these self-righteous right wing extremists willing to attempt to tear the Church apart, just so they can "win." As if "right thinking" has anything to do with our relationship with the living God? No thinking maybe; but right thinking?

Maybe next time I adminster communion, I had better first administer an exam, to make sure only those who are "orthodox' receive the sacrament.

May God have mercy on us all.