Friday, December 31, 2004

An Unprecedented Global Response is Needed


BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - The world pumped aid into south Asia's tsunami zone on Friday in a frantic race to save millions of survivors from dehydration and disease, and stop a terrifying death count climbing further.

As relief efforts brought a glimmer of hope, the toll from the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami it spawned rose to more than 120,000 on Friday, including about 80,000 deaths in Indonesia, though Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supadi said the toll there could hit 100,000...

...U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it an unprecedented global catastrophe needing a fitting response, adding that it would be hard to reach and care for the 5 million homeless.

"Not only are we going to be stretched in terms of manpower and human resources, but we are also going to be stretched financially and technically," he said...
Did you note that last quote? An "unprecedented global catastrophe" calls for an unprecedented global response. In other words, every one of us needs to roll up our sleeves and do what we can.

We can't depend on the government's response. The President finally spoke up three days after the fact (or was it four?) and offered 15 million. He was then shamed into upping it to 35 million. Considering the enormity of the crisis, that is a pretty paltry response. Let's face it; this man simply cannot think globally; never could, and never will. But this isn't the time to reopen the election debate, so I'll bite my tongue regarding Bush's ability, or lack thereof, to lead...for now.

The President's response does open the door to another discussion, however, that might be timely. Is our government stingy? According to the L.A. Times, it depends on how you crunch the numbers;
But views of American generosity depend on who is doing the measuring and how.

By total money, the United States by far donates more than any other country in the world. This is the gauge preferred by most U.S. officials.

But when aid is calculated per U.S. citizen or as a percentage of the economy, the United States ranks among the least generous in the industrialized world...

...Critics of U.S. giving often cite statistics from the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, which each year measures overseas development assistance as a percentage of gross national income for the 22 leading industrialized nations.

In 2003, the United States ranked dead last on OECD's list, spending only 0.15% of its national income. Other Western countries contributed more. Norway spent 0.92% of its national income; France 0.4% and Britain 0.34%...

...A different key measure of international generosity was devised by the Center for Global Development and Foreign Policy magazine. It ranked rich countries' contributions to the poor in terms of contributions through aid, trade, investment, technology, security, technology and the environment. Countries got points for the quality as well as the quantity of their aid and contributions.

On that scale, the U.S. ranked seventh out of 21 nations, behind Canada, Britain, Australia, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands...
And so the debate will most likely go on for some weeks, while 5 million people are homeless, many without fresh water and food. Like I said, don't count on the government to respond for you. After all, they've got more important things to do, like fight a war in Iraq that has already cost 148 BILLION.

The private sector, which includes faith communities, are going to have to make the difference in this crisis. And we can do it. How? Consider this excerpt from Jay Voorhees site, Only Wonder Understands;

...Anyway, here are a few off the wall ideas as to how those of us in the United States could make a special contribution to better help those in Asia:

1. The current adult employed U.S. population is somewhere around 189 million persons. If each of us were to contribute $100 (about 1/3 of one percent of the median U.S. income) we would be able to donate around 18 billion dollars toward relief efforts in Asia. I'm willing to have a special tax assessment of $100 if it means that it will contribute to the effort there.

2. There are about 169,000 congregations that make up the top ten denominations in the United States. What if every congregation in this were to give $500 toward Asian relief? We would be able to give 84.5 million toward these efforts.

3. The Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. is around $11 trillion. Currently the $2 billion the U.S. gives in humanitarian aid represents .15 percent of the GDP. What would happen if our national giving equaled the national philanthropy rate of 2 percent of income? Frankly that gets into numbers that are too large for me to comprehend.

4. What if the the ten richest folk in the U.S. were to donate 1 percent of their net worth toward Asian relief? Relief agencies would see 1.6 billion dollars flow into their coffers.
You can find lots of links for information about the crisis here.

A few donation and relief effort links;

The Red Cross.

Of special interest to Episcopalians;
Episcopal Relief and Development (bulletin inserts for Sunday are offered as well).

And, since Jay's writing motivated me to post this, I would be remiss if I did not include the efforts being made by our Sister Church;
Methodist Relief.

...Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
- Matthew 25:40

UPDATE: I just heard on the radio that the US has increased their promise of aid tenfold; to 350 million. The story is repeated here. A move in the right direction!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsunami Stories

The BBC is reporting that the number of deaths in Southeast Asia could exceed 100,000. Relief efforts are just starting;

...The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the death toll from the actual disaster could reach six figures once more remote areas are checked for victims.

More than 500,000 have been reported injured across the region.

"We're facing a disaster of unprecedented proportion in nature," said the federation's Asia-Pacific chief, Simon Missiri.
Samuel left a comment here pointing to his post about his mother's first hand account from India;

Some five minutes later, the water level began to rise. As I began walking towards the shore, everyone was shouting at me from the shore. I turned back and saw that my husband was struggling in the water unable to stand up. I ran to him and lent him a helping hand as the water was surging over us. The weight of the water and the speed of the wave crippled us. The water kept on surging and we were unable to stand up. Some Coast Guard personnel and some good samaritans came to our rescue. Till then the water was rising up slowly. Then the water overflowed over the banks in a huge surge and we were running to safety. Our Lord saved us. The water had pushed us towards the shore and not pulled us in. What a miraculous escape. It all happened on the 26th around 10:40 AM. Only when we went home and saw the TV did we realise that we had a miraculous escape. My heart goes to all the people who have perished and been rendered homeless. Lord help the survivors and our people.
Samuel adds a couple of comments;

What's missing in her account is the fact that as they were running for their lives they saw a neighboring fishing village being devastated by the tides.

Also the fact that she dedided to hold onto my father when it became obvious she could not lift him preferring to die with him rather than try making it to the shore.
The BBC program The World did a piece today on blogs being "a place of refuge for people in times of crisis." They provide a few links, one being to a group site called ChiensSansFrontiers. They received a first-hand report from a man who used his cell phone's text SMS (short message service) since phones and electricity were out. Here is one of those messages;

Found 5 of my friends, 2 dead. Of the 5, 4 are back in Colombo. The last one is stranded because of a broken bridge. Broken his leg. But he's alive. Made contact. He got swept away but swam ashore. Said he's been burying people all day. Just dragging them off the beach and digging holes with his hands. Going with gear to get him tommorrow morning. He sounded disturbed. Guess grave digging does that to you.
If you're looking for ways to help, you might want to visit this site; The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami.

boingboing provides a number of links to blogs with stories, news reports, info on relief efforts and pictures here, here and here.

Bishop Councell of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey has sent our congregations a message asking that we "...make a generous offering of prayer and of financial support for the relief of all those affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami." Here are his closing words and prayer;

...In this season of Christmastide, we recall the words of the Bidding Prayer at the Festival of Lessons and Carols:

"And because he particularly loves them, let us remember in his name the poor and helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed, the sick and those who mourn, the lonely and unloved, the aged and little children, as well as those who do not know and love the Lord Jesus Christ."

May we offer our prayers, our gifts and our lives, that the love of our Lord Jesus Christ may be made known to all and the light of Christ may shine forth in these dark days.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Celebrating Christmas

On Christmas Eve, we began our celebration with a Choral Eucharist offered at 5:00 p.m. In this parish, this is traditionally known as the "children's service" or "family service." The place was packed. We had to bring in folding chairs.

The homily, offered by a gifted associate, involved having all the young children gather on the pace before the altar. Together they placed the figures in the creche, with each child adding straw as they told of something they had done for someone else. The warmth expressed in their actions was symbolized by the straw that would keep the Christ child warm. It was quite moving, and not as corny as it sounds, due primarily to the ad-libs, such as when two children began to struggle over who would hold the baby Jesus. The homilist responded with, "Okay, let's not fight over Jesus. That seems to miss the whole point, don't you think?." When two brothers who were holding shepherds began to tussle a bit, peace was restored with the comment, "Are our shepherds wrestling? I must have missed that part of the story."

The choir was magnificent, as were the various musicians who offered the prelude.

At 11:00, we celebrated a Solemn High Mass. My chanting is a bit rusty, since I don't do it on a regular basis anymore, but I didn't miss any notes and have to slip into a monotone, so it wasn't a disaster. I got a parishioner who works for the fire alarm company to disable the alarm so we could use incense, so we did not have a repeat of the fiasco of the Easter Vigil, which was quite a relief. Nothing can destroy the Exsultet like a piercing siren. And nothing can be more of a distraction during the sermon than to have a fire truck pull up outside and firemen come running into the sanctuary. No such excitement during this Midnight Mass, thank God.

The parish has this beautiful red and gold cope, which has not been used much over the last twenty years. I wore it for the Liturgy of the Word, and must admit to being reluctant to change into chasuble during the offertory. A personal weakness for fine vestments, I suppose.

I preached on the theme of taking a journey, our final Advent journey, with the shepherds to Bethlehem. Along the way I encouraged folks to put down various bags they were carrying; expectations, personal grudges, false nationalism, etc. We arrived at the manger free of the burdens adults acquire during their journey through life, to greet the Christ child with the wonder and awe of the little child hidden within each one of us. That was more or less the message in summation. I'm always hesitant to post complete sermons, as I don't think a sermon can really be grasped out of the context of the specific audience for which it was written. Also, I tend to use some personal examples from the life of the parish, which if accidentally posted on the internet might break the trust I have established with these people.

Demi and I got home at 2:00 a.m. Christmas morning. I had one more Choral Eucharist at 10:00 Christmas day. A few families gathered for this much simpler celebration.

The next morning was the First Sunday after Christmas, with the rather intriguing reading from the first chapter of John. I will post a bit of that homily, as it may spark some discussion. Your understanding of what John is doing may differ from mine, and I'd be interested in hearing other approaches to this text;

...St. John is our model for evangelism, not the popular televangelists preaching fire and brimstone. St. John gives us a good lesson in his style in this morning's Gospel. He begins by telling us, "In the beginning was the Word." When John speaks of "the Word," he is talking about much more than the meaning that term has for us today. John is speaking first to his Hebrew audience, for whom the Word had a living quality. The Semitic root for word, "dabar" also meant "thing, event, or action." A word spoken was an event. Once a word had been uttered, it could not be separated from the event that it brought forth.

(Blessing of Jacob instead of Esau as an example; even though gained through trickery, it was not taken back.)

The words had been spoken, and the blessing stood.

To the Hebrew people, when God spoke, it was always a creative action. All of creation was called into existence by the Word of God; God said, let there be light, and there was light.

The Hebrew scriptures celebrate over and over again the power of God's creative action. When John starts with, "in the beginning was the Word," he brought to mind numerous memories and understandings from his Hebrew listeners.

John reached out to his own people. But this is not what earned him the title the Evangelist. He also reached out to the vast Gentile audience of his time, who were dominated by Greek thought. And here is where John's brilliance is revealed. Long before the birth of Christ, Greek philosophers had asked the question of what was permanent in our experience, a reality that seems to be constantly changing. Permanence was defined as residing in the Reason of God, referred to as the "Logos", which happens to be the Greek translation of the term "Word."

So in using the Word, the Logos, John was speaking to both the Jewish and the Greek worlds.

This is the kind of evangelism to which we are called. Those who desire to be authentic witnesses to Jesus Christ have much to learn from John. So many of us seem to have become so domesticated by the Church that we have managed to cut ourselves off from those whom we are called to reach with the good news of Jesus Christ.

(various examples of cliches that are a "turn off" to those who do not know church jargon; "Saved by the blood of the lamb," etc.)

There is no way we can enter into honest dialogue with either the Greeks or the Hebrews of today if we hide within the church, or insist on using church jargon.

We meet people where they are in life with the Gospel message. We speak their language, learn their stories, and listen to their lives. Then we respond with the message of the Gospel...
After all the Church celebrations had ended, Demi and I shared a quiet Christmas at home. I got a silver Corvette from Santa. Really! Ok, so it was a phone shaped liked a Corvette. One can always imagine and dream, right? Maybe next year it'll be full size, but make it a Mustang, please Demi my dear?


Monday, December 27, 2004

Tsunami Victims in Need of Aid

From Episcopal Relief and Development;

More than 20,000 people are reported dead in South Asia after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean near Sumatra, Indonesia, triggered a massive Tsunami. The sea wave caused widespread destruction in areas throughout six countries including Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India, sweeping away entire villages. Thousands of people are missing and presumed dead. The spread of disease now threatens hundreds of thousands who are homeless. The earthquake was the most powerful in 40 years.

Episcopal Relief and Development is reaching out to affected dioceses in the Church of South India, Church of Ceylon, and Church of the Province of South East Asia and will provide emergency assistance such as food, potable water, temporary shelter, and medicine. ERD will remain with affected communities as they begin to recover and assess their long-term needs.

Please pray for families affected by the disaster in South Asia.

To help people affected by the Tsunami in South Asia, donate to the Emergency Relief Fund under “Ways to Give.” Donations can be mailed to: Episcopal Relief and Development, c/o Emergency Relief Fund, PO Box 12043, Newark, NJ 07101.
From the Red Cross;

...International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in south Asia have begun to mobilize staff and volunteers to affected areas to assist with the immediate needs. Emergency assessment and first-aid teams have already reached some of the affected areas.

“The situation is fluid, with so many people affected in so many areas of southeast Asia, and it is likely that relief teams there may need many different types of assistance in the coming days,” said Matthew Parry of the International Disaster Response Unit at the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross continues to maintain contact with its partners on the ground and is prepared to support operations with relief supplies, financial assistance or personnel as requested by our sister International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies there.
The American Red Cross is not able to accept small, individual donations or collections of items for this crisis. Financial support is the best form of assistance those wishing to help can provide.

You can help those affected by this crisis and countless others around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance, and other support to those in need. Call 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the International Response Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting
Let us remember those who suffer and grieve in our prayers;

Eternal God, look with pity upon the sorrows of those for whom we pray. Remember them in mercy; nourish them with patience; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; lift up your countenance upon them; and give them peace. Amen.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Saving Christmas?

If one listens to some of the popular talking heads, it would appear that Christianity is under attack.

Here's the Rev. Jerry Falwell;

The spiritual Grinches in our nation are accelerating their war against Christmas as never before. And they are tragically convincing growing numbers of our fellow citizens – primarily those in our nation's public schools and public administration – that Christmas should be publicly shunned, replaced by nebulous substitutes designed to avoid offending those who are all-so-easily outraged... is imperative that parents and grandparents ensure that their children understand the Judeo-Christian ancestry that is undeniable. We must also make certain that our children's schools are not gagging their rights to live out their faith in the classroom.

The effort to preserve our religious heritage and future requires the diligence of us all. May we, through God's grace, faithfully safeguard the wonderful Christian birthright of America.
Pat Buchanan weighs in with a piece entitled "Christianophobia";

...It needs to be said. What we are witnessing here are hate crimes against Christianity – the manifestations, the symptoms of a sickness of the soul, a disease a Vatican diplomat correctly calls "Christianophobia," the fear and loathing of all things Christian, coupled with a fanatic will to expunge from the public life of the West all reminders that ours was once a Christian civilization and America once a Christian country.
What has them all worked up? One example that is mentioned on a number of sites is that Target has decided to not allow Salvation Army bellringers in front of their stores this year. Is this Christian persecution? Here is Target's explanation;

...We receive an increasing number of solicitation inquiries from nonprofit organizations and groups each year and determined that if we continue to allow the Salvation Army to solicit, then it opens the door to any other groups that wish to solicit our guests. While some of our guests may welcome the opportunity to support their favorite charity or cause, allowing these organizations to solicit means that Target would also have to permit solicitation by organizations whose causes or behavior may be unacceptable to our guests. Target notified the Salvation Army of this decision in January 2004, well in advance of the holiday season, so that the organization would have time to find alternative fundraising sources. Target also asked the Salvation Army to look for other ways we could support their organization under our corporate giving guidelines. At this date, they have not provided a proposal that fits those guidelines...
Other examples of oppression include Denver's Parade of Lights banning Christian floats and a principal in Washington not allowing Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", supposedly because of the offensive line, "God bless us everyone." Salon sheds a little light on these popular urban myths floating around;

Right-wingers chastise organizers of Denver's downtown holiday Parade of Lights for rejecting the nearby Faith Bible Church's religious float. But organizers of the event, fearful of being put in the position of having to choose one faith's float over another for its small parade, have never allowed religious floats of any kind in the procession. So how does that fit into a specifically anti-Christian "jihad" gripping America? (P.S. The Faith Bible Church was notified more than six months ago that its float would not be in the parade, so the incident hardly qualifies as news.)

And take the example of a school principal in Kirkland, Wash., who allegedly canceled a performance of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" out of fear that it violated the district's holiday policy of keeping church and state separate. The story has become a touchstone in the anti-Christmas crusade movement. O'Reilly cited the play's being "banned" as a prime example of "anti-Christmas madness," while conservative Washington Times columnist Deborah Simmons wrote matter-of-factly that the principal "lowered the curtain on a production of the classic 'A Christmas Carol' because feeble Tiny Tim says, 'God bless us everyone.'" That assertion is pure fiction.

Reading the very first news account of the manufactured controversy, from a Dec. 5 article in the King County Journal, it's plain the school's principal, Mark Robertson, "canceled the Dec. 17 matinee by the Attic Theatre cast because students would have been charged to see the performance." Robertson himself told the paper: "We don't allow any private organizations to come and sell products in the schools, or we'd have everybody down here."
Regarding the "fear and loathing of all things Christian" that Pat Buchanan labels "Christianophobia," I would suggest that some of these arrogant men take a look in a mirror. A good example is Bill O' Reily, and Fox News in general, who have jumped on the bandwagon of "Save Christmas." Look at this segment of a transcript from a recent show;

CALLER: I agree with what you've been saying recently -- you're concerned about the secularization of Christmas and -- I'm concerned about the secularization of Jews and about the -- and Christmas going into schools. When I was growing up -- I'm Jewish, but I was not in a very Jewish area. There were some Jews there but, I was kind of -- grew up with a resentment because I felt that people were trying to convert me to Christianity -
O'REILLY: Were they?
CALLER: Yeah, when I got to college I found out - that's true. A lot of people were. I found that millions of dollars were spent trying to convert -
O'REILLY: I mean that you really believe that people were trying to convert - you personally - were trying to make you change from being Jewish to Christian?
CALLER: Absolutely.
O'REILLY: How do they do that?
CALLER: Well, for example, there are various organizations in the colleges that go to people -- try to invite you to Bible study groups -
O'REILLY: Yeah, I know, but - I mean, you don't have to go. I mean they do that to me. They come - the Jehovah's Witnesses come to my door and invite me places. I mean, I don't care - I just say no, get outta here.
CALLER: The thing is, is when you have - for example, Christmas carols or gift exchanges being done in school, that kind of sets the kids up to being converted.
O'REILLY: Yeah, but you give gifts on Hanukkah, don't you?
CALLER: No, there's not really a Jewish tradition of giving gifts on -
O'REILLY: Well, the seven candles [sic], you get a gift for every night, don't you?
CALLER: Actually, the Jews give gifts on -
O'REILLY: All right. Well, what I'm tellin' you, [caller], is I think you're takin' it too seriously. You have a predominantly Christian nation. You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus. And you don't wanna hear about it? Come on, [caller] - if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel then. I mean because we live in a country founded on Judeo - and that's your guys' - Christian, that's my guys' philosophy. But overwhelmingly, America is Christian. And the holiday is a federal holiday honoring the philosopher Jesus. So, you don't wanna hear about it? Impossible.
And that is an affront to the majority. You know, the majority can be insulted, too. And that's what this anti-Christmas thing is all about.
When is Bill going to learn that sometimes he needs to simply shut up? Here's another example from a "Christian leader";

Reverend Pat Robertson called Kwanzaa "an absolute fraud" during the news segment of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club December 6. After lamenting that "left wing educators, left-wing judges are stripping every vestige of our Christian heritage," Robertson, host and Christian Coalition of America founder, said: "Kwanzaa is an absolute fraud. You know, there was no festival in Africa called 'Kwanzaa.' I mean, it's made up by a bunch of hippie-types on the West Coast. I mean, it's not something that goes back to Africa. No way."
And they wonder why what is passed off as Christianity leaves a bad taste in some people's mouths?

Many of the spokespersons for the religious right put much of the blame on the supposed secularization of Christmas on the ACLU. As Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune points out, this targets the wrong enemy;

...the ACLU frequently goes to court to fight for the rights of believers to practice their faith, and that in 1995 the ACLU signed on to the Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools.

That statement aggressively reminded educators of students' rights to express their faith in public school in numerous ways and for schools to present religiously inspired material--including music--as long as it was in a clearly educational setting.

In other words, students in a public school assembly in December can sing "Silent Night" (as they should and as, indeed, 4th graders will in a Spring Grove program next week), so long as the context makes it clear that the school district isn't taking a formal position one way or the other about the lyrical assertion in "Silent Night" that Jesus Christ was the son God and the savior of mankind.

The Baptist Joint Committee, the National Association of Evangelicals and other Christian groups didn't have a problem with that commonsense directive. They co-signed the Joint Statement with the ACLU.

So did the American Jewish Congress, the American Muslim Council and the National Sikh Center.

These and other similar organizations were rightly concerned that rampaging hypersensitivity and fear of litigation was prompting public educators to avoid all references to religion to stay on the constitutional side of the line between teaching and preaching.

The ACLU took a lot of the blame for that fear and avoidance. After all, ACLU lawyers led the way in filing suit against those who put into action a belief that our public institutions ought to favor one faith over another.

The Joint Statement was meant to clarify the mainstream legal and social position and to reassure tremulous superintendents: You don't have to write Christ out of Christmas, you just have to keep it an educational rather than devotional context.

Ignorance is the enemy of Christmas--ignorance of the law and ignorance of the ACLU.
You can read the ACLU's "Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools," and view the complete list of signators here.

I would agree that ignorance is the true enemy of Christmas. I would add arrogance to the list as well. Arrogant Christians are the absolute worst witnesses to the Prince of Peace that I can imagine. Claiming that Christianity must dominate the country because we happen to be a majority is more of a political statement than a religious one. Since the religious right claims to have won the last election, is this the kind of exclusive, ungraceful and arrogant rhetoric we can expect for the next four years?

The compassionate spirit of Jesus Christ transcends our divisions. Personally, I think some of the school boards, etc. that get nervous about affirming the miracle of Christmas are playing it too safe. We can all celebrate the spirit of Christmas without having to agree on the theology, can't we?

Merry Christmas.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Acting Upon the Revelation

From The Witness; "Joseph the Righteous" by Elizabeth Morris Downie:

...Joseph's righteousness, however, was deeper and more profound than simply observing laws and customs. It was a righteousness that grew out of God's presence in his life, a righteousness that allowed him to hear the angelic voice of his dream and obey its commands. As a righteous man, he could look directly at the reality which now confronted him, see it and all its implications fully, and do God's bidding without regard for his own reputation. He could accept the angel's word that the child was of the Holy Spirit; he could accept the duty, usually assumed by the mother, of naming the baby.

Matthew's narrative doesn't record a single word from Joseph, in marked contrast to Luke's record of Mary's “Let it be with me according to your word.” Joseph just acts upon the revelation received in his dream.

Can Joseph's clear view of reality call us to open our eyes and act upon the revelations we have received? Too many Christians in America today are mired in pretense and denial. We pretend that everything is going to be OK when the crescendo of evidence that all is far from well grows to a deafening level. We effectively deny the reality of what we have allowed the economic and political structures of our country to become. We do our best to apply band-aids to the wounds right under our noses, with our food banks and other charities. But we refuse to see the systemic problems, and we refuse to address them. We would have to risk our comfortable positions in society, to give up what we have come to believe is ours.

Clearly the most dangerous of our coping mechanisms is denying our own roles as Christians in the public arena. When progressive Christians remain silent, there are no religious voices in the public arena except those of the far Right, and we are seeing the havoc they are wreaking in the lives of our least affluent sisters and brothers–under the banner of “moral values.” We cannot remain wordless; we must speak up with the clear sight of Joseph and the willingness to risk all that Mary offered to God. Like these parents of the Christ Child, we look for the coming of the Commonwealth of God, and like them we must be ready to act.
From the January 2005 Harper's Index:

Years since the Justice Department last released the number of U.S. terror suspects taken into "preventive detention": 3

Estimated number of people who have been taken into detention since then: 4,000

Factor by which an Iraqi is more likely to die today than in the last year of the Hussein regime: 2.5

Factor by which the cause of death is more likely to be violence: 58
From the Guardian; US faces new torture claims...

The US government was today facing fresh allegations that its soldiers seriously abused and tortured prisoners in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay.

The revelations came in US government documents released yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The group got the documents - some dated after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal - as part of a lawsuit accusing the government of being complicit in torture.

FBI agents witnessed prisoners being beaten, choked and having lit cigarettes placed in their ears, the New York Times reported...
From the National Coalition for the Homeless;

In 2001, the U.S. Conference of Mayors' survey of homelessness in 27 cities found that children under the age of 18 accounted for 25.3% of the urban homeless population (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2001). This same study found that unaccompanied minors comprised 4% of the urban homeless population. However, in other cities and especially in rural areas, the numbers of children experiencing homelessness are much higher. On a national level, approximately 39% of the homeless population are children (Urban Institute 2000)...
From Bread for the World's February 2004 Hunger Report;

...People are considered food insecure and at risk of hunger in the United States when they do not know where their next meal will come from, or have to cut back on the types and amount of food they eat because they do not have enough money. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent survey, nearly 35 million Americans live in homes at risk of hunger - about 2 million more people than the year before...
There's much more to be outraged about going on right now, but that's enough for today, I suppose. As we prepare for the coming of the Christ child, who do we say that he is? Is he our personal Savior, or the Savior of the world? If the latter, then I think we have some work to do. We are the hands of Christ in the world today. We are the voice for those who have none. The light of Christ that is enkindled within our hearts is intended to shine out to the world.

There is some risk involved in challenging systemic problems. People may feel that you are threatening their place in the sun, or at least their promised tax cut. They might revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you...but if not us, then who?

My salvation is yoked with yours. And with the prisoners in Gitmo and Iraq. And with the families freezing tonight. And with the child who is crying himself to sleep because his empty tummy hurts.

Rejoice! Our Savior draws near. Be ready to act.


Sunday, December 19, 2004

Christmas and Children

Today I was reminded of this article from Anglicans Online that appeared a couple of weeks ago regarding the loss of the season of Advent. What brought it to mind was that this morning at the 10:00 Eucharist, we included the children's Christmas pageant. I know. It's the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Why didn't I object? Because I'm the interim, and this has been their "tradition" for a long time (20 years or so). I'll let the new rector sort that one out. Interims pick and choose their battles. This is one that I chose to not pick up.

Due to the limited microphones, the pulpit and the lectern, as well as one hand held wireless microphone, were used to capture some of the more timid young voices. As the pageant began, one little boy climbed up into the pulpit. He was not tall enough to be seen from the front. From the side, all I could see was his little head. He couldn't have been more than ten years old. He adjusted the microphone, fumbled with his papers for a minute, glanced back at his teacher to make sure it was time for his part, took a deep breath, and then launched into one of the best readings of the prophet Isaiah I have ever heard from anyone of any age. Clear enunciation, pauses for effect; simply superb. That's when I let go of my grumpiness regarding beginning Christmas on the 19th of December. I actually enjoyed the pageant. As these kinds of things go, which is usually barely controlled chaos, this one was quite good.

If we are willing, we can learn quite a bit from children. During Christmas, the spirit of this season is most easily found when we look through the eyes of a little child. The joy and excitement has not been tainted by years of routine and broken dreams. When I forget what it's all about, all I have to do is stop and watch the children. For little Larry, standing in the pulpit and reading Isaiah wasn't just a cute little bit in the local church's children's pageant. For him, it was important. He had prepared. No doubt that he rehearsed for a long time. And he was right. It was important; more important than my need to be in control. Thank you, Larry.

For those who may have missed it when I told the story of my Santa son some months ago, I'm going to repeat it one more time;

The Christmas my youngest son turned 11, he asked for only one thing; a Santa suit. A strange request, but we honored it. On Christmas day, he donned his new outfit, complete with beard and boots, and begged me to take him to the store. Since there were a couple of items needed for Christmas dinner, I finally gave in, and off we went, with this miniature Santa sitting in the front seat, clutching a red pillowcase which he had filled with candy canes.

When we entered the only convenience store open on Christmas day, there were a few young children waiting in line with their parents. They stared in awe at my little companion in his red suit, who promptly walked up to each one, and presented them with a candy cane.

As we left the store, it began to dawn on me what was going on. As he approached the age when the realization that Santa is a mythical being begins to come to light, my son was determined not to completely let go of something that had been a source of much joy for so many years. His solution was to become Santa for others.

As we drove home, we passed the city park. Since it was a beautiful California day, there were a number of families enjoying a Christmas picnic. Santa turned and gave me one pleading look. I pulled in and parked. He got out, and a gaggle of children soon surrounded him as he began to distribute candy canes. The parents thought he was simply adorable (which he was of course, but I am a bit bias).

Finally reaching the bottom of his sack, he reluctantly returned to the car. As we pulled away, the children and their parents all waved and shouted, "Good bye Santa!" He rolled down the window, and his white gloved hand slowly waved back in forth, in perfect imitation of the best Santa from any Macy's parade.

Not feeling in the Christmas spirit? Watch the children. Let them remind you, or maybe even teach you, what it's all about.

I need to go call my son now. Oh, and guess what? It's snowing outside. I may just have to make a few angels in the front yard before going to bed.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Seeking the Light

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility...
That is the beginning of the collect for the First Sunday of Advent. This theme of waiting in the darkness for the coming of the light is a common one during this season.

It is theme that is common in literature, music and poetry as well. What I'm talking about here is not simply the well-known "fear of the dark" that many of us may have experienced as children. There is a sense that this is such a powerful theme because of how deeply we long for the light rather than simply a response of fear of the dark.

I don't deny the fear, however. It is very real. I recall a time when I was in fire fighting school in the Navy. They put a bunch of us on the roof of a concrete building, and told us to hold down a large fire hose. No matter what happened, we were told, do not let go of that hose. Then they lit an oil fire below us. Slowly the thick smoke shut out all light. I've never experienced such complete darkness. When it reached the deepest hew of black, I experienced a wave of panic. If I hadn't been on a second story roof, I probably would have dropped that fool hose and took off running.

A few years later, I had a dream in which I was in a place that was much like the darkness of that roof. It was one of those dreams in which you are somewhat conscious that you're dreaming, and so you intentionally explore the strange world of your subconscious. I tried to sense what was in front of me. Then behind me. And it was then that a wave of panic came over me that was so strong that it woke me up. I panicked because what I sensed was an infinite nothing in every direction.

I think that is at the root of the fear of the dark. We connect light with existence. We think of the dark as a void. It is the void that we fear.

My faith tells me that the void is nothing to fear. Let me say more about that. In order to talk about it, I need to borrow some of the words and images from the tradition of Kabbalah. I'm not an expert on this topic, but the little I do know has been helpful in my own ruminations on this theme of the light and the darkness.

Kabbalah is not really a linear system of thought. It is more of a compilation of many generations of stories and studies. Some define this tradition as "Jewish mysticism." I don't know enough about it to know if that is an accurate definition, but I do know that when I hear it, something in me wants to say, "Yes, but, there's more!" Kabbalah is rooted in the Hebrew scriptures, however. It especially focuses on the creative act of God. The tradition suggests to us that we cannot "know" God as God is. What we perceive are emanations, or "sefiroth," which are named for the ten names of God found in the Hebrew scriptures.

To know something is to define what it is. It is through the act of creation that we gain some definition of God. As a Christian, I would also suggest that we gain this knowledge through the Incarnation as well, but that is, in some sense, another creative act which is probably best set aside for a separate discussion. We can also define what something is by beginning with what it is not. I think this is a dangerous way to go. It leads to dualism; a God of the created realm, and a God of the uncreated, a God of light and a God of dark. By the act of creation, everything has been touched by God, and, to some degree, carries the essence of God (I'm following Aristotle rather than Plato here...a personal preference, I suppose). God "rolls through all things" as Wordsworth would say. This is not a claim that God is all (pantheism) but that God is in all (panentheism).

Then how do we explain the darkness; those places where it seems that God is not present? This is where I find the Kabbalistic stories interesting. That tradition suggests that before the creative act all was God, or, "Ein Sof," which literally mean "light in extension" or "limitless light." Interestingly, Ein Sof is also described at times as the "No-Thing" which is one way of differentiating between the created order and that which has always been. Before the creative act, the light (white light, as it carries all the colors of the spectrum) was all there was. In order to create, Ein Sof had to contract himself; remove himself from a point within the light, to be able to have a space where there could be something that was other than the light. Some have compared this contraction to what we know of black holes; the gravitational force of a compact mass being so strong that it does not allow the light to emanate from it. This creation of the black space is called the "tzimtzum." The light was then poured back in as particular creations.

One of the best ways I've heard this described is to imagine a large sheet of white paper. We cut a hole in the middle of that paper. Using the cutout piece, we cut small white stars, which we then sprinkle over the hole, thus filling it once again.

The dark places are those from which there are no emanations of God, or the emanations are weak. They are not accidental, or necessarily malevolent. It is part of the way creation unfolds, as I've previously suggested while considering Irenaeus. We long for the light because we have experienced darkness. We long for God because we have touched those places where God is not.

That is true, as far as our experience goes, but experience alone is not always the best tool for defining reality. A Kabbalist would remind me that the source of all is the Ein Sof. The light does permeate all things. It's apparent absence is a necessary part of the creative act, but it does not diminish God, nor should it diminish our faith in God. We need not live in fear.

As the darkness of winter begins to recede (December 21) and the light lingers with us a bit longer each day, let us rejoice in the promise that God will be with us, within us, and all around us this day, and until the end of time.

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

(collect for the First Sunday after Christmas Day)J.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Scriptural vs. Ecclesiastical Authority

I recently came across an excellent essay written by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG, Vicar of Saint James Church Fordham, The Bronx entitled Who's in charge: Judging the Scriptures;

The question of Scriptural versus Ecclesiastical authority, while full of rich and complex nuances, is most certainly not a question of which came first, chicken or egg. While the Hebrew Scriptures clearly precede the foundation of the Christian church, the Holy Bible as we know it was assembled and authorized by that very church. The question of how far the church is limited by Scripture, and how much authority the church has over it, is laid out, for Anglicans, in the Articles of Religion, to which I will return in a moment.

For the present, let me second Fr. Gerald Keucher's observation that there is no reading without interpretation. This is not a novel premise of postmodernism; it is something of which the Rabbis and the Church Fathers were well aware, as they discussed the levels of meaning inherent in the sacred texts. As Richard Hooker would point out, even the "plain meaning" of Scripture is subject to human reason and human authority. "Even such as are readiest to cite for one thing five hundred sentences of holy Scripture; what warrant have they, that any one of them doth mean the thing for which it is alleged? Is not their surest ground most commonly, either some probable conjecture of their own, or the judgment of others taking those Scriptures as they do?" (Laws, II.VII.8)

But there is more. There are some texts that are perfectly "plain" which nonetheless the church has chosen, in its wisdom, to set aside or allow to fade into obscurity. Few if any Christians will hold that all people must abide by the literal mandates of the entire biblical text. All Christian churches clearly make choices as to what applies to them (and others) and what doesn't, and Christians have been doing so from the time of Christ himself.

While Jesus is reported to have stated that he came in fulfillment of the law, nonetheless he was understood by the church explicitly to have set aside the dietary portions of that very law. (Mark 7:19) The Apostles, believing themselves to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, continued the process, and set aside many other requirements beyond those they understood Christ himself to have abrogated, most importantly the requirement of circumcision. They were not able to accomplish this without significant and continuing controversy, attested to in the Pauline epistles. The early church continued this process, variously adding to or taking away from the requirements laid down in scripture, even the most solemnly delivered portions of it: they forbade (I think wrongly) the observance of a Saturday sabbath, for example, even though it is one of the Ten Commandments. Closer to home in time and space (because of the problems it created for Henry VIII) the church forbade (and then for political reasons gave Henry a dispensation to allow) something that the Scripture had mandated: a brother taking his brother's childless widow as a wife (Deut 25:5). And we all know what a mess that led to.

Now this is not simply a question of interpretation concerning vague or problematical texts. Rather it is a question of the authority to decide in a given case that a relatively "clear" scriptural mandate or prohibition, which everyone more or less can agree means what it appears to say, is no longer applicable. Given the evidence outlined above that the church has felt itself competent to set aside certain laws laid out in Scripture, we are then left with the question, "By what criterion of judgment is this done." That the church judges the Scripture is manifest; so how does it do so...
If you want a clear, yet concise answer to that final question, follow the link.

I encourage you to take the time to read this essay. Then read it again. Then bookmark it. There has been a great need for such a clear statement from the perspective of orthodox Christianity explaining the actions of General Convention in 2003. This may very well be the definitive statement we have been seeking. Thank you, Tobias.


Top 5 for 2004

I recently received this message from Bob Carlton of The Corner;

Greetings everyone and Happy Lucia Day (aka Saint Lucy's Day on December13) - a day which ranks among the most important days on the Swedish calendar. It honors a young Christian girl, martyred in ancient Rome who is always portrayed with her head encircled by a halo of lights. Though it's not officially part of Advent, for many Swedes Lucia Day forms the gateway to the Christmas season. It is a day for boisterous winter fun, with the first sleigh rides of the season and singing loud enough to frighten off the gnomes.

In the spirit of frightening the gnomes, everyone is invited to participate in this. The instructions are simple (you can post these or pass them along to other blogging buddies):

1. Create an entry with your best 5 entries of the year.

2. Send me the entry link at

3. I am going to repost your entry on ( here )

4. Subscribe to the RSS feed

5. Spread the word

6. Enjoy the fun.

(idea cribbed from:

My prayers are with you & your ministries during this season of Advent.
To you & all of yours, I pray this Christmas blessing be true:

The light of the Christmas star to you
The warmth of home and hearth to you
The cheer and good will of friends to you
The hope of a childlike heart to you
The joy of a thousand angels to you
The love of the Son and God's peace to you.

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not
they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's
business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will
render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.

-- Thomas Merton
Great idea, Bob. The problem is picking 5 out of over 250! The Stopping the World series is six by itself, so, even though they are my personal favs, I'll eliminate them, and see what I come up with.

1. ...even at the grave...

2. Longing for Home

3. A Ghost From the Past

4. Loneliness

5. Healing the Wounds

That wasn't really so hard after all. Once I eliminated all the posts that were primarily links or quotes of others, then all the "emotionally unstable" ones, and finally the political ones (national and church), there weren't that many left.

Your turn. Follow Bob's directions.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Increased Abstinence, Condom Use Among Teens

I recently heard about an interesting report on NPR's All Things Considered. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that teens are abstaining longer from having sex and when they do engage in sexual activity, they're using condoms;

The proportion of never-married females 15-17 years of age who had ever had sexual intercourse dropped significantly from 38 percent in 1995 to 30 percent in 2002. At age 18-19, 68 percent had had intercourse in 1995, compared with 69 percent in 2002. For male teens, the percent of those who were sexually experienced dropped significantly in both age groups: from 43 percent to 31 percent at age 15-17, and from 75 percent to 64 percent at age 18-19. These and other data suggest that teenagers are delaying sex until somewhat older ages.

“There is much good news in these results,” said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. “More teenagers are avoiding or postponing sexual activity, which can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy or emotional and societal responsibilities for which they are not prepared.”

At their first premarital intercourse, teens were most likely to choose condoms for birth control – 66 percent reported using a condom when they became sexually active. Teens are more likely in recent years to use contraception when they begin having intercourse—79 percent in 1999-2002, up from 61 percent in the 1980’s. Teens were also more likely to have used contraception at their most recent intercourse in 2002 (71 percent in 1995, compared with 83 percent in 2002). These changes in sexual activity and contraceptive use are consistent with the downward trend in teen pregnancy and births over the past decade.
What I find especially interesting in this report is that it is the dual message of abstinence and condom use that has brought these numbers down. So often we hear conservatives declaring that abstinence is the only way, and liberals claiming that condoms are the only realistic means to prevent STDs and teen pregnancies. This report suggests that combining these approaches offers the best results.

I've heard the argument that you can't teach abstinence, and then talk about condoms, as the young people will hear too mixed a message. I think that underestimates the ability of teens to struggle with complex issues.

Most teens are going through a period of self-discovery. They are trying to find out who they are, apart from their family and other social groups. Part of this search involves questioning many of the beliefs they inherited from their parents. This questioning includes morality as well as spirituality. I think this is a healthy process, and needs to be encouraged.

In the midst of this search, some of the morality questions can remain a bit gray for some time. Yet some decisions, such as having sex or not, can be decided on pragmatic factors rather than ethical ones. The message that seems to be getting through is that the only 100% sure way of not getting an STD is by abstaining. The next best method is the use of a condom. Many of our young people are more aware of what is going on in the world today than we might think. They know about AIDS/HIV. They know that the wrong decision may cost them their lives.

It appears that some of the teaching about the life-changing impact of teen pregnancies is also being heard, although I think this consideration is secondary to the dangers of STDs.

When conservatives and liberals work together, positive changes can be the result. Imagine that.


Saturday, December 11, 2004

Get Real...Get Christian

Prior Aelred recently sent me the following sermon by the Rev. Canon Lesley A. Northup. This needs to be read in its entirety to get the full message;

Proper 29C
St. Stephen's
21 November 2004

Today is the feast of Christ the King. This is the sermon I was going to preach. It wasn't bad. All about Christ the King. So what? What has that got to do with our lives today? I don't want to preach about this. I want to preach about something that's really important. I want to preach about Taking Back Christianity. I don't know about you, but I'm embarrassed to death to call myself a Christian these days. And I resent that. The name "Christian" has been hijacked, taken over, and practically patented by a particular sect of Christianity, and it's been stolen right out from under me. How dare they!

I read that this latest election was decided by something called "moral values." That is, specifically, opposition to abortion and to gay marriage. Those were the two moral issues that made all the so-called Christians stand up and be counted. Christian values, Christian morals-we are told that these won out in this election.

Well, they aren't my Christian morals, and I don't want to be that kind of Christian. I don't want a name that implies I think or feel or believe like people who make these their highest values-or fears. There are many Christianities out there-always have been. The Religious Rightwing, the fundamentalists, the zealots, the anti-intellectual evangelicals--have a lot of nerve trying to claim that their very narrow brand of Christianity is the only one.

I say it is time true Christians-and by that I mean people who believe in and follow and actually live the teachings of Jesus-it's time true Christians reclaimed the name "Christian" and stopped being coopted by persons who have little knowledge, understanding, or practical application in their own lives of Christian principles.

Oh, I know we're not supposed to say that. Not polite. Not discrete. Here in the Episcopal Church, we're just coming face-to-face with the fact that the great Anglican sin is not murder or betraying your country or even apostasy, but indiscretion. We've been taught all our lives never to say anything too harsh about religious. Do and say anything for the sake of the mythical ideal of "Unity," so we can keep everyone in the fold, no matter what they believe or do.

Not long ago, we had a good ol' evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury who said and did totally stupid things, but at least you knew where he stood. Now we have a good ol' liberal Archbishop of Canterbury, an intellectual one-one who actually reads books-and he has been so terrified of speaking his conscience that he has allowed a tiny group of African and fringe-nation bishops to dominate the entire Anglican Communion. The fact that these bishops are "people of color" prevents a good liberal from pointing out the truth-that they are poorly educated, theologically unsophisticated, socially regressive, and very happy to very publicly accept expensive gifts and large sums of money from the small but wealthy rear-guard traditionalists of the Episcopal Church in exchange for working everyone into a lather about the consecration of Gene Robinson.

Whoops! We're not supposed to say that either. And Gene Robinson isn't supposed to say that he's gay. It's OK that he is gay-as long he just lies about it as thousands of other gay clergy have over the years. Whatever you do, don't tell the truth! Well, I want to tell the truth. I'm tired of counting the angels dancing on the heads of pins while our culture collapses around us. It's not just the church, as the election proved.

Real Christians have to stand up and say, "Morality? This is what you call morality? You've got to be kidding!" Real Christians have to point out that "Christian" means "someone who follows the example and teachings of Jesus," not "someone who will swallow whatever a preacher will tell them." Real Christians have to take this book that everyone keeps referring to, this Bible, and actually read it and find out what those teachings are.

In the book, Jesus never said a word about abortions. Some Christians oppose aborting a fetus that cannot even live on its own, but this deeply held conviction did not prevent millions of good life-respecting Christians from voting to continue an unprovoked and falsely justified war of aggression that has killed tens of thousands of perfectly innocent people who were already living. I think Jesus probably would not have liked this.

In the book, Jesus never said one word about homosexuality. It probably never even crossed his mind. As a matter of fact, Jesus very seldom talked about "thou shalt nots"-about terrible things you weren't supposed to do. His morality was about what you were supposed to do. He was crystal clear about "thou shalts." Here is what morality is, according to Jesus: Feed the poor (there are about 12 million people in our country who worry daily about whether they will have food); comfort the prisoners (probably includes not torturing or shooting them); accept the outcast (the queer, the single mother, the street person, the Muslim); shelter the homeless (and stop creating more of them); be good stewards and shepherds (stop raping the environment); depend on God, not on wealth (and don't collect it at the expense of the poor); treat others as you would have them treat you. And FIGHT for justice.

This is the morality Jesus taught. This is Christian morality. This is what "good" Christians endeavor to do. Everything else is self-righteous prooftexting of the old Hebrew Scriptures and unworthy of the adjective "Christian." Morality? Murder and violent aggression are immoral. Allowing people to wallow in poverty is immoral. Raising children to hate others for any reason is immoral. Rewarding the rich and greedy is immoral. Lying is immoral. Suspending basic human rights is immoral. Torturing prisoners is immoral. How dare the supporters of a list of atrocities like these claim to be voting for morality?

I'll tell you why they claim it. They think they're "moral" because their priests and pastors and preachers tell them they are. These insecure and often power-hungry leaders feed on people's basest fears, they prey on the weak, they threaten true believers with hell on earth and hell afterward. Now, that's immoral! It doesn't matter that most of it is lies. It doesn't matter that the preachers and priests have proven themselves a dismally badly behaved bunch themselves. It doesn't matter that the churches are temples to greed and self-indulgence and self-righteousness.

These people have been allowed to claim the title "Christian" because we have done nothing to stop them. We good Episcopalians and other liberals-yes, I'm using the dreaded "L" word-have chosen good manners over fighting for justice, and now we have to face the fact that we have lost Christianity. We have handed it over, lock, stock and barrel.

It's time to take it back! And to do that we're going to have to "get real." A small example: There isn't one of you here at St. Stephen's who doesn't know, like, respect, appreciate someone who's homosexual. I was going to ask everyone gay here to stand up, but I guess I won't do that. I'll stand here, though, and anyone who wants to join me can. Look around you. Gay people cook your picnics and wear your vestments and sing your music and raise your money and run your outreach and sit on your vestry (and guess what? even your school board!)

How could any of you-our brothers and sisters--morally have voted for a candidate who used homophobia to mobilize votes, who spread and encouraged hatred of gay people, who would deny gays such simple civil rights as being able to visit a partner in the hospital, and who used Christianity to support that position? Get real-these are your friends you voted against. But maybe that issue wasn't as important to you as it was to the "moral majority."

So, let's get real--we act viscerally, we are easily swayed, we don't want to look too closely at the consequences of our actions. We find it hard to really follow Jesus' commands. We pick and choose our moral positions to make ourselves most comfortable. But since there's one thing we're always moral about-being polite--we don't speak out against the theft of Christianity, we don't want to tell the harsh truth about the hijackers of morality, we don't dare mention that the emperor has no clothes. We think we have taken the high road by doing this. What we have taken is a dead-end to nowhere.

Get real. Read the book. Listen to what Jesus says. Do the right thing. And speak out. Rise up and take back Christianity, so that we can be proud to be Christians again. Talk loudly and often about real Christian morals. Practice them conspicuously. Refuse to be intimidated when bigotry and fear and power-hunger drape themselves in the robe of morality. Apply your morality to your life and your votes. It is not just an election at stake here-it is the future of Christianity, and the ethical face of tomorrow's world. If we don't stand up and take back Christianity, we can hardly expect our children to do it. The time is now. Get real. Get Christian.
No, it's not polite, and it's not discrete. But, if we are to move forward in our discussions, I think it's time to get honest.

...The fact that these bishops are "people of color" prevents a good liberal from pointing out the truth-that they are poorly educated, theologically unsophisticated, socially regressive, and very happy to very publicly accept expensive gifts and large sums of money from the small but wealthy rear-guard traditionalists of the Episcopal Church in exchange for working everyone into a lather about the consecration of Gene Robinson... This is what I honestly see going on, and why I have difficulty giving any credence to anything Akinola and his ilk have to say. If you want to call me a racist, go for it. This is the truth as I see it, and I think it's time to say so bluntly.

...Gene Robinson isn't supposed to say that he's gay. It's OK that he is gay-as long he just lies about it as thousands of other gay clergy have over the years. Whatever you do, don't tell the truth! Well, I want to tell the truth... And so do I. You want tradition? The tradition has been, for 2,000 years, "don't ask, don't tell." That's dishonest. You want to accuse the Episcopal Church of something, accuse it of the other "h" word; honesty. If you are a traditionalist, don't pretend as if you've never known clergy who were gay. There have always been gay and lesbian Christians, some of whom are clergy. The only difference with Bishop Robinson is that he is being honest about it; he is certainly not the first gay bishop. He is the first "openly" gay bishop.

Being polite is not always the high road. Sometimes it is just plain cowardly. I think now is the time to rise up and say no to those who wield fear and self righteousness as weapons to destroy the Church. As Canon Northup said, if we don't stand up now, we can hardly expect our children to do so.

Get real. Read the book. Listen to what Jesus says. Do the right thing. And speak out.


Friday, December 10, 2004

Bishop Robinson's Interview on NPR

Gene Robinson, the Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, was interviewed by Terry Gross of NPR yesterday afternoon. You can listen to the entire interview here. I'll be highlighting parts of the interview, as well as offering some commentary. Since I'm working from notes, there will be no attempt to offer direct quotes.

The interview begins with the Bishop describing the day of his consecration. Because of the death threats that had been made, he had been advised to take various security precautions. He strapped on a bullet-proof vest, as did his partner Mark. A vested clergy member functioned as his body guard. Can you imagine? People wanted to kill him because he had the audacity to be honest about his sexuality.

For those who might suggest that the conservatives in the Episcopal Church had nothing to do with these death threats, I must disagree. Later in the interview, Terry Gross has a brief discussion with the Bishop about the cliche "hate the sin but love the sinner." That is a copout that has simply never worked. Not everyone will hear the nuances within such a message. When leaders of the Church make derogatory statements about gays and lesbians, such statements are heard by some as advocating for hate crimes. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury makes this point much more eloquently in his recent Advent pastoral letter;

In the heat of this controversy, things have been said about homosexual people that have made many of them, including those who lead celibate lives, feel that there is no good news for them in the Church. Remember that in many countries such people face real persecution and cruelty; even where there are no legal penalties, they suffer from a sense of rejection. Young people are driven to suicide by the conviction that no-one will listen to them patiently; many feel that they are condemned not for their behavior but for their nature. As I write these words, I have in mind the recent brutal and unprovoked murder of a homosexual man in London by a group of violent and ignorant youths.

The 1998 Lambeth Resolution on this subject declared plainly that the Anglican Church worldwide did not believe - because of its reading of Scripture - that it was free to say that homosexual practice could be blessed. But it also declared that violence in word or deed and prejudice against homosexual people were unacceptable and sinful behavior for Christians. Earlier Lambeth Conference Resolutions had made the same point. Any words that could make it easier for someone to attack or abuse a homosexual person are words of which we must repent. We are bound to ask, with the greatest care, how we best communicate the challenge of the gospel to homosexual persons and how we may free ourselves from unreasoning fear or even hatred.
Returning to the interview with Bishop Robinson; he was asked why he thought the nation is currently so divided about sex. His response was to suggest that the religious right can no longer use Communism as their rallying point, so gay and lesbian persons became the new scapegoat. Although I think there is some truth in this, I also think it is too simplistic of an explanation. There is no question that that is exactly what some organizations, such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy did; to keep their funding, after the cold war ended they shifted from being anti-communist to being anti-gay, but I think the strong emotive response by so many is much more complex than this. At it's root, I believe is a fear of the feminine, and an attempt to cling to a particular image of what it means to be masculine.

I think that point is seen in the comments made in the interview regarding the Windsor Report. Bishop Robinson pointed out that within the Instruments of Unity (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council) made up of about 800 persons, all but 40 are bishops, and all but 20 are men.

The Bishop goes on to make a further point regarding this lopsided representation; that much of the rest of the Anglican Communion seem to not understand how the American Episcopal Church functions. We are not governed by bishops. Our General Convention includes both a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies. All four orders of ministry are represented. From our beginning, we have not accepted the view of the episcopate as a form of monarchy.

Bishop Robinson also points out that it appears that because of our fixation on sex, many within the Anglican Communion are missing a critical issue in all of this, an issue that found its way into the Windsor Report; there is a group of Archbishops who are trying to change the Church by making it even more hierarchical, and granting more authority to those at the top. That's the big news in all of this, as I see it.

Regarding the details of the Windsor Report, I was uncomfortable with some of the Bishop's statements. For instance, he suggested that it did not call for a moratorium on same sex blessings, but a moratorium on the authorization of such liturgies. I think that's splitting hairs in search of a loop hole. It seems clear that the intention of the report was to curtail further same sex blessings. If we are going to challenge this report, which I think we must, let's do it head on, and not try to make an end run around it.

I felt the same way about his comments concerning "expressions of regret" not being equated with an apology. I agree that those who have prayerfully taken a stand in support of same sex blessing and Bishop Robinson's consecration have nothing to apologize for. And I think that is exactly what needs to be said in response to the Windsor Report. But I also think it is a mistake to try to sidestep the spirit of what the report is calling us to face. There is a call to repentance that I think we have to wrestle with, if there is any hope of continuing as a communion. Let me once again turn to Rowan Williams to more clearly articulate what I'm trying to say;

...But the Church is also where our failures are most painfully visible. The Church therefore must show God to the world not only in its faithfulness and holiness, but in its willingness to repent and begin again its journey of discipleship. One of the deepest challenges of the Windsor Report is about repentance. And in the Church we can never call on others to repent without ourselves acknowledging that we too in all sorts of ways are sinners in need of grace. If only the Church's renewal were always a matter of other people's repentance! But God speaks the same words to all and our first (though not our only) duty must be to hear clearly what he says to each of us.

Because there has been much talk of apology in the light of the Report, it has been all too easy to miss the centrality of God's call to repentance. Apology is the currency of the world. People in law courts argue about their rights in order to try and extract a satisfactory apology, an adequate statement of responsibility. But I hope and pray we can go beyond that. An apology may amount only to someone saying, "I'm sorry you feel like that"; and that doesn't go deep enough.

To repent before one another is to see that we have failed in our witness as God's new community, failed to live in the full interdependence of love - and so to see that we have compromised the way in which God can make himself heard and seen among us. When St Paul writes about conflict in the Church, he is concerned above all that we act in such a way that we can be seen to live as Christ's Body together, so that the world may see Jesus.
I don't know about you, but those words sure convict me of a very real need for repentance in my own life.

Bishop Robinson's interview was followed by an interview with Bishop Robert Duncan, moderator of the Network, a group that claims that the Episcopal Church is no longer orthodox, and is working to replace it as the official Anglican presence in the United States. If you are interested in listening to that interview, you can find it here.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Torture? You're Crazy

From Salon: Whitewashing torture?

...On June 15, 2003, Sgt. Frank "Greg" Ford, a counterintelligence agent in the California National Guard's 223rd Military Intelligence (M.I.) Battalion stationed in Samarra, Iraq, told his commanding officer, Capt. Victor Artiga, that he had witnessed five incidents of torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees at his base, and requested a formal investigation. Thirty-six hours later, Ford, a 49-year-old with over 30 years of military service in the Coast Guard, Army and Navy, was ordered by U.S. Army medical personnel to lie down on a gurney, was then strapped down, loaded onto a military plane and medevac'd to a military medical center outside the country...

... After Ford raised the torture allegations, Artiga immediately said Ford was "delusional" and ordered a psychiatric examination, according to Ford. But that examination, carried out by an Army psychiatrist, diagnosed him as "completely normal."

A witness, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Marciello, claims that Artiga became enraged when he read the initial medical report finding nothing wrong with Ford and intimidated the psychiatrist into changing it. According to Marciello, Artiga angrily told the psychiatrist that it was a "C.I. [counterintelligence] or M.I. matter" and insisted that she had to change her report and get Ford out of Iraq.

Documents show that all subsequent examinations of Ford by Army mental-health professionals, over many months, confirmed his initial diagnosis as normal...

...Col. C. Tsai, a military doctor who examined Ford in Germany and found nothing wrong with him, told a film crew for Spiegel Television that he was "not surprised" at Ford's diagnosis. Tsai told Spiegel that he had treated "three or four" other U.S. soldiers from Iraq that were also sent to Landstuhl for psychological evaluations or "combat stress counseling" after they reported incidents of detainee abuse or other wrongdoing by American soldiers...
This is a ploy Klinger should have tried. Want out of the Army? Just tell the truth.

In a world gone mad, it's the sane who are strapped to gurneys and pumped with thorazine. You don't think we've lost all touch with reality? Consider this reaction to truth tellers the military can't control;

The Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo. They describe it as "psychological and sometimes physical coercion tantamount to torture."

How has the government responded? Feds: Evidence From Torture Is OK.

If you're government property, and dare to speak of war crimes, you're hospitalized. If you're a civilian, you're told abuse and torture of "the enemy" doesn't matter. We've got a war to fight, after all. Welcome to the mad world of Dr. Strangelove.

Strap me down now, get that IV flowing, and fly me the hell out of here, please!


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Ancient-Future Church

This morning I stumbled across an article in The Christian Century entitled The Emergent matrix: A new kind of church? Although some will most likely disagree with the author, I found it to be one of the more thorough yet concise considerations of the emergent conversation I've discovered. I cannot attest to its accuracy, as I have had minimal experiential exposure to many of the things mentioned. But it certainly got my attention. Consider this excerpt;

Unlike the megachurch and church growth movements of the 1980s and ’90s, emerging churches resist models and templates—the franchising of church life. Instead they tend to emphasize the particular gifts of the local community and the creative involvement of the laity. Karen Ward, pastor of Church of the Apostles in Seattle, wrote in a recent blog, “In the emerging church the people shift from being consumers of church to producers of church.”
Getting away from the consumer mentality; the "what have you done for me lately?" attitude that casts clergy in the role of chief sales manager. Is it possible?

Holly Rankin Zaher, a member of the Emergent Coordinating Group, and her husband, Jim, are founding members of Three Nails, an Episcopal church plant near Pittsburgh. Jim describes it as “a cell group thing that looks incredibly different from other Episcopal churches. Right now we have six cell groups, and that’s where the core is. People ask us where our church is and we say, ‘Well, it’s not,’ because we have groups meeting all over Pittsburgh. We don’t own a building, we just rent a place where we meet as a group once a month.”
No building! Imagine not having to invest all that energy in maintaining the shrine. The core is small groups. That's certainly true to my experience. 25 years ago, I committed to meeting with a group of 12 on Sunday nights for 2 years. It was in that small group that I learned what it meant to be a Christian. Jesus seemed to understand the importance of small group. Wesley's bands might be another example. If folks just show up on Sunday for corporate worship, my experience is that they aren't going to be spiritually fed, and they aren't going to be stretched in order to grow into the full stature of Christ.

The article even got in a quote from Rowan Williams, which, of course, I have to include;

Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, recently issued a call to the Church of England that speaks to this challenge: “We have to ask whether we are capable of moving towards a more ‘mixed economy’—recognizing church where it appears and having the willingness and the skill to work with it. Mission, it’s been said, is finding out what God is doing and joining in. And at present . . . more and more patterns of worship and shared life are appearing on the edge of our mainstream life that cry out for our support, understanding and nurture if they are not to get isolated and unaccountable.”
There's some real meat to chew on in this article, and some fair (or so it seems to me) criticism as well. At the end, the web version corrects a typo that appeared in the print version of their lists of resources. The correction was a pointer to maggi dawn, someone that many of us already know as one of the best voices to be found in the blogdom.

There's some exciting things going on around the edge of the mainstream; an emerging conversation that may just be able to move beyond the labels of conservative and liberal as well as evangelical and catholic. One can only hope.


Monday, December 06, 2004

Archbishop of York; "Church is imploding..."

Dr. David Hope, Archbishop of York, will be retiring in February and has been appointed as vicar of St Margaret's in Ilkley. That a man who is 64 (young by today's standards) would give up the second highest post in the Church of England (second only to Canterbury) to become a parish priest once again is an amazing thing. But Dr. Hope is an amazing man.

He is of the Anglo-Catholic tradition, a tradition that is not heard from much anymore. He is considered a "traditionalist," often defined as "conservative" today, which is unfortunate. He has held a position against women's ordination and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals, although the way he speaks about such issues would most likely be quite foreign to many Evangelicals.

Consider this recent article and comments by the Archbishop in regard to women bishops in the Church of England;

Dr Hope continues to oppose women's ordination as a breach with the universal church's traditions. He believes the Church of England fudged the issue of the episcopacy when it made the decision to allow women to become priests in 1992.

"The question of whether women should be made bishops once they had been ordained is absolutely pivotal. It seems to me absolute nonsense for women to be ordained to the priesthood but not to the episcopacy because the two are inextricably linked. It seems to be an inevitability. It is an absolute nonsense to suggest [one of the report's recommendations] that women could become suffragans but not diocesans. In principle there could be the possibility of a woman archbishop."
Even if you disagree with him regarding the ordination of women, as I do, I think he makes an important point. When I first heard of the current flap over women bishops in England, I found it quite confusing. One would think such a discussion would have occurred prior to the approval of women priests. Of course women bishops will follow. How can we say that a woman may represent the bishop, but cannot be the bishop? If women are allowed as priests, but not as bishops, or even worse, only as suffragan (assisting) bishops, we will have redefined holy orders as a hierarchy that must be patriarchal. That is not a definition that I, and many others, are comfortable with.

Although taking a tradionalist's stance on the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals, Dr. Hope does understand persecution on this issue from a personal perspective. The Archbishop's response to this smear campaign was quick and effective;

Unmarried, a priest in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, in the 1970s he was called in to impose discipline on the exceedingly camp high church training college at St Stephen's House in Oxford. On the other hand, Jeffrey John, the celibate gay theologian briefly appointed bishop of Reading last year, who was one of Dr Hope's students at Oxford, has spoken of his support when he told him he was gay. Yesterday, Dr Hope said of John's ordeal over the Reading post: "I felt very strongly for him."

In 1995, when Dr Hope was Bishop of London, he reacted to a letter from Peter Tatchell, calling on him to out himself as gay, by publishing the letter and denouncing the activist's attempted intimidation. It was a brave stand and prompted his concession that his sexuality was a grey area. He said yesterday: "I felt it was bullying. It was misplaced and misjudged. The sort of things he wrote to me were intimidatory. My remark just came out. It was one of those things, not premeditated."
Dr. Hope was applauded by many in the Church for bringing this attack to light, and refusing to play their game. One's sexual orientation has never been an impediment to ordination. To attempt to "out" celibate bishops is an outrage (pun intended). Dr. Hope was appointed Archbishop of York shortly after this most unpleasant incident.

I recall back in the early 90s when there was an attempt to "out" suspected gay bishops by gay rights extremists on this side of the pond. At one time, I had two close friends who were of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. One was a bishop. The other went on to become a bishop. Both were unmarried. Even though we prayed the Daily Office together each day, and had a cup of coffee afterwards in the bishop's office, the question of their orientation never came up. Nor should it have. Such a conversation was way beyond the boundaries of polite conversation within the Catholic Churchman tradition.

When it came time to participate in the mandated Human Sexuality Dialogue, they asked me to spearhead it. They remained silent on the issue. I understood why I was being asked to take the lead on this. I was married, with children. I didn't like it, as it would label me the diocesan "token liberal," but I did it, because the bishop had told me to, and I am a person under authority.

This is how things were done in another era. There were strict, yet often unspoken, rules guiding not only liturgy, but even casual social interactions. It was a matter of having good manners. It was about being a person of grace. The bishop retired in 1994. He seemed quite troubled at the time. I have heard rumors that he received one of those "outing" letters. He became ill a few years later, and moved on to the nearer presence of our Lord shortly after. May this man, who taught me the meaning of grace, rest in peace.

Dr. Hope also once offered some thoughts on the internet, which may be worth the perusal of those of us who spend long hours in front of the screen each day;

I am concerned particularly about the introduction of modern electronic technology which is moving at such a pace," he says. "I fear that we are becoming a nation which simply sits in front of a television screen and orders its lives at the press of a button or a mouse. You can live your whole life and do almost everything from there - shopping, film viewing - if you choose. That has serious implications for social intercourse and social interactions. It merely underlies the individualism and individuality which in one sense is right but has to be properly balanced with the way we interact with each other for the health of the nation.

I think it will mean a further fragmentation and break-up of our society if we are not vigilant about this matter. Furthermore we need to have some regard for the underlying bedrock of spiritual values and the spiritual dimension of who and what we are as persons. That is in danger of being lost in our technologically driven age. I recognize it in myself. No sooner do you get into the Internet than you look up one subject, become fascinated and are drawn to look up more and more...

...The danger is that we could be moving towards a soulless society. The technology consumes us, it actually begins to ensnare us. That is not to say it is a bad thing in itself. I go around schools in the diocese a lot and I see children on the Internet, looking at CDroms for information. All that is extremely positive and valuable. But we do need to be aware of the other side. This could mean a society which is even more materialistic, which puts its faith and trust in a technology which is itself vulnerable. It could have serious implications for our social intercourse, for all societal bondings, for the way we are as human persons and the way we develop, because we develop through our interactions with other people.
Finally, I want to offer some of Dr. Hope's recent thoughts on the issues of the ordination of homosexual clergy and women bishops, and their divisive effects within the Church. These are words that I needed to hear today. I will leave them with you without further comment;

...What I do worry about is whether or not by so concentrating all our hopes and energies on these two particular issues, we are imploding on ourselves...If you take people back to the Christological controversies of the first five centuries of the church, there were huge fallings out. Have we not learned the lessons from that? At the end of the day, what is the business of the church? It's about bringing people to Jesus Christ and about living the life of Jesus Christ. Whatever the divisions, those are the key issues.

The infighting puts off both young and old people. If it [the Church of England] doesn't see this in a much larger context of the whole Christian doctrine of creation, redemption and sanctification, it will allow itself to implode on these two issues. We need to turn ourselves outwards.

If you go to a hospice where they're working with the dying, they're not asking you whether you're in favour of women bishops or whether you're gay or any of this, that or the other. The important thing is that the work of the persons there actually engages...