Saturday, February 28, 2004

Longing for Home

Previously, I have emphasized the importance of remaining in the here and now. I still think that needs to be our primary orientation. I don't think this means we should disregard the impact that our memories have on us in this present moment, however.

In Passion for Pilgrimage, Alan Jones offers these words;

Holy Week is a time when I am given the opportunity to reflect on how my past infects and affects my present. There are memories that refuse to come to the surface. I catch a glimpse of them out of the corner of my eye. I know that they are there, but I don't always know what they are about, except that the pain issuing from them pushes me more and more into editing my life so that only the "good bits" show. I fool myself into thinking that I live only in the present and that the past has no effect on my life right now.
We shove down the pain, the fear, the doubts, and put on a happy face. Dwelling in the dark recesses of our hearts, these images from our past are allowed to ferment and slowly find other ways to manifest themselves, unless they are brought into the light, examined, and then either embraced or released.

William Auden once said;

We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And see our illusions die.
Self-examination can be difficult, and even frightening. It seems safer to just continue to respond to life; choosing this over that without a thought as to what drives our choices; what memories and images are stamped on our souls. But then, in the wee hours of the morning, we awaken to the feeling that something is missing, that something is not quite right. We feel that longing for the illusive "something more." We want to go home, but we have forgotten the way.

I want to tell you a story about a homecoming. About twelve years ago, I became friends with a man who worked for the Social Security Administration. One day, I mentioned that I had never met my mother. My parents were divorced just before my 2nd birthday, and my mother had disappeared. My friend told me about a letter forwarding service offered by Social Security. If I knew her name and date and place of birth, their computers might be able to forward a letter to her for me. I wrote the letter, and sent it off to some government office in Baltimore.

A few months later, I received a letter back from Social Security. It basically said, "We do not know if we can forward your letter, and we will not have further communication with you regarding this letter." It was much longer than that, but told me nothing, except that it was a long shot. About what I expected from the government. I thanked my friend for his efforts, and forgot about the whole thing.

A few more months went by. One day, as I was vesting for a weekday Eucharist, the secretary of the Cathedral where I was serving came bursting into the sacristy. This was rather unusual in and of itself. What was even more unusual, however, was that the reason for this peculiar behavior was to hand-deliver a letter. We had previously discussed my attempts to involve the government in searching for my mother. Upon seeing a personal letter arrive for me in a hand-written envelope, the secretary was compelled to deliver it immediately.

I tore open the envelope and removed a few pages of yellow legal pad paper. I read the first line; "My dearest son..." I sank into a chair and allowed a flood of emotion to wash over me. Tucking the unread letter into my prayer book, I dried my eyes, blew my nose, washed my hands, and processed in for the noon Eucharist. I don't recall the homily, or who was there that day. I do remember letting loose with such a loud "Alleluia!" following the fraction that I startled the small group of faithful gathered that day. I credit good liturgical training for refraining from further exuberant expressions of my internal state. I was floating a few feet off the ground.

The letter led to some phone calls. My mother had remarried, raised two children, and was now living in Chula Vista, California. A reunion was arranged. I was to fly out to Palo Alto, meet my maternal grandmother, and my mother would join us the following day.

My mind was filled with so many wonderful images of this reunion. Finally, that longing for the missing piece of my life, that gnawing desire for "something more" was going to be satisfied. I was going home.

As I boarded the plane, I took with me the image of my mother I had so carefully preserved since my childhood. My minimal memories of her had become fashioned into a vision of a beautiful, serene, dark haired woman with a radiant smile, kind eyes, and a gentle touch. She had come to represent all that was good and true and pure to me. For some reason, she always wore blue in my vision. And was barefoot. Kind of like the Blessed Virgin, I suppose.

My grandmother and I hit it off famously. It was as if we had known each other for years. Then the time came to meet my mother at the airport. We couldn't find her. Then finally, my grandmother exclaimed, "There she is!"

I turned, and found myself facing a woman dressed in a tight black dress, with a jaunty wide-brimmed hat tipped to one side. The heavy make-up did not hide well the fact that this was obviously a woman in her sixties attempting to pass for someone much younger. My heart sank.

We returned to the car, and she began to talk to my grandmother in a loud, raspy voice. "Great," I thought. "Not only is she overdressed and wearing way too much make-up, but she's loud and obnoxious."

I tried to listen to the conversation. My heart sank even further. "...And, she's an idiot." We arrived at my grandmother's house. As we stepped out of the car, my mother lit a cigarette. And, she smokes. She went looking for something to drink, and returned with a wine cooler. And she drinks. This was not going well.

I decided this whole idea was one big mistake. I slipped away and called the airline to find out when the next plane was leaving for Wisconsin. The earliest flight was the next afternoon. I went to bed early, pleading jet-lag.

The next morning, I took my grandmother's car to the store to shop for breakfast. When I parked it, I noticed a puddle of water forming on the ground. It only took a brief investigation to diagnose the problem. The water pump was shot.

I insisted on repairing it immediately. Before going on with the story, let me make a few tangential comments about auto mechanics and water pumps.

I learned to fix cars primarily out of necessity. Before going to seminary, while working toward my undergraduate degree at night school, I supported the family as a mechanic and a forklift driver. Never having the money for a newer car, I bought old beaters, and learned how to keep them running.

Along the way, I discovered that I enjoyed being under the hood of a car. Turning wrenches became a time when I did some of my best thinking, and my most contemplative praying. The mind was busy with problem solving. The emotions were reined in. If I got frustrated or impatient, I would inevitably round off the corners of the bolt, or snap it off. If I got angry, I might decide the best solution was to get a bigger hammer; almost always a big mistake. With the mind preoccupied, and the emotions on a short leash, the Spirit would slowly begin to whisper in my ear. Each thought and every image churning somewhere below was brought to the surface, and examined in a gentle, yet detached light.

As I began removing the old water pump, I slowly became calm. Changing a water pump is one of the more pleasant tasks in the realm of auto repair. It is a simple procedure, that can be done by almost anyone. There are a few details, however, that have to be carefully addressed. The water pump is near the radiator. Care must be taken to not bump the radiator with the tools, as this can damage the copper elements, and cause a new problem; a leaking radiator.

When we try to repair our lives, sometimes we do have to take parts of them apart, and sometimes even remove and replace those things that have ceased to work, or have even become toxic. This is well and good. But care must be taken that as we are doing this work, we don't do damage to those around us as we struggle to confront our own personal demons. All the parts are interconnected. We have to pay attention to our environment.

The first couple of water pumps I replaced took a long time, because I failed to pay attention to another detail. Between the pump and the engine block is a thin gasket. Because of the heat, this gasket sometimes becomes fused to either the pump or the block. Every little piece of gasket has to be carefully removed from the block before the new pump is installed, or it will leak, and you'll have to do the job all over again. This requires time consuming and meticulously careful scraping and smoothing. The temptation to say that it is good enough before all the old gasket is removed is strong. Experience has taught me to be patient and pay careful attention to this part of the job.

In the work of self-examination, we are often tempted to not look too deeply, and believe we have done a "good enough" job of cleaning up the rough edges of our life when the reality is we may have just scratched the surface. And then we wonder why things remain such a mess; why peace somehow continues to leak away from us. We have to be patient, and pay attention to the whispers of the Spirit. Unless careful purification is done, illumination will not occur.

As I worked on my grandmother's car, and became detached from the drama of my situation, it became clear that I had a simple choice to make. I could either return home to Wisconsin, with my image of "mother' damaged but still somewhat intact (I had made no effort to really get to know this person beyond those first impressions), or, I could let go of my image, and go into the house, and meet my real mother. I could have a relationship with an image, or a real person.

After I finished repairing the water pump (which didn't leak, btw), I returned to the house, cleaned the dirt and grease from my hands, and sat down and listened to a real person. We stayed up until 5 in the morning, telling our stories, crying and laughing, pacing and hugging. That night, I lost my vision, and regained my mother.

That is basically the end of my story, but I would be remiss if I didn't add just a bit of an epilogue. I'd like to say that my mother and I lived happily ever after from that moment on. But that's the stuff of fairy tales. The reality was that we did develop a relationship, and even grew to love one another, but we never became terribly close. Too many years had passed, and we had traveled in different circles for too long. She passed away January 1, 2000. My two sons were with me as we scattered her ashes over the Pacific Ocean. The journey continues.

One last note of caution. Self-examination can be like opening Pandora's box. When I lost my image of my mother, I lost more than a false memory. I lost a part of my self identity. Longing for the love of my mother had become the driving force behind everything I had done up to that point. This image had even become wrapped up in my image of God. The God I sought was a loving, nurturing Mother.

The last twelve years have been the most difficult years of my life, even more difficult than the homeless years.. With the illusion shattered, my life fragmented, and I stumbled around seeking some grounding, some meaning and purpose to it all. The longing for "something more" remained. I still couldn't find my way home. I went through a deep depression, a difficult divorce, and a leave of absence from the active priesthood.

With the help of some good spiritual direction, therapy, various support groups, a wonderful life companion, and the grace of God, I slowly began the process of reintegrating the shattered pieces of my life. From the ashes of my broken dreams, something new is emerging.

I want to end with a few more words from Alan Jones;

The memory that holy Week seeks to revive is one that lies deep within everyone. It is the memory of our beginnings. It is the memory that enables us to remember the painful things of our past without despair. The Great Memory is simply this; God has fallen in love with you and wants you to come home! Our first memory is God's love for us, and it is this memory that has been buried and repressed. Your first memory (if only you could get back to it) is that of being God's joy and delight. Why is it difficult to remember the joy of our beginnings in the heart of God? I wonder if it has something to do with our unwillingness to face the fact of our limited future? Memory and hope are intimately related. Perhaps we cannot recall the love that brought us into being in the first place, because we cannot imagine a love strong enough to pull us through the gates of death. I refuse to remember, because I dare not hope. I refuse to remember and I dare not hope, because I am frightened and angry because I will have to change.
As Auden said, "We would rather be ruined than changed." And, that is certainly an option. We have a choice. We can hold on to our static illusions, or we can let them quietly die, and place our hope in the new thing that God might be doing in our midst; the same God who is in love with us, and is constantly calling us home.


Thursday, February 26, 2004

Can a Neanderthal Emerge?

I must confess that until I stumbled across this strange world of blogdom a few months ago, I knew almost nothing about The Emerging Church. Since it seems to be the topic on so many sites that I now visit regularly, I figured it was time to look around and see what all the excitement was about.

What I discovered were some things that have been part of various discussions within the Episcopal Church for a long time, with little insight on how to implement our conclusions. I recall using materials from Loren Meade's The Once and Future Church in which he points out that we need to face the fact that we now live in a postmodern era. The ways that we "do Church" and talk about God have needed to be reconsidered for a long time.

I will readily admit that I began exploring the emerging church with a particular bias; I really love the Episcopal Church, and I doubted if I would find much involvement in this within our tradition. I was pleasantly surprised to find The Church of the Apostles in Seattle doing some quite innovative things, while honoring our tradition. This is a congregation that is Episcopalian and Lutheran; one of the few successful mergings that I have heard about since we entered into full communion with the ELCA a few years ago. Karen Ward appears to be a gifted leader. This is a really exciting place!

Looking further, I found The Church of the Beloved in Charlotte. As it turns out, Derek and I were in seminary together. I had lunch with him a few years ago in Charlotte when he was doing church planting and I had just started doing interim work. Now I understand a little better what he was trying to tell me, and why he was so full of enthusiasm!

I want to continue to look at this a bit closer. Being an incurable bookworm, I'll probably start with a couple of books; The Emerging Church and one from the Alban Institute, The Postmodern Parish.

I wonder how a cave dwelling modernist like myself might be helpful? Is there a place for a doddering old priest in a black cassock with a prayer book under his arm? I don't drool too much, and I can swing a mean thurible.


Via Negativa

While hunting for other things, I stumbled across this piece. It resonates strongly with me today. I think I'll shut up now, and let it speak for itself:

On Giving Up

I gave up negative remarks for Lent,
It took the whole first week
for me to grasp
this single imperfection.
But then it came,
served up on its little platter
neat as an omelet: NO VIA NEGATIVA

Indeed, it sobers me
to hear myself complain:
I rise to praise all sun and water
flowing over rock, seek out wines
to go with pasta. And wit --
I’ll never have enough of wit,
it radiates good vibes.

And yet, re: sober thoughts:
what’s wrong with no, not, isn’t,
never will: They have their truth:
God said, I AM, but
so am I,
and I’m not God. Nor,
as far as I can see,
is any other name now known:

God IS but thrives on being ISN’T,
and in just such terrifying,
nonaffirming ways as ours,
who probe the dark, then stumble,
then cry out in heaps of helplessness.

I ponder thus on Thursday of Week Six.

-- Sr. Mary Virginia Micka, CSJ
St. Paul, Minn.


Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Remember that you are dust...

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a symbol of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

- The Book of Common Prayer, p. 265.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our Lenten journey. It finds its root in the story of Jesus’ forty days in the desert. One way to look at Lent is to consider it our own desert pilgrimage.

We begin our journey by receiving a mark on our foreheads with ash, accompanied by the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Placing ashes on one’s head is something we see in the scriptures that was done when someone is in deep dismay, or is devastated by something they have done to another. It is a sign of penitence.

In our Christian tradition, we place these ashes on the same place on our foreheads that we were marked as Christ’s own forever when we were baptized. This season of Lent is a continuation of a journey that began when we were baptized.

The ashes also remind us of our own mortality. We too shall return to the dust. But as Christians, as people of the Resurrection, we understand that in death life is changed, not ended. We note our own mortal nature, and are encouraged to see that now is the acceptable time of the Lord; now is the time to live this life to its fullest, to become all God would have us be.

To do that; to live into the promises made at our baptism, we need to consider another aspect of the symbolism of this day. Ashes are a sign of purification. Metals are purified and tempered in a hot fire. So our lives need to be also purified and tempered.

The season of Lent is an invitation to enter the desert; to let go of some of our activities and discover the time for a desert journey; an inward journey; a journey into repentance.

Repentance is about reoriented our lives toward God. If we are not careful, if we don’t take the time for this inward journey of self examination, it becomes quite easy for us to take our focus off of God. Very slowly, without realizing it, our lives can become oriented toward some other primary thing; maybe our career, or financial security; or even a hobby. These things, in and of themselves, are not harmful. But, if we are not careful, we can become fixated on them, to the exclusion of other things, including the exclusion of God.

During this season of Lent, we are invited to take the time to look deep within ourselves, to look for the walls we may have built between ourselves and God. We ask ourselves; “What is blocking the way for me to develop a deeper relationship with God?”

We have to make space for this interior work. Making such a space is often called acts of self-denial, or fasting. We put something down to make room in our busy lives to pick something up. I am suggesting to you that one thing that we might want to “pick up” is time in the desert; time for self-examination; time to look within the crooks and crannies of our lives and seek the things that are hindering our relationship with God.

Some people find using more of their day in prayer; including a time of silence, to be a helpful tool for self-examination. Others may also free up time in their day for the study of scripture or other devotional reading. Some find acts of mercy and almsgiving to be helpful.

The first important step in observing a holy Lent is participation in the liturgy for Ash Wednesday. I encourage you to not pass up this opportunity to travel with Jesus into the desert. This is the point of Ash Wednesday and Lent. We are invited to take a desert journey; an interior journey, and discover where our relationship with God is fed and where it is not. We can then repent; reorient our lives back toward God. If we have done this honestly, sincerely and carefully, the joy that will await us on the other side of our Lenten journey will be amazing!

May we observe a holy Lent, resulting in abundant Easter joy.


Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Saint Matthias, Apostle

Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful
servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve; Grant
that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may
always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on God, now and
forever. Amen.

One of the things I've always liked about being an Episcopalian is that we have bishops, whose authority has been traditionally rather absolute. If a member of the clergy was a "false apostle," the bishop would deal with it. Having experienced other traditions, including some which gave the clergy the freedom to do just about anything they felt like doing, I much prefer a leadership structure that includes an overseer who can make the tough calls. I was trained that if the bishop tells me to do something, or to cease doing something, the only appropriate response is, "Yes, Bishop."

Knowing that I will be held accountable, that I am "a person under authority," has allowed me a freedom that seemed unavailable in some other traditions. I am free to wander from the beaten path, and meander here and there, as long as I stay within shouting distance of my bishop.

Things seem a bit more confusing today, however. Now we have various bishops accusing one another of being "false apostles," "apostates," "revisionists," schismatics" and "heretics." As a result, we now have various clergy considering themselves as being only under the authority of a bishop if they happen to agree with that bishop on various things. So much for the system of checks and balances.

Now, we even have the strange phenomenon of a diocese trying to "fire" their bishop; not because of theological differences, but because they don't like his or her leadership style!

I have no problem with rethinking the hierarchal structure of the Church, resulting in a model that might represent a more evenly shared ministry. I have no problem with the Church voting on things, although sometimes I wonder how well a democratic model works; history reveals that the majority can be wrong. What I do have a problem with is individuals, or particular congregations, claiming they are an authority unto themselves.

I wish I had some clear solutions. I don't. But, it seems to me, as I look at the strange goings on in places like Pittsburgh, El Camino Real, and Pennsylvania, that it may be best for each diocese to take a step back, and put their own house in order. I think this reordering would need to include clarifying that the smallest entity within the Church is the diocese, not the congregation. "Where the bishop is, there is the Church." We are not Congregationalists, for very good reasons.

The other suggestion I would make is to consider the process used in selecting Matthias as an apostle to replace Judas. Two men were nominated. After prayer, the disciples "cast lots," and Matthias was elected. I realize that "casting lots" may be a reference to a voting process, yet I like to think of it as more a matter of putting the names in a hat, and someone drawing one out. What would happen if the search process selected two candidates when a new bishop was being sought, and then someone, maybe the President of the Standing Committee, flipped a coin? It would seem to offer at least some way to be assured that the person was selected by the Spirit, rather than a simple majority of church folk.

The last suggestion I would make is that anyone who expressed any interest in being a bishop be automatically disqualified. My view of the current confusion is that some of those holding the office of chief pastor have too much ego, and not enough of a servant's heart.


Monday, February 23, 2004

Unpacking the Labels

Here's a bit about why I chose the title and description of this site;

I've been a priest for 15 years. I was trained in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. That's the brief explanation for using such an archaic term. There is another one, however...

I know that God called me to be a priest because God didn't trust me as a layperson. God pulls me from the pit of destruction by the collar of my priestly vows every day. I use the term as a reminder that I am always a "person under authority."

Not my real name. Chosen because since I first read the story as a child, I have identified with Jacob. He's a bit of a rascal, wrestles with the angels, yet still blessed in spite of himself.

...Stops the World
This is a reference to some rather unusual experiences throughout my life. Let's just call them "mystical." Maybe some day I'll say more about that. Then again, maybe I won't.

The musings...
Little attempt to be polished or professional. Just the whisperings of the muse, or maybe the ramblings of a madman if I have chosen not to listen to her on that particular day. You'll be able to tell the difference, I think. Madness is not the same as inspiration, although one may well be a component of the other.

...of an eccentric...
Although I am not of the school that thinks we are the sum total of our experiences, I do believe that they may very well awaken things that were previously dormant within us. Here are a few experiences that have led me to claim that particular label.

...and sometimes heretical...
I am given that label so often, I might as well claim it. I see nothing that terrible about sometimes being a heretic. At its root, it means "to choose." Sometimes I choose to think outside the box. I am an unapologetic panentheist who dabbles in some esoteric stuff while remaining a liturgical conservative and a social liberal. I don't think "right thought" has much to do with my relationship with the living God. But, of course, that's another reason why I prefer to be a person under authority.

Even though I have given up on the Church, and my vocation, more than once, I keep being drawn back. Why? I suppose it is because I understand Jesus Christ to be the sacrament of God, and the Church to be the sacrament of Jesus Christ, and I am a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. That still makes me a Christian, doesn't it?

...Anglican priest
I serve within the Episcopal Church. So why the label Anglican? I prefer Anglican because I understand the Kingdom of God to be something that breaks the bonds of time and space. I dislike parochialism and nationalism. My salvation is yoked with the salvation of all of creation, not only those who are of my tribe, or those who are with me now, but also those we refer to as "the great cloud of witnesses." The term Anglican is a reminder that I am involved in a global mission. Maybe more about this another time.

UPDATE: 6/4/04 - With all the threats from the conservative camp within the Anglican Communion of kicking the Episcopal Church out unless we "repent," I have decided to not play their game by identifying myself as an Anglican. So, my label of choice is now "Episcopalian." I don't respond well to threats.


Sunday, February 22, 2004

Sunday Night Debriefing

On the drive up to the parish this morning, I was still unsure about the sermon. I had written something up, which was basically an attempt to meld both previous entries into one. The result, of course, was two sermons, that did not hold together very well.

So, I ended up not using my text. I spoke extemporaneously about the movement of God from glory to glory.

I decided to quote a few lines from Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey;

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

I attempted to quote it from memory, and experienced the worse nightmare of many preachers; I drew a blank. For the life of me I could not get past "a sense sublime." I stood in silence in the pulpit for some time, but it was just gone. Eventually, I stumbled on, with the help of my prepared words, returned to my place...and suddenly recalled Wordsworth's lines again! The customary in this parish is a moment of silence after the sermon, followed by the Creed. After a pause, I stepped to the middle, and said, "Before the Creed, I want to offer you that poem that I couldn't recall..."

During announcements, I thanked them for the birthday reception, and then made a half-humorous apology about stumbling around in the pulpit. Someone from the back shouted out; "It's ok. We understand. It was a senior moment!" Perhaps it was.

At the 10:00 liturgy, I came down from the pulpit and spoke extemporaneously in the aisle. I recalled Wordsworth's lines this time. I also encourage participation, asking for examples of God's glory in their daily lives. Good responses, although this time I did not remember to add the story of the prayer places in the park, and the bit about being co-creators with God.

We have been using Eucharistic Prayer C. In the place where we speak of "the God of our Fathers," I have been adding "..and Mothers," and then including Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah along with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For some reason, today I could not recall Rebecca's name. After a pause, during which I considered saying "...and Isaac's wife" (or even Mrs. Isaac?....arrggghhh!), it came back to me.

Lots of good natured jokes about memory lost and old age during coffee hour today. I picked up these two tidbits along the way:

"There are some advantages to getting old and losing your memory. For one, every morning when you wake up, you can look forward to making new friends. And, you can hide your own Easter eggs."

Not the best Sunday I've ever had in regards to preaching. But, that may end up being a good thing. During Lent, I've initiated a Lenten Speaker Series on the theme of "A Spiritual Journey." Those who will be speaking might just feel a bit less intimidated now. I'm not exactly a hard act to follow!


Saturday, February 21, 2004

Longing for the Mountaintop, Redux

I've been thinking about this today. I'm not comfortable with that traditional approach I took on the Transfiguration earlier.

There's some other considerations beyond regarding Peter's knee-jerk reaction as being naive. Part of it is about the difficulty many have today with supernatural theism. If the Transfiguration is the definitive mountaintop experience, probably most of us don't have much of a mountaintop to climb down from.

Walter Wink and Marcus Borg, among others, have tried to point out that supernatural theism just doesn't work. It depicts a transcendent God who occasionally intervenes in human affairs. They suggest a God who, as Wordsworth would put it, "rolls through all things."

The difficulty in separating experience into categories of "supernatural" and "natural" is that it encourages us to believe that God is only encountered in the unusual, the miraculous, the spectacular. The natural world is seen as mundane, or even profane.

The movement of God is always from one moment of glory to the next moment of glory. We might split things up as natural or supernatural, secular or sacred, mundane or momentous, but our perception is not necessarily the reality. We are called to move from faith, to faith, trusting that God is in our midst, moving all around us and through us; transforming all of creation.

Those fishermen on the mountain with Jesus saw this glory, and their eyes were opened. If we open our eyes, maybe we might also? Of course, we may have to redefine what we consider glorious and sacred.

What might be often considered mundane, but might also be considered full of awe and wonder?

Watching the sun rise...amazing!
Beautiful music...awesome!
A child snuggling close...glorious!
Fresh fallen snow...beautiful!
Reconciling an argument...peace!
Quiet prayer...refreshing!

Once we begin to look for God's glory, we find it all around us. It's a matter of perspective.

Beyond the glory we stumble across in our daily routines, we can also be co-creators with God, by transforming our environment.

Today I came across an article by James McGinnis; Households of Faith. He tells about taking each of his young children to a large park, and encouraging them to pick out their own special prayer place. For the next years, as the children grew up, one of their parents would take them to their prayer place the day before any special religious commemorations, such as first communion or confirmation, so that together they could prayerfully reflect on the upcoming event. What a wonderful example of creating a mountaintop experience!

I still say that we need to live in the valley, to serve those who know nothing of the mountaintop. But, if we are to be of service, we need to have something to offer; which may require us to redefine the mountaintop.

It just may be that we may encounter the glory of God in the face of those we serve, if we look carefully, and listen closely.


A recommendation

I just stumbled across an excellent piece by Rachelle, over on Notes from a Truth Seeker regarding Centering Prayer. Go take a look. I can think of no better discipline if one wants to regularly experience the mountaintop; and so be empowered to bring that experience with you into the valley.


Long for the Mountain, but Live in the Valley

Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings..."

You gotta love Peter. He is so...well...human! Faced with a wondrous mystical experience on the mountaintop, he sees no reason to let it end.

That's how it is with mountaintop experiences. The euphoria is so intense, we never want it to stop.

But most of us don't live on the mountain. Eventually, we have to return to the valley.

Our time on the mountain may encourage us to persevere in our quest for the illusive "something more." Hope is a precious gift. But is it a personal gift? Is it given for us alone?

I sometimes encounter Christians who see their calling to be much like a lifeguard who notices someone out in the ocean trying to drown themselves and shouts from the beach, "Hey! Come out of that water before you drown!" Is that what is needed? They know they are drowning; that's what they are trying to do. Maybe it would be more helpful to abandon the safety of the beach, swim out to the person, and give them a reason to swim back to shore.

Of course, one had better know how to swim, and the temperment of the ocean, before attempting such a rescue mission. Observation from the beach can only teach you so much. Eventually, you have to get wet.

To use another analogy, is our mission to stand in the light and shout to those who are lost in the darkness, "Come into the light!" Or, are we called to enter the darkness, trusting that the light of Christ goes with us, and guide those who are lost into the Light? If this is our calling, we had better know that darkness well. The fear, rage, and hopelessness we encounter cannot be met with compassion unless we know well those same places within ourselves.

Jesus could have remained on the mountain. But he chose to return to the valley; to laugh and cry with those seen as unworthy, or even lost. He chose to offer healing to the broken, hope to the rejected, and eternal life to those willing to risk all for love.

I love Peter. But I think I'll follow Jesus back down the mountain.

As we once again enter the valley, may we proclaim the Good News of the healing power of God's love to all whom we encounter; "Rejoice! The Kingdom of God is at hand!"


Friday, February 20, 2004

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

My previous comments brought to mind Walter Wink's insight as to why there is so much violence in our culture today. What follows is an excerpt from his book, The Powers That Be:

One of the oldest continually enacted myths in the world is the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) from around 1250 B.C.E. The tale bears repeating, because it holds the clue to the appeal of that ancient myth in our modern media.

In the beginning, according to the Babylonian myth, Apsu, the father god, and Tiamat, the mother god, give birth to the gods. But the frolicking of the younger gods makes so much noise that the elder gods resolve to kill them so they can sleep. The younger gods uncover the plot before the elder gods put it into action, and kill Aspu. His wife Tiamat, the Dragon of Chaos, pledges revenge.

Terrified by Tiamat, the rebel gods turn for salvation to their youngest member, Marduk. He negotiates at steep price: if he succeeds, he must be given chief and undisputed power in the assembly of the gods. Having extorted this promise, he catches Tiamat in a net, drives an evil wind down her throat, shoots and arrow that bursts her distended belly and pierces her heart. He then splits her skull with a club and scatters her blood in out-of -the-way places. He stretches out her corpse full-length, and from it creates the cosmos. (With all this blood and gore, no wonder this story proved ideal as the prototype of violent TV shows and Hollywood movies.)

In this myth, creation is an act of violence. Marduk murders and dismembers Tiamat, and from her cadaver creates the world. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur observes, order is established by means of disorder. Chaos (symbolized by Tiamat) is prior to order (represented by Marduk, high god of Babylon). Evil precedes good. The gods themselves are violent.

The Biblical myth in Genesis 1 is diametrically opposed to all this. The Bible portrays a good God who creates a good creation. Chaos does not resist order. Good is prior to evil. Neither evil nor violence is a part of the creation, but enter later, as a result of the first couple's sin and the connivance of the serpent (Gen. 3). A basically good reality is thus corrupted by free decisions reached by creatures. In this far more complex and subtle explanation of the origins of things, violence emerges for the first time as a problem requiring a solution.

In the Babylonian myth, however, violence is no problem. It is simply a primordial fact. The simplicity of this story commended it widely, and its basic mythic structure spread as far as Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Germany, Ireland, India, China. Typically, a male war god residing in the sky--Wotan, Zeus, or Indra, for example--fights a decisive battle with a female divine being, usually depicted as a monster or dragon, residing in the sea or abyss (the feminine element). Having vanquished the original enemy by war and murder, the victor fashions a cosmos from the monster's corpse. Cosmic order requires the violent suppression of the feminine, and is mirrored in the social order by the subjection of women to men and people to ruler.

After the world has been created, the story continues, the gods imprisoned by Marduk for siding with Tiamat complain of the poor meal service. Marduk and his father, Ea, therefore execute one of the captive gods, and from his blood Ea creates human beings to be servants to the gods.

The implications are clear: human beings are created from the blood of a murdered god. Our very origin is violence. Killing is in our genes. Humanity is not the originator of evil, but merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of and assassinated god. We are the outcome of deicide.

Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. Nor are we created to subdue the earth and have dominion over it as God's regents; we exist but to serve as slaves of the gods and of their earthly regents. The tasks of humanity are to till the soil, to produce foods for sacrifice to the gods (represented by the king and the priestly caste), to build the sacred city Babylon, and to fight and, if necessary, die in the king's wars.

Later, Marduk was fused with Tammuz, a god of vegetation whose death and resuscitation was enacted in the humiliation and revival of Marduk, an element that is preserved in cartoon shows by the initial defeat of the "good guy" and his eventual victory over evil, as it were, out of the very jaws of death. The only detail in our modern rendition that is different is that the enemy has generally ceased to be female.

As Marduk's representative on earth, the king's task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquillity that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer themselves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about. And because chaos threatens repeatedly, in the form of barbarian attacks and domestic unrest, an ever-expanding imperial policy is the automatic consequence of Marduk's ascendancy over the gods.

In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favor those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favor of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood. Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos, according to this myth. Ours is neither a perfect nor a perfectible world; it is a theater of perpetual conflict in which the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war; security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society

The Myth of Redemptive Violence Today:
The Babylonian myth is far from finished. It is as universally present and earnestly believed today as at any time in its long and bloody history. It is the dominant myth in contemporary America. It enshrines the ritual practice of violence at the very heart of public life, and even those who seek to oppose its progressive violence often do so violently.
We have already seen how the myth of redemptive violence is played out in the structure of children's cartoon shows (and is found as well in comics, video and computer games, and movies). But we also encounter it in the media, in sports, in nationalism, in militarism, in foreign policy, in televangelism, in the religious right, and in self-styled militia groups. It is celebrated in the Super Bowl, in the Rambo movies, by motorcycle and street gangs, and by the general pursuit of machismo. What appears so innocuous in cartoons is, in fact, the mythic underpinnings of our violent society.

The psychodynamics' of the TV cartoon or comic book are marvelously simple: children identify with the good guy so that they can think of themselves as good. This enables them to project out onto the bad guy their repressed anger, violence, rebelliousness, or lust, and then vicariously to enjoy their own evil by watching the bad guy initially prevail. This segment of the show--the "Tammuz" element, where the hero suffers--actually consumes all but the closing minutes, allowing ample time for indulging the violent side of self. When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and reestablish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil. The villain's punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain's ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of aggression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero.

Only the names have changed. Marduk subdues Tiamat through violence, and though he kills Tiamat, chaos incessantly reasserts itself, and is kept at bay only by repeated battles and by the repetition of the Babylonian New Year's Festival, where the heavenly combat myth is ritually reenacted. Theologian Willis Elliot's observation underscores the seriousness of this entertainment: "the birth of the world (cosmogony) is the birth of the individual (egogony): you are being birthed through how you see 'all things' as being birthed." Therefore, "Whoever controls the cosmogony controls the children." The myth of redemptive violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has ever known. Furthermore, its orientation toward evil is one into which virtually all modern children (boys especially) are socialized in the process of maturation.

Children select this mythic structure because they have already been led, by culturally reinforced cues and role models, to resonate with its simplistic view of reality. It's presence everywhere is not the result of a conspiracy of Babylonian priests secretly buying up the mass media with Iraqi oil money, but a function of values endlessly reinforced by the Domination System. By making violence pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining, the Powers are able to delude people into compliance with a system that is cheating them of their very lives.

Once children have been indoctrinated into the expectations of a dominator society, they may never outgrow the need to locate all evil outside themselves. Even as adults they tend to scapegoat others (the Commies, the Americans, the gays, the straights, the blacks, the whites, the liberals, the conservatives) for all that is wrong in the world. They continue to depend on group identification and the upholding of social norms for a sense of well-being.

In a period when attendance at Christian Sunday schools is dwindling, the myth of redemptive violence has won children's voluntary acquiescence to a regimen of religious indoctrination more extensive and effective than any in the history of religions. Estimates vary widely, but the average child is reported to log roughly 36,000 hours of television by age eighteen, viewing some 15,000 murders. What church or synagogue can even remotely keep pace with the myth of redemptive violence in hours spent teaching children or the quality of presentation? (Think of the typical "children's sermon"--how bland by comparison!)


Thursday, February 19, 2004

Breaking the Chains of Violence

(This rant will be a repeat of a previous one, to some degree. I don't apologize for that. I think this is an important discussion, and is worth repeating. To read more about this perspective, I recommend a little book that I stumbled across 15 years ago; Resurrection, by Rowan Williams.)

Everywhere we turn today, we encounter violence. In school yards, neighborhoods, Afghanistan, and Iraq we hear the deadly sound of exploding hate. What should we do? Hide behind barbed wire? Lock up all the juvenile delinquents? Bomb to oblivion every nation ruled by a tyrant? Is there any other answer to the hate that threatens to destroy us all?

Our world is bound by a circular chain of violence. We are taught very early in life never to allow ourselves to become a victim. What happens when some bully picks on us at school? We go home with that awful feeling of being vulnerable and powerless. We need to be free of this feeling of dread. As we walk into our yard, we tease our little sister, and suddenly feel much better. Our boss at work is demanding and demeaning. We go home feeling that we have been treated unfairly. We raise our voice when disciplining the children, and walk away feeling more confident, more in control. We have learned our lessons well. The way to escape the role of victim is to become an oppressor. Our children are learning the same lessons from us. The violence continues.

An oppressor makes a victim, who then becomes an oppressor to escape the role of victim, and so makes new victims who become oppressors, and on and on until the entire planet finds itself bound by chains of violence. How can we break these chains?

People of faith believe that there is a way. It involves believing that humanity has been called to a higher purpose than getting and spending. It involves believing in a God of mercy and grace who desires that we become more than a violent mob seeking personal gain. My faith tradition teaches that the way to break these chains of violence is to become reconciled with our own victims. We believe that when we make peace with the victims we have made, we encounter the pure victim, Jesus Christ. Instead of responding with violence, we seek to heal the wounds we have made. Our link in the chain of violence has been broken, and the circle that binds us becomes weaker.

Criminal acts must be controlled in a civilized society. There is a place for force when faced with human evil. Today, the oppressive use of force seems to be often the first response instead of a last resort. Is violence the only response to becoming a victim? Jesus taught another way, as did Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

We can no longer think of the people of the world in categories of "us" and "them." Technology has connected us as never before. We are all in the same boat. Let us break this chain of violence by refusing to respond to oppression with oppression. Let us choose to become instruments of peace and reconciliation to the wounded victims of this world.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, be with you now and always.


Wednesday, February 18, 2004

In Communion...

A discussion over on The Right Christians has caused me to think about what it means to be "in communion," or "in community," if you will.

Our relationship with others is informed and enhanced by our relationship with God. Our relationship with God is often defined by the images or concepts we associate with God; a God that is beyond any images or concepts of course.

I want to suggest that one of our most definitive conceptualizations of God is the Trinity; that God is three persons in one nature. Even though it is a troublesome concept, Christendom continues to hold it up as an important window into the nature of God. I think we refuse to discard it because it seems to resonate as truth on a level that does not consider rationality to be the final judge of truth.

One of the most universal characteristics to attribute to God is love. To state that "God is love" suggests that God participated in a relationship, a community, before the act of creation.

How might this community look? One way to envision it would be to see The Lover (or the Father, if you prefer) and the Beloved (the Son) bonded in relationship by a Flow of Love (the Holy Spirit), which is constantly moving between them.

We are invited to participate in this relationship through the transformational power of the Incarnation, in which the Beloved chose to dwell among us, offering this same Flow of Love to us. Heaven and Earth became joined as one.

To the degree that we stand in the place of the Beloved; that we willingly choose to participate in this constant Flow of Love, we become what we have always been intended to be; the adopted Sons and Daughters of God; the Beloved of God.

Among other things, this understanding of the Trinity allows us to see that we cannot exhaust the Flow of Love. We do not have to be stingy with it. We are not going to run out. We are not storage containers, but conduits, mediums, through which God's grace is manifested in the world.

We also see that being in community (in communion) is part of the nature of God. Consequently, even if we'd prefer not, being in community needs to be important to us.

There's a couple of signs out there that the conservatives in the Episcopal Church may be coming to the same conclusion. Even though I disagree with much that he has to say, I think that Ephraim Radner's article;
Why We Will Not Leave: A Conservative Reflection
, is worth a read. As a follow-up, you may want to take a look at

May we be conduits of God's grace.


Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Lambeth Commission on Communion

Simon Sarmiento provides us with a good summary of General Synod;
What the Church of England said about ECUSA
over on Anglicans Online. You might want to take a peek at their cover story as well regarding blogging. Celery green sites...hmmm...should I be offended?

Among other things, the GS summary does point out that it has now been made clear that the Church of England considers itself in full communion with all provinces of the Anglican Communion, including ECUSA and the Diocese of New Hampshire. That is an important statement to me, as I define an Anglican as one who is in communion with Canterbury, and I sincerely desire to remain an Anglican.

The Eames Commission, now called the Lambeth Commission on Communion, has issue a statement.
A section of this statement is worth repeating;

The Commission is saddened that tensions within the Communion, exacerbated by the use of strident language, have continued to rise in recent months. In addition, there has been the declaration from significant numbers of Anglican Provinces of impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Diocese of New Westminster, Canada. Although representing a broad range of opinion across the Communion, the Commission members are united in their commitment to preserving the unity of the Anglican Communion, and to finding a way forward.

The Commission requests all members of the Anglican Communion to refrain from any precipitate action, or legal proceedings, which would further harm "the bonds of communion" in the period whilst it completes its work. Mission and ministry, including prayer for unity, remain the priorities.

I agree with the sentiment of the Commission, but find it difficult to simply be silent when the likes of Bishop Duncan continues to disperse hurtful misinformation. God cannot be revealed to us today? The life expectancy of gays is 20 years less than heterosexuals? Those who disagree with him are not simply revisionists, but heretics? Bishop Griswold lied? Keep in mind that this is the "moderator" (head honcho, although I'm sure he would prefer Archbishop) of the Network, and a major spokesperson and executive board member of the AAC. I'd better stop there with comments about this interview, before I begin using more strident language.

Kevin Jones on Every Voice, gives his view of how the conservatives may have overplayed their hand. He uses some strident language of his own (takeover troops, schismatics), which no doubt adds fuel to the fire. Unfortunately, I don't agree with his conclusion. I don't think the conservatives will retreat. As I mentioned previously, they are Anglican Fundamentalists, who see this as a cosmic battle between good and evil.

"Mission and ministry, including prayer for unity, remain the priorities." Ok, ok! Let my blood pressure drop a few notches first, and I'll try, with God's grace, to set aside my own biases, and prepare myself for tomorrow; a day that will include both mission and ministry; a day that cannot allow this tension within the Communion to become an unnecessary distraction.


O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, on Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP, p. 818)

Sunday, February 15, 2004

The Half Century Milestone

Tomorrow I'll be fifty years old. A rather amazing thing. I never thought I'd see thirty, which makes the last twenty years gravy, I suppose.

Thanks to the plotting of DW and some friends from the parish, I was "surprised" with a reception in my honor this morning. It was quite sweet. The children all made darling posters and sang some songs. Plenty of food and laughter all around.

Two photos were displayed that I suspect could be used for a future blackmail attempt. A few weeks ago, we held a spaghetti dinner and cabaret. I offered a rendition of Arlo Guthrie's The Motorcycle Song ("I don't want a pickle..."). For the occasion, I wore a rather bizarre outfit consisting of a wild wig, leather jacket and Harley denim vest, boots, and leather chaps. Some saw this as a photo op. This morning, framed 8 x 10s were displayed of their interim vicar looking like a member of the Village People. And I had hoped to land a job in this diocese after I was done here. Of course, a parish that would be shocked by such behavior is probably not a place to which I would feel called, anyway.

DW gifted me with a new Almy cassock. For 15 years, I have been using a hand-me-down choir cassock. I justified that simple garment by claiming that it subtly stated my identity with the poor; a Franciscan kinda thing. Over the years, it has gotten to look pretty shabby, however. I think that now that I am at the age that I am eligible for AARP discounts, maybe it's time to splurge just a bit. Besides, the deep sleeves will finally offer me somewhere to put my handkerchief where it is accessible.

My in-laws gave me a new surplice (Old English; the ones with angel wings). About eight years ago, I caught the sleeve of my old one in the car door while exiting a cemetery. The rip had never been mended.

The parish gave me a tippet (do you see the pattern here? Someone wants a sung office, maybe?). They also included the emblem of the Episcopal Church, and of Nashotah House, to be sewn onto it. I'm not sure I'll do that. I've always thought patches on a tippet were a bit much. And, I'm not sure I want to advertise for Nashotah House at the present moment. A nice gift, though. Certainly not the kind of thing I would have bought for myself.

I'm going to miss this parish. A wonderful group of people. We shared in the baptism of a beautiful child today. Many guests, some of whom were escorted to the party after the liturgy. I'm scheming about Lent, and everyone I asked to help agreed to do so without any arm twisting.

A day in a parish like this allows some of the turmoil in the larger Church to fade a bit. We may be battered, and even torn asunder; but I see evidence that we will survive.



FROM low to high doth dissolution climb,
And sink from high to low, along a scale
Of awful notes, whose concord shall not fail;
A musical but melancholy chime,
Which they can hear who meddle not with crime
Nor avarice, nor over-anxious care.
Truth fails not; but her outward forms that bear
The longest date do melt like frosty rime,
That in the morning whiten'd hill and plain
And is no more; drop like the tower sublime
Of yesterday, which royally did wear
His crown of weeds, but could not even sustain
Some casual shout that broke the silent air,
Or the unimaginable touch of Time.

William Wordsworth

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Reconsidering the Evangelicals

J. Collins Fisher's weblog speaks about the waking of the American conscience. She suggests that the US is starting to get fed up with the Christian Right. I sincerely hope that JCF is correct.

At the same time, I am uncomfortable with labeling the Christian Right as the Evangelicals. I know I often do this as I struggle for some shorthand way of naming the militant form of Christianity that has seemed to speak with such a strident voice over the last 25 years. Recently, I referred to the 60 Minutes segment, Rise Of The Righteous Army. On a second reading, I am not sure that 60 Minutes looked deeply enough into the Evangelical movement. It appears that they focused on the fringe element, motivated by their need for sensationalism.

I do not consider myself an Evangelical, as the term is used today. If it ever returns to its root definition, describing one who has a passion for proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed, I would proudly claim the label. But, as long as it is used to identify a party within the Church, I cannot see myself attending that particular party. Of course, I cannot imagine receiving an invitation to attend it either, which may make it a moot point?

Having said that, I still find myself uncomfortable with the sweeping generalizations by CBS regarding Evangelicals. I have been quite frustrated over the last 20 years with similar statements being made regarding liberals. I would hope that liberals do not fall into the same error of painting those with whom they disagree with broad brush strokes. It would be a shame to paint Tony Campollo and Philip Yancey, not to mention John Wesley and William Wilberforce, with the same brush as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Just as any image falls short of the reality it attempts to symbolize, so words can never fully contain that which they attempt to express. They have to be used carefully.

What would be an appropriate term for the militant and extremist form of Christianity that emerged during the 20th century? For now, I'm going to use the term Fundamentalism, as it is defined by Karen Armstrong in The Battle for God;

At the outset of their monumental six-volume Fudamentalist Project, Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby argue that the "fundamentalisms" all follow a certain pattern. They are embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secular policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional political struggle, but experience it as a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil. They fear annihilation, and try to fortify their beleaguered identity by means of selective retrieval of certain doctrines and practices from the past. To avoid contamination, they often withdraw from mainstream society to create a counterculture; yet fundamentalists are not impractical dreamers. They have absorbed the pragmatic rationalism of modernity, and, under the guidance of charismatic leaders, they have refined these "fundamentals" so as to create an ideology that provides the faithful with a plan of action. Eventually they fight back and attempt to resacrilize an increasing skeptical world.
(The Battle for God, p. xiii)

Using that as a definition of the term, I think that Fundamentalism correctly identifies extremists within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I think it is also appropriate as a term to identify the angry minority within the Episcopal Church whose intent is to "punish" those with whom they disagree.

In summary; on further reflection I felt the need to make it clear that although I see Fundamentalists within the ranks of the Evanglicals, not all Evangelicals are Fundamentalists.


Friday, February 13, 2004

The Sting of Death

Lately, it seems that grief has been all around me. Maybe I might describe it as DEATH (in true Terry Pratchett form) has been hanging around way too long, and it is time I told him to either get on with it, or find someone else to haunt.

Last night, I watched The Pianist This is a great film, although it may be difficult for some to watch, as DEATH does play a major role. In the midst of the ugliness of Warsaw during WW II, beauty and joy prevail; not undoing the horror, but rather enduring it, even consuming it, and transforming it.

Today, two people came to see me regarding DEATH's visit to their families. In the midst of their grief, I found much joy. Their words were saturated with love, and the depth of their sorrow was a testimony to the wonderful life that they mourned.

I am choosing to honor this grief, and even enter into it with those walking through it right now. We are each yoked to one another, if we recognize it or not. The loss of another makes my world less as well. But, at the same time, I am not going to allow DEATH to have a free hand in this world. There are aspects of this life where he can only rule if we choose to give him that power.

One of these areas is hunger. There is no reason for anyone on this planet to die of starvation. There is enough food produced. We have the means of transporting it. We have avenues of global communication that can relay the specific needs. Yet, each year, millions die.

Here are a few stats from Bread for the World. 6 million children under the age of 5 die every year because of hunger. Surely, the human race can do better than that?

My intention is not to put a guilt trip on anyone. It is to encourage everyone to explore ways to stop these unnecessary deaths. Here is one way to make a start. By clicking on a link at The Hunger Site, you can help feed the hungry at no personal expense.

When we have done what we can do, and trusted God for the rest, death may remain hovering about, but no longer holds us in thrall, nor requires capitalization.

A family is headed in to discuss the baptism of their newborn child. Life goes on.


No man is an Island, entire of it selfe; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne

Thursday, February 12, 2004

How do we know?

I walked my pup down by the tracks today. It's not an ideal place, but a long section is fenced, meaning I can let him stretch his legs a bit.

He stays about 50 feet in front of me criss-crossing the area, as some breeds are inclined to do. I noticed that he sniffed something, leaped back, and made a wide circle around the object. As I got closer to the gray lump he was avoiding, I saw that it was an old bee or wasp hive; decayed with time and the winter snows. It was obvious that it had not been inhabited for many months. On our return trip, the pup once again walked around the hive.

We have had him since he was a pup. In my memory, he has never tangled with bees or wasps before. Yet he instinctively, or so it seemed, showed great aversion to being near this hive, even though it had long since ceased to be occupied.

Maybe there is a simple explanation. My mind wandered off in a few curious tangents, however. Could there be some kind of resilient scent in the hive itself that is repugnant to potential predators? Or, and this was the most interesting reflection to me, could it be that there is something to the idea of ancestral memory? Maybe the pup "knows" to avoid bees and wasps through knowledge that has been passed on genetically?

What is instinct? Is it hardwired into a particular species, or is it passed on through a specific bloodline?

This causes me to recall Jung's thoughts on the collective unconscious, Campbell's work on the myths that endure and the archetypes that have resonated throughout the history of our species.

It also brings to mind the Greek term of aletha (if I recall correctly), which is usually translated as "truth," although it is also defined as "remembering." The dominance of rational thought has caused many to limit the various ways that we can "know" anything. What if Locke got it all wrong with his notion of the tabla rasa? What if we enter this world "knowing" quite a bit, but in the business of this life, we forget such knowledge? Since it cannot be documented, and is immune to the scientific method, it is considered of little value, if it's existence is even acknowledged at all.

Wordsworth suggested this very idea in some of his poetry (Intimations of Immortality) Although he buried much of his thought within his poetry to avoid the label of heretic, the notion that we come from the light, remember it in our childhood, forget it in midlife, and then remember it as we draw near to it once again in our final years, is a recurrent theme in much of his work.

Which leads me to James Hillman's acorn theory. In The Soul's Code, he speaks of every person being born with a destiny; a particular image that is unique to your soul. This destiny is not limited to what we do (vocation, career, etc.). It is more about being. This idea is found in kabbalah and Native American culture, among others. It is also found in Buddhism and Hinduism, but is often wrapped up in their understanding of things like karma and reincarnation. The world does not have to force-fit us into a particular box. If we look over our lives, we "know" why we are here. It is a matter of "remembering."

Or, then again, maybe that old hive simply smelled really rank? Only the pup "knows," and he's not telling.


You do this, you do that
You argue left, you argue right
You come down, you go up
This person says no, you say yes
Back and forth
You are happy
You are really happy


Wednesday, February 11, 2004

...even at the grave...

On Sunday, the local funeral home called. The woman on the other end had a family sitting with her who was requesting that their father be given a burial from our parish. After a few minutes it dawned on me that the family was listening to her side of the conversation, which explained the vague answers to my questions regarding the connection the family had with the parish. What I did learn was that their mother's burial had been from this parish four years ago. Of course Wednesday at 11:00 would be fine. I was then asked what my "fee" would be. I attempted to explain that the Church did not charge "fees," but a gift to the parish would be greatly appreciated, although not essential. Regardless, the request for a Christian burial would be honored. This was met with silence. As I waited for the next question, the thought crossed my mind that either I had just encountered another peculiarity of New Jersey etiquette, or the person on the other end of the phone was quite new to her position.

Later, I called one of the daughters. Among other things, we discussed the particulars of the liturgy. She asked that her brother be allowed to give "the eulogy." I agreed to her brother "offering a few words." She then informed me that another brother might want to say a few words, and that this brother was in a mental hospital, but not to worry, as she would have someone standing next to him the whole time in case he did anything "unusual." Needless to say, I now became quite worried, imagining a variety of bizarre scenarios unfolding . I began to wonder if I might want to clip my cell phone to my belt under the alb, just in case a call to 911 might be required.

I arranged things with the altar guild. No one was free to assist me, which was not a problem, as I anticipated a small family gathering. When they began to arrive, I soon realized that I had anticipated erroneously. It appears that this man had nine children, and 22 grandchildren. By the time 11:00 rolled around, the church was full.

One of the daughters asked me to not begin until her brother arrived from the mental hospital. He arrived about 11:15, in handcuffs, escorted by two police officers. Another rather large brother quickly ushered the officers back out the door, and began to loudly argue tthe necessity for the cuffs. The officers appear to have won the argument. They followed the son of the deceased to a pew, and then took their positions at the end of the pew, where they remained standing for the entire liturgy. I said not a word, other than to greet the cuffed son, who, although quite large, was also heavily medicated, and so probably harmless enough. The officers did not carry side arms, which I would have objected to, although they did have a number of goodies strapped to their belt, which I assumed included mase and other tools of their trade.

The "eulogy," given by the largest of the brothers, spoke of his father's drinking, gambling and numerous fights. These memories were offered of his life before the age 16. I'll not go into the details of the remaining 58 years of memories, except to say that the phrase "man of passion" was used quite often. Note to self; go back to the practice of reviewing ALL "eulogies" before allowing them to be offered in a service of public worship.

When he was done, I asked if there would be another speaker. He shook his head no. The manicled brother would not be offering his particular interpretation of his father's life. I offered a few words about death and resurrection, attempting a transition from who their father had been to the reality of the moment; that he was in the nearer presence of our Lord. Having heard the eulogy, it is a good thing that I error on the side of liberality, as in my more conservative days, I would have had serious reservations regarding this man's eternal destination.

Since I had anticipated a small group, I had no chalice bearer. Almost everyone came forward for communion. This required that I make two trips around for each group at the altar rail; one for the bread and one for the wine. Administering the sacrament took at least 20 minutes, during which the conversation in the pews continued to increase in volume. To give credit where it is due, when I finally shouted, "Let us pray," there was complete silence.

I rode to the cemetary with the funeral director, who used the time to tell me every "pearly gates" joke that he knew. It was a cold day, and as I waited for all 150 of the family to assemble at the grave, I greatly appreciated the wool cloak I found hidden in a side closet of the parish. It is a beautiful garment, with a quite striking clasp, that had obviously not seen the light of day for many years.

At the appropriate time, I "cast earth upon the coffin." In this case, the earth consisted of a number of small pebbles, as the ground is quite damp here still. As the people left, a number of them reached over and took one of the pebbles as a keepsake. If I would have known, I would have cast more.

The funeral director drove me back to the parish. When we arrived, he pulled out a deck of cards, and proceeded to show me a few of his favorite card tricks. Some of them were quite good, although the vision of me sitting in a hearse wearing cassock, surplice, stole and cloak dealing cards with a man in a dark suit was more than I imagined some of the parishioners should be forced to endure. As soon as common courtesy allowed, I excused myself and escaped to the sanctity of the office.

The above rendition may sound like I found this experience quite annoying. To correct that misconception, I must admit that a smile has been pulling at the corner of my mouth the entire time I have been writing these words; a smile drawn from the experience that, even in life's rather unusual situations, God is there, moving with us, sharing our tears and our laughter.

God is good, all the time.

All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.


Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Time for Grace?

The Archbishop's Remarks at General Synod indicate that the Network will most likely become a reality in the very new future;

...Now the Primates in their statement in October called on provinces to make adequate provision for episcopal oversight in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury for those in conscience unable to accept certain dispositions made by their provinces. In line with that request from the Primates, I want to say that I remain fully committed to searching for arrangements which will secure a continuing place for all Episcopalians in the life of the Episcopal Church in the United States and I have been involved in working with several parties there towards some sort of shared future and common witness, so far as is possible. It is in that light that I‘ve been following sympathetically the discussions around the setting up of a network within the Episcopal Church of the United States of America engaged in negotiating some of these questions of episcopal oversight...

It appears that the global Conservatives will prevail in the Communion. I am convinced this is the last gasp of a dying worldview. Naively, I thought that Anglicans were safely inoculated against the disease of fundamentalism. Apparently not.

Maybe progressives have been too subtle in preparing for the future of Christendom. Or maybe we let voices that were too strident speak for us?

If Christianity becomes a sect of fanatical fundamentalists, we will eventually engage Islam in a Holy War. We already see evidence for the rise of the righteous army in evangelical America. Can this be the direction of God's will? I cannot believe it.

It seems that confrontation is meeting this sect on ground they know too well. Maybe it is time to be a person of grace. Maybe it is time for prayer, study, fasting and almsgiving. Obviously, I have misunderstood the flow of God's will. It feels as if it is time to let the warrior fade, and call forth the magician.

I recently picked up Karen Armstrong's The Battle for God . I think I'll begin my study with that.


O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior,
the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the
great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away
all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us
from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body
and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith,
one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all
of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth
and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and
one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

General Synod

Thinking Anglicans comments on the recent meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England. In regards to their being "in communion" with the Episcopal Church, in light of the latest breaking of communion by other segments of the Anglican Communion, it was made clear that the Church of England is not in or out of communion with a diocese, or a bishop, but with the entire Church. Such a decision is made by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York.

It is doubtful if any decision will be made until the Eames report comes out next Fall.

No word on the response to the petition from the Inclusive Church.

There seems to be some question as to the relationship between the American Anglican Council and the newly formed Network. Since the AAC met to form the Network, and Bishop Duncan heads up both organizations, it seems quite evident that they are one and the same entity. The attempt to cast the network as a "kinder and gentler" form of the AAC is rubbish. The AAC is frantically attempting to distance themselves from the plot exposed by the Chapman letter to attempt to replace the Episcopal Church with a new right-wing hierarchy that will immediately put to use their troops of thought police.

Such pleasant thoughts for the middle of the night.