Monday, August 30, 2004

We Are Living Out Our Identity

Simon Sarmiento, of Thinking Anglicans, points to a recent column in the Church Times by the Rev. L. William Countryman, Sherman E. Johnson Professor in Biblical Studies at The Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.

Here's a brief excerpt;

...Distant observers might assume that the Episcopal Church in the US is equally riven by parties, but they would be mistaken. In the C of E, both the Catholic and the Evangelical Right are highly organised for purposes of church politics, and have been so for a long time. In the US, the organisations currently dedicated to pulling the Church apart are of quite recent origin, and are apparently fuelled by a few large donations...

...(American Episcopalians) are the one traditional Christian alternative to the Puritan legacy of theocratic rigidity in the United States.

That legacy has shaped most American assumptions about religion, including the assumption that "real" Christianity is always legalistic and oppressive. There are liberal alternatives to this legacy, but Episcopalians are something else — the one expression of historic Christianity that has continuously resisted the temptation to know the mind of God better than God does.

Since we don’t profess to know the whole mind of God, it makes it easier to remain in communion with one another, even though we disagree on many things. Theologically, we are divided; just like the C of E. There is no single official theological stance, but we live with that by staying in conversation.

This is why we will survive our current conflicts, and be the stronger for them: for we are living out our identity. Again and again, the mean-spiritedness of right-wing American Evangelicalism has turned out to be our single most potent tool of evangelism. There are signs that the American public is once again tiring of its theocratic program, notably in its refusal to get behind the campaign for an amendment to the federal constitution foreclosing gay marriage...
Read the whole thing here.


Go Ask Alice

Artificial intelligence is getting pretty freaky. Pretty soon, there'll be no need to outsource customer service; the bots will do it all.

See for yourself. Go ask A.L.I.C.E.

They've started using teacher bots already.

It's not property, or capital, or even military might, that is the source of power anymore. Today, information is power. And the one who knows how to access that information holds the reins.

Is raw information necessarily a plus? I wonder. It seems to me that being bombarded with data, without someone to help us learn how to think about this deluge of information, is to overwhelm a person/student with options, without any tools to help them make the necessary choices.

Go ask Alice. Do I think she'll know? I doubt it. Information devoid of heart and spirit cannot offer any knowledge of real value.


Saturday, August 28, 2004

God Dwells Only in the Garden?

Just saw Sojourners new video about the anticipated message emanating from Madison Square Garden next week;

Heavenly Convention

Go watch it. Then sign the petition;

These leaders of the Religious Right mistakenly claim that God has taken a side in this election, and that Christians should only vote for George W. Bush.

We believe that claims of divine appointment for the President, uncritical affirmation of his policies, and assertions that all Christians must vote for his re-election constitute bad theology and dangerous religion...

... By signing this statement, we call Christians and other people of faith to a more thoughtful involvement in this election, rather than claiming God's endorsement of any candidate.

This is the meaning of responsible Christian citizenship.
In case the video didn't make it clear, here's a couple of examples of the kind of message being put out by the Religious Right;

"It is the responsibility of every political conservative, every evangelical Christian, every pro-life Catholic, every traditional get serious about re-electing President Bush."
- Jerry Falwell, The New York Times, July 16, 2004

"I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. The Lord has just blessed him.... It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad."
- Pat Robertson, AP/Fox News, January 2, 2004
It doesn't make any difference what he does? Crazy stuff.

Does this mean that as a Christian I must not only vote for Bush, but support the homophobic platform of the Republican Party, even when I believe that it is contrary to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Maybe claiming the authority of Christ is too grandiose; how about claiming the authority of the message of the Vice President?

Watch out, Mr. Cheney, or you'll get kicked out of the Garden, and have to throw your lot in with the rest of us sinners out on the street peacefully protesting this attempted theocratic coup.


Protesting in NYC

There are a lot of protests being planned for the next week. For those who will be participating, I recommend to you these words from Norman Mailer;

Do the activists really know what they’re going into? That’s my concern. Or do they assume that expressing their rage is equal to getting Kerry elected? It could have exactly the opposite effect. The better mode may be to frustrate the Republicans by coming up with orderly demonstrations. Now, when I was young, the suggestion to be moderate was like a stink bomb to me. An orderly demonstration? What were we, cattle? You have to speak out with your rage. Well, I’m trying to say, we would do well to realize that on this occasion, there are more important things than a good outburst. I wish we could remind everybody who goes out to march of the old Italian saying: “Revenge is a dish that people of taste eat cold.” Instead of expressing yourself at the end of August, think of how nicely you will be able to keep expressing yourself over the four years to come if we win. Just keep thinking how much the Republicans want anarchy on the street. I say, don’t march right into their trap.
Although it's been over 30 years since I was involved in anti-war protests (just writing that makes me feel old...has it really been that long?), I did want to offer just a few words of advice from my experience.

1. Expect the police to be out in force. Don't provoke them. We met lines wearing helmets and face shields, holding body shields and large riot clubs. They will win in a confrontation. For the most part, they will form a line and just stand there and not intervene, unless provoked.

2. If they use pepper gas (popular 30 years ago...came out of some big ray gun looking thing), don't panic; it won't kill you. We wore bandanas. Some soaked them in vinegar. I couldn't stand the smell, so I just soaked mine in water. Worn over the nose and mouth, it's a pretty good filter.

3. If you move to get away from the gas, or an advancing line of police, don't disperse in every direction. Listen to the instructions from the bull horn. Look for the rallying banners (we used Vietnamese flags; banner bearers retreated half a block, and started waving like crazy). This way the crowd reassembles quickly, and the rally continues.

4. If you don't want your picture taken, or your identity known, don't go. I was stopped by the police the morning after a rally, handcuffed and dragged down to the station, where my juvenile probation officer was waiting with a black and white glossy of me waving a Vietnamese flag the night before! And that was 30 years ago. Imagine what they can do now.

5. If you are arrested, don't actively resist. Do it passively. Go limp. It will take two to drag you away. Eventually you'll get a phone call. Decide before hand who you'll call (make sure it's someone who is home).

6. Look clean cut. The world will be watching. Don't give the Republicans any reason to dismiss you as a member of the "far left." One of the reasons the convention in Chicago in 1968 began to turn the public against Vietnam were the images of college kids being beaten by the police.

7. And finally, and most importantly, be non-violent, regardless of what happens. At one rally I participated in when I was 16, the police shot pepper gas right in the face of one college student. We had to carry him away screaming. I started filling my pockets with rocks, as did my friend. Two young women saw what we were doing, and rushed over to literally take the rocks out of our hands. "That's what they do," they said. "That's not what we do." That day I finally understood what the anti-war movement was all about; not just marching, singing, and listening to speeches, but showing the world another way, a better way, to stand up against violence.

A year later, during the moratorium marches, it wasn't just the college students marching in the streets. Families, merchants, grandmothers and grandfathers marched with us. We won their hearts, primarily by refusing to meet violence with violence. And the troops were brought home.

The people spoke, and the government responded; at least that's how I perceived it at my young, and possibly naive, age. In 1973, at age 19, I enlisted, confident that the American people would never again allow our young men and women to become cannon fodder in a pointless war far away. Now, 30 years later, it appears I was wrong. We have forgotten the lessons learned during that tumultuous time in our nation's history.

If you go to New York, remember that the world is watching. Remember that you are an American, representing to the world the values that have made us a great nation. Speak the truth with dignity. Hold your head up, and, if necessary, be prepared to turn the other cheek.


Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Mahdi

I recently came across this quote from a letter claimed to be from Moqtada al Sadr rejecting the demand of the Iraqi government to disband the Mahdi Army;

Let everyone know that this army is the Imam Mahdi's base and I have no right to ever disband it.
Previously, all I knew of the Mahdi (the guided one) was that he was a messianic figure within some of the traditions of Islam. A bit of reading on the net suggests that this belief, which is in no way unified, may be playing a major role in some of today's global conflicts.

Especially among the Shiite, there are some who believe that the Mahdi will return (or reappear, having been hidden and waiting) on the Judgment Day to begin a time of peace and justice. In Islam, the Mahdi's return will coincide with the return of Jesus.

One chronology of events that I found was that after Armageddon, in which two thirds of the Jews will be killed, the Mahdi will defeat the remaining one third, followed by a Christian/Muslim war, called al-Malhama al-Kubra (Great Slaughter of the Intercessor). The Mahdi's Army will then fight the Antichrist, but will not prevail. Jesus will descend, pray behind the Mahdi, kill the Antichrist and unite all believers as Muslims.

I have no idea how widespread this belief is. It seems that the hope of the return of the Mahdi is very common among both Shiite and Sunni, although the apocalyptic inclination seems more prominent among the Shiite. This may be because of the claim among some Shiite that the Mahdi will avenge the injustices of the Sunni upon Husayn and his followers at Karbala.

According to one site I read today, what happened in Karbala in the year 680 is critical in understanding the current situation. When the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali died (and whose tomb in Najaf is currently the center of global attention), the leadership of the Muslim community was given to the governor of Syria, with the promise that leadership would once again belong to the family of the Prophet when he died. When the time came to declare a successor, he named his son Yazid as heir.

Those who felt the leadership of Islam should remain within the family of the Prophet asked Ali's eldest son, Husayn (in some places appearing as "Hussein"), to lead them against Yazid. Yazid's army caught up with Husayn at Karbala and massacred nearly every member of the Prophet Muhammad's family that were traveling with him.

Some suggest that Karbala was the beginning of a number of new traditions within Islam that accentuate the differences between the Shiah and the more orthodox Sunni. One of these new ideas was "atonement through sacrifice", which, although nothing new to either Christianity or Judaism, was not previously a part of the Islamic tradition.

The article concludes with this summary;

So, when Muqtada Sadr and his band of disaffected and impoverished Iraqi youths managed, during those first hectic months after the fall of the Sunni tyrant Saddam Hussein, to take control of the sacred cities of Kufa, Karbala, and Najaf, it seemed that the Army of the Mahdi had truly arrived to finally avenge Husayn. Sadr has stoked the traditional sentiments of Iraq's Shiite community by brazenly framing his rebellion in apocalyptic terms. He sets himself apart as the herald of the messiah and calls his followers the last true Muslims in Iraq. Taking refuge next to the body of the blessed Imam Ali, in what was once the most glorious shrine in Shiism (but which has now become a wrecked and ramshackle garrison), Sadr claims he is fighting a holy war against both foreign oppressors and treasonous hypocrites. Vowing to follow in the footsteps of Husayn, he has convinced his ragged band of followers to fling themselves recklessly at American troops, only to be mowed down by the hundreds.
There is another curious connection to the Mahdi that I stumbled across as well. It appears that the Mahdi was the title taken by a leader in the Sudan during the 19th century. His followers, the Ansar, were successful in defeating the Anglo-Egyptian forces from 1882 to 1898.

Since the Mahdist uprising, Mahdism has continued as a political force in Sudan. The Ansar were under the authority of Muhammad Ahmad's (the Mahdi's) family (the ashraf). In 1986, Sadiq al Mahdi formed a coalition government in Sudan. He is the brother-in-law of Hassan al-Turabi, a major player in Sudanese politics.

In 1989, the current ruler, Lt. General Omar al-Bashir, lead a military coup that Turabi supported. Turbari is known for publicly stating his goal to "Arabize Africa." Sadeq Al Mahdi, who is now head of opposition Umma Party, is thought by some to be more supportive of the political ideas of his brother-in-law than in the religious ideals of the Mahdists. This has caused internal conflict within the Mahdist movement.

If one reads between the lines, with an understanding of some of the history behind today's headlines, a fuller picture of what is going on in this world begins to take shape. I'm not sure today's explorations have provided me with any answers, but they have certainly helped me form new questions.

If you're interested in making your own exploration, here's a few sites to get you started;

Identification of the Prophesied Imam Mahdi

Who Is Imam al-Mahdi?

Al-Mahdi Army

End of Days

Sudan's Osama

More Equal Than Others


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Anglican Observer to be in NYC

From the ENS;

Set to visit an Episcopal parish known for feeding as many as 1,300 needy people daily, the Anglican Observer at the United Nations is scheduled to preach at 11 a.m. on Sunday, August 29, at Holy Apostles Church near Madison Square Garden -- site of the Republican National Convention (RNC) August 30- September 2.

"I look forward to describing the work that I do, and to linking the powerful texts of Sunday's scripture readings to world events today," the Observer, Samoa's Archdeacon Taimalelagi F. Tuatagaloa-Matalavea, told the Episcopal News Service.

Known to her colleagues as Archdeacon Tai (pronounced "tie"), the observer will also speak about the work of her office -- including the environmental advocacy cited in a just-published book she has compiled during a 1:10 p.m. parish forum at the church, 296 Ninth Avenue (at 28th Street). Title for the forum is "The Church's Witness on International Concerns and Issues."
Healing God's Creation is the title of the book Archdeacon Tai recently finished;

'Healing God's Creation,' a new book compiled by the Anglican Observer to the United Nations and just released through Morehouse Publishing -- is the report of the 2002 meeting of the Global Anglican Congress on the Stewardship of Creation. The first gathering of its kind, the Congress brought together some 80 leaders, lay and ordained, from 20 of the worldwide Anglican Communion's 38 provinces. The book has been compiled by Archdeacon Taimalelagi F. Tuatagoloa-Matalavea, a Samoan laywoman, who since September 2001 has been Anglican Observer to the United Nations.

"The Global Anglican Congress, I'm happy to say, demonstrated how we can come together, with love and respect, as one people, in response to the challenges before us," Tuatagoloa-Matalavea writes in the book's introduction. "We understood that those challenges are really spiritual and moral at their heart. God and all God's creation need us now to act with commitment and perseverance." The book conveys expertise on topics including: Community empowerment, water, food and agriculture, energy and climate change, HIV/AIDS, biodiversity, ecojustice, gender and human development, and "the beauty of empowerment." The chapters feature observations by various Anglican scholars, among others.

The volume also records Anglican's first-hand perspectives noted in provincial and country reports from Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia; Bangladesh; Burundi; Canada; England; Ireland; North India; Scotland; Southern Africa; the United States; Wales, and the West Indies.Texts of Congress homilies are also featured: "Walk with vital awareness of God's comprehensive mission and purpose in creation," Tuatagaloa-Matalavea observes. "Walk with awe and gratitude. The birds, the beasts, the trees and the rivers, the person next to you is not without purpose and meaning in God's scheme of things."
Holy Apostles Church, the parish in which Archdeacon Tai will be preaching, will be open for rest and refreshments during the RNC;

There is a great deal of activity in and around the neighborhood of the Church of the Holy Apostles during the week of the Republican National Convention in late August. Many protesters are coming to express concern about domestic and foreign policies of the current Administration, including some from faith-based justice groups like our own SEJC. Therefore, the Social & Economic Justice Committee has been planning with the clergy & vestry to arrange to have the church open in the afternoon and evenings of the RNC, so that protesters may come in, have some quiet time, light refreshments, and good uplifting conversations with parishioners and friends of our church community.
On August 31, Holy Apostles will invite RNC delegates to volunteer in its nationally known soup kitchen.

I'm going to try to make it to the afternoon forum on the 29th. I'm entertaining the notion of participating in the Let Justice Roll Rally on the 31st (thanks to Chuck Currie for the heads up...while you're over there, take a look at his Fasting for Darfur post as well).

Having only been to NYC a half dozen times, it's good to know that there is a place like Holy Apostles where one can find refuge if lost or in need. It feels like having family nearby when far from home. What a wonderful way to be the Church.


Saturday, August 21, 2004

Postmodernism and Experience

A comment within Marcus Borg's article has been cause for some reflection over the last couple of days;

We live on the boundary of post-modernity. By this I mean we live on the frontier-land of a new age, a new period of cultural history that is dawning. We don't know what to call it yet, so we simply call it post-modernity, meaning it's what comes next. And post-modernity is marked by a number of things. I will mention only three that are of importance for our theme.

First, a realization that modernity itself is a relative historical construction: that someday the Newtonian world-view, and that material image of reality, will seem as quaint as the Ptolemaic world-view does to us, as it already does amongst theoretical physicists, that reality undermines modernity's skepticism about God.

Secondly, post-modernity is marked by the turn to experience. In a time when traditional teachings have become suspect, we are learning to trust that which can be known in our own experience, and hence, for example, that remarkable resurgence of interest in spirituality that I mentioned in my introduction. Spirituality, as I said, is the experiential side of religion.

And thirdly, post-modernity is marked by the movement beyond fact-fundamentalism, to the realization that stories can be true without being factually true. This movement is reflected in contemporary theology's emphasis on metaphorical theology. To say the obvious (but it has so often been lost during the period of modernity) metaphors can be profoundly true, even if they aren't literally or factually true.
My initial reaction was to have some reservations regarding Borg's apparent support of the priority of experience in regards to the spiritual life. I've always considered experience to be a subset of reason; experience by itself is of little value, simply a bombardment of stimuli. It is the translation of the experience, through reason informed by tradition, that the experience acquires meaning and value. To raise experience to a higher level of authority than reason makes me nervous. Without a component of reflective reasoning included, experience can lead to a mindset of "anything goes."

I came to realize that to understand what Borg might be saying required me to take a step back, and attempt to see this brief comment in context. This requires grappling with the specific notions he is attempting to carry into the discussion with the term "post-modern."

If I could effectively define "post-modern," most likely I wouldn't be sitting in a basement in South Jersey; I'd be on the lecture circuit or at a book signing event. But then again, maybe not, as some of the premises of post-modernism suggests that any attempt to enclose a concept in absolute terms is evidence that the perspective is clearly modernist, and has missed the whole point.

That's rather liberating, isn't it? It means that I can say at the outset that any attempt to define post-modern will be a relative truth for me at this time, in this moment, and nothing more.

As I understand it today (tomorrow I may change my mind), postmodernism is an attempt to cast a critical eye on some of the assumptions of the Western mind since the Enlightenment. Science and the quest for knowledge will not necessarily lead us to absolute truths. Knowledge of reality must constantly be tested and revised, as it is more fluid than static. Reality is not solid. It is constantly in motion, more of an unfolding process instead of a set of passive principles. The model of the mechanical clock to describe reality has been replaced with that of a flowing river.

Our role in this reality is also not passive. To some degree, we form our own reality. As we transform the outer world, we find ourselves also transformed by our engagement with this world. So much for the idea of the human as the "objective observer."

Human knowledge becomes primarily the social practices of a particular community, with no promise that such knowledge is connected with some independent ideal. It is a matter of interpretation, and usually interpretation is rooted in linguistics, with the symbols, and their multiple and sometimes contradictory meaning, becoming limitations. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, language becomes a cage. No interpretation of a text can be considered to have uncovered its "true" meaning.

In suspecting the ideas born of the enlightenment, most of the existing literary and philosophical traditions become open to criticism, often seen as being shaped by a male, white, European elite, and all the baggage such a perspective brings with it. This allows old ideas, once discarded as being of no value to human progress marching towards the discovery of absolute truth, to be reconsidered, and sometimes even integrated into a belief system that is always fluid, pragmatic and temporary; no absolutes, just a set of temporary assumptions that may allow us to dance near Truth. In literature, the grand narrative is rejected and replaced by a preference for many-faceted little narratives. In art, the portrait is replaced with the collage.

The good news is that in rejecting the premise that the facts derived from empiricism are the only steps allowed in our attempt to dance near truth, room has been made for the imagination to be seen as having a few new twists to teach us. The assumption that order is good and chaos is bad has been challenged, as creativity often springs from chaos, while order has a tendency to stifle the spirit. So, while absolutes and dogmas are looked upon with suspicion, we are witnessing a resurgence of interest in spirituality and mysticism.

The bad news is that this suspicion of order carries with it a leaning towards anarchy with no firm foundation on which to stand to keep humanity from falling into hedonism and self-destruction; or so it seems to me.

In the end, it appears I agree with Borg, that we do stand at the beginning of a new era, in which experience; our engagement with reality, will play a larger role. I'm not convinced that such a perspective will endure, however, without the inclusion of a component of reflective reasoning. Without some kind of foundation, I don't see how it can endure. And if it does try to build such a foundation; if it develops its own grand narrative, it will fall victim to its own criticisms.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

Borg on the Bible

I have the nagging feeling that I was not very clear in a previous post regarding my approach to the bible, and my objections to the fundamentalists/literalists use of it. Consequently, I want to offer some thoughts from someone who is much more articulate on this topic than I will ever be; Marcus Borg. The following short quote (in an attempt to repent from the tendency to post such long ones previously) is from an excellent address he gave entitled Spirituality and Contemporary Culture;

...I see religion, in general, and the Bible, in particular, as human cultural responses to the experience of the Sacred. I see each of the enduring religions as emerging as a human response to the experience of God. The immediate implication of this, which is really my second statement in shorthand form, is that the Bible is thus a human product, namely, the response of two ancient communities to their experience of the Sacred. Now when I say it’s a human product, of course I have a contrast in mind, and to make that contrast explicit, I mean, not a divine product. Rather, the Bible is a product of two ancient communities – the Hebrew Bible being the product of ancient Israel, the Christian Testament the product of the early Christian movement. As a human product, the Bible tells us about their experiences of the Sacred, about how these two communities saw things. It tells us about how they told their stories, and what they thought life with God was about. When we are not completely clear and candid about the Bible being a human product, we create the possibility of enormous confusion...

... Now if we think of the Bible as a divine product, then the laws of the Bible are God’s laws. This is certainly the way I was taught the ten commandments. These are the laws of God. Let me illustrate the difference it makes with one of the hot-button issues in the contemporary church, this is the single law, and there is only one, in the Hebrew Bible prohibiting homosexual behavior amongst men. The law is found in Leviticus 18:22. I think most of you know it pretty well: "If a man lies with another man as with a woman, it is an abomination." Then two chapters later in Leviticus 20:13, the penalty is specified, and of course the penalty is death. Now, if we think of the Bible as a divine product, then the ethical question becomes: "How can one justify setting aside one of the laws of God?" Of course, this is exactly how our conservative brothers and sisters see it. Some of them will even say, "I’m not against homosexuality, but its one of the laws of God." Bullshit – that they’re not against homosexuality! Now, I think there are some who can genuinely be in that place. I can grant that. But if we think of the Bible as a human product, then this is not one of the laws of God, but one of the laws of ancient Israel. And it tells us that within ancient Israel, homosexual behavior was considered unacceptable.

Then the ethical question becomes: "What would be the justification for continuing to see things as ancient Israel saw things?" – especially when, as most of you would know, the law prohibiting homosexual behavior is imbedded in a context in Leviticus in the holiness code, the purity code, as it’s sometimes called, which also prohibits the planting of two kinds of seed in the same field, or the wearing of garments made of two kinds of cloth. Now how many of you have blends on this morning? I mean, why aren’t we bent out of shape about that? So, anyway, the Bible is a human product. We need to be utterly candid about that, and not out of a misplaced sense of reverence or respect say, "Well, I really think it comes from God somehow." We just make it enormously confusing when we say that. The Bible is the response to the experience of God, but as the response to the experience of God, it is a human product.
I'm not going to muddy things up by making any further comments. After you've read his entire lecture, and have seen this quote in context, I'd be interested in hearing your response to Borg's approach to the bible.


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Parishes Exit; Join Uganda

A news item from the Episcopal News Service regarding two Southern California parishes caught my eye today;

Representatives of All Saints Church in Long Beach [] and St. James' Church in Newport Beach [] delivered to Bruno's office letters stating their disassociation from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Los Angeles, and their affiliation with the Diocese of Luweero [], under Bishop Evans Mukasa Kisekka. But Bruno, who said he was not notified of the actions in advance, was not present at the time. Each letter reads: "We have delivered this letter personally in order to honor you by having you learn of these actions from us instead of from any other source."
Since this is nothing new; parishes have been getting upset about something (slavery, churchmanship, new prayer books, women priests, gay ordinations, etc.)and leaving the Episcopal Church since its inception, why did these two parishes grab my interest?

I supplied at All Saints a couple of times a few years ago, so I know a little about the place. That perked my interest (UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me in comments that I have mistaken All Saints for St. Luke's, or one of the other two parishes in Long Beach; please forgive my poor memory). But what really got my attention was the mention of St. James, Newport Beach. That place has a history in regards to the current maneuvering of a small, ultra-conservative group within the Episcopal Church;

Signers of the letter from St. James' are its rector, the Rev. Praveen Bunyan, and senior warden Jim Dale. Bunyan was preceded as rector of St. James' Church by the Rev. David Anderson, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Anglican Council, which opposed the consecration last year of an openly gay priest as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Reportedly among funders for the opposition effort was Newport Beach financier Howard Ahmanson.
Does the name Ahmanson ring a bell? If not, let me refresh your memory with a couple of quotes from an article that appeared in The Guardian;

...What is known is that in the 1990s Ahmanson, whose family made a fortune in banking, subsidized a number of controversial right-wing causes. These include a magazine called the Chalcedon Report , which carried an article calling for gays to be stoned; a think-tank called the Claremont Institute which promoted a video in which Charlton Heston praises 'the God-fearing Caucasian middle class'; and a scientific body which rejects the theory of evolution.

Now Ahmanson has a new crusade, whose repercussions will be felt far beyond the United States. He is using his cash to stir up the most divisive row facing the Anglican Church, one that threatens to rip it apart when its leaders meet in London this week.

At its heart is the Church's stance on homosexuality, an issue that divides liberal and conservative. Somewhere in the middle is the Anglican Communion's spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams...

...Leading the backlash is the American Anglican Council (AAC) based in Washington. Until recently the AAC's chief executive officer, David C. Anderson, ran St James Church in Newport Beach, California, where Ahmanson is often to be found in the congregation. The AAC's vice-president, Bruce Chapman, is president of the Discovery Institute, on whose board Ahmanson sits and which publishes research insisting Darwin was wrong.

AAC stalwart James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas, admits that Ahmanson gives $200,000 a year, although many observers believe it is considerably more. An internal memo from the vice-president makes fascinating reading. 'Fundraising is a critical topic ... But that topic itself is going to be affected directly by whether we have a clear, compelling forward strategy. I know that the Ahmansons are only going to be available to us if we have such a strategy and I think it would be wise to involve them directly in setting it as the options clarify.'

The AAC's influence is bolstered by its close links to another right-wing religious organization, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), which operates out of the same Washington office as the AAC, and on whose board Ahmanson's wife, Roberta, sits...
To go off on a slight tangent for a moment; this connection with the IRD is worth noting once again. Here is an excerpt from the description of the IRD offered by Andrew Weaver of the Martin Marty Institute at the University of Chicago;

The political right-wing, operating in the guise of a gaggle of so-called "renewal groups," particularly one named the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), has acquired the money and political will to target three mainline American denominations: The United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Episcopal Church. The IRD was created and is sustained by money from right-wing foundations and has spent millions of dollars over 20 years attacking mainline denominations. The IRD's conservative social-policy goals include increasing military spending and foreign interventions, opposing environmental protection efforts, and eliminating social welfare programs.

In a document entitled "Reforming America's Churches Project 2001-2004," the IRD states that its aim is to change the "permanent governing structure" of mainline churches "so they can help renew the wider culture of our nation." In other words, its goal extends beyond the spiritual and includes a political takeover financed by the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife, Adolph Coors, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee...

...Why are these secular right-wing foundations interested in gaining influence in the United Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and other mainstream Protestant denominations?

The answer is that, although the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Episcopal Church total only about 14 million in membership, they have been and remain a powerful and influential voice for moderate and progressive social values in American society. Almost 30 percent of the members of the U.S. Congress belong to one of these three denominations as well as disproportionate numbers of well-educated and progressive leaders who advocate for the poor, civil and human rights, environmental protection, and a responsible foreign policy. The activities and leadership of mainline Protestant churches are linked to the social conscience of the nation and contribute to civil discourse.

The political right seeks to gain top leadership positions in the church by spreading misleading information and incendiary allegations against organizations and individuals. These groups employ the propaganda method of "wedge issues" like abortion and homosexuality to cause confusion, dissension, and division. Irving Kristol, father of William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and one of the "godfathers" of the political right, summed up this strategy in the Wall Street Journal: "Attack the integrity, not the words, of those with whom you disagree." More recently, Grover Norquist, a conservative activist and long-time friend of top presidential aide Karl Rove, was even more blunt when he told the Denver Post that civility is out and nastiness is in among conservative activists. According to Mr. Norquist, "bipartisanship is another name for date rape."

By contrast, Methodists and other mainstream Protestants have held proudly to the "extreme middle" during most of their history, recognizing that self-righteousness is the bane of religion, be it the ideology of the left or right. Unless progressive and moderate members in the mainline churches muster the will to organize and battle for what they believe is fair and just, they are in danger of losing the historical values of these traditions to a determined cadre of ideological advocacy groups. It is time, in other words, for "fighting Methodists" to make a comeback lest their tolerance and Christian charity be turned against them and used to undermine their churches and further the social ends of the right wing's radical ideology.
I hope we all read that particular quote carefully, and then read it again. The Religious Right is well organized, and attacking on numerous fronts simultaneously.

In case anyone thinks the quotes I've offered are nothing more than hyperbole, here's just a sampling of what can be found within the internal documents of the IRD;

...IRD's Episcopal Action will conduct training to equip conservatives and moderates to counter the trend.

This fall, Diane Knippers (President of the IRD) agreed to serve as the part-time interim Executive Director of the America Anglican Council, the broadest-based conservative reform movement in the Episcopal Church. She has given significant leadership in launching this organization, illustrative of the IRD commitment to working in coalitions and building a large reform movement. Episcopal Action organizing will focus in three areas: working in regional diocesan councils by recruiting clergy and laity to run for deputy to the 2003 General Convention, supporting initiatives fostering international Anglican intervention in the US church, and assisting conservatives who serve on various Standing Commissions of the Episcopal Church as they prepare policy recommendations and legislation for the church's Executive Council and the 2003 General Convention. (Diane Knippers has herself been appointed to the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations)

Episcopal Action will expand our Episcopal Action Briefing to fill a serious reporting void in the Episcopal Church. Our current circulation is 6,000, we intend to increase that by 5,000 each year to reach a total of 26,000 in 2004.
Returning now to St. James, Newport Beach, whose previous rector now runs the AAC, and which is the home parish of Howard Ahmanson, this realignment with a Ugandan diocese is a trial balloon, taking the initial strategy of the AAC, according to the Chapman letter, a step further;

Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil...We will lead our congregations and partners in making the adjustment to adopt this strategy. We seek to retain ownership of our property as we move into this realignment...We will innovatively move around, beyond or within the canons to "'act like the church God is making us"...

...Stage 2 will launch at some yet to be determined moment, probably in 2004. During this phase, we will seek, under the guidance of the Primates, negotiated settlements in matters of property, jurisdiction, pastoral succession and communion, If adequate settlements are not within reach, a faithful disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis may be necessary.

Some congregations have already proceeded to "Stage 2" because of local circumstances. While we cannot offer AEO under an AAC diocesan Bishop at this time, we do have non-geographical oversight available from "offshore" Bishops, and retired Bishops.
St. James was offered Alternative Episcopal Oversight. They refused it. Clearly, their intention is to leave the Episcopal Church, with their property and endowments. Why are they the ideal trial balloon? Because of the deep pockets of Howard Ahmanson, and their close connection with the AAC, they can afford to litigate long and hard.

Sometime in October, the Anglican Consultative Council will meet to consider the final report of the Lambeth Comission on Communion. The AAC (or under their new name, The Network) and various Primates have threatened all kinds of repercussions if the Communion does not "discipline" The Episcopal Church. It's a no-win situation, as there is no doubt that whatever the Primates decide, it will not be enough for these ultra-conservatives. They already have their next victim in their sights; none other than Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Do we really think they will ever forget that he ordained gay priests? They're biding their time, as they need Rowan right now.

In the end, all this maneuvering will most likely come to nothing. The Episcopal Church is fine, and possibly healthier than ever, in spite of all the angst from the right; both membership and giving numbers are up, and the congregations I have visited continue to pack the pews and carry on the mission of the Church.

I suppose the point of all of this is to note that the self-interest fixation of the right is not limited to the political arena. It is alive and prowling among the religious communities as well. To borrow some of the words of Andrew Weaver; "It is time, in other words, for "fighting Methodists" (and all progressive and moderate members in the mainline churches) to make a comeback lest their tolerance and Christian charity be turned against them and used to undermine their churches and further the social ends of the right wing's radical ideology."


UPDATE: A Pastoral Letter from the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles;

...I called for an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee and, in accordance with the canons of this church, the Standing Committee has informed me in writing that there is sufficient evidence that these clergy have abandoned the communion and I have responded by inhibiting them from the exercise of the ordained ministry. Should they wish to return to the communion of this Church during this period, a process of restoration will take place. Should they not change their minds, they will be deposed...

...I have also written a letter of protest to the Bishop of the Diocese of Luwero with a copy to the Primate of the Province of Uganda. I have also asked the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene in this breach of trust and authority...

...The Bishop’s ministry is based in our belief that in any given place, there is one Bishop, who continues the work of the holy apostles and is the chief priest, pastor and teacher in that diocese. Priests exercise their ministry on behalf of their Bishop and only under the Bishop’s authority. No bishop outside the diocese has the jurisdiction to oversee ministry within that geographical diocese. The fact that a bishop from another autonomous church within the Anglican Communion has chosen to exercise oversight in this diocese flies in the face of our ethos as Anglicans and of the catholic unity of the Church. It is a clear statement that the Diocese of Luwero and its Bishop and the Province of Uganda and its Primate have broken with the established historic authority of the Anglican Communion...

...It is both my pastoral and fiduciary responsibility as your Bishop, in concert with the Standing Committee, to protect and preserve the properties of these congregations as part of the Diocese of Los Angeles. The consecrated buildings of each of our congregations rightfully belong to the Episcopal Church in this Diocese and in the USA. I also have a pastoral responsibility to all those of Christ’s flock entrusted to my care and am developing plans for the pastoral care of those members of our Church in these congregations who seek to maintain their loyalty to this Church...

...Finally, apart from the issue of sexuality, these clergy have also framed their leaving in terms I find unfair and false. They have stated that this Church is not orthodox biblically or theologically. How wrong they are. I want you to know as your Bishop that I continue to uphold the vows I made on the day of my consecration “to guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church.” I believe today as I did when I was first ordained that the Scriptures contain all things necessary to salvation. Yet I will not let the Holy Scriptures be compromised by those who seek to make their literalist and simplistic interpretation the only legitimate one. Further, I uphold the orthodox faith given to us by the apostles in all the essentials laid down in the historic creeds of the Church. In these necessary things there must be unity of faith, but in other things there may be diversity within this roomy house we call the Anglican Communion...
Strong, but appropriate, words from the bishop, it seems to me. Go read the whole thing. Did I mention that prior to his ordination, Bishop Bruno was a police officer in the city of Burbank, California?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The "F" Word

From Book Club Bullies by Giles Fraser; describe the prime minister as a fundamentalist is flippant nonsense that seriously misplaces the meaning of the term. Using the F-word as a generalised insult for all those with religious convictions allows the real thing to slip by unchallenged.

Fundamentalism was first employed in southern California in the 1920s and rapidly gained an audience among Southern Baptists keen to reclaim what they perceived as Christian fundamentals against the onslaught of secular modernity and liberal theology. It's now a portmanteau concept applied to many religious fringe groups in all the world's faiths and spans huge differences in theological temperament.

The common denominator is a refusal to accept that a sacred text can be legitimately read in more than one way. This goes hand in hand with the belief that scripture has a straightforward meaning, often twisted by clever sophistry dancing to secular tunes of gay liberation, feminism, socialism, and so on. Fundamentalism is not about the degree of religious conviction or about having beliefs that are non-negotiable - all but the most cynically pragmatic of us have those. Terry Eagleton gets it right: "It is a textual affair."

Yet it is precisely here that fundamentalism is most vulnerable, for the written word is wholly unsuited to the transmission of a single message. A text, particularly one as fecund and multi- layered as the Bible, cannot be ring-fenced. Meaning scatters off the page in a multiplicity of directions. Ironically, for the fundamentalist, the text turns out to be the very source of the problem.

It is no coincidence that fundamentalism flourishes in places of low literacy. The US Bible belt is not a place where books are commonly read for pleasure or enlightenment: information comes from the radio and TV. For all their emphasis on the sacred text, fundamentalists are generally unfamiliar with the culture of books...

...Of course, the reasons for resisting the idea that a text requires interpretation are social and political, not principally theological. Fundamentalism flourishes in places of instability and social vulnerability. It is the desire for solid foundations in a world in which the vulnerable are tossed about like flies to wanton boys...

... The fundamentalist is the bully of the religious book club determined to regulate the conversation and silence disagreement. Even within the traditionally inclusive Church of England these book club bullies are increasingly using political muscle to change the rules of the conversation so that only those who subscribe to a particular interpretation of the text can participate. Elsewhere, this muscle is exercised at the point of a gun.

Perhaps I am insufferably liberal, but we need to have a greater appreciation of why bullies become bullies. Fundamentalism can only be defeated if we understand it.
"It's a textual affair." That is the point, isn't it? Is the bible dictation from God, or written by humans, sometimes inspired by God?

I first read the bible when confined to a bedroom during my elementary years. I loved the stories, and still do. But even at that young age, I understood that most of the heroes of the stories were, at best, "colorful characters."

Abraham was a bit of a scoundrel; giving his wife away to save his tail, and almost murdering his son. As I read the story of Isaac then, and today as well, it seemed obvious that there was something wrong with the man. God told him to kill his son? Serious child abuse going on here; blamed on "just following orders."

I liked his brother Lot even less. He takes the best land, and then remains there when it evolves into some kind of perpetual mardi gras. He offers his daughters to the crowd, to save the angels. And the angels have no problem with this? I sure did. His wife as a pillar of salt was a bit much, but I suppose it set things up for the incestuous scene later on with his daughters. Racey, maybe, but also rather disgusting.

We don't hear much about Isaac, except about his acquiring a foreign wife. Next time he takes the stage, he's an old man. No surprise. If my dad tied me up and offered me as a blood sacrifice to a God only he heard, most likely I'd have a few "issues" that would keep me from doing anything very productive with my life.

Jacob was a much more likeable guy. A thief and a liar, but still likeable. Served him right that he lost the wrestling match because the angel cheated; a kind of karmic justice, if you will. Yet, he is blessed by God. So God likes incorrigible rascals? Ok; nice twist to the story.

Joseph starts out depicted as a goody-two-shoes, but just can't resist making his brothers sweat in the end. A dream interpreter; I thought that kind of thing was verboten? I suppose dabbling in the occult was still considered a cut above the legacy left to him by his crazy great-grandfather, traumatized grandfather and unscrupulous father.

Moses had a mean temper, and it appears a drinking problem as well. And a huge ego. No doubt he needed it to keep those folks together for so long out in the middle of nowhere. He established the law, the ritual, and their form of government. Not too bad for a condemned murderer. The plagues were storytelling at its best. Frogs everywhere...I love it! The best part of the story to me, except for that last one. Killing the oldest son? Being an oldest son myself, that seems way over the top. And the drowning of the Egyptians in the sea; now come on, the story claims that God "hardened" Pharoah's heart. Either God doesn't play fair, or the Israelites need to tighten up their story line.

Joshua comes off pretty well; I even liked the part where he stops the sun. Never mind that the sun wasn't moving. Great image; need more light to finish slaughtering your enemy? No problem; I'm hooked up with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (somehow, by the time of Joshua, these three are depicted as impeccable models of character...imagine that!).

You can imagine going through the rest of the stories; reading them with the understanding of a precocious ten year old. Much later in life, when I showed up in church, and started attending indoctrination classes (they were called "bible study" of course), I was dumbfounded by the way the "teachers" insisted that there was only one "right" way to read these stories, and my way was just plain wrong.

That was the end of group bible study for me for awhile. Instead, I went to college and majored in literature, where creative interpretation was not only allowed, but encouraged, as long as you had some thin thread of supporting documentation to back up your theory.

I love the bible. I find parts of it clearly inspired by God. Other parts seem just as clearly to be inspired by colorful characters, and that's ok too. But this notion of using it like an instruction manual is a mindset that has never made much sense to me. Sorry if that's your approach. I just can't do it. If that makes me a heretic, so be it.


Monday, August 16, 2004

Opposing Homophobia

Desmond Tutu,, who was the Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996 and winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote an article, Homophobia is as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid,, which appeared in The Times last month;

A student once asked me if I could have one wish granted to reverse an injustice, what would it be? I had to ask for two. One is for world leaders to forgive the debts of developing nations which hold them in such thrall. The other is for the world to end the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation, which is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid.
This is a matter of ordinary justice. We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about — our very skins. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups.

And I am proud that in South Africa, when we won the chance to build our own new constitution, the human rights of all have been explicitly enshrined in our laws. My hope is that one day this will be the case all over the world, and that all will have equal rights.

For me this struggle is a seamless rope. Opposing apartheid was a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination against women is a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a matter of justice.

It is also a matter of love. Every human being is precious. We are all, all of us, part of God’s family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honour.

Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God — and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are. Churches say that the expression of love in a heterosexual monogamous relationship includes the physical, the touching, embracing, kissing, the genital act — the totality of our love makes each of us grow to become increasingly godlike and compassionate. If this is so for the heterosexual, what earthly reason have we to say that it is not the case with the homosexual?

In its new book, Sex, Love and Homophobia, Amnesty International has reported on the stories of people around the world who simply wish to love one another as an expression of their everyday lives, just like anyone, anywhere. These include Poliyana Mangwiro who was a leading member of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe despite Robert Mugabe’s protestations that homosexuality is “against African traditions”. And Simon Nkoli, the ANC activist who after spending four years in prison under apartheid went on to be the face of the struggle for gay rights in the new South Africa.

But the voices of hate, fear and persecution are also strong and lamentably often supported by faith leaders. From Egypt to Iran, Nigeria to India, Burma to Jamaica, gay men, lesbians and transgender people are harassed, imprisoned, beaten and forced from their communities.

Some states even make homosexuality punishable by death. The Churches are not vocal enough in opposing these vicious injustices, while some Christians even encourage such persecution.

Hatred and prejudice are such destructive forces. They destroy human beings, communities and whole societies — and they destroy the hater, too, from the inside. Reading the words of homophobia that are quoted in the Amnesty book is frightening, it is terrifying. It shows we all have within us a seed, a potential, that can grow into prejudice, hatred and destruction. But prejudice is a the bleak wasteland. A loving, understanding humanity is sustained by justice.

A parent who brings up a child to be a racist damages that child, damages the community in which they live, damages our hopes for a better world. A parent who teaches a child that there is only one sexual orientation and that anything else is evil denies our humanity and their own too.

We cannot answer hate with hate. We can only answer it with love, understanding and a belief in and commitment to justice. This is how we will build a world of human understanding, compassion and equality: a true rainbow world.
For some, this is not only a justice issue; it is a life and death issue. In the West, our theological discussions of homosexuality may seem to be nothing more than an intellectual exercise, with each side having a "right" to their opinion. What is being ignored is the influence such discussions have on the global audience. Here's a list of punishments for being homosexual handed out in other nations, drawn from a Letter to the Bishops by Richard Kirker, General Secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement;

Nigeria - 14yrs prison
Jamaica - 10 yrs prison
Sudan - death
Kenya - 14 yrs prison
Uganda - Life in prison
Tanzania - 14 yrs in prison
South India - Life in Prison
Pakistan - 100 lashes/death
Bangladesh - Life in prison
North India - Life in Prison
Ceylon - 10 years in Prison
Botswana - 10 yrs in Prison
Mozambique - 3 years hard labor

As Bishop Tutu has said, opposing homophobia is a matter of justice, and a matter of love.

Bishop Tutu will lead our October Clergy Conference here in New Jersey. I'm looking forward to hearing more from this great man.


A Belated P.S. - Thanks to Simon Sarmiento for bringing this article to my attention.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

St. Mary's, Times Square

This was my last Sunday before vacation ends. Since today is the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it seemed an excellent opportunity for Demi and I to worship with the people of St. Mary the Virgin in New York. This parish is also known by some as "Smoky Mary's," a nickname well-deserved due to their liberal use of incense. In my opinion, St. Mary's offers the best Anglo-Catholic liturgy on the East Coast. Today was no exception.

As it is an Anglo-Catholic parish, Saint Mary's refers to the feast by its more usual title, "The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary." Since this year the feast day happened to fall on a Sunday, the Solemn High Mass began with a procession through Times Square. The expressions of those crowding Broadway to buy tickets to the shows were a mixture of smiles, jaws dropped in confusion, and only a few frowns as they waited for 500 crazy Episcopalians to get out of their way.

The liturgy was beautiful, and yes, I must admit, did result in a "spiritual experience." But that experience was intended to be a fringe benefit, I am sure. The focus of the entire liturgy (with the exception of the announcements made at the beginning and the end) was an offering of praise and thanksgivings to God.

I wish celebrants of a Solemn High would realize that when they try to get "folksy" during announcements, it makes the liturgy come off as less sincere; as if we are "playing church." If one MUST make announcements (which is questionable, especially when most are included in the bulletin and we can assume most of our members can read), it is possible to do so in a more formal manner, much more in keeping with the tone of the occasion, it would seem to me. A minor point, I suppose. A few other similar minor points, having to do with liturgical changes made since my last visit in 1990, I'll not mention. Change is inevitable, but does that mean I have to like it?

A friend of mine, with whom I was ordained to the diaconate in 1989, happened to be there. The Church seems so small sometimes. Everywhere I go, I seem to bump into someone I know, even when traveling incognito! It was good to see J. We made plans to get together for dinner soon.

Demi and I visited the site of the 9/11 disaster. I commend to you Demi's thoughts on our visit. She once worked there, so it was more traumatic for her to see the site for the first time since the attack. We walked around all four sides, mostly in silence, and then headed home. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord.


Saturday, August 14, 2004

NCC's 10 Christian Principles

The National Council of Churches has come out with a solid statement that I fully support, and so am posting here in its entirety;
Christian Principles in an Election Year

Our Christian faith compels us to address the world through the lens of our relationship to God and to one another. Public discourse is enhanced as we engage civic leaders on the values and ethics affirmed by our faith. At the same time, religious liberty and the integrity of our democracy will be protected as candidates refrain from using faith-based organizations and institutions for partisan gain. We offer these ten principles to those seeking to accept the responsibility that comes with holding public office.

1. War is contrary to the will of God. While the use of violent force may, at times, be a necessity of last resort, Christ pronounces his blessing on the peacemakers. We look for political leaders who will make peace with justice a top priority and who will actively seek nonviolent solutions to conflict.

2. God calls us to live in communities shaped by peace and cooperation. We reject policies that abandon large segments of our inner city and rural populations to hopelessness. We look for political leaders who will re-build our communities and bring an end to the cycles of violence and killing.

3. God created us for each other, and thus our security depends on the well-being of our global neighbors. We look for political leaders for whom a foreign policy based on cooperation and global justice is an urgent concern.

4. God calls us to be advocates for those who are most vulnerable in our society. We look for political leaders who yearn for economic justice and who will seek to reduce the growing disparity between rich and poor.

5. Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth. We look for political leaders who actively promote racial justice and equal opportunity for everyone.

6. The earth belongs to God and is intrinsically good. We look for political leaders who recognize the earth's goodness, champion environmental justice, and uphold our responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation.

7. Christians have a biblical mandate to welcome strangers. We look for political leaders who will pursue fair immigration policies and speak out against xenophobia.

8. Those who follow Christ are called to heal the sick. We look for political leaders who will support adequate, affordable and accessible health care for all.

9. Because of the transforming power of God’s grace, all humans are called to be in right relationship with each other. We look for political leaders who seek a restorative, not retributive, approach to the criminal justice system and the individuals within it.

10. Providing enriched learning environments for all of God’s children is a moral imperative. We look for political leaders who will advocate for equal educational opportunity and abundant funding for children’s services.

Finally, our religious tradition admonishes us not to bear false witness against our neighbor and to love our enemies. We ask that the campaigns of political candidates and the coverage of the media in this election season be conducted according to principles of fairness, honesty and integrity.
They also offer a group study guide.


Friday, August 13, 2004

Re-presenting Jesus

This morning I stumbled across some thoughts from Karen H. over on Raw Faith that has caused me to stop and reflect about what all this church stuff is really all about;

...So, what are you going to do with us unchurched people - you church leaders who say you want us to join the fold? We're whip smart. We're used to controlling our own destinies. We have no denominational allegiances. We have no clue what a pastor is or does and we aren't about to take direction from you. We don't tear up when we heard the ads for World Vision. We can smell manipulation a mile away. We don't part easily with our money or our time. We have no patience with the church's attempt to inculcate us into a subculture that we view as ridiculous and irrelevant. We are used to being leaders in our communities and in our workplaces and it chafes us when we are barred from church leadership because we are deemed to be spiritually immature, or too edgy. When we misunderstand what church is, we don't want to be called shallow or self-indulgent. We reserve the right to have tantrums now and then. We know that you're human too and we expect you to act that way, not like some holier-than-thou icon who never gets confused or has doubts.

But don't be confused about this. We want to know Jesus. We want to love God and our neighbor. We understand that the church is part of that and we understand that you, our church leaders, want us there. You just don't know what to do with us. We don't integrate easily. Most of all, we want to be truly loved exactly as we are without any expectation that we will ever change.
There's a level of honesty in these words that we within the Church need to hear.

If we like it or not, I think those in the Church need to face the reality that there are some of the unchurched who have had nothing but negative experiences of Christianity, and consider it just another scam; we want them to join because we want their money.

I realize that the stated reason for evangelism within the Church is to fulfill the Great Commission. But that's not how it always translates in the secular sphere. Actually, that's not how it is sometimes articulated in Vestry meetings, either. Got a deficit budget? Get more members. Not enough volunteers? Get more members.

William Temple once said something like this; "The Church is the only organization that exists to serve those who are not yet members." The Church is not primarily about maintaining the physical plant and serving those who are already a part of the organization. The Church is about mission. The members are equipped for ministry, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the world.

How do we engage in this mission? We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we house the homeless and we visit those who are sick or in prison. We are the compassionate hands of Christ in the world today. We offer concrete expressions of love to those who the world have defined as unlovable.

August 10 was the feast day of Laurence, Deacon and Martyr, who died in 258. A story is told about Laurence drawn from a time of great persecution of the early church by the Romans. The Roman prefect, knowing that Laurence was the principal financial officer of the local church, promised to set him free if he would surrender the treasures of the Church. Laurence returned in three days, surrounded by a crowd made up of the sick, the aged, and the poor, the widows and orphans of the congregation, and presented them to the prefect, saying, "These are the treasures of the Church." The Church is not about our shrines, or our vestments, or our gold vessels; it's about loving those who the world deems unlovable. "Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also."

The fringe benefit, the icing on the cake, is that the cynics who think the Church is just another scam then sit up and take notice. Why is this organization expending so much money and time on those who will most likely never be able to repay them? Why are they making such a foolish investment of their resources? Look at how they love one another. Could they be for real? And, then, just maybe, some of them will check out the Church a bit more. By our fruits we are known.

Some Greeks came to Philip and said, "Sir, we want to see Jesus." This is our mission; to re-present Jesus to the world; to be a sacramental presence of the risen Christ moving and acting in the world today. Jesus Christ is the sacrament (the outward and visible sign) of God. The Church is the sacrament of Jesus Christ. We, the members of the Church, are intended to be living sacraments; allowing our every word and every deed to be a conduit of the healing power of God's love.

Yes, we need to nurture the Body, to equip the saints for ministry. But this nurturing is not just so our members can feel good, or have a "spiritual experience," or even gain enlightenment. It is to prepare us for mission. A gift received is of little value unless it is given away; we are conduits, channels of grace, not storehouses!

I'm afraid I'm beginning to ramble here. Thanks, Karen, for rekindling a spark within me with your challenging words.


Thursday, August 12, 2004

This New Life

I’m still processing the experience of returning to California for a few days. Being with family, some of whom I haven’t seen for many years, walking along the familiar sidewalks, catching scents full of memories, and reliving so many times so quickly, some of them good, but many that were quite dark, has left me feeling as if I’ve been battered by too many blows without a moment to catch my breath between rounds.

I’ve gone away and returned before; usually with the same result. Memories best forgotten come flooding back, sometimes serving up a knock-out punch, resulting in my fleeing once again after regaining consciousness. But this trip was different. And it is the elements of the difference from which I’m beginning to draw some insight.

The same people, the same places, the same memories, resulting in the same emotional turmoil, but no knock-out. I survived all 15 rounds, and, although somewhat beaten, not overwhelmed. I attribute a big part of this to having a wonderful companion at my side; one who saw many of these people and places for the first time. In many ways, Demi took on the role of the “objective observer,” which made it much easier for me to view it all from that same perspective. Experiences, and the baggage of memories they bring with them, do not have to be categorized as either good or bad, positive or negative. They simply are what they are.

Another aspect that made this trip different from past ones was the fact that I am a different person today. After a chaotic period at mid-life in which everything was turned upside down, followed by a time of acquiring new life skills to bring some sense of order out of this barrage of internal chaos, the last few years have been a time of peace; a time to step back and consider alternative perspectives.

One of these perspectives was to recognize that some people’s lives go through a series of cycles. In a sense, many of us live numerous lives within a lifetime. For instance, I’ve identified my past lives with the labels of Scapegoat Child, Wild Young Man, Husband and Father, and Priest. I’m not sure what label this current cycle will be given.

One of the early insights while attempting to retrieve some order in my life was about the integration of those past lives into the current one. There is no question that each of these lives, or perhaps “roles” is a better term, remain a part of who I am today. The mistake I’ve made in the past while working towards integration was to too strongly identify with one of these lives, or roles, as my “true” self, and allowing my memories of how that persona functioned to influence the way I responded to current situations. A wild young man is not a very effective father, husband or priest. The result was more chaos, and less order.

The latest insight has been to realize that identifying the past with these various roles may not have been terribly helpful. Each cycle, lasting between 10 to 20 years, was a response to some external reality. It is questionable if any of these identities were connected to my “true” self. They were simply reactions, with little or no pro-active behavior on my part.

In this current time of peace, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to react. Not every situation requires a response. I can pick and choose my battles. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, however. I’m so used to living a chaotic life, which demands a reaction, that in the beginning of this time of peace, I found myself creating chaos, as that was the familiar, the comfortable, way of existing in this world.

The peace required stripping away almost all my preconceived notion of who I am, what my purpose in life was about, and what the future might hold. In a sense, it meant being willing to stand naked before God and the world, with no defenses, no weapons, and not react to the blows. It meant relearning something I knew as a child, but somehow lost in mid-life; how to simply “be”, and not feel compelled to “do”.

The funny thing has been that I’ve found this to actually be the beginning of this new life; not the end result. Learning to “be” reopened the door to discovering what my unique purpose might be in this world; my own definition of the meaning of this life. Stripping away the baggage of the past has made room to pick and choose new perspectives and new actions to take on. To explain this further, let me quote a bit from James Hillman’s book, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling;

Because the “traumatic" view of early years so controls psychological theory of personality and it development, the focus of our rememberings and the language of our personal storytelling have already been infiltrated by the toxins of these theories. Our lives may be determined less by our childhoods than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods. We are, this book shall maintain, less damaged by the traumas of childhood than the traumatic way we remember childhood as a time of unnecessary and externally caused calamities that wrongly shaped us.

So this book wants to repair some of that damage by showing what else was there, is there, in your nature. It wants to resurrect the unaccountable twists that turned your boat around in the eddies and shallows of meaninglessness, bringing you back to feelings of destiny. For that is what is lost in so many lives, and what must be recovered; a sense of personal calling, that there is a reason I am alive.

Not the reason to live; not the meaning of life in general or a philosophy of religious faith – this book does not pretend to provide such answers. But it does speak to the feelings that there is a reason my unique person is here and that there are things I must attend to beyond the daily round and that give the daily round its reason, feelings that the world somehow wants me here…
“…bringing you back to feelings of destiny…” - that’s the thing this new life, this new cycle, seems to be all about; letting go of some baggage in order to uncover the heart’s desire; to be able to ask the question, “What do you want?” without the answer being hijacked by a reaction from some past life.

There’s some more blatantly spiritual insights involved in this reflection, but this piece has become long enough. Maybe I’ll continue with this another time.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

A Holy Task

I want to respond to a comment that was left here while I was away;

I pray that someday you will shed your religion of the democratic national committee, and return to Jesus.

How can you be gleeful at the convention of those who would eliminate religious thought and speech from the public square, and advocate the killing of the innocent?
I must assume that this person is speaking from outside of progressive Christianity and making sweeping generalizations based on his perception of who we are. As a sacramental Christian, my understanding of the duty of all Christians is to represent (as in re-present) Jesus Christ in this world. Since it cannot be denied that there are many Christians who happen to also be Democrats, the assumption that Jesus is not a part of the DNC dismisses most of the Christians I know as not being "real" Christians. That is a generalization based on an erroneous projection of what defines a Christian and a Democrat.

To claim the goal of the DNC is to eliminate religious thought is to reveal a lack of understanding of most of the Democrats I know. Actually, just the opposite is true. We encourage more religious thought, not less, from a wide diversity of faith traditions. Some of us do not support the attitude of some Christian fundamentalists who want to claim that Christianity is the only religion that matters. I certainly oppose those who want to characterize this country as a "Christian nation," and force-feed their peculiar brand of Christianity on us all. I also oppose a leader who would wage a preemptive war against another nation because of the claim that God told him to do so. Do I want to eliminate such speech? No. But I do want to remove such a dangerous man from office, through the appropriate democratic method; by voting him out. Let him say whatever he wants from his ranch in Texas.

As far as advocating the killing of the innocent, I assume this is a reference to the abortion issue. I have discussed this issue previously, and will refrain from saying more, except to repeat that the stance of many Christians on this issue is that in some difficult situations, abortion may be an option that has to be considered. Abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.

But, if we are to discuss the sanctity of life, I must suggest that the killing of over 11,000 innocent Iraqis is an immoral act that has caused God to weep. This preemptive war I cannot support. Nor can I support a leader who is responsible for these innocent deaths.

Recently, I was able to worship with the people of All Saints, Pasadena, one of the largest progressive parishes in the nation. Both services I attended were packed. The liturgy was graceful. The language was inclusive. The spirit of the living God filled the place. I picked up a transcript of a sermon given on February 15, 2004 by George Regas, who was the rector of All Saints for 28 years. The title of his message was "Mixing Politics and Religion is a Holy Task." Here is a brief excerpt;

When I say mixing politics and religion is a holy task, I am not referring to the particular religiosity of a candidate or even how devout they may be. That is less important than how their religious and moral commitments and values shape their political vision and their policy commitments.

During the days of the Watergate scandal, President Nixon spoke again and again about personal morality. The President's men tried to uncover the immoral behavior of congressional people on Nixon's enemy list. They wanted to know how much they drank and with whom they slept. What distorted virtue and integrity. Those sleeping in proper beds would almost destroy a system of government. Vietnam, Watergate, the Contra scandal - maybe all those predominant actors in those sordid stories of American political life slept in the right beds. But their concepts of morality and virtue were grossly warped. They focused on personal morality and ignored those corporate evils that hurt, rob, oppress and kill human beings.

The United states has a long history of religious faith supporting and literally driving progressive causes and movements. From the abolition of slavery to women's suffrage to civil rights, religion has led the way for social change. That's the holy task of mixing politics and religion.

The separation of church and state does not require banishing moral and religious values from the public square. America's social fabric depends on such values and vision to shape our politics - a dependence the founders of the nation recognized.

It is possible and necessary to express one's faith and convictions about public policy while still respecting the pluralism of American democracy. Rather than suggesting that we not talk about God, progressives should be arguing - on moral and religious grounds - that all Americans should have economic security, health care and educational opportunities. True religious faith results in a compassionate concern for those on the margins of society.

Jim Wallis, in a recent insightful op-ed piece in the New York Times writes: "God is always personal, but never private. Democrats are wrong to restrict religion to this private sphere - just as Republicans are wrong to define religion solely in terms of individual moral choices and sexual ethics. Allowing the religious right to decide what a religious issue is would be both a moral and political tragedy."
I will continue to mix politics and religion, as I see such considerations a part of my duty as a Christian leader. If I may be so bold, I will even go so far as to suggest that I agree with George Regas; such mixing is a holy task.


Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Returning from the Golden State

Demi and I just got back from ten days in California. We lunched on authentic Mexican cuisine in Palm Springs, worshipped in All Saints, Pasadena, walked the beach in Ventura, soaked in a hot spring and wandered through a county fair outside San Luis Obispo, feasted on fondue in Sacramento, joined the throng of tourists at Pier 39 in San Francisco, and stopped to take in a rodeo near Stockton.

As we traveled the length of that golden state (yes, those hills are golden, Demi, not brown!), we visited with my mom and dad, one brother, one uncle, two aunts, two daughters, one son and one future son-in-law. Demi saw and heard much of the history of my clan, who go back five generations in that great state.

I already miss it once again. But, I must say, I did note during the drive from the Philadelphia airport to New Jersey after we returned that it sure is nice to see more variations of color. Gold is lovely, but green is the color of life.

Maybe next year Demi and I will visit Lake Tahoe or the Sequoias, so she can see that some things do grow grand and green without irrigation in California. Or possibly Italy, so I can experience her history?

Vacation continues. Reading a great book and baking muffins while Demi attends a local city council meeting. She said she'd stop and pick me up an apron on her way home. I bet it's a brown one.