Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Main Event

Tonight is the big debate. Calling it a "debate" is to use a broad definition of the term. In light of the 32 page agreement, tonight's event will actually be two parceled out speeches. They can't directly address one another? Absurd. I'd love to see these two put in a room with no notes, no handlers, and no moderators.

Dubya's Dayly Diary lets us in on a secret addendum to the existing lengthy debate agreement;

1. Kerry shall be required to answer all debate questions in French.

2. Bush shall be required to answer all debate questions in English.

3. Throughout each debate, the backdrop behind Bush shall feature several U.S. flags, the precise number of which is subject to further negotiation.

4. Throughout each debate, the backdrop behind Kerry shall feature a map of Massachusetts and two life-size photos of Kerry with Jane Fonda.

5. During the debates, Kerry shall address Bush as "Mr. President" or, if Kerry so elects, "Monsieur President."

6. During the debates, Bush shall address Kerry as "Senator Kerry" or, if Bush so elects, "Senator Flip-Flop."

7. Bush may, if he so chooses, elevate his torso by sitting on one or more padded telephone books. Alternatively, he may debate atop his mountain bike.

8. Kerry may, at his sole option, fluff up his hair, provided that Kerry's hair elevation shall not exceed 1.2 inches above scalp level.

9. Both Bush and Kerry may, but shall not be required to, wear a hat while debating (hereinafter referred to as "optional head-wear.") Bush's optional head-wear shall be a cowboy hat, and Kerry's optional head-wear shall be a beret.

10. Both Bush and Kerry shall wear business attire during debates one and two. However, during the third debate Bush may, if he so elects, wear a flight jacket, and Kerry may, if he so elects, where whatever garb he wears when he windsurfs.

11. All debate attendees shall be required to sign Bush/Cheney loyalty oaths, including all members of the media, except those employed by Fox.

12. Notwithstanding paragraph 11, Dan Rather shall be excluded from each debate, unless a panel of 6 experts unanimously confirms that his Bush/Cheney loyalty oath is not a forgery.

13. If Bush does not wish to answer any given question, he shall so indicate by saying "I'm glad you asked me that question," at which point the questioner shall thank him for his excellent answer and pose the same question to Kerry.

14. Kerry shall be required to sigh at least three times per debate. Moreover, additional sighs shall be required if any cameraman misses the shot.

15. Bush shall not be asked any question that requires him to pronounce the words nuclear, solidarity and/or Abu Ghraib.

16. In the event Kerry is declared the winner of any debate, Bush shall be entitled to a recount.

In the end, the debate probably won't sway many folks. After all, we know that the election will most likely be decided by the Battle of the Bunny Suits;

It's the question on the lips of the world:

"Which of the three main US presidential candidates looks best in a bunny rabbit suit?"

Do you think Bush's natural awkwardness suits the rabbit suit best? Or do you prefer Kerry, a candidate clearly at ease in his bunny rabbit skin? Or Nader's 'accountant dressed as a bunny rabbit' effort?
I took the poll. I must confess that my vote went to Bush. "Bunny Bush" has such a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

There's only a few days left to register to vote in most states. This is a critical election. If you haven't done so yet, there's still time. Go register now!


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Anglicans Await Lambeth Commission's Report

The report of The Lambeth Commission will be made public next month. There's lots of speculation going on about what it will contain in the press;

...Traditionally no one part of the church can dictate to another how it conducts itself but the conservative camp have demanded that the US Episcopal Church and its leaders should be disciplined for supporting the election of the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson last year...

...It is thought likely that the US and perhaps the Canadian church, which has begun authorising gay blessings, may be disciplined by having their bishops refused invitations to future international meetings. It is unlikely that the national churches will be thrown out of the communion altogether.
The anger and outrage of the conservative camp has been evident for some time. I recall seeing it regularly expressed at Nashotah House 15 years ago when "the issue" was women's ordination (not in the Church in general, but at the House, where women are still not allowed to perform any sacerdotal functions on the campus). In the last few years, this conservative anger has developed a stronger bite, apparently intended to deeply wound. Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, is spoken of with great disdain, with various derogatory labels attached to him. If someone declares a particular bishop to be a heretic, it seems to be open season on him or her. Even if there is some hope of reconciliation, these wounds caused by a lack of respect for at least the office of bishop if not the person will take a long time to heal.

The progressives, for the most part, have attempted to keep the conversation civil. Not being much of a team player, I've not always followed this guideline. I've been known to vent my frustration and anger now and then. In hindsight, such rants may have been personally beneficial, but most likely did not move the conversation forward.

What concerns me now are various premature reactions to the worse case scenario on the part of various progressives. I think these reactions unnecessarily add fuel to the fire. For instance, there are reports of threats to cut off funds to ministries in Africa if disciplinary actions are taken;

...But the North American bishop, who is one of those who may be disciplined after the commission report, said that the American church, which underwrites the funding of many dioceses in the developing world, might then cease paying for the rest of the communion.

He and other senior churchmen are making clear privately that they would expect African bishops to be disciplined for breaking Anglican conventions which prevent bishops intervening outside their own dioceses.

He added: "If Rowan snubs 10% of the communion's bishops, I predict others will not go to Lambeth 2008 in sympathy - other Canadians and Americans, plus some from New Zealand, Australia, and perhaps even the Celtic fringe. It would no longer be the Lambeth conference - more like an anti-homosexual society"...
Bishop Spong steps out of retirement to make a public statement that Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has failed;

...He is now destined to be a long-serving but ineffective and empty man who has been revealed to be incapable of carrying the responsibility placed upon him. Leaders have only one opportunity to make a first impression. Rowan Williams has failed that test miserably...
These kinds of threats and character assassinations (including my own) are an attempt to play the game on the conservative's home field; using angry words as weapons to wound, and in some cases destroy, your opponent. The world is watching. Future generations will look back on how we conducted ourselves during this historical moment within Anglicanism. Debating an issue does not require that one launch personal attacks at the other side.

Regarding the controversy itself, I've offered my position numerous times, so I hope a brief summary will suffice.

1. The scriptures offer many standards of behavior on numerous ethical issues. Some of these standards (such as bans on usury, the submissive role of women, capital punishment for disobedient children, the affirmation of the concept of slavery, etc.) are rejected by the majority of Christendom as not being binding for today's Christian. At the root of the current controversy are six bible passages that some claim state that homosexuality is sinful. As I look at these verses, I'm not convinced they address the situation we are faced with today; people desiring to enter into faithful, committed relationships, and asking the Church to affirm God's blessing on these relationships.

What we do find in scripture is the overall message that sex driven only by lust is sinful. That which harms another is sinful. Promiscuity, in which someone is always hurt, is sinful. Casual sex, heterosexual or homosexual, is sinful. These are the kinds of homosexual relationships the scriptures are addressing, in my understanding. I'll not say more for now, but if you want to read additional material on these six bible verses, here is but one place you might want to visit.

2. I want to point out a couple of things that are often misrepresented concerning Bishop Gene Robinson. He did not divorce his wife to shack up with a man. When this slander started being tossed around, Bishop Robinson offered a very clear chronology of events;

August, 1972 - V. Gene Robinson and Isabella 'Boo' Martin are married, All Saints Church, Peterborough, New Hampshire, USA.

May, 1986 - Gene and Boo separate; Gene moves to Wilton, New Hampshire (five miles away), sharing joint custody of daughters Jamee and Ella.

March, 1987 - Boo meets Robert McDaniel, by May they are engaged to be married; Gene moves to Concord, NH, where he is now employed as Canon to the Ordinary.

August, 1987 - Boo and Gene's divorce is final; the Rector of Grace Church, Manchester, accompanies them to the judge's chambers for the final decree, and then they return to Grace Church, where they mark the ending of their marriage, the mutual release from their wedding vows (symbolized by the return of their wedding rings), and the pledging of themselves to the joint nurture and care of their children - all within the context of the Eucharist.

October, 1987 - Boo and Robert are married (within a couple of years, they have two sons).

November, 1987 - Gene meets Mark Andrew while on vacation.

February, 1989 - Mark leaves his career with the Peace Corps and moves to New Hampshire to be with Gene, Jamee, and Ella.

July, 1989 - Gene, Mark, Jamee and Ella host a 'Celebration of a Home' from the Book of Occasional Services.

Two things worth noting here; first, Gene's wife was remarried before he ever met Mark. Second, notice the inclusion of the House Blessing at the end of this timeline. Why do you think that was included? Considering the secular and religious laws that officially do not allow the blessing of unions in most places, I have always assumed that this was a quiet way of including the date that Gene and Mark's relationship was blessed by the Church; they are not simply "living together." This leads to my third and final point in this summary;

3. I think things would have been much clearer if TEC would have voted to allow the blessing of unions and developed a specific liturgy for this rite before giving the consent to the election of an openly gay bishop. But, that's water under the bridge now.

From its beginning, TEC chose to function in a very "democratic" way; we vote. Our structure is built around this method of decision-making, very similar to the way the federal government operates. Other parts of the Anglican Communion use other, more hierarchical, models. To them, the fact that we would support a decision based on a vote in the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies even if we disagreed with it is a concept that just does not compute. It's an American thing. That we would take back a vote, regardless of how many Primates order us to do so, is simply unimaginable.

To demand that TEC repent is to assume that there is something to repent from, unless what is wanted is submission without a change of heart. The Church already has a long history of those holding positions of power treating those who are "different," be it by race or gender, as second class citizens. I hope that this time we begin writing a new history; one in which all God's people are included. To "repent" will send the wrong message to the world; that God's kingdom is exclusionary. Such a message would be contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which I have vowed to uphold. I can never affirm such a refutation of the Good News. I pray TEC doesn't either.

Ted Mellor has written about his thoughts and feelings in response to reading of the possible ousting of TEC from the Anglican Communion in a piece entitled The Eames Commission and Bishop Jones;

...I went to bed last night feeling like I had been kicked in the gut -- angry, disheartened, and questioning. Almost ready to give up on the church forever.

But this morning I remembered that tomorrow [September 4] is the commemoration in the Episcopal Church's calendar of Blessed Paul Jones, Bishop of Utah, a witness for peace and for justice for the greviously maltreated working people of his diocese. In 1917 he shocked the secular press and the church establishment by declaring that "war is unchristian". The "biblically orthodox" of his time were outraged and, quite logically, pointed to the near-universal practice of Christians over 1900 years as giving the lie to this "radical" innovator. In true Anglican fashion, a commission of the House of Bishops was appointed to investigate. It found, of course, that there was nothing unchristian about war, enormous pressure was placed on Bishop Jones, and he was forced to resign.

But today, it is the socialist bishop who is commemorated at the Eucharist, while the members of the commission are all but forgotten. Bishop Jones never "repented" of his convictions, but "For the next 23 years, until his death on September 4, 1941, he continued a ministry within the Church dedicated to peace and conscience, speaking always with a conviction and gentleness rooted in the Gospel." {Lesser Feasts and Fasts]

And if our own conviction that homophobia and discrimination are flatly unchristian means that we are not good enough to be included in that part of the establishment known as "the Anglican Communion", then we can only repeat with Bishop Jones, "Where I serve the Church is of small importance, so long as I can make my life count in the cause of Christ."
Whatever the Lambeth Commission reports, and the Anglican Communion decides, may we follow the example of Bishop Jones by continuing our ministries, "speaking always with conviction and gentleness rooted in the Gospel."

...And yes, I am preaching to myself.


Monday, September 27, 2004

Exiting Parishes Sued for Their Property

The saga of the three parishes in the diocese of Los Angeles that decided to leave the Episcopal Church and join a Ugandan diocese continues. Not surprisingly, the diocese has decided to sue in order to lay claim to the properties.

The likely decision will be, based on past cases, that these three parishes will lose their property. From Louie Crew;

The Diocese of New Jersey vs. St. Stephen's
The Diocese of Newark vs. St. Mark's
The Diocese of Los Angeles vs. Holy Apostles, St. Matthias, St. Mary's, and Our Saviour

To understand why the secular courts will most likely side with the diocese, here's just a bit of the verbiage from the first example;

In this country, courts have been repeatedly admonished not to attempt to decide ecclesiastical doctrinal controversies. It has been often stated that "[t]he law knows no heresy, and is committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect." Watson vs. Jones, 13 Wall. 679, 728, 20 L.Ed. 666, 676 (1872). However, subject to certain limitations, a civil court can be called upon to resolve a church property dispute.

The United States Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment does not dictate that a state must follow a particular method of resolving church property disputes and any one of various approaches may be adopted so long as it does not involve consideration of doctrinal matters. Jones vs. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595, 99 S.Ct. 3020, 61 L.Ed.2d 775 (1979). One acceptable method of approach was outlined in Watson vs. Jones, supra, which repudiated the English rule that church property was the subject of an implied trust in favor of those who truly adhered to church doctrine. The Supreme Court held that our basic constitutional requirement of the separation of Church and State prevented courts from using the departure from doctrine approach in the adjudication of church property disputes. In the absence of specific trust provisions in the deed, will or other instrument by which the property is held, Watson made inquiry as to where the particular church body had placed ultimate authority over the use of church property.

Two broad types of church government were recognized. In a congregational church, church authority and control over church property rested completely in the local congregation and its elected elders. In a hierarchical church, however, the local church is an integral and subordinate part of the general church and subject to its authority. Watson, therefore, held that in a hierarchical situation where there was a property dispute between a subordinate local parish and the general church, civil courts must accept the authoritative ruling of the higher authority within the hierarchy.

The Watson rule, although admittedly not exclusive, has been modified to the extent that a civil court may inquire into fraud, collusion or arbitrariness in the ecclesiastical disposition. Gonzales vs. Archbishop, 280 U.S. 1, 50 S.Ct. 5, 74 L.Ed. 131 (1929).
The Episcopal Church is considered a "hierarchical church." In addition to this, since 1979, the canons of TEC have included the following;

All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish,Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located. The existence of this trust, however, shall in no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise existing over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons.
-Canons of the General Convention
, Title 1, Canon 7, Section 4.
If the majority of the members of these parishes want to leave, I find it unfortunate that they are being taken into court. The problem, of course, is who defines if it is indeed a majority that voted to take the parish out of TEC?

Timothy Titus raises this question in the L.A.Times, using St. James, one of the parishes headed for the courtroom, as an example;

...The rector of the church, Fr. Praveen Bunyan, reportedly has said his congregation's vote to leave the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles was "280 to 12" in favor, "with possibly one abstention." Bunyan claims in a letter to members that this reflects an overwhelming 96% majority.

The "St. James Fact Sheet," available on the church's website, claims the congregation to number "approximately 1,200 members." In its press release announcing its defection, the church claims a membership of "more than 1,200 members." According to math, and counting both types of votes and the abstention, 293 members voted on the breakaway. This means that, in reality, only 25% of the congregation was even present at the vote and 23% of the membership voted "yes." Bunyan's claims of 96%, at the very least, creatively skirt the truth...
It is the duty of Bishop Bruno of Los Angeles to be a good steward of the resources entrusted to his care, and to provide pastoral care to all faithful Episcopalians within his diocese. If there are a significant number of St. James parishioners who do not desire to leave TEC, it would seem appropriate for the bishop to do whatever is necessary to hold on to this property.

But I don't think it is the graceful way to proceed. I wish I had a better solution. What does seem evident to me is that in those cases in which it is clear that a significant number (someone would have to define what is deemed significant; 75%? 85%?) of the members desire to leave TEC, they should be allowed to go with God, with their property and endowments. This would seem to be the way of grace. The diocese would then need to provide a high level of pastoral care to the minority who remained faithful to TEC, as they will have lost their parish home.

On a personal level, I am quite disappointed that this situation has ended up in the courts. That means we're going to have to hear about it for years. We've expended much too much energy on this stuff already. Debating if we should encourage people to be in faithful, committed relationships or not? One would think that would be a no-brainer.

We have other things to do. Let them go with God, so we can press on the Kingdom.


Sunday, September 26, 2004

Striking Fallujah, Again

From ABC;

United States aircraft have launched a new air strike in the rebel-held city of Fallujah aimed at killing supporters of a Jordanian militant who has led a campaign of suicide bombings and kidnappings in Iraq.

The US military said the attack targeted supporters of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and no innocent civilians were in the area.

But doctors at Fallujah's main hospital said at least seven civilians were killed and 13 wounded, including women and children.

Reuters television showed a crowd of Iraqis digging through the ruins of a destroyed building, and pulling out survivors including two women and two children...
Are we headed for a repeat of last April?

The Silence of the Press

From Amnesty International

Ambulance Pictures

Eyes Wide Open

Here is some video of war crimes (note; violent content - recommended for adults only);

Marines kill wounded Iraqi

Massacre of civilians in Fallujah

Apache helicopter kills wounded Iraqi

From Nancy A. Youssef reporting for Knight Ridder;

Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis - most of them civilians - as attacks by insurgents, according to statistics compiled by the Iraqi Health Ministry and obtained exclusively by Knight Ridder.

According to the ministry, the interim Iraqi government recorded 3,487 Iraqi deaths in 15 of the country's 18 provinces from April 5 - when the ministry began compiling the data - until Sept. 19. Of those, 328 were women and children. Another 13,720 Iraqis were injured, the ministry said.

While most of the dead are believed to be civilians, the data include an unknown number of police and Iraqi national guardsmen. Many Iraqi deaths, especially of insurgents, are never reported, so the actual number of Iraqis killed in fighting could be significantly higher.

During the same period, 432 American soldiers were killed.

Iraqi officials said the statistics proved that U.S. airstrikes intended for insurgents also were killing large numbers of innocent civilians. Some say these casualties are undermining popular acceptance of the American-backed interim government...
Note that this is just since April. Iraq Body Count has estimated, based on news reports, that between 13,000 and 15,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the beginning of the invasion.

And we wonder why they hate us? Someone decided not to rein in our troops. The leadership at the top must be held accountable. If this is this administration's idea of how to "win hearts and minds" during a campaign year, the mind boggles imagining what will happen after November 2 if they win the election.


Saturday, September 25, 2004

A Closer Look at "The Coalition of the Willing"

Is there a multinational force in Iraq, or is the invasion and occupation of Iraq a unilateral act of aggression by the US?

Let's look at the members of this coalition, and their contributions;

United States - 140,000 troops
United Kingdom - 7,900 troops
Italy - 2,700 troops
Poland - 2,400 troops
Ukraine - 1,700 troops
Netherlands - 1,400 troops
Romania - 700 troops
Australia - 250 troops
South Korea - 600 medics and engineers
Japan - 550 troops (humanitarian aid)
Denmark - 496 troops
Bulgaria - 485 troops
El Salvador - 360 troops
Hungary - 300 troops
Mongolia - 180 troops
Azerbaijan - 151 troops
Georgia - 159 troops
Latvia - 122 troops
Portugal - 128 military policemen
Lithuania - 105 troops
Slovakia - 105 chemical warfare troops
Czech Republic - 80 military policemen
Albania - 70 Special Forces troops
Estonia - 55 Special Forces troops
Tonga - 45 Royal Marines
Singapore - 33 troops
Kazakhstan - 29 troops
Macedonia - 28 Special Forces troops
Moldova - 12 troops

There is one more category of forces on the ground in Iraq that need to be added to this list;

Private military contractors (mercenaries) - approximately 20,000.

Those who have left the coalition;

Nicaragua - 230 troops left in February 2004.
Spain - had 1,300 troops withdrawn on April 28, 2004.
Honduras - 368 troops withdrawn by end of May.
Norway - 150 humanitarian troops withdrawn on June 30 2004.
Dominican Republic - 320 troops withdrawn by end of May.
Philippines - 51 medics, engineers and soldiers withdrawn July 14 2004.
Thailand - Withdrawal of last 100 troops on 10th September 2004.
New Zealand - 61 army engineers finished their deployment in September 2004 and were not replaced.

Take a look at the facts, without any commentary, and come to your own conclusions. Is this a global coalition?

There is no question that we owe each of these soldiers our thanks for putting their lives on the line for a cause that no doubt many felt was worthy and noble. And our sympathy and support needs to be extended to all of those who have lost loved ones.

However, what needs to be discussed as we stand a few weeks from an election, is the leadership of President Bush. Did he successfully pull together a global coalition?

The American Conservative, in which Pat Buchanan is listed as one of their editors, can certainly not be dismissed as another "liberal rag" spouting treason and tripe. Here is part of this publication's self description;

We believe conservatism to be the most natural political tendency, rooted in man's taste for the familiar, for family, for faith in God. We believe that true conservatism has a predisposition for the institutions and mores that exist. So much of what passes for contemporary conservatism is wedded to a kind of radicalism - fantasies of global hegemony, the hubristic notion of America as a universal nation for all the world's peoples, a hyperglobal economy. In combination with an increasingly unveiled contempt for America's long-standing allies, this is more a recipe for disaster.

Against it, we take our stand.
Within their August 30, 2004 issue, an article appears written by Eric S. Margolis entitled Coalition of the Coerced; America's allies rethink their Iraq commitment. We're offered some additional information about the current coalition in Iraq;

* Italy's conservative prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has also come under intensive popular pressure to pull his nation's 3,000 troops out of Iraq. Over 80 percent of Italians oppose military involvement there.

* After none of the fabled WMD were found, Poland's former prime minister expressed grave doubts over keeping 2,460 troops in Iraq, but elected, in spite of intense domestic opposition, to maintain them until the middle of next year, a decision likely encouraged by lavish stipends from Washington.

* The Netherlands has announced it will withdraw its 1,100-man contingent by mid-2005.

* Norway, New Zealand, and Thailand, all smarting from public protests, will pull their token units out of Iraq by this September.

* Ukraine, which sent 1,600 soldiers to forestall U.S. criticism of its egregious political corruption, is considering a pullout.

* South Korea is grudgingly sending 3,700 more men, in spite of violent objections by its people and the beheading of a hapless Korean hostage.

* Australia has only 250 men left in Iraq, but even this small number has become a major issue in its forthcoming election.

* The rest of the coalition is an opera bouffe collection of tiny states that sent token units to Iraq to curry favor in Washington...Most voters in these nations opposed sending troops to Iraq.

* The only truly voluntary contributors - i.e., not bribed or bullied - were the Netherlands, in thanks for aid in World War II; Denmark, for obscure ideological reasons having to do with either right-wing politics or herring; and tiny Albania, in recognition of America's salvation of Kosovo's Albanians from Serb ethnic cleansing and massacres...

* Hungary and other Eastern European states felt a deep of gratitude to the U.S. for their liberation from Soviet rule, though helping Bush's occupation of Iraq may not be the best way to express their rapture over freedom from imperialism.

* Notably absent are any Arab nations.

* The most interesting contributor is Japan, with 240 "non-combat" troops. This tokenism is the small price Japan pays for America's security umbrella, which protects it from China and North Korea...
Please note this is not John Kerry speaking, or even heretical Jake. It's an internal discussion within the conservative movement.

The conclusion of this article is worth noting as well;

Most of the Coalition of the Willing were promised cheap Iraqi oil by Washington, or oil concessions. But as resistance forces sabotage Iraq's oil pipelines, these promises are coming up short, and plundering Iraq's wealth is turning out to be a challenge.

Ironically, far from building a powerful coalition to garrison Iraq under U.S. command, what President Bush has really managed to do is to provide formerly rudderless left-wing parties around the globe with a red-hot new cause with which to rally and electrify their supporters. At the same time, he has made himself the most detested man in world affairs. Those conservative governments that continue to support him and the U.S. occupation of Iraq do so at their peril and are becoming alienated from their own voters.

In short, Mr. Bush has done more to electrify the international Left and give it a sense of common purpose than anyone since Che Guevara. That's true coalition building - just not the kind Washington had in mind.
I find myself in agreement with the author of this article. Agreeing with a position supported by Pat Buchanan? Great Leaping Lizards! Am I becoming....shudder...a conservative? Next thing you know, I'll be beating my readers over the head with a bible.

So, what say you? Is this a global coalition of the willing, or is it windowdressing at best, or a coalition of the bribed and coerced at worst?


Friday, September 24, 2004

More on Transitions

Upon reflection, I've realized that my last post may have given rise to a couple of specific questions;

Why do we use interim clergy, and what are the "5 interim tasks" you mentioned?

Interim clergy lead a parish through the time between the departure of one rector and the arrival of the next one. This in-between time is ideal for self-study and careful reflection on the life of the parish. Often the interim period is 12 to 18 months. The primary goal of interim clergy is to assure a healthy transition by working with the congregation to accomplish five developmental tasks;

1. "Where Have We Been?" Adressing the parish's history and its relationship with previious spiritual leaders. Often this will involve the grieving process I mentioned yesterday.

2. "Where Are We Now?" Exploring the possibilities of a new identity for the parish by assessing the spiritual gifts currently present.

3. Assessing leadership structures and facilitating necessary changes. In the current case, it is this task that lead to the discussion of the shift from Pastoral to Program leadership styles. More about this in a bit.

4. Strengthening Diocesan links. Intentionally connecting the parish more strongly with the diocese, so that both might be a better resource and support system to each other.

5. "Where are We Going?" Preparing to move into the future, daring to dream, and building excitement and support for the new rector.

How does a Pastoral Church and a Program Church differ?

The terms are drawn from Arlin Routhage’s pamphlet, Sizing Up A Congregation for New Member Ministry. Routhage describes the leadership styles of congregations based on their size.

The Family Church (0-50 members) consists of a few families or clans, each of which are lead by strong parental figures; the matriarchs and patriarchs. Rather than being the spiritual leader of these clans, the priest functions primarily as their private chaplain.

The Pastoral Church (50-150 members) needs a more cohesive leadership structure, so they select a professionally trained leader, usually a priest. From this leader the congregation expects inspiration, direction, and pastoral care. Organization is low key and flexible, with the glue being family ties and effective pastoral leadership.

The Program Church (150-350 members) recognizes that lay leadership is critical to effective ministry. The priest and staff delegate more authority; the Rector becomes the central pastor to the lay pastors. She or he coordinates the diverse ministries, forms dreams and new directions, administers goal setting, strategic planning, resourcing, training and ongoing evaluations. The life of the parish is centered around separate programs and worship circles. Newcomers are drawn by the quality of the programs offered.

The ministries of a Program Church are chosen and implemented according to a clear statement of purpose (or, as some would call it, a “Mission Statement”). This statement is the filter through which all decisions run. A Church cannot be all things; a specific purpose statement, with annual goals established to move towards the accomplishment of the purpose or mission, are essential to the Program Church.

Enough for now. Further questions?


Thursday, September 23, 2004

Drawing Closer and Pushing Away

Last Sunday we held our final community meeting as part of the interim process in the parish where I'm currently serving. We discussed the leadership structures required to effectively move from being a "Pastoral Church" (50-150 members) to a "Program Church" (150-350 members). Then we did a bit of dreaming about the future.

I anticipate the parish will call a rector in late November, and she or he will be in place by the first of the year. This is one of the more difficult times for an interim priest. The five interim tasks are just about completed, and it's time to make plans for moving on. One of the early tasks is to facilitate the grieving process that often occurs when a parish loses a beloved rector. To avoid a secondary period of grieving, which would be detrimental to the beginning of the new chapter of their corporate life, the interim attempts to slowly just fade away.

It is inevitable that over the course of a year you will develop some friendships, and begin to grow quite fond of some of the folks. This particular congregation has a number of exceptionally wonderful people within their community. I'm really going to miss this place.

This sadness is tempered by an emerging feeling of excitement regarding where I'll land next. I've got a couple of irons in the fire. There's a few interesting interim position opening up. It would be nice if I didn't have to commute three hours a day, although if the position presented some unique challenges, I'd probably do it again. A more permanent position does sound inviting right now, and that possibility is out there as well. At the same time, there is something quite attractive about being an interim. It's something like being a mixture of both a pinch-hitter and a diocesan consultant.

I suppose I'm really writing this for myself, to acknowledge the emotional mixture of loss and anticipation that I'm cycling through right now. Sometimes it's helpful to identify those internal dynamics, as they are often the filter through which I view other events happening around me. Yes, there are real reasons to be sad when terrible things are happening in deserts far away. And there are valid reasons to be excited about the future, especially on the threshold of an election. But my experience is that the additional energy from internal states can cause an intensity of emotion that is not always in proportion to the external realities.

Taking it one level deeper, I'm not even sure that this cycle is about simultaneous feelings of loss and hope. The pattern is too familiar. Drawing closer, and then pushing away. The endless search for the elusive something more. To convince myself that I've finally discovered "it," only to realize that I can't hold on to "it;" that a moment of pure glory; a peek at what lies beyond the torn fabric, is all I can handle. Then its time to move on, before the circuits are fried. A cycle of hope, joy, sadness, leading to a new hope as the search continues.

I refer to "It" as God. Others might call "it" love, or success, or happiness. And maybe they're right. But those terms don't quite express what I'm talking about. The term "God" is not quite "it" either, but about as close as a word can get, I suppose.

Twenty-five years ago, I discovered that glimpses of "it" happened more frequently within the Church than anywhere else. Sometimes through corporate prayer, sometimes through music, but most often through those who have gathered with me; each drawn by their own cycle of searching; conscious or unconscious. It's through the people of God that I draw closer, and sometimes I am allowed to be a window through which others might also be drawn into a fuller awareness of the living God who "rolls through all things." I might wander a bit in the search, but the Church is "home base." She is not perfect, and can certainly be a frustrating place, and I often push away from her, but always come back. I'm convinced that the Church, the sacrament, the outward and visible sign of Jesus Christ, who is the sacrament of God, is the way, the path that my search must take, even while she draws me close only to push me away.

The Dean of a cathedral once muttered to me, "The Church would be a wonderful place, if it wasn't for all these damn people!" He said that with a twinkle in his eye, of course. But there is some truth to that, isn't there? It's as if we are so far removed from "it" that all we can perceive are these very weak emanations, almost a tease, of something so much more. These emanations might be called the Holy Spirit, I suppose. But often they become so diluted by the time they are expressed outwardly that the whole experience is almost anti-climatic; a disappointment, a falling short of the mark, as if the vessel is flawed, and all the glory has leaked out through tiny cracks hidden by layers of pretty paint before it can be manifested. And, so often, I am that cracked vessel. It is sad. I push away, move on, and the search continues, a search for the source, for the glory, for the illusive "it" that can fuse those cracks and restore this vessel, so that it might once again be a bearer of that same glory, generously pouring out overflowing offerings of divine grace.

Ok, time to come back to the here and now. I don't know what the next stop in the search will be. I'm not sure I want to know right now. What I do know is that in the midst of drawing closer, and pushing away, God will be there, moving from one moment of glory to the next moment of glory, if I realize it or not. I am called to try as best I can, in spite of the constant cycle of emotions, to join in God's movement; moving from faith, to faith.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Deporting the Peace Train

Thought I'd share the lyrics of a song that seems appropriate today;

Now I've been happy lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begun

Oh I've been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be, some day it's going to come

Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again

Now I've been smiling lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begun

Oh peace train sounding louder
Glide on the peace train
Come on now peace train
Yes, peace train holy roller

Everyone jump upon the peace train
Come on now peace train

Get your bags together, go bring your good friends too
Cause it's getting nearer, it soon will be with you

Now come and join the living, it's not so far from you
And it's getting nearer, soon it will all be true

Now I've been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating, why can't we live in bliss

Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again

Peace Train
, by Cat Stevens, musician, aka Yusuf Islam, suspected terrorist.
How outrageously absurd.


A President in Denial

Did you hear John Kerry on Monday? It was one of his better moments. The text of his speech at New York University is now available here. A couple of my favorite quotes;

This President was in denial. He hitched his wagon to the ideologues who surround him, filtering out those who disagreed, including leaders of his own party and the uniformed military. The result is a long litany of misjudgments with terrible consequences.

The administration told us we'd be greeted as liberators. They were wrong.

They told us not to worry about looting or the sorry state of Iraq's infrastructure. They were wrong.

They told us we had enough troops to provide security and stability, defeat the insurgents, guard the borders and secure the arms depots. They were wrong.

They told us we could rely on exiles like Ahmed Chalabi to build political legitimacy. They were wrong.

They told us we would quickly restore an Iraqi civil service to run the country and a police force and army to secure it. They were wrong...

...The president misled, miscalculated, and mismanaged every aspect of this undertaking and he has made the achievement of our objective - a stable Iraq, secure within its borders, with a representative government, harder to achieve.

In Iraq, this administration's record is filled with bad predictions, inaccurate cost estimates, deceptive statements and errors of judgment of historic proportions.

At every critical juncture in Iraq, and in the war on terrorism, the President has made the wrong choice. I have a plan to make America stronger.
Let's make sure we understand this plan, so we can repeat it when necessary;

1. First, the President has to get the promised international support so our men and women in uniform don't have to go it alone. Why can Kerry do this better? Because he hasn't burned the international bridges through unilateral actions.

2. Second, the President must get serious about training Iraqi security forces. Without security, no elections can be held. Without security, more troops and civilians will continue to die. Without security, no one in their right mind is going to go in there and help us.

3. Third, the President must carry out a reconstruction plan that finally brings tangible benefits to the Iraqi people. Troops handing out crayons and coloring books is not a reconstruction plan. The Iraqis need help rebuilding their country and meeting their basic daily needs. Electricity blackouts lasting up to 14 hours a day? Raw sewage filling the streets? Children wading through garbage on their way to school? Unemployment over 50 percent? We can do better than this.

4. Fourth, the President must take immediate, urgent, essential steps to guarantee the promised elections can be held next year. Without help from our allies, without effective security, without the basic daily needs of the people addressed, even if an election is possible, the results will be a sham.

Kerry stated that if these steps are taken, he predicts that we can start bringing American troops home this Summer, with full withdrawal within four years.

Let's hope that things do not explode in Iraq in the next 6 weeks. And let's work to get a new Commander-in-Chief at the helm, so we can end this bloody venture.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Day of Prayer for Peace

Jason from The Wildhunt reminds us that today has been designated as the International Day of Peace by the United Nations and the World Council of Churches.

Here's some links;

International Day of Prayer for Peace

International Day of Peace 2004

International Day of Peace Vigil

Peace Prayers

The Fellowship of Reconciliation

Episcopal Peace Fellowship

A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis;

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Verbieten der Bibel

Well, it looks like the Republicans have uncovered the plot. First, we will ban your guns, then we'll take away your bibles;

Campaign mail with a return address of the Republican National Committee warns West Virginia voters that the Bible will be prohibited and men will marry men if liberals win in November.

The literature shows a Bible with the word "BANNED" across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word "ALLOWED." The mailing tells West Virginians to "vote Republican to protect our families" and defeat the "liberal agenda."
Well, it was a good plan. But now that the cat's out of the bag, back to the drawing board, I suppose.

Too bad. I can think of a couple of people who really need to have their guns taken away. Jimmy Swaggart is one who comes to mind, in light of a recent "sermon" he gave;

I'm trying to find the correct name for it ... this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. ... I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died.
Nice. Not the kind of guy who needs a gun. I might be inclined to let him keep his bible though. He may need to read it. Especially the parts that say something like "Thou shall not kill," and in another place something about having murder in your heart, I seem to recall?

Fear has driven these folks off the deep end.

Maybe it needs to be said clearly; I know of no one, in any circle that I travel, that wants to take away anyone's guns or their bible! Guns and bibles...Must be Texas style Christianity? Popular nowadays, it seems. Hmmm...that reminds me of a great Eagles song...

I am an outlaw, I was born an outlaw's son
The highway is my legacy
On the highway I will run
In one hand I've a Bible
In the other I've got a gun
Well, don' you know me
I'm the man who won...

Yeehaw! Oh, western upbringing is showing. Come to think of it, that might be a good campaign song for W. Except the winning part. Not going to put that kind of negativity in the air.

A tip of the biretta to Chuck Currie for pointing out the bible ban fear tactic, and to Joe G. over on beppeblog for the excerpt from Swaggart's sick sermon.

Better get some sleep. New plots need hatching in the morning.


Monday, September 20, 2004

Dear God, How Bout Them Bears?

Maggi has been sharing her experiences of being The Strapless Vicar. One part of her recent post jumped out at me;

As I slid out of the jacket, the local Lord somebody or other drew attention to my arrival by greeting me (in a cut-glass accent and as many decibels as a foghorn) with "Wow. Look at you! Well, hooray for the ordination of women - now all of us men can safely own up to fancying the Vicar without anyone wondering about our sexuality."
This caused my head to spin towards a tangential reflection. The role of the priest is a bit of a tightrope between being the representative of the people before God, and being the representative of God before the people. In these more democratic times, with an emphasis (quite appropriate, it seems to me) of the "priesthood of all believers," the latter role is played down. But it's there just the same. As the one who offers the sacraments, absolution and blessing in the name of God, the role of being a living icon, a window to God, cannot be ignored.

Now, on to my tangential thoughts. Within the Church, we are inclined to talk quite a bit about the theology of romantic love (as in Dante's Beatrice, as mentioned by Charles Williams, among others). We speak about God being madly, head over heels in love with us, and we with "him."

Yes, "him." Our tendency to consistently speak of God using male pronouns would seem to me to be a factor in why so often there are more women than men involved in the Church. It may be on an unconscious level, but I wonder how many men are a bit uncomfortable with all this love of a male God talk. Can the men own up to fancying a male God without anyone wondering about their sexuality?

Hooray for the ordination of women indeed, for multiple reasons beyond this one.

One last fleeting thought; maybe raising Mary to Co-Redemptrix is not such a crazy idea after all?


Sunday, September 19, 2004

Iraq Has Turned into a Disaster

From Sidney Blumenthal in The Guardian; "Far Graver Than Vietnam";

...according to the US military's leading strategists and prominent retired generals, Bush's war is already lost. Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He adds: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends"...

...W Andrew Terrill, professor at the Army War College's strategic studies institute - and the top expert on Iraq there - said: "I don't think that you can kill the insurgency". According to Terrill, the anti-US insurgency, centred in the Sunni triangle, and holding several cities and towns - including Fallujah - is expanding and becoming more capable as a consequence of US policy...

...General Odom said: "This is far graver than Vietnam. There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with the war that was not constructive for US aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile, and we're in much worse shape with our allies"...

...General Hoare believes from the information he has received that "a decision has been made" to attack Fallujah "after the first Tuesday in November. That's the cynical part of it - after the election. The signs are all there."
Over 12,000 civilians have died in Iraq because of the unnecessary invasion by the US. Of course the insurgency grows. The Bush solution? Once he has the election in the bag, start blowing up the whole country.

Is Nader the only one still advocating to get out now? Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean are looking better and better every day. But that's crying over spilled milk. If Kerry's new handlers are going to make a difference in time, they'd better teach him some short, clear statements about what his plans are to stop this pointless killing.


Saturday, September 18, 2004

Introducing Barkley

This little guy came into our lives a few years ago. Demi saw a notice on a bulletin board that a puppy who had been abandoned needed a home. It seems he was tossed out of a car at a stop light. When we saw him, it was love at first sight.

He's a lab mix; just a little guy, about forty pounds. We already had three cats, but this was Demi's first experience with a dog. I was concerned, as some pups, especially males, have poor manners, and, if they're not terribly bright, are resistant to training. Barkley has turned out to be the ideal first dog for Demi. He is anxious to please. He almost housebroke himself, rarely chews anything (with the exception of a Daniel Quinn book I hadn't finished yet!) and faithfully alerts us when anyone approaches the property (thus the name, "Barkley").

I suspect living with three cats has confused him a bit. Periodically he wants to climb in my lap. He's a bit too big for that, but I let him do it anyway once in awhile. The cats ignore him for the most part; they are too cool to hang with a canine. The only tense moments are when one of the felines shows an interest in his rawhide bone. No serious confrontations so far.

Barkley has the most endearing way of begging when I'm eating something in front of him. I don't like this tendency in most dogs. The best way I've found to break this bad habit is to never reward a beggar. Somehow, Barkley seems to know that I won't honor blatant begging. So, what he does is to sit near my chair and stare fixedly at the lamp to my left. Every few minutes he'll sneak a peek at what I'm eating; but if he sees me catching him peeking, he quickly looks away. I must admit that he has won a few pizza crusts from me with his discreet approach.

I find that having a pet has many unexpected rewards. Barkley lives in the here and now. He's not preoccupied with regret of the past or fretting about the future. Going outside is a major event. He reminds me to respond with enthusiasm to both sunshine and gray sky. I also like to believe that this little guy has taught me a few things about love, faithfulness, and healthy interdependence. But maybe some of that is projection on my part.

At the moment, he is doing a little dance while emitting quiet whines in an attempt to get my attention. Time for a trip to the backyard, it appears, where each drop of rain and every scurrying squirrel will cause our hearts to leap with the sheer joy of being alive.


Thursday, September 16, 2004

Religious Tolerance

The Episcopal Church's Interfaith Education Initiative Conference will take place September 30 through October 2 at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The theme will be "Charged to do what is Right and Just";

The Interfaith Education Initiative (IEI) was established in response to the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and the resulting fear, anger and suspicion that followed. IEI was created to promote the awareness of Episcopalians to religious plurality in the United States, to improve relations and to establish dialogue with people of other faiths. The Interfaith Education Initiative is a joint project of Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) and the Episcopal Church's Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations (OEIR).
Speakers will include Dr. Wesley Ariarajah, a Methodist minister from Sri Lanka; Clare Amos, Convenor/Coordinator of the Anglican Communion's Network for Inter Faith Concerns; Diana Eck, professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University; the Rev. Charles Gibbs of the United Religions Initiative; Clarke Lobenstein of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington D.C.; Dr. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance and Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations of the National Council of Churches.

This sounds like a great conference. In a previous post regarding Rowan Williams' comments while in Egypt, the topic of interfaith dialogue was introduced. That has given rise to further reflection on my part. Although I've had some personal experience with such dialogue, I have become aware that my education in this field is terribly lacking. If possible, I may attend this conference.

Continued dialogue between Islam and Christianity is essential right now, especially in light of public statements made by recognized Christian leaders such as Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggert, and Jerry Falwell. We who are here in the States might be able to dismiss such statements as babblings of religious right kooks, but I doubt if that is how they are heard around the globe. Don't forget that Pat Robertson ran for President, and even won a primary. Adding fuel to this fire are the bigoted rantings of General Boykin; tirades delivered while in uniform no less. We now have a blaze of Christian triumphalism that could easily be fanned into a fire of fanaticism that will consume everything in its path.

You might ask why I'm not quoting Muslim extremists. They certainly exist. My reason is a simple one. I've learned that I can never expect to change another person, and that trying to force someone to change can be to act in an oppressive and even violent manner. But I can change myself. By extension, the place where I can initiate change is within my own faith tradition.

On what shared premises can such an essential dialogue begin? I would think the first step would be to repudiate the speakers mentioned above, not only for their tone, but for their shoddy theology. Are there common themes that such dialogues might explore? I think so. Possibly we might begin by saying clearly that Christianity and Islam worship the same God. I know there are those who disagree with that statement. Before responding, take a moment to read this essay by Umar F. Abd-Allah;

We must first be clear about what we mean when we ask if Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Is it a question of indication and identity or of attributions, character and actions? Are we talking about subjects or predicates? Ultimately, we must talk about both. By focusing on the subject—the ontological identity of the object we worship and the names we use to set it apart—we enter into an area of common understanding and broad consensus.

Etymologically, Jews, Christians and Muslims originally called God by virtually identical names. The Arabic All_h comes from the same root as the biblical “God” (El_hîm, h_-El_hîm and h_-Elôh) invoked by the Hebrew prophets or the Aramaic/Syriac Al_h_ presumably used by John the Baptist and Jesus. Historically, we have identified our “object of worship”—probably the literal proto-Semitic sense of All_h, El_hîm and Al_h_—as the God of Abraham. And, in general, homo religiosus—within and without the Abrahamic traditions—makes remarkably similar allusions to God, creator of the heavens and earth.

If, however, we insist on the predicates, then we enter into the difficult terrain of theological dispute and creedal dissonance. But predicates should not be forever avoided; they are detrimental only when emphasized to the exclusion or concealment of the subject...

...When focusing on the diversity of religious predicates, we might ask: “Does anyone worship the same God?” Can any faith or its followers sport an essentialist label? Which religion can claim to have held a monolithic theological view even within its creedal schools? Hillel and Shammai—the sagely Pharisaic “pair”—sat together at the head of the Great Sanhedrin but posited sharply divergent visions of God’s character and actions. The Alexandrian Fathers and their counterparts in Antioch were not always affectionately immersed in Christian fellowship. For that matter, earlier Jews and Christians not only differed from their Hellenistic brethren on how they viewed God and Christ but held jarringly different notions of the basic structure of reality...

...From a Muslim’s perspective, the premise that Muslims, Jews and Christians believe in the same God—the God of Abraham—is so central to Islamic theology that unqualified rejection of it would, for many, be tantamount to a repudiation of faith. From the Qur’anic standpoint, Muslims, Christians and Jews should have no difficulty agreeing that they all turn to the God of Abraham, despite their theological and ritual differences. Historical arguments between their faiths have rarely if ever been over what to call Abraham’s God or who was invoked by that call, and Islamic salvation history is rooted in the conviction that there is a lasting continuity between the dispensations of Muhammad, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the biblical and extrabiblical prophets...
Most likely the conference in Washington will focus primarily on effective ways to move the dialogue between Christianity and Islam forward. Clearly this is the most pressing issue to be adressed in today's world. My hope, however, is that they will expand the discussion. Unfortunately, here in the States, there are other manifestations of religious bigotry going on that never makes the evening news. Maybe a discussion of the form that dialogue might take will be a future topic.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

More Firepower is the Solution?

The ban on assault weapons has been allowed to expire. Here's how Jon Stewart, in a segment of The Daily Show entitled "Automatics for the People" described the situation;

Despite a decade of plummeting crime rates, Congress allowed the 1994 ban on such assault weapons as Uzis and AK-47s to expire last night. Cause of death: multiple bullet wounds...

...A poll shows over two-thirds of Americans favored continuing the ban, which was also supported by such weak-kneed liberal groups as the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police.
How was this allowed to happen? John Kerry blames the President;

In the al Qaeda manual on terror, they were telling people to go out and buy assault weapons, to come to America and buy assault weapons...Every law enforcement officer in America doesn't want us selling assault weapons in the streets of America. But George Bush, he says, 'Well, I'm for that.'...I'm a hunter, and I respect it. I respect the Second Amendment. But I never thought about going hunting with an AK-47...I mean, heavens to Betsy, folks, we've had that law on the books for the last 10 years, and there's not a gun owner in America who can stand up and say, 'They tried to take my guns away.'
Others blame Congress.

It seems pretty bizarre to me, unless this is some idea cooked up by Homeland Security to arm the citizens. Insane, absolutely insane.

But I'm not going to pass up this opportunity. We've been having a problem lately with mice. I think they're kinda cute, but Demi does not share my sentiments. These delicate little creatures have learned to lick off the peanut butter without setting off the trap. Time for drastic measures. Maybe one of these will solve the problem?

Final warning to all meeces; you come into my house, eat my peanut butter, and I'll defend my Skippy. If this means war, then bring it on.

If you want to participate in stopping the NRA, and banning assault weapons for good, here is one place you might want to visit.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Rowan Williams in Egypt

On September 11, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, delivered a lecture at the conclusion of the September meeting of the Dialogue between the Anglican Communion and al-Azhar al-Sharif in Cairo.

In his address, the Archbishop spoke of the need of both Christians and Muslims to speak with one voice against violence;

The greatest challenge today for our world is how to react to circumstances in a way that is faithful to God’s will. Undoubtedly, greed and revenge affect all of us. We feel that we want to defend ourselves in the way that a person without faith or hope or love would understand – in anger and bitterness and unforgiving cruelty. But when we act in such a way, we show that we do not really believe in a God who is living and self-sufficient. We do not believe that God’s will is enough; we act as though the circumstances of this world could so change things that cruelty and fear could become the right tools with which to defend ourselves.

So when the Christian, the Muslim or the Jew sees his neighbour of another faith following the ways of this world instead of the peaceful will of God, he must remind his neighbour of the nature of the one God we look to, whose will cannot be changed and who will himself see that justice is done. Once we let go of justice, fairness and respect in our dealings with one another, we have dishonoured God as well as human beings...

...We may rightly want to defend ourselves and one another – our people, our families, the weak and vulnerable among us. But we are not forced to act in revengeful ways, holding up a mirror to the terrible acts done to us. If we do act in the same way as our enemies, we imprison ourselves in their anger, their evil. And we fail to show our belief in the living God who always requires of us justice and goodness.

So whenever a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew refuses to act in violent revenge, creating terror and threatening or killing the innocent, that person bears witness to the true God. They have stepped outside the way the faithless world thinks. A person without faith, hope and love may say, If I do not use indiscriminate violence and terror, there is no safety for me. The believer says, My safety is with God, whose justice can never be defeated. If I defend myself, I seek to do so only in a way that honours God and God’s image in others, and that does not offend against God’s justice. To seek to find reconciliation, to refuse revenge and the killing of the innocent, this is a form of adoration towards the One Living and Almighty God.
Much of the rest of his address seems to be a discussion of the Trinity, a belief that often becomes a stumbling block within interfaith dialogues with Muslims. One particular segment caught my eye;

And the Christian also says something which may again be a source of disagreement. God is a loving God, as we all agree; but, says the Christian, God does not love simply because he decides to love. He is always, eternally, loving. His very nature, his definition is love. And the interaction and relation between the three ways in which God lives, the source and the expression and the sharing, is eternally the way God exists. The three centres of divine action, which we call Father, Son and Spirit, pour out the divine life to each other for all eternity, a sort of perfect circle of giving and receiving. And the only word we can use for that relationship of pouring out and giving is love. So as we grow in holiness, we become closer and closer in our actions and thoughts to the complete self-giving that always exists perfectly in God’s life. Towards this fullness we are all called to travel and grow.
This description is a great improvement on my own feeble attempt to talk about the Trinity; preferred model of understanding the Trinity; Lover, Beloved and the Flow of Love between them that has constantly flowed before time began. Through the Incarnation, the Beloved came to dwell among us. When we stand in the place of the Beloved, when we accept the offer to become the adopted sons and daughters of God, we also become the Beloved of God, and share in this same Flow of Love.
If a person of another faith tradition read that description, it would certainly sound like I was talking about three distinct gods, wouldn't it? I think speaking of "the source, and the expression and the sharing" as "three centers of divine action" who "pour out the divine life to each other for all eternity, a sort of perfect circle of giving and receiving" captures a much better image of the Trinity while still retaining the unity of God.

I believe Rowan Williams to be the right person at the right time to be involved in the dialogue between Christianity and Islam. In his book, On Christian Theology, within the chapter entitled "Trinity and Pluralism", we glimpse his particular perspective on such dialogues;

We do not, as Christians, set the goal of including the entire human race in a single religious institution, nor do we claim that we possess all authentic religious insight - the "totality of meaning," to pick up a phrase used to good polemical effect by Jacques Pohier. And this is a problem only if we expect - as Christians, as religious people of other traditions, as philosophers - to be able to provide a theoretical programme and explanations for the unifying of the human world. If there is such a unification possible - as Christians and others believe - it is attained only in the variety and unpredictability of specific human encounter, and so can only now be a matter of hope; though this is a hope nourished by the conviction that the story of Jesus and the Church, of Logos and Spirit manifest in the world, affords us a truthful vision of how God is - not exhaustive, not exclusive, but truthful. And the practical thrust of this truthfulness is its grounding of hopeful and creative pluralism, its affirmation of the irreducible importance of history, of human difference and human converse.
- On Christian Theology
, p. 177.
Nice balance; not relativist, and not exclusivist, yet clearly Christian.

I'd be interested in your thoughts, either on the dialogue between Christianity and Islam, the Trinity, or whatever else might be on your mind.


Monday, September 13, 2004

God Changed His Mind?

But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, `I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
, Exodus 32:11-14
I've read this story about the golden calf many times, but it wasn't until my latest reading that the impact of that last verse hit me. God changed his mind! Do you see the implications of that? This also brings to mind the story of Jonah, and how the Ninevites repented, and God changed his mind and spared the city((Jonah 3:4-10). And the story of Abraham bargaining with God to try to save Sodom, and God agrees if 10 righteous men can be found in the city, he will spare it (Genesis 18:16-33). It brings to mind the story of Jesus and the Phoenician woman, whose daughter Jesus refused to heal because she wasn’t Jewish, but, when the woman offers a quick comeback, saying that even the dogs deserve the crumbs that fall from the table, what does Jesus do? He changes his mind and heals her daughter (Mark 7:24-37).

Before continuing, I suppose it would be prudent to clarify exactly what I'm talking about here. The Hebrew term, which the New Revised Standard Version translates as "changed his mind," is nacham. Often it is translated as "repent," as in the Revised Standard Version; "And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people."

This appears to be in direct contradiction to the immutability (changelessness) of God, as in Malachi 3:6; "For I, the Lord, do not change." In that passage, the Hebrew term is shaniti, a reference to the unchanging character of God, which would include mercy, love, compassion, and righteous judgment. In Exodus, the change, or repentence (nacham) of God was not a change of character, but a response to the actions of humanity, consistent with the unchanging nature of God. The promises and warnings of God are always conditional, based on the response of humanity (Ezekiel 33:13-16). So, to be clear, I'm not suggesting that God is a flip-flopper! Yet, it does seem apparent that in order to be consistent with God's nature, there is room for revision of the original plan. When the situation changes, God doesn't change, but sometimes the plan does.

Even within that more nuanced definition, the implications are still startling. Doesn’t this mean that the future could not possibly be poured in concrete? Doesn’t this mean that we have an important role in the acts of God; that we are, at times, co-creators with God? The Israelites repent, and God doesn’t destroy them. Absolutely amazing.

Doesn’t this mean that all the predictions of the end times, about Armageddon, are but one way things could work out? What if humanity repented? Doesn’t this mean that it doesn’t have to happen? This is but one implication. There are others, but I'll leave it to you to make those connections.

What new thing did I learn about God in this reading? That God demands justice, but that it is also God's nature to be merciful, so merciful that the plan can be changed.

What did I learn about humanity? That we are not puppets on a string. That we have some degree of responsibility regarding how the future unfolds. That we are partners with God, working together to transform this world.

This is good news!


Saturday, September 11, 2004

Encountering the Living God

I often hear folks speak of being on a “spiritual journey” or being on the “Christian path.” I use such terms myself. But sometimes I have reservations about referring to our spiritual life as a journey. It may be a helpful phrase at times, but I suspect that it can also offer the wrong impression.

Our culture attempts to convince us that we are just one more promotion, one new house, or one new relationship away from nirvana. Such expectations might keep us motivated, but they also tend to keep us living for some future hope, rather than being fully present in this moment.

Suggesting that being a Christian is a journey can also lead us down that same perilous path. We might think that after we’ve learned more about prayer, then we’ll start a disciplined prayer life. Or once we “find the time” we’ll take one of those classes offered by the Church. Or once we are “better Christians” we’ll explore volunteer outreach opportunities.

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe that it is only in this present moment that we can encounter the living God. Now is the time to stretch yourself spiritually, as now is all we have.

Many of us share great hopes and dreams for the future of the Church. We seek a vision and a mission that will restore all people to unity with God and one another. These are wonderful hopes, and planning for the future is an essential way to allow these dreams to become concrete realities. But let's not give into the temptation to live only for the future. I think a bit of balance is needed. Let's offer our hopes to God, and then be mindful of the new thing that God is doing in our midst in this present moment.

In a sense, we are on a journey; to continue to grow into the full stature of Christ. I believe that this growth comes from working with God in this present moment to transform the world.

May we continue to seek God in the here and now, and allow our present relationship with the living God help mold our plans for the future.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

Son of 40 Blasts Son of 41

Thanks to Mata Hari for pointing me to Ron Reagan's piece in this month's Esquire;

...Politicians will stretch the truth. They'll exaggerate their accomplishments, paper over their gaffes. Spin has long been the lingua franca of the political realm. But George W. Bush and his administration have taken "normal" mendacity to a startling new level far beyond lies of convenience. On top of the usual massaging of public perception, they traffic in big lies, indulge in any number of symptomatic small lies, and, ultimately, have come to embody dishonesty itself. They *are* a lie. And people, finally, have started catching on.

None of this, needless to say, guarantees Bush a one-term presidency. The far-right wing of the country -- nearly one third of us by some estimates -- continues to regard all who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid (liberals, rationalists, Europeans, et cetera) as agents of Satan. Bush could show up on video canoodling with Paris Hilton and still bank their vote. Right-wing talking heads continue painting anyone who fails to genuflect deeply enough as a "hater," and therefore a nut job, probably a crypto-Islamist car bomber. But these protestations have taken on a hysterical, almost comically-desperate tone. It's one thing to get trashed by Michael Moore. But when Nobel laureates, a vast majority of the scientific community, and a host of current and former diplomats, intelligence operatives, and military officials line up against you, it becomes increasingly difficult to characterize the opposition as fringe wackos...

...Fortunately, we still live in a democratic republic. The Bush team cannot expect a cabal of right-wing justices to once again deliver the White House. Come November 2, we will have a choice: We can embrace a lie, or we can restore a measure of integrity to our government. We can choose, as a bumper sticker I spotted in Seattle put it, SOMEONE ELSE FOR PRESIDENT.
Go read the whole thing.

Powerful stuff, Ron, but I'd say you're a day late and a dollar short. The corporate kings and the religious right have played their trump card; fear. They aren't listening anymore. May God have mercy on us all; especially if you happen to be Iranian, Syrian, Palestinian, French, German, etc., etc., etc.


Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Reapers are the Angels

Jesus disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
-Matthew 13:36b-43.
“The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.” For impatient beings such as ourselves, this is a tough message. Even though we see the weeds choking the life out of the wheat, we can’t pull up the weeds. We have to be patient, and wait on the timing of God. In regards to both the wheat and the weeds alike, the message is clear...hands off.

But, we are impulsive people. We see an obviously ugly and evil weed throttling the life out of a golden stalk of wheat stretching toward the sun, and with a shout, we run into the field with our axe, and hack away at the root of the wicked weed. We wrench it from the ground, holding it aloft, expecting to hear the applause of God for our good deed. All we hear is silence. We trudge away, confused, but confident that this day we have been about our Father’s business. We seem not to notice that our path is littered with broken stalks of wheat, the innocent vicitms of our zealous attack.

Somehow, we humans seem to have gotten the idea that we can surgically remove sin and evil from the world without involving the rest of creation. I think this erroneous thinking is why we finite beings are not the reapers of this harvest. We don’t see the big picture. Our tiny minds cannot fathom the intricate interelatedness of the created realm. We cannot be trusted to weed the crop, because we are blind to the fact that few things are totally good or totally bad.

There is a story about a farmer whose only possesion was one horse. One day his horse ran away. His neighbors all gathered around him, declaring what a bad thing this was.

The farmer listened quietly for awhile. Then he said, "It is a difficult thing to know what is good and what is bad."

The next day his horse returned, bringing with him a whole herd of horses. The neighbors crowded around once again, declaring what a good thing this was; he was now the wealthiest man in the valley.

The farmer replied, "It is a difficult thing to know what is good and what is bad."

The next day, his only son went out to break the new horses, was bucked off, and was paralyzed from the waist down. The neighbors rushed over once again, wailing about what a bad thing this was; your only son!

The farmer responded with the same reply; "It is a difficult thing to know what is good and what is bad."

The next day the army came through the valley, and took away all the able-bodied men. They didn't take the farmer's son.

This story could go on indefinately, but by now you get the point; it is a difficult thing to know what is good and what is bad!

Jesus preached the nearness of God’s harvest. He met resistance at every turn, but refused to take up the axe of judgement. Jesus continued to forgive, and to call for repentence, a change of heart. Jesus calls us to be patient. The time of the harvest will arrive, and there will be a speparation of the weeds and the wheat. But it must happen in God’s time, not ours. We must be patient.

If God were to step in right now and destroy all evil, do we think that any of us would remain unscathed? Who would be left if God stamped out all selfishness, greed, hate, and violence? No one. God is patient with us, therefore we can be patient with others.

This parable from Jesus does say something I think it is essential that we all hear; always beware of sinners judging other sinners. Good and evil exist side by side, not only in the world, but within each one of us as well. As Carl Jung once pointed out, “The brighter the halo, the smellier the feet.”

This patience does not mean we turn a blind eye to sin and evil in this world. Jesus counsels patience, but Jesus also sensitizes our consciences and makes us aware of evil in ourselves and others. Jesus exposed and confronted sin as we should. We might confront evil, in ourselves and others. We may even be able to make this world a safer place, for the time being. This parable reminds us not to be fooled , though. We will never eradicate all the weeds. We might catch Bin Laden and bring him to justice, but we will not eliminate global terrorism. Only God can heal the falleness of creation.

The wisdom of Jesus' counsel also reveals that some of the crusading efforts to eliminate sin in our churches may tend to tear up and destroy more than they create. This place we are called to live and witness in is not some kind of spiritual vacuum. It is a world made up of wonderfully good things, and good people, as well as atrociously bad ones, and every combination in between. This knowledge should free us from both indifference and fanatacism, and increase our capacity for toleration. We are free to resist evil without needing to take on the role of God.

The wheat never stifles growth. The wheat endures the weeds. We are called to show the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Let us lift our heads towards God, nurtured by the assurance that the harvest will come, and one day, we will all shine like the sun in the Kingdom.


Monday, September 06, 2004

To Labor

I considered a number of ways to honor this day; quotes from the early union movement, pithy reflections on work as sadhana, and even the rule of St. Benedict. Call me an old fashioned romantic if you will, but this classic, learned in my youth, is still what rises to the surface as I reflect on the meaning of Labor Day. I offer it for those who, like myself, appreciate the occasional moment of wistful nostalgia drawn from a time long past;

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

- The Village Blacksmith,
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Defining Evil

In a recent comment, this question was asked;

How would you deal with the evil in the world?

I think the first step would be to define evil. I've talked about this previously, and expressed my preference for the view of Irenaeus over Augustine. But today I'd be interested in hearing your definition.

To prime the pump, consider some of the definitions offered at the Trinity Institute's 35th national conference, Naming Evil: An Interfaith Dialogue.

From Kofi Annan;
If we are intent on naming evil, as the title of your conference tells us to, then let us name it intolerance. Let us name it as exclusion. Let us name it as a false assumption that we have nothing to learn from beliefs and traditions different from our own. That, I believe, is the true evil of our time. And I urge you all to join forces against it.
From Seyyed Hossein Nasr;
There has always been the danger of calling everyone outside a community or religion, or nation, or ethnic-groups understanding of what good and evil was, as being evil.

This is part of human nature; a kind of tribal attitude that we have which gives itself easily to this kind of exposition. And so this danger existed in the old days, but this danger has never been as great as it is in our own day.
In Trinity News' hard copy, Dr. Nasr offers this definition;
There cannot be anything other than God that is pure goodness. Creation already implies a separation from the creator...and to talk of creation is to talk of separation and to talk of separation is to talk of what appears on the human plane as evil.
From Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B;
We live in a generation immersed in evil, and we are at once both its victims and its victimizers...The question of evil now takes on totally new significance. The question now is, What happens to you and me - to your world and mine - when evil is the very air we breathe? Where shall the Christian go to find the way through it?
Jon D. Levenson offers this perspective in the hard copy;
The bad news is that evil is real, potent, tenacious, and rooted in the order of the cosmos, in nature itself, indeed in our own nature a human beings. The good news is that God is greater than any evil.
Our President uses the term "evil" quite frequently, sometimes in reference to entire nations, as in his infamous "axis of evil" state of the union address. I'd be interested in hearing his definition of the term.

Let me offer some final thoughts from Kofi Annan;
I think it may be helpful if we resolve, when we use the word evil as an adjective, to apply it to actions rather than people. Of course it is tempting when someone commits many evil acts to say that that person is evil in himself or in herself. But I'm not sure that is right. I do believe firmly that people must be held responsible for their actions and sometimes must be punished for them. Nothing is more dangerous than to let people think they can literally get away with murder. That because they have superior force in their hands at a particular place or time, they can do what they like and will never be called to account.

We call that the "culture of impunity," and the United Nations is strongly committed to fighting against it. That is why we are doing whatever we can to help build and maintain robust judicial systems, both national and international. But to say that any human being is irredeemably evil in himself or in herself -- that is a different matter...
Your turn. How would you define evil?