Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Common Cup

I've recently received a request to consider offering communion with two chalices; with one being designated for intinction only. The concern is that we do everything possible to limit the spread of illness during the flu season, due to the shortage of vaccinations.

Personally, I don't care for intinction. Never have. Most likely never will. If you have ever served the chalice, and watched how many of the children dip their fingers as well as the host into the wine, you probably don't care for it either. There's little doubt in my mind that fingers carry more germs than the lips, plus the fact that intinction does not allow the chalice to be wiped with a purificator (which, if done properly, eliminates 90% of any potential germs). In one place where I served I instructed the chalice bearers to do the intinction, and place the sacrament on the person's tongue. This stopped the finger dipping, but opened the possibility for the chalice bearer to inadvertently touch the tongue; a less than sanitary solution.

I understand the concern, even if I find it to be an over reaction. Fifteen years ago, while a seminarian at St. James, Milwaukee, I met with a gentleman with whom I had a casual friendship for coffee one morning. He told me that his roommate was dying of AIDS. We talked for over an hour. I invited him to the noon Eucharist. We went forward together to receive, and knelt side by side at the altar rail. At that time, I knew very little about AIDS. As the priest approached us, I suddenly realized that I would receive the chalice after my friend. I didn't know how this disease was transmitted. I considered not receiving the wine, but that would seem to, at some level, put into question the support I had offered him that morning. I was honestly afraid that I might die if I drank from that chalice. I did it, though, trusting in God's mercy.

Intinction became more common after our culture became more aware of HIV/AIDS. It is indeed a response of fear. An unfounded fear, from what I can tell. The best summation of the possible risks in using the common cup, and how to minimalize them, that I have found is by Dr. David H. Gould, in his report Eucharistic Practice and the Risk of Infection;

...Intinction (dipping the bread in the wine) is in use in many Episcopal Church parishes and is increasingly being suggested in Canadian Churches as well. There is, however, real concern that many of the modes of intinction used in parishes do not diminish the threat of infection, and some may actually increase it. Hands, children's and adult's, are at least as likely to be a source of infection (often more so) as lips. Retention of the wafer in the hand of the recipient then intincting it means that the wafer, now contaminated by the hand of the recipient, is placed in the wine, thus spreading the infection to it. The use of an intinction chalice would make no difference in this instance...
This information is available in brochure form here.

Another idea that is being tossed around is to go to those little plastic cups. Arrggg! Sharing the common cup is an important symbol. At the last supper, Jesus blessed one cup, which was shared with the disciples. You find no mentions of "cups" anywhere in the New Testament. When we gather to share in the Holy Eucharist, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, we are fed from one loaf and one cup, which has become an important symbol of our unity as one Body.

The common cup has a long tradition within Christendom; one that I would think should not be casually set aside. It is considered such an important symbol that the Book of Common Prayer, which for the most part is silent regarding the details of ceremonial, states quite clearly in the rubrics that during the prayer of consecration, only one chalice may be on the altar. Additional wine is to be in a cruet or flagon.

My personal preference is the same as that of Dr. Gould; that we teach the doctrine of Concomitance; that Christ is fully present in both the Body and the Blood;

Therefore it would seem that communion in only one kind (the bread) is the best option for those fearful of the cup - both from the standpoint of preventing the spread of infection, and from the theological perspective. Nor should there be any discouragement directed to those who choose to do so. In fact, priests should periodically instruct the people "If you have the 'flu, a cold, or a cold sore, please don't drink from the cup or dip the wafer into it." This should be done either through the bulletin or verbally at regular intervals. An action, which might be suggested for communicants receiving the bread only, is to take or touch the base of the chalice as they normally would, but simply not sip from it. The words of administration should be used, even when wine is not consumed. Some communicants might prefer to cross their hands over their chest as a sign to administrators to pass them by.

It must be stressed however that the present use of the common cup is normative for Anglican churches, follows the practice of the universal church from its beginnings until well into the middle ages, and poses no real hazard to health in normal circumstances.
Will I be able to convince the folks here, who are just trying to be conscientious regarding the health of others, that this is the way to proceed? Since I will only be serving in this parish for another month, should I even make an issue out of it at all?

I'm inclined to suggest that if we really want to crack down on spreading germs on Sunday, maybe we should stop all that hand shaking during the Peace. A smile and a slight nod of the head should be sufficient, don't you think?


Monday, November 29, 2004

Advent and World AIDS Day

On Sunday, we entered the season of Advent. Even though our culture has surrounded us with the sounds and signs of Christmas, it is important that the Church not cave in to this attempt to commercialize this season. It seems that every year, the Christmas decorations show up earlier. This year, I spotted them in one store on Halloween! The meaningful observance of Christmas depends on the full observance of Advent. Advent is a time of waiting, preparing and hoping. Christmas music, Christmas pageants, and Christmas decorations can make us lose this important season. So, we hold these things back until we are a little closer to Christmas Eve. To keep Advent is to keep clear the meaning of Christmas.

The word "Advent" comes from the Latin word for "coming" or “arriving.” We speak of the return of Christ in three ways; past, present, and future. First, Advent refers to Christ coming as a baby in a manger. Second, Advent refers to Christ repeatedly coming to us in Word and Sacrament and in the fellowship of the Church. Third, Advent is a time to prepare for Christ coming again at the end of time, the Second Coming. In many ways, we can see Advent as a season of darkness, as we wait for the light.

How can we communicate the message of this season to others? How can we encourage others to use these weeks before Christmas as a time of quiet, restrained reflection? It may be that this task, of communicating our message to the world, is much more of a challenge than it was just a few years ago.

Michael Sack, president of a research and marketing firm, claims that today's young people see almost 1000% more images than 60 year olds witnessed in their youth. The impact of this on our ability to communicate the Gospel is important for us to note. Those over 60 find it a lot easier to derive meaning from print or video. They haven't been as bombarded as the baby boomers, so they are still considered impressionable. The can take in and emotionally connect with many of the images they see. The "young and bombarded," however, being flashed with so many different ones on a daily basis, find that the emotional impact of the images has lessened. Sack says that the younger the person, the harder it is to convey meaning or moral value to him or her through images. "The young," says Sack, "eat images like popcorn; older adults eat them like a meal."

Sack asked thousands of people to make a collage that would show the God they believe in and the God they don't believe in. From the boomers on down, those 55 and younger, the God that they did not believe in revolved around images of discomfort. Evil, sin-induced suffering, had been edited out of their theology and their lives.

This is why we need a time of quiet reflection. We need to see those images that we avoid, the ones we edit out, because they seem to have little color, little movement, little entertainment value. In the quiet, the pain of the world begins to set in. We see how desperate this world is, how much this world needs a message of hope and healing.

This coming Wednesday, December 1, will be World AIDS Day. It is a day when people throughout the world pray for those suffering from this deadly disease. It is a day when the Church seeks to raise people's awareness of what we can do in response to the pain and suffering caused by AIDS. Not a pleasant image, but one we had better see. We don't seem to be able to stop this disease, yet many of us would like to edit AIDS right out of our lives.

Here are a few facts to ponder;
  • 39.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in 2004.
  • 17.6 million of those living with HIV/AIDS are women.
  • 4.9 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2004.
  • 3.1 million people died from AIDS in 2004.

    AIDS is a reminder of how helpless we all are. AIDS reminds us that we are totally dependent on God. This year, Episcopal Relief and Development has asked us to remember the children who are victims of this disease. 4 million children were orphaned by HIV/AIDS in 2003 alone. Nearly 1.8 million of these children live in the Anglican Province of southern Africa. Our brothers and sisters are dying. We cannot edit this unpleasant image out of our lives.

    I encourage you to remember in your prayers those who have died from this disease, those who are suffering through it now, those who are doing research for a cure, and all those who mourn. Let us remember in our prayers the children and families who are devastated by this disease. We pray that God might keep his healing hand upon all those suffering from AIDS, and that God might stir up the compassion of the Church, that we might offer to those suffering the hands of Christ.

    I also encourage you to express your faith by learning more about this disease and getting involved in the global effort to combat it. The United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS site is a good place to start.

    Advent, a time of reflection, a time for seeing the truth of the world we live in, a time to see how desperate we are for God's healing touch. This is a time to watch, a time to prepare and a time to seek images of hope. How can we respond to the tragedy of AIDS? How can we respond to the 4 million children who have lost their mom and their dad? This season is a time to ask these kinds of difficult questions, and seek God’s guidance as to how we might effectively proclaim to a hurting world the healing power of God’s love.

    We are called to be the healing hands of Christ in the world today. Let's not let our vision of the world be edited out. We do what we can do, and then put our final hope in God.

    Let us keep a holy Advent, and watch for ways that Christ will reveal himself in our homes, our church, our community, and the world.


    P.S. - This article from the New York Times gives us some insight into what is happening in Africa; Hut by Hut, AIDS Steals Life in a Southern Africa Town.
  • Saturday, November 27, 2004

    Delusions Leading to New Draft

    Counterpunch offers an insightful article entitled Whatever Happened to Conservatives? The whole thing is well worth reading, but here is the section that refers to the concern I brought up yesterday;

    ...Delusion is still the defining characteristic of the Bush administration. We have smashed Fallujah, a city of 300,000, only to discover that the 10,000 US Marines are bogged down in the ruins of the city. If the Marines leave, the "defeated" insurgents will return. Meanwhile the insurgents have moved on to destabilize Mosul, a city five times as large. Thus, the call for more US troops.

    There are no more troops. Our former allies are not going to send troops. The only way the Bush administration can continue with its Iraq policy is to reinstate the draft.

    When the draft is reinstated, conservatives will loudly proclaim their pride that their sons, fathers, husbands and brothers are going to die for "our freedom." Not a single one of them will be able to explain why destroying Iraqi cities and occupying the ruins are necessary for "our freedom." But this inability will not lessen the enthusiasm for the project. To protect their delusions from "reality-based" critics, they will demand that the critics be arrested for treason and silenced. Many encouraged by talk radio already speak this way.

    Because of the triumph of delusional "new conservatives" and the demise of the liberal media, this war is different from the Vietnam war. As more Americans are killed and maimed in the pointless carnage, more Americans have a powerful emotional stake that the war not be lost and not be in vain. Trapped in violence and unable to admit mistake, a reckless administration will escalate...
    Does that sound like the rantings of a "liberal commie pinko" who needs to be shipped off to Gitmo for treason? Think again. It was written by Paul Craig Roberts who was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. Imagine that.


    Friday, November 26, 2004

    A Sink Saga and New Adventures in Iran

    Not much time for Jake's place today. Yesterday morning, as I was making coffee in preparation for the commute to the parish for the Thanksgiving Eucharist, the water handle on the kitchen sink came off in my hand as I turned on the water. I picked up a new faucet on the way home at the only place open on Thanksgiving; K-Mart (soon to be known as Sears, I understand...a rather strange marriage).

    Installing it seemed to go smoothly, until I realized that the water lines were too short for the new fixture, and the additional coupling for the spray nozzle, which I wasn't using, had to be capped, or when the water was turned on, it was redirected out the open nozzle line, thus flooding the cupboard under the sink.

    Since I wouldn't be using the nozzle's flex line, I cut it, and inserted the fittings from the old line in each end, thus making a new hot water line that was long enough. The previous hot water line, being slightly longer, now became the cold water line. Another piece of the flex line became the plug for the spray nozzle outlet, with a pencil in the end as a plug.

    When the water was turned on, all seemed well; for about 15 seconds. The pressure of the hot water was too much for my McGivered line. The flex line burst free of the fitting, spraying hot water in every direction. Of course, that was the moment when Demi chose to walk into the kitchen, which now had about half an inch of water covering the floor, as I frantically scrambled under the sink to turn the water off. She was not impressed with my handiwork.

    After cleaning up most of the water, I found that my pencil plug was a bit of a joke. I dug up a larger bolt from the bottom of my tool box, filled the end of the line with silicone, coated the bolt in silicone, and screwed it in to the end of the line. That worked, so far.

    So now we have cold water, but no hot. Since the hardware store will be open today, I'll go hunt for the right line. If I would have just waited, I could have saved myself two hours and a good soaking yesterday. But no, that would be too rational.

    I may look for a cap for the nozzle line. Or maybe I won't. I'm rather proud of the creativity expressed through my siliconed bolt plug.

    Before venturing once again into the glories of home plumbing, I did a bit of surfing over my morning coffee. Left at the Altar points to this bit of ominous news;
    Pentagon turns heat up on Iran...

    Pentagon hawks have begun discussing military action against Iran to neutralise its nuclear weapons threat, including possible strikes on leadership, political and security targets.

    With a deadline of tomorrow for Iran to begin an agreed freeze on enriching uranium, which can be used to produce nuclear weapons, sources have disclosed that the latest Pentagon gaming model for 'neutralising' Iran's nuclear threat involves strikes in support of regime change.
    Why does this not surprise me?

    I wonder where Bush will get the troops for another pre-emptive invasion? Dare we mention the ugly D word now that the election is over?

    Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,
    Uncle Sam needs your help again.
    He's got himself in a terrible jam
    Way over yonder in Iraq/Iran
    So put down your books and pick up a gun,
    We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.

    And it's one, two, three,
    What are we fighting for ?
    Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
    Next stop is Iraq/Iran;
    And it's five, six, seven,
    Open up the pearly gates,
    Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
    Whoopee! we're all gonna die.
    May God have mercy on us all.


    Wednesday, November 24, 2004

    Thanksgiving Webcast

    from Washington National Cathedral
    10 a.m. (EST) Thursday, Nov 25th:

    "Grow in Gratitude" is the theme of this Thanksgiving Day liturgy of Morning Prayer and Eucharist at Washington National Cathedral. The webcast will feature a welcome from Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and sermon by Bishop John Chane of Washington, D.C. Come watch with us at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning or thereafter at this location.
    Here is the Grow in Gratitude TV spot.


    What is Essential?

    The Windsor Report (which is summarized here) reintroduces us to an obscure term that has been out of circulation since the 17th century. It is the term adiaphora. Here is the Commission's definition;

    Such holding together across differences within Anglicanism has made use of the vital doctrine of adiaphora (literally, "things that do not make a difference"). This is explained further in section B. For the moment, we simply note that Anglicans have always recognized a key distinction between core doctrines of the church (remembering that ethics, liturgy and pastoral practice, if authentically Christian, are all rooted in theology and doctrine) and those upon which disagreement can be tolerated without endangering unity[21]. Paul urged Christians in Corinth and Rome to recognize some matters in this way (what to eat or not to eat being a prime example). When something is seen in this way, an individual church, at whatever level, can make its own decisions on the matter.
    This doctrine is further explored by the Commission in section B;

    As the Church has explored the question of limits to diversity, it has frequently made use of the notion of adiaphora: things which do not make a difference, matters regarded as non-essential, issues about which one can disagree without dividing the Church. This notion lies at the heart of many current disputes. The classic biblical statements of the principle are in Romans 14.1-15.13 and 1 Corinthians 8-10. There, in different though related contexts, Paul insists that such matters as food and drink (eating meat and drinking wine, or abstaining from doing so; eating meat that had been offered to idols, or refusing to do so), are matters of private conviction over which Christians who take different positions ought not to judge one another. They must strive for that united worship and witness which celebrate and display the fact that they are worshipping the same God and are servants of the same Lord...

    ...The question then naturally arises as to how one can tell, and indeed as to who can decide, which types of behaviour count as 'adiaphora' and which do not. For Paul, the categories are not arbitrary, but clearly distinct. For instance: that which would otherwise separate Jew and Gentile within the Church is 'adiaphora'. That which embodies and expresses renewed humanity in Christ is always mandatory for Christians; that which embodies the dehumanising turning-away-from-God which Paul characterises with such terms as 'sin', 'flesh', and so on, is always forbidden. This, of course, leaves several questions unanswered, but at least sketches a map on which further discussions may be located...
    In his essay on the Windsor Report entitled The Windsor Knot, Tobias S. Haller questions the way the Commission is using this term, and suggests even more dire implications;

    ...The WR is rather seriously flawed in the section dealing with adiaphora. First of all, it seems to take this term to refer to matters upon which there is difference of opinion but "about which one can disagree without dividing the Church." (87) But this is not what is meant by adiaphora, either in the Pauline sense (noting that Paul never uses the word) or in the sense in which it was used in the controversies of the 16th-17th centuries. It wasn't that the matters under discussion made no difference to the church (and hence ought not have impact on it), but that they made no difference to salvation. And that is a very different matter. It was precisely because some segment of the church thought this or that doctrine was essential to salvation while the rest of the church didn't that division came any number of times - and only those who survive have the privilege of saying, "Oh, that's a matter of indifference"...

    ... The report cites Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, but fails to bring to light the most important Pauline text on matters of indifference, Galatians 5:1-6. Circumcision or uncircumcision makes no difference to salvation, but if you insist it does make a difference then you have "cut" yourself off from Christ. And while Paul had the Apostolic Council on his side on circumcision, his claim that eating meat offered to idols was indifferent challenged the decision of that same Council. Those who insist that obedience to a particular moral code (or set of Council resolutions) is salvific (thereby relying on what Paul called "the flesh") are in error; and those who stand in opposition to Councils that wrongly declare that certain matters are of the essence of the faith are relying on what Paul called "his gospel." If you take something indifferent and try to make it a "core doctrine" you risk cutting yourself off from Christ.

    In addition, in the process for determining whether a matter is indifferent (90), the paper alludes (perhaps unconsciously) to Galatians, but neglects to note that in addition to matters that separate Jew and Gentile, Paul also declared Christ to have set aside (for the baptized) all that separated slave and free, and male and female. This too has relevance for the present discussion and ought not be omitted. If "gender" is truly a matter of indifference in Christ, then it is wrong to make matters involving it core values of the gospel...
    Not only is it wrong, by so doing one may risk being cut off from Christ!

    Are we struggling with core doctrines right now in the Episcopal Church? If so, then I would think that the decision of Lambeth in 1988 allowing the baptism and reception of African Anglicans in polygamous marriages, a decision that my culture finds quite distasteful, would also fall under such an "essential" doctrine, would it not? If one continent is given permission to redefine marriage for pastoral reasons, it would seem to me that the mind of the Communion is that such definitions are a matter of indifference. If so, why are we witnessing such moral outrage when North America desires to address it's pastoral concerns? Ironically, some of the most strident indignation to this is coming out of Africa.

    This all seems too familiar. Back in the late 80s, when I arrived green and naive at Nashotah House, I was shocked to witness the level of outrage among some of the student body regarding women's ordination. I was told it would destroy the Episcopal Church and that we were no longer "Catholic," all stated with such passion to lead me to believe that my salvation was indeed resting on which side I chose on this one issue.

    Let me give you an example of how ugly it got at times. One morning at the House we had a guest preacher who happened to be a woman. The deacon of the mass was a senior student. When the liturgical party lined up for the procession, this student noticed that the woman was wearing a stole. He demanded that she remove it. When she refused, and a member of the faculty intervened, the student returned to the sacristy, removed his vestments, and left the chapel.

    Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Such unbelievably rude behavior continues today. The policy of the House to this day is that women priests may not perform any sacerdotal functions on the grounds (although they do accept the tuition fees of female seminarians; quite the conundrum). Seminarians at Nashotah House, those in a very vulnerable and impressionable phase of their formation, continue to be encouraged to make matters that seem to me less than essential into "core doctrine," and in so doing, risk cutting themselves off from Christ.

    I believe adiaphora may indeed be at the root of the wounds being inflicted upon the Anglican Communion right now. The Windsor Report suggests that the way of healing involves developing a mechanism by which what is essential and what is not can be sorted out. The mechanism they recommend is increased authority for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the establishment of a council of advise. I'm uncomfortable with that structure, but I don't have a better suggestion.

    I'll continue to pray for the Church, that we might more fully know the healing power of God's love. In the end, regardless of who is declared "right" or "wrong," God will still reign. What seems essential to me right now is to always keep in mind that regardless of our correct or incorrect understanding of doctrine, our relationship with the living God must continue to be nurtured. Our hope is placed in God, not an institution, as it is God who will heal these wounds.


    Sunday, November 21, 2004

    He Has Echoed to Us

    I'm still reflecting on Rowan Williams' message. Today it is the following paragraph that leaps out at me;

    Human beings are wrapped up in themselves. Because of that great primitive betrayal that we call the Fall of humanity, we are all afraid of God and the world and our real selves in some degree. We can't cope with the light. As John's gospel says, those who don't want to respond to God fear and run away from the light. But God acts to heal us, to bring us out of our isolation - which is as bizarre and self-destructive as that young man beating his head against the wall. And he does this in a way that is just like the therapist in the video. He does what we do; he is born, he grows up, he lives for many years a life that is ordinary and prosaic like ours - he works, he eats, he sleeps. Here is ultimate love, complete holiness, made real in a back street in a small town. And when he begins to do new and shocking things, to proclaim the Kingdom, to heal, to forgive, to die and rise again - well, we shouldn't panic and run away because we have learned that we can trust him. We know he speaks our language, he has responded to our actions and our words, he has echoed to us what we are like.
    This is powerful, and true for many people. I've been thinking about another aspect of this echoing, however. Forgive me as I take this excellent message and run with it in a possibly completely tangential direction.

    The Archbishop says, "...we are all afraid of God and the world and our real selves in some degree. We can't cope with the light." There is another segment of humanity, a segment I think Jesus knew quite well, who don't deny the light out of fear, but out of feelings of unworthiness. The mirror that has been held before them; the world that has surrounded them for most of their lives, is a dark, harsh one, in which the shutters are fastened tight to block out the light. These are the ones who since childhood have received the message, the echo, that they are not fit for the light. They are driven into the dark not by fear, but by shame.

    There is a world that exists within the dark that many never glimpse. Fear is not a primary concern in this realm. Having nothing left to lose, there is little for which to be afraid. Raging against the dark is common, as is a nihilistic response, but not fear.

    Probably the best example of the place I'm trying to describe can be found in Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat, by far her best work, imo. The first in this series, Interview with a Vampire, introduces us to Louis, who is a rather wimpy vampire, and is indeed driven by his fears. We get a constant monologue from him about how terrible it all is; avoiding sunlight, drinking blood, being immortal; it's so tough being one of the undead. Lestat, on the other hand, decides that if this is his fate, he will make the most out of it. And here is the amazing thing Rice does; through Lestat, she reveals that even on the dark side, even among those denied the light, there are ethical choices to be made, and those choices matter very much.

    I met many young men in reform school and jail that had resigned themselves to a life lived on the dark side. I was one of them. The echo we heard from the significant adults in our lives was that we were "bad boys." And so we were. We grew up to be bad men. This was our place. This was our fate. We knew that there was something different, something missing in us, and we accepted this flaw. Some of us blamed God. Most of us simply assumed that we had been rejected by God, just as we had been rejected by society. We weren't hiding in the darkness; the dark places were all that we knew. And in that place, we created our own world that was indeed full of ethical choices that mattered. There was some goodness (although we wouldn't have called it such; honor or duty maybe), but those moments were tiny pinholes in the cocoon of darkness that enfolded us.

    Let me move on before this becomes mistaken for yet another sob story. What I'm trying to point out is that we often think it is the norm for people to be conscious of their good qualities, and bury their bad ones. There are those among us in which the opposite is the reality; they know their own dark side, but are only vaguely aware of their positive attributes. For them, the darkness is the reality, and the light is a facade at best, and a cruel con job at worst.

    A turning point in my life came shortly after I turned 18. I was in jail for trying to outrun the police in my car. It turns out that regardless of how much horsepower you have, you can't outrun the radio. I had been arrested numerous times as a juvenile, but this was my first experience of jail. I wasn't treated like a "bad boy" this time. I was an animal that needed to be put in a cage. I didn't like it.

    One warm day, while sitting on my bunk, a breeze came floating through the window. I muttered aloud, "That feels so good!" I started rolling around that word, "good," over and over in my head. What is good? How do I know the difference between good and bad? It suddenly dawned on me that if I could identify something as "good" externally, there might just be some point of reference internally. Maybe I could be a "good" man. I thought of the brief examples, the echoes, of goodness I had known through my life; my grandparents, a teacher here and there, and many kind strangers. Maybe it was really that simple; to make a conscious choice to just keep doing "the next right thing."

    That was 32 years ago. I haven't been put in a cage since the moment of making that simple realization (well, except for a couple of hours in North Carolina for driving without a license with out of state plates, but that's another story).

    To step fully into the light took a spiritual transformation. That was a slow journey over the next ten years, and is also another story for another time. The first step was a conscious decision to seek the light, even if I didn't deserve it, and wasn't sure how to find it, and was still a bit skeptical as to if it even existed. The first step was made on faith; not faith in God, but faith in the living examples of goodness I had encountered in my life.

    I've returned to the home of my youth a few times over the years. Most of my friends are gone. Three of my closest friends are dead. One is in a state hospital. Two were in the penitentiary last I heard. They never escaped that dark place. I suspect some of them never knew that leaving it was even an option.

    In the Gospels, we see Jesus spending an awful lot of time with outcasts; those who society may have considered unredeemable. As I read about these encounters, I don't see a lot of judgmentalism. Instead, I see Jesus looking for the goodness within each one, and echoing that goodness, drawing it out, as he woos them into the light.

    The last thing a person who is lost in the dark needs is for someone to stand in the light and yell, "Hey, you! You're lost in the dark!" Well, duh. They know that. And, even though it might not be a pleasant place, it is a familiar one that they have learned to accept as their destiny. What they need is someone who knows the darkness well, so well that he or she won't get lost in it, to enter that dark place, guided by the light of Christ, and woo those they find into stepping into the light by seeking the goodness within them and echoing it.

    For those who have lived their lives in the light, maybe pointing out their sins might be an effective method to help them see their need for God. It is not effective for those lost in the dark. They know they're sinners, that they're "bad boys." Pointing it out simply echoes the messages that caused them to withdraw in the first place, and may even drive them deeper into the darkness. They know they are damaged goods. They know they are unworthy. They know they deserve to suffer, and even die. They need a reason to live; a reason to hope. They need the healing touch of God's unconditional love.

    How do we start? By not writing anyone off. I cannot stand that cliche, "Except for the grace of God, there go I." No! When I see a homeless man, there I go! When I encounter an angry young man, he is part of who I am. When I visit someone in jail, I am looking into a mirror. My salvation is yoked to their salvation. The only way I can continue to overcome my darkness is to bring light into their world.

    The light is the reality. The darkness is simply its absence. The way I stay firmly planted in the light, in reality, is to follow Jesus Christ, who has declared me worthy, in spite of my dark side. That acceptance, that unconditional love, is what I understand we who claim the title Christian are called to manifest. We are the bearers of the light of Christ in the world today.

    May the light of Christ, enkindled within our hearts, shine forth in our lives.


    Friday, November 19, 2004

    The Incarnation as a Mirror

    Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has offered his Christmas message. His words have stretched my understanding of the Incarnation in ways that I'm not sure I am able to speak about yet.

    He tells of observing a therapist working with an autistic boy. When the boy became overwhelmed by external stimuli, and began to retreat into repetitive, and sometimes violent behaviors, the therapist mirrored each of the actions. Over a few days, the boy came to see this mirror as a connection with the external world that was safe, and even controllable. A relationship was born, and the healing process began.

    Archbishop Williams suggests that in some ways our relationship with God, and specifically as God made manifest in Jesus Christ, is quite similar;

    ...Christ does not save the world just by his death on the cross; we respond to that death because we know that here is love in human flesh, here is the creator's power and life in a shape like ours. As we read the gospels, we should think of God watching us moment by moment, mirroring back to us our human actions - our fears and our joys and our struggles - until he can at last reach out in the great gestures of the healing ministry and the cross. And at last we let ourselves be touched and changed.

    That's what begins at Christmas. Not a doctor coming in with a needle or a surgeon with a knife, but a baby who has to learn how to be human by watching; only this baby is the eternal Word of God, who is watching and learning so that when he speaks God's transforming word we will be able to hear it in our own human language. He is God so that he has the freedom to heal, to be our 'therapist'. He is human so that he speaks in terms we can understand, in the suffering and delight of a humanity that he shares completely with us. And now we must let him touch us and tell us that there is a world outside our minds - our pride and fear and guilt. It is called the Kingdom of God.
    There's something here beyond the words that I need to let sink in a bit more; something that feels significant. I'm going to ponder this a bit longer before saying more.


    Thursday, November 18, 2004

    Twirps Wear Camos

    Texas school district nixes 'cross-dressing day';

    Note to boys in the tiny Spurger, Texas, school district: Put away those high heels and pleated skirts. Instead, wear black boots and Army camouflage to school Wednesday.

    A parent's concerns prompted the district 150 miles northeast of Houston to scrap its annual "TWIRP Day" -- when boys dress like girls and girls dress like boys-- in favor of "Camo Day."

    TWIRP stands for "The Woman Is Requested to Pay," and for years Spurger schools hosted the day during Homecoming Week to give boys and girls a chance to reverse social roles and let older girls invite boys on dates, open doors and pay for sodas.

    Plano-based Liberty Legal Institute issued a news release Tuesday reporting that it "came to the aid of a concerned parent requesting an excused absence for her children on official cross-dressing day in her children's elementary school."

    "It is outrageous that a school in a small town in East Texas would encourage their 4-year-olds to be cross-dressers," Liberty Legal Institute attorney Hiram Sasser said in the release.

    Tanner T. Hunt Jr., the school district's attorney, called Sasser's statement "inflammatory and misleading." Hunt said the district never planned or conducted a "cross-dressing day."

    "They are a tiny little East Texas school district," said Hunt, a Beaumont attorney. "It never occurred to them that anyone could find anything morally reprehensible about TWIRP Day. I mean, they've been having it for years, probably for generations, and it's the first time anybody has complained."

    Delana Davies, a 33-year-old mother of three, said she contacted Superintendent Angela Matterson on Tuesday after reading a school notice about "TWIRP Day."

    Davies, whose 9-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter attend Spurger Elementary, said she viewed the day not a silly Homecoming Week activity, but as an effort to push a homosexual agenda in a public school.

    "It's like experimenting with drugs," said Davies, who also has a 2-year-old daughter. "You just keep playing with it and it becomes customary. ... If it's OK to dress like a girl today, then why is it not OK in the future?"

    After speaking with the Liberty attorney, Matterson agreed to exempt Davies' son and older daughter from attending school on Wednesday. However, district officials later decided to scrap "TWIRP Day" altogether and replace it with "Camo Day," where students will wear camouflage clothing.
    So, am I to understand that it is morally reprehensible for boys to dress like girls, but it is morally neutral for them to dress like killers?

    If this is the direction we're headed, excuse me while I go hunt (sans camos, tyvm) for a rock to crawl under.


    Wednesday, November 17, 2004

    Personifying Evil

    On Sunday, the BBC reported this story; Fixing the problem of Falluja. This chilling quote was contained within it;

    The marines that I have had wounded over the past five months have been attacked by a faceless enemy," said Colonel Brandl.

    "But the enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He lives in Falluja. And we're going to destroy him."
    The man speaking is not some crazed televangelist. It is Lieutenant-Colonel Gareth Brandl, described in the article as "a charismatic young officer who is on his second tour in Iraq." He led a battalion that attacked Fallujah

    Beyond the obvious problems derived from such dualistic thinking (there are two Gods, the God of Evil and the God of Good, engaged in an eternal bout of cosmic fisticuffs), history reveals the folly of using evil against evil. Often such a tactic does nothing more than assure an evil outcome.

    It is estimated that 100,000 innocent civilians have already died in Iraq; many after Saddam was captured. It is estimated that 800 civilians have died in this latest attack on Fallujah. This is an estimate because the American military will not allow anyone into the city to see what's really going on, including the Red Cross. We are fairly certain that at least one instance of murder has occurred. From other eyewitness reports, such as this one from Bilal Hussein, a photographer for The Associated Press based in Fallujah, it looks like murder was a tactic used by the American troops;

    "U.S. soldiers began to open fire on the houses, so I decided that it was very dangerous to stay in my house," he said.

    Hussein said he panicked, seizing on a plan to escape across the Euphrates River, which flows on the western side of the city

    "I wasn't really thinking," he said. "Suddenly, I just had to get out. I didn't think there was any other choice"...

    ...Hussein moved from house to house dodging gunfire and reached the river.

    "I decided to swim … but I changed my mind after seeing U.S. helicopters firing on and killing people who tried to cross the river."

    He watched horrified as a family of five was shot dead as they tried to cross. Then, he "helped bury a man by the river bank, with my own hands."

    "I kept walking along the river for two hours and I could still see some U.S. snipers ready to shoot anyone who might swim. I quit the idea of crossing the river and walked for about five hours through orchards."
    Remind me again, Colonel Brandl, where did you see the face of Satan?

    Why is there little moral outrage about this? I thought the American people recently claimed that "moral values" were at the top of their list of priorities?

    I suppose that there's only so much moral outrage to go around. So much has been expended on legislating sex and denying health care for women that there's not much left for war crimes.


    Monday, November 15, 2004

    Tropico and the Church

    I must confess that I stumbled across a puter game that I'm somewhat addicted to; Tropico. The artwork is not very sophisticated in comparison to the popular games, and some of the themes are rather corny, but the complexity is amazing. Rather than try to explain it to you, here's how the developers describe it;

    As the newly installed dictator of an obscure Caribbean island, build a path of progress for a nation mired in poverty, civil unrest and infighting. Oh, and uhh… stash a few million in your Swiss bank account just in case you need to take early retirement.

    Tropico takes the addictive building-oriented gameplay of hits such as SimCity 3000 and Railroad Tycoon 2, combined with a healthy dose of Latin American political intrigue, and bundles it up in an easy-to-learn, hard to master, utterly addictive package.

    Tropico is first and foremost a builder. Tropico provides over 100 structures to build, from hotels and spas for tourists to banana groves, sugar plantations and copper mines for food and basic exports, to rum distilleries and cigar factories for basic industry. Industry, mining,
    agriculture, or tourism, you choose to shape the economy to your vision. And don’t let your lust for Yanqui dollars overcome your concern for the plight of your people. (or they’ll overcome your palace guards and teach you a lesson in mob justice) As a precaution against such unpleasantness, may we suggest building the secret police headquarters for ferreting out and re-educating your misinformed dissidents?

    Your island’s inhabitants are fleshed out individuals, most of whom support you as their leader (at least initially). They go about their daily business striving for happiness under your enlightened rule. They have homes, jobs and identities, and they like being safe, well-fed, employed and spiritually enriched. Plan your growth well, and you’ll have plenty of money to buy your people’s favor. Plan your growth poorly, and, well, there’s always martial law…
    I haven't mastered some of the more difficult scenarios yet, which usally set as goals amassing large amounts of money, or a gambling empire, or a military stronghold. But, I have been pretty successful in winning elections and keeping the people happy.

    It took me awhile to learn some of the more subtle "rules" of the game. The more industry, the more polution; the more polution, the more unhappy the people. If a factory is required, build it downwind from the homes. The more soldiers you hire, the more you increase the possibility of a rebellion or a military coup. I've found that simple is best. Lots of farms, maybe a couple of mines, a fishing dock, a clinic, a church, and decent housing keeps most of the folks happy. Giving everyone a raise each election year is usually all that's required to win the election. Building an electric power plant is more trouble than its worth (the expensive engineers keep running off), although working without power limits your options.

    It's a silly, addictive game. I play it a few times each week for about an hour. Complete escapism. But it has caused me to reflect a bit about building communities. Specifically, about the community we call church.

    The larger Church is a bigger subject than I'm willing to tackle right now. I'm thinking of the local church. What will these households of God look like in the future?

    What I've learned from life, and has been pointed out to me again by this silly game, is that sometimes, if the goal is happiness, simpler is better. I suspect that in the future, local churches will get out of the real estate business. We have enough shrines, which are often, in my opinion, nothing but money pits. I also suspect that in the future there will be fewer full time staff. I think more and more clergy will be tent makers; earning an income outside of the Church, and serving on a part time basis, as needed, within the local congregation.

    I believe there will always be a need for professionally trained clergy, if not as leaders, at least as resource persons. I've seen what happens in congregations led by those who lack such training, and overall I think it is a mistake. But, I also see many congregations, and clergy, who fall into the mindset that the clergy are hired to do the ministry for the members, who are too busy doing other things. That kind of thinking can be as damaging as hiring a spiritual leader without the proper training.

    Robert Capon suggests that the future local church will be modeled much more after AA; not owning any real estate, and having few identifiable leaders. I think he's right. Many of the difficulties I encounter in local congregations are about things that are quite nonessential. In some places, a major amount of the congregation's energy, time and money is spent on trying to prop up a crumbling shrine. Let it go. Simplify. I think it might be a blessing for some congregations to shut down their building, gather in each other's homes, and ask one another, "What now?" For some places, I think it will take that drastic of an event for them to stop thinking about maintenance long enough to finally begin to think about mission once again.

    Since today is my day off, I had the opportunity to play Tropico this morning. I "won," meaning I accomplished the goals of the scenario I created, which identified winning as a certain level of happiness maintained among the people after forty years of being their el Presidente. The theme was simplicity, and meeting the real needs of the members of the community, while not allowing their felt needs to become the final definition of those real needs.

    I'm convinced that for many folks, and many communities, simplicity is a component of happiness and healthiness. Consider these thoughts from Lama Surya Das;

    Rather than the way many of us are brought up to hold on, gather riches, stuff, and information, as if more is always better, there is the middle way that means not throwing it all away, but also not falling into the fallacy that more is always better, bigger, faster. We start instead to live in a more moderate, balanced, harmonious, simple kind of life...
    He goes on to describe the deeper understanding of the nature of attachments which came to him shortly after leaving the monastery;

    ...I had no appointments and no disappointments. I had few material possessions to relinquish because I had no property, no car, no computer, no credit cards, no health plan, and nobody was in any way dependent on me. I had no financial worries because there were no finances to speak of. I only started to have financial issues in my mid-forties when I started to have income and assets. I was a living example of the teaching that possessions are like baggage and only weigh you down. When we start accumulating things, we can easily get out of balance. Instead of having just enough ballast to keep our little personal ships upright, we end up having so much in the cargo hold that our ship can hardly maneuver on the seas of life even if it doesn't quite sink.

    P.S. Just thought I'd mention that my DW has written some intriguing pieces on breasts, sex and ritual. She also exposes a nature based fertility religion. You can stop snickering now, and go check it out!

    Friday, November 12, 2004

    Solution to Homelessness; Lock Em Up

    Chuck Currie points to a sad commentary on our times; the Illegal to be Homeless 2004 Report;

    Today the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) releases Illegal to be Homeless: The Criminalization of Homelessness in the United States, the most comprehensive study of homeless civil rights violations. This study is also the most up-to-date survey of current laws that criminalize homeless people and ranks the top "meanest" cities and states in the country. This report examines legislated ordinances and statutes, as well as law enforcement and community practices since August of 2003.
    I was somewhat surprised to see California listed as the #1 "meanest" state. Southern California perhaps, but it is still an open debate among most native Californians if anything south of Santa Barbara can really be considered a part of the state.

    In the listing of "meanest" cities, I was not surprised to see Los Angeles come in at #7. That has been my experience of that area. Maybe one example will explain why I agree with this ranking.

    A few years ago, I was the assistant program director for a transitional living center in Ventura, CA. This was a long term shelter for women and families. We had a nice facility, which included a dorm for single women and about a dozen efficiency apartments for families. Access into the facility was carefully controlled. To enter, you had to ring a buzzer attached to the gate of the large courtyard on the side of the building.

    One Saturday morning I got a call at home from a staff member. The police were demanding entrance to arrest a young woman who we had been working with for about two weeks. She had arrived withdrawn and very frightened. Only recently had she begun to open up a bit and actively participate in the programs (a tangential piece of information about the homeless; if they have been on the street for an extended amount of time, it takes about 30 days to get their nutritional levels and general mental and physical health up to the point when they can begin to be fully functional again). Before coming to us, she had been arrested for sleeping in her car. Apparently, she had missed the court date, so the police were there to haul her off to jail. I told the staff member that I'd be right there.

    When I arrived, there were two patrol cars at the side entrance, and two at the front entrance. The officers were not pleased about being made to wait. They told me to open the gate. I asked to see their search warrant. They didn't have one. I asked to see any papers from the court. They didn't have any. I refused to open the gate. I explained to them that this facility was considered a safe space for the residents. If I allowed armed officers to enter, it would take me three days to get everyone calmed down again. So, if they had no court order, I would have to ask them to leave. The sergeant began to lose his cool. He told me to unlock the gate or he would arrest me. I offered him my outstretched arms, which he stridently cuffed. I was placed in the back of a car.

    Two more patrol cars pulled up. The sergeant told me that they were prepared to storm the building (remember; the crime committed was sleeping in a car!). I asked to speak to his superior. A few minutes later, a seventh car, this one unmarked, pulled in the parking lot. A lieutenant, I believe, got out and came over to talk with me. This one played the "good cop." He apologized for the rough treatment, and had the cuffs removed. He then explained that they were serving a warrant, so did not need a search warrant to enter. I responded that they did indeed need one, as they had no way of knowing if the woman they sought was in our facility, and I was not at liberty to tell him if she was. He went back to his car, and returned with some papers. It appeared that at some point, a preliminary hearing or something, the woman had listed our facility as her residence. They could enter, with or without my permission.

    I agreed to unlock the gate, so that two officers could search the premises. They didn't find her, of course. During the half hour they were messing with me, the other staff member, who had also been homeless himself at one time, had managed to get her out a window and safely away. This is but one example. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior by the police was not unusual in Southern California.

    I was somewhat surprised to see San Francisco listed as the #8 "meanest" city in the country. I lived on the street for about three months there back in 1969. I found it to be one the most gentle places for a homeless kid to be. Of course, this was when Haight-Ashbury was still a tourist destination. And I was only 15, which did evoke more of a response of pity instead of fear. When it was wet and cold, I could go to the bus station downtown and sit. If I fell asleep, the police would tap their nightstick on my chair and tell me I had to leave. If I stayed awake, I could sit there all night. They never asked for ID, and always treated me with a note of kindness in their voice and actions.

    Milwaukee came in at #18. That is frightening. I worked as the seminarian assistant at St. James for awhile, which is a parish right in the downtown district. St. James has recently been involved in a legal battle with the city. They have allowed the homeless to set up camps on their property. The city finds it an eyesore. The Church finds it compassionate. When I was there, we fed pancakes to about 150 to 300 homeless every weekday morning. No tents on the front lawn, however. The reason I find this frightening is that it gets below zero for weeks at a time in Wisconsin. Getting in out of the cold is sometimes a life and death issue. To chase them out of abandoned buildings or parked cars is to sign their death warrant.

    Here's the biggest shocker; the People's Republic of Berkeley came in at #14! What in the world is going on there? Besides being the Mecca for all things subversive for most of my life, it is also the home of one of the most respected universities in the country, as well as a consortium of, I believe, about 11 theological seminaries. Karen, can you shed any light on this?

    In California, I worked with the homeless for quite a few years, both as a priest and as a social worker. I watched the attitudes shift on the Central Coast particularly. The struggle with the NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude intensified. At the same time, I watched the state of California contract out the prison business to for-profit contractors. These companies would build the facility, and run it for the state, for a fee per prisoner, of course. The prisoners could then be paid less than minimum wage to manufacture products, which were then sold by the private company at a hefty profit. Everyone wins, except the prisoner, of course. It sure looked to me like a modern version of the old fashion poor house. The additional benefit is that since these prisons are separated by gender, the "criminals" are effectively removed from the gene pool.

    I hope you take a look at this report. As the wealthiest nation in the world, I think we can do better than this. I haven't discussed long-term solutions. I have some ideas, and I think that is an important discussion, but it will have to wait for another day. For now, I think we had better realize that we can't count on much help at the local, state, and especially not the federal level (at least for the next four years). It's up to us, the citizens, to work at the grassroots level to make sure that every person is treated with dignity and respect; not because they deserve it, but because they are human beings.

    Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?" And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

    Thursday, November 11, 2004

    Witch Hunts in a Pluralistic World

    I'll hold off on saying much more about Keith Ward, due to an apparent lack of interest. I do highly recommend his work, however.

    One of the points he makes is that in our current phase of the history of religion, we are called to view religion from a global perspective. Some, like John Hick, will claim that such pluralism will require us to affirm that all paths to God are incomplete, yet all are valid approaches. Ward would suggest that it is better to stand within one's own tradition, developed by various factors unique to our situation, such as culture and education, and listen to the voices from other traditions, especially their criticisms. He refers to Hick's approach as "hard pluralism." His approach, "inclusivity," he refers to as "soft pluralism."

    There is a biblical basis for the "inclusive" approach. In Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth, we find these words;

    For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
    In the seventeenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we find Paul in Athens, commending the people for their deep love for religion. He then goes on to tell them about the God who belongs in their "temple to the unknown God." He does not start out by condemnation; he uses the inclusive approach.

    Patrick of Ireland and Columba of Iona used the "soft pluralism" approach as missionaries among the Druids. The Celtic cross was in existence before the arrival of the Church. It's symbolism was redefined by Patrick, but it was not banished as "pagan." The architecture of some of the chapels and cathedrals include carvings of tree trunks and limbs joining at the ceiling, as a reminder of the sacred groves. The tonsure of Patrick and Iona followed the tradition of the Druids until the 8th century. It has been recorded that Columba claimed "Christ is my Druid."

    Both scripture and the Christian tradition seem to affirm that meeting people where they are in their spiritual life, and not immediately dragging them to where we think they should be, is an appropriate form of evangelism.

    In the last few weeks, there has been an attempt to destroy the lives of two Episcopal priests when it was discovered that they were involved with a Druidic group. Some links to some of the background of this tragic story can be found here. My initial outrage regarding the witch hunt that resulted can be found here. There may be a valid discussion as to if what appears to be an approach based on Hick's "hard pluralism" was appropriate in this case, but even that discussion would be speculative. We do not know the content of most of the dialogue that was happening here. All we have are pieces compiled by the inquisitors during their witch hunt.

    If you think "witch hunt" is too strong a term, I'll let you decide for yourself. Here, here, here and here are just a few examples. The comments are especially incriminating, it seems to me. Note no attempt to control the direction of the comments by the owners of these sites.

    Although this attack was started by a political organization; The Institute on Religion and Democracy, it was quickly picked up by Christianity Today, most likely because both organizations share board members. Both organizations also share the agenda of the religious right, and have much in common with the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, of whom we might expect such attempts to destroy people. What astonished me was how quickly some conservative Anglicans were to jump on board this modern day inquisition. Shouting from the rooftops that the devil is in the Church, condemning labyrinths, meditation, and anything smelling of being "Celtic" might be expected from the extreme right. But from Anglicans? How can I make sense out of such reactionary behavior? Anglicans who would be in league with those whose goal is an American theocracy is absolutely astounding to me.

    So far, all I can come up with is that this is a further attempt by the American Anglican Council, whose mailing address is the same as the political advocacy group I previously mentioned, the IRD, to destroy the Episcopal Church. The AAC, and the Network which it spawned, are the Anglican contingent of the religious right, and will use any tool they can find; apparently even unscrupulous ones.

    Both priests have placed themselves at the mercy of their bishop, and have apologized and recanted. Bill Melnyk has resigned his position as rector. But the inquisition goes on. The new targets are two women. One is the seminarian intern who originally posted the questionable rite on the Women's Ministry site. Her sponsoring parish and the name of her bishop have been made public; an obvious attempt to make sure e-mails are sent out in attempt to destroy this woman. No doubt such e-mails have indeed been sent. Now the woman who is in charge of the Women's Ministries site is under attack, with demands that she both apologize and resign.

    The rite in question referred to God our Mother. I think another part of all this outrage can be found in a article that I find more and more insightful as time goes on; Fear of the Feminine.

    The Melnyk's Bishop has recently spoken to reporters regarding all of this. I'll reproduce the article in its entirety for those who may not be able to access it;

    Episcopal couple won't be suspended
    Pa.'s bishop said a group of conservatives spurred the criticism of 2 priests involved in Druidic rites.
    By Jim Remsen
    Inquirer Faith Life Editor

    Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison said yesterday that he would not suspend the local clergy couple found to be involved in Druid activity - and he blamed the scandal on "right-wing" groups out to destabilize the Episcopal Church USA.

    In his first interview since the scandal erupted last month, Bennison, leader of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, said the Rev. William Melnyk and the Rev. Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk had taken part, as students of pre-Christian Celtic spirituality, in "exploratory thinking" with Druid circles.

    But his discussions with the couple, he said, convinced him that they had not led any Druid groups or joined nature-worshiping Druid rites.

    "They made a small error of judgment that has been very costly to their ministry and their church, and the church at large," Bennison said.

    An outspoken church liberal, Bennison balanced his criticism of the couple with a determination that the diocese be "a safe place" for theological experimentation.

    Melnyk resigned Saturday as rector of St. James' Church in Downingtown, after the parish vestry board asked him to step down because of the scandal. His wife remains rector of St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Malvern, with the support of her vestry.

    The couple's involvement in Druid circles surfaced late last month when the national church's office of women's ministry posted two of their Druidic liturgies on its Web site for possible use in developing feminist liturgies. One was a eucharistic service praising "God the Mother."

    Christian watchdog groups - particularly conservative ones enraged at the Episcopal Church USA's gay-rights stances and liberal theologies - pounced. They accused Episcopal officials of promoting pagan rites. The church quickly removed the liturgies, but the furor continued.

    On Thursday, the Melnyks wrote letters of apology, saying they "recanted and repudiated" their Druid connection. The goal of the work, they said, had been to reach out to marginal Christians.

    Bennison said he would send written reprimands, called "pastoral directions," to the couple.

    Melnyk - using the name OakWyse - had posted an Internet call to worship for those "who believe in the underlying unity of all faiths that follow the ideals of love for the Divine, love for sister and brother Human Beings, and doing harm to no one."

    Bennison said Melnyk "will be directed to be much more aware of what he says and does, . . . that, as a priest, he is responsible not simply for his own reality but for others' perceptions of his reality."

    Also, the bishop said, Ruppe-Melnyk's "God the Mother" service "is not a Christian rite as most people would understand Christianity." But the church has many alternative rites, he said, "and Glyn has never used it as Christian worship or even in private prayer."

    Bennison said the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative Christian group in Washington, fomented the scandal by alerting Christian media to Ruppe-Melnyk's online rite.

    The institute, Bennison said, aims "to intimidate people in our church who would exercise theological imaginations, who would think out of the box. . . . We want a church where people can fail and be forgiven rather than a church where no one takes risks."

    Erik Nelson, research associate for the institute's Episcopal Action Project, said he was surprised Bennison "would continue to defend [the two priests] when they repented and admitted it was wrong."

    "There are ways of getting women to be more involved, within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy," Nelson said. "But they had a rite encouraging worship of a goddess, and it was wrong and should have been repudiated not only by the priests but the women's office."

    Bennison said that the couple remained priests in good standing in the diocese, and that Melnyk was receiving financial support from both his old parish and the diocese's clergy emergency fund.

    Melnyk had served as rector for only two years, to his wife's four, "so he didn't have as much confidence among the people to be able to survive the attacks that came at him," the bishop said.

    "This has been devastating to him, this Christian man, this priest of the church," Bennison said. "If he wants to go back to work, I'll talk to him about that."

    Ruppe-Melnyk, reached at her church yesterday, said, "We are just trying to keep from escalating an unfortunate and misrepresented situation."

    Melnyk has not responded to requests for comment.
    Thank you Bishop Bennison. I just wish that the bishop would have spoken up a few days earlier. Bill might still have his position as Rector.

    The damage that has been done to our ability to witness to those outside of Christendom by this witch hunt is hard to ascertain. My lovely wife, Demi, offers much better insights on this aspect of this sad episode. I think an apology for their most unChristian behavior from those who leaped to attack these two priests, and continue to attack the staff of the Episcopal Church, is in order. But I won't hold my breath.


    Tuesday, November 09, 2004

    Some Thoughts From Keith Ward

    A couple of days ago, I noted Rhys Morgan's mention of a book by Keith Ward. Yesterday, while browsing in a bookstore, I came across Professor Ward's The Case for Religion. I've been dipping into it a bit, and some of his discussions seem quite appropriate in light of current events. I know, I'm supposed to be reading and commenting on George Lakoff. I will. I promise. But my heart has been drawn in another direction the last few days.

    I'll offer the dustcover's introduction;

    Keith Ward was until recently Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford; he is an Anglican priest, canon of Christ Church, and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is the author of many books and articles on philosophy and religion including the bestselling God: A Guide for the Perplexed (Oneworld, 2002). Professor Ward's work straddles the boundaries between science, religion and philosophy, while his career has addressed topics from materialism to medical ethics. His work in these fields is internationally respected, and he is today known as one of Britain's foremost philosopher-theologians.
    As is my custom, I begin by browsing through a book before reading it from cover to cover. What initially caught my eye was the final section, Convergent Spirituality. In chapter twelve, entitled Indra's Net; The Spectrum of Truth, Professor Ward concludes his sketch of global religious history by returning to his division of that history into four main phases. The first phase, the "local", is a time when local rituals and myths were developed and passed on through oral tradition. The second phase he refers to as the canonical, in which "rationalization and moralization of ancient traditions" takes place. Such codification of the traditions shared common attributes; compassion, wisdom and fulfillment. This phase was not without its drawbacks, however;

    Being products of imperial elites, they tended to be closely associated with imperial and elite cultures, and their claims to universal truth sometimes allowed the growth of intolerance and repression of competing views. The religious views tended to be expressed in sacred texts, which were given absolute authority, and the 'orthodox' were often sharply distinguished from the 'heretics', who were discriminated against in various ways.

    In the modern world such forms of traditional orthodoxy are very strong. Christianity and Islam especially find themselves competing for universal acceptance by all people as a revealed, final, absolute truth...The paradox of this phase of religious life is that it teaches the submission of self to a reality of supreme moral value, and yet it tends to oppose and caricature views that differ from its own.
    Even though this is supposedly an early phase of global religious history, my experience is that this paradox remains alive and well, with little hope of it being resolved in the near future. But perhaps every paradox need not be resolved? Perhaps this creates a type of necessary creative tension? What I witness is routinized oppression, but that may be a bias drawn from my particular cultural perspective, I suppose.

    Having moved beyond oral tradition, the tension derived from sacred texts now emerges;

    For some orthodox believers, scriptural texts will be interpreted as literally as possible, and moral rules will conform as closely as possible to those laid down in scripture. This will often lead to clashes with critical historical reflection, with much scientific knowledge and with any appeal to moral autonomy. There is not necessity for such clashes to lead to violence or intolerance, however, since even the most literalist views usually call for compassion and understanding as central elements of their way of life. Such literalism can be found in every religious tradition, and it is naturally allied with conservative social and political attitudes, insofar as conservatism also wishes to preserve past traditions with as little change as possible.

    There will also, however, be non-literalist forms of orthodoxy. For them, too, it will be important to affirm the final and unrevisable authority of the scriptural texts. But they will have a feeling for the metaphorical or allegorical and esoteric meaning of the texts, and will therefore stress the necessity of interpretation and of the authority of the tradition, in discerning what the texts mean in differing circumstances...In the case of moral rules, attempts will be made to discern the underlying principles beneath particular moral rulings in very different contexts. In other words, there will be a place for developing knowledge and interpretation, though the text will retain a decisive normative status as a basis for interpretations. This stress on metaphor, interpretation context and developing perspective has always been implicit within major religious traditions.
    A place for developing knowledge and interpretation among the "orthodox"? Imagine that. I wonder what predisposes one to be inclined towards the literalist or non-literalist persuasions within what is called the "orthodox" tradition? "...they will have a feeling for the metaphorical or allegorical and esoteric meaning of the texts..." Do I see Schliermacher on the horizon?

    For that, we'll have to wait for another time. Coming up; some excerpts from Professor Ward's descriptions of the third phase of global religious history; the "critical phase", which moves beyond the understanding of orthodoxy as an unchanging norm. And, indeed, Schliermacher will make an appearance.

    From there we'll visit the fourth and final phase of global religious life, an extension of the critical phase, the "global phase", in which all religions are consciously seen as one global phenomenon. This is actually the section I'm most anxious to talk about, but it seems more fitting to back up a bit before launching into it. In discussing this phase, Professor Ward offers one of the better critiques of John Hick that I have ever encountered. Although I have always found Hick's Evil and the God of Love to be one of the best approaches to theodicy in print, I struggled with his work on pluralism, the title of which escapes me at the moment. Primarily it was his rudimentary (or so it seemed to me) understanding of the Eastern traditions that seemed to bring into question the validity of some of his ideas. Keith Ward unfolds further difficulties with Hick's version of pluralism, while still affirming that which is of value. But that discussion is for another day.

    Do you note anything relevant so far in regards to religious tensions we face today?


    Sunday, November 07, 2004

    Healing the Wounds

    I'll give you fair warning; this post is sappy. It's about feelings. It's about relationships. It's about being sad. And it is about being loved. If this is not your cup of tea, please check back another day.

    The older I get, the more I find myself haunted by a deep sense of sadness. Everyday occurrences that I once hardly noticed now often trigger pangs of regret, guilt, and the temptation to replay a memory, and rewrite the bits that still hurt.

    Let me give you an example. When I see kids sledding in the snow, or even a film or a commercial that includes a sled or toboggan, it stabs me like a knife. Why? Because of a memory it brings up.

    When my girls were young, I was working on a loading dock during the day, and attending the university at night to earn my undergraduate degree. If I had an exam coming up, or a paper due, I would have to pull an all nighter. Consequently, my girls' memory of me during those seven years is primarily one of being asleep on the couch.

    One winter I promised them that I would take them sledding. When the day arrived, I was asleep on the couch after being up all night completing a paper that was due. They couldn't wake me up. When I finally opened my eyes, the sun was down, and my girls were already tucked in bed. When I went into their room, my youngest looked at me with big, sad eyes, and simply said, "We waited and waited Daddy!" It turns out they had both gotten dressed in their winter gear, and sat on the floor watching me sleep for some time. The older one, having been through similar disappointments before, finally gave up. The younger one waited much longer.

    Not such a traumatic event, right? For me it is. That particular memory has come to symbolize all the times I wasn't there for my kids because I had "more important" things to do. And now they are grown and gone. I cannot recapture those opportunities to be "Daddy."

    One more brief example; the other day I was in the store and a song came on that represents a particular relationship I had some time ago. It was a silly song; the kind that two people who think they're in love may choose as "their song." I hurt this person, who deserved better. When ambushed by music in the car, I can simply change the station or shut it off. In this case my only choice was to leave the store.

    There is a safeguard against such sentimentality. I know it well. You become thick-skinned. You cut off all feelings. You expect everything to hurt, so you put on angry and aggressive armor. Then nothing can touch you. I don't like that Jake. Most people that have met him don't like him much either.

    In the last few days I have found myself feeling a very similar kind of hurt when I see campaign signs or hear folks talking about the election. I trusted. I believed. There's some guilt mixed in there, which is one reason why these feelings seem in the same category as failures in past relationships. I didn't give enough of myself. I expected others to do the work for me.

    To escape such sadness tinged with guilt, I'm inclined towards avoidance, transference (blaming) or anger. Each offers temporary relief, but none bring real healing of the wounds.

    Confession is probably the healthiest first step towards healing. Admitting to God, and preferably another person, my faults, my sins, committing to an amendment of life, and being assured of God's forgiveness. The next step is usually harder, however; forgiving myself.

    Today I received a healing balm from a source that I didn't expect. I suppose I should have anticipated it, but I didn't. It came as I was administering Holy Communion.

    Discussing the theology of the Holy Eucharist is a big topic, and one that maybe we can tackle another time. For now I'll just mention my early impression of Holy Communion.

    Having been raised Baptist and Pentecostal, when I found myself in the Episcopal Church I wasn't so sure about all those "Romish" shenanigans they did up at the altar. The first part was ok; singing, bible readings, sermon, prayers. But all that magical stuff during the second part felt kind of, well, pagan to me. But I went ahead and received communion with my family anyway.

    About six months later, I noticed that my personal prayers after communion were often the most focused and peaceful prayers of the whole week. I also noticed that receiving communion seemed to be affecting those around me in a similar way. I finally had to grudgingly admit that whatever they were doing up at that altar, it was clearly of God, and was affecting me and everyone else. Personally, that's all the Eucharistic theology I need. When we receive communion, something happens, and that something is of God.

    When I administer the sacrament, I offer it as I look the person in the eye with the words "The Body of Christ." I then place it in their palm with the words, "the Bread of Heaven." I'm not suggesting this is the only way, or the right way, to do it; it's just the way I do it.

    As I administered communion this morning and we shared that special moment, I felt that "something" happening. My heart began to literally ache because of my love for each of those precious souls. Soon, the ache was transformed into joy, as I received their love for me.

    This relationship, of love flowing between us at that special moment, was the way the theological reality, of receiving the outward and visible sign of God's grace, became manifest. Some of those folks were young. Some were old. Some were conservative, and others were liberal. Some were Democrats, but others were Republican. It didn't seem to matter to God. The grace flowed, and it was a glorious thing.

    Some of the wounds caused by life may never heal. And I may always be shadowed by a deep sadness. But, thank God, there is more to life than that.

    In the end, it is a matter of recalling what the point of living is all about; of honestly answering one of the most primal questions; what do you want?

    I want to give love, and be loved. And that is what I experience when I gather with my brothers and sisters to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Thanks be to God!


    Saturday, November 06, 2004

    Voting Irregularities

    There's some claims being made that the Tuesday election was stolen by dishonest deeds. Some of this reporting may be the response of frustrated Democrats and conspiracy theorists. I doubt if all of it is, though. I think these incidents, if proven to have any validity, need further investigation.

    Many of you are most likely already aware of these stories. The reason I'm even mentioning them is that a shadowy character, discussed previously here at Jake's place, shows up on the scene once again. I'll get to that in a bit. First, here's a review of the current reporting;

    An Election Spoiled Rotten;
    John Kerry is down by several thousand votes in New Mexico, though not one ballot has yet been counted. He's also losing big time in Colorado and Ohio; and he's way down in Florida, though the votes won't be totaled until Tuesday night.

    Through a combination of sophisticated vote rustling—ethnic cleansing of voter rolls, absentee ballots gone AWOL, machines that "spoil" votes—John Kerry begins with a nationwide deficit that could easily exceed one million votes...

    N.C. Computer Loses More Than 4,500 Votes;
    More than 4,500 votes have been lost in one North Carolina county because officials believed a computer that stored ballots electronically could hold more data than it did. Scattered other problems may change results in races around the state...

    Computer Glitch Still Baffles County Clerk:
    The day after a two-and-a-half-hour delay in counting ballots due to a glitch in a computer program, LaPorte County election officials are still trying to figure out what happened.

    "Maybe there was a power surge," LaPorte County Clerk Lynne Spevak said. "Something zapped it"...

    House Dems Seek Election Inquiry :
    Three congressmen sent a letter to the General Accounting Office on Friday requesting an investigation into irregularities with voting machines used in Tuesday's elections.

    The congressmen, Democratic members of the House of Representatives from Florida, New York and Michigan, cited a number of incidents that came to light in the days after the election. One was a glitch in Ohio that caused a memory card reader made by Danaher Controls to give George W. Bush 3,893 more votes than he should have received. Another was a problem with memory cards in North Carolina that caused machines made by UniLect to lose 4,500 votes cast on e-voting machines. The votes were lost when the number of votes cast on the machines exceeded the capacity of the memory cards...

    Hacking Democracy?
    Computerized vote-counting machines are sweeping the country. But they can be hacked -- and right now there's no way to be sure they haven't been...

    Evidence Mounts That The Vote Was Hacked:
    When I spoke with Jeff Fisher this morning (Saturday, November 06, 2004), the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida's 16th District said he was waiting for the FBI to show up. Fisher has evidence, he says, not only that the Florida election was hacked, but of who hacked it and how. And not just this year, he said, but that these same people had previously hacked the Democratic primary race in 2002 so that Jeb Bush would not have to run against Janet Reno, who presented a real threat to Jeb, but instead against Bill McBride, who Jeb beat.

    "It was practice for a national effort," Fisher told me.

    And evidence is accumulating that the national effort happened on November 2, 2004...
    Here's an interesting film that explores the problem of voting machines; Votergate; The Movie.
    (Note: Votergate is currently displaying this message; Our video files have been attacked and taken out. Who doesn't want you to see this film? We are working around the clock to get the video files back online right away. Please check back soon.)

    One final quote that looks at who is behind the companies that manufacture and service these machines;

    Election Fraud;
    It's a shell game, with money, companies and corporate brands switching in a blur of buy-outs and bogus fronts. It's a sinkhole, where mobbed-up operators, paid-off public servants, crazed Christian fascists, CIA shadow-jobbers, war-pimping arms dealers - and presidential family members - lie down together in the slime. It's a hacker's dream, with pork-funded, half-finished, secretly-programmed computer systems installed without basic security standards by politically-partisan private firms, and protected by law from public scrutiny.

    It's how the United States, the "world's greatest democracy," casts its votes. And it's why George W. Bush almost certainly won the 2004 presidential election.

    The American vote-count is controlled by three major corporate players - Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia - with a fourth, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), coming on strong. These companies - all of them hardwired into the Bushist Party power grid - were given billions of dollars by the Bush Regime to complete a sweeping computerization of voting machines nationwide for the 2004 election. These glitch-riddled systems - many using "touch-screen" technology that leaves no paper trail at all - are almost laughably open to manipulation, according to corporate whistleblowers and computer scientists at Stanford, John Hopkins and other universities.

    The technology had a trial run in the 2002 mid-term elections. In Georgia, serviced by new Diebold systems, a popular Democratic governor and senator were both unseated in what the media called "amazing" upsets, with results showing vote swings of up to 16 percent from the last pre-ballot polls. In computerized Minnesota, former vice president Walter Mondale - a replacement for popular incumbent Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash days before the vote - was also defeated in a large last-second vote swing. Convenient "glitches" in Florida saw an untold number of votes intended for the Democratic candidate registering instead for Governor Jeb "L'il Brother" Bush. A Florida Democrat who lost a similarly "glitched" local election went to court to have the computers examined - but the case was thrown out by a judge who ruled that the innards of America's voting machines are the "trade secrets" of the private companies who make them.

    Who's behind these private companies? It's hard to tell: the corporate lines - even the bloodlines - of these "competitors" are so intricately mixed. For example, at Diebold - whose corporate chief, Wally O'Dell, a top Bush fundraiser, has publicly committed himself to "delivering" his home state's votes to Bush next year - the election division is run by Bob Urosevich. Bob's brother, Todd, is a top executive at "rival" ES&S. The brothers were originally staked in the vote-count business by Howard Ahmanson, a member of the Council for National Policy, a right-wing "steering group" stacked with Bushist faithful.

    Ahmanson is also one of the bagmen behind the extremist "Christian Reconstructionist" movement, which openly advocates a theocratic takeover of American democracy, placing the entire society under the "dominion" of "Christ the King." This "dominion" includes the death penalty for homosexuals, exclusion of citizenship for non-Christians, stoning of sinners and - we kid you not - slavery, "one of the most beneficent of Biblical laws."

    Ahmanson also has major holdings in ES&S, whose former CEO is Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. When Hagel ran for office, his own company counted the votes; needless to say, his initial victory was reported as "an amazing upset." Hagel still has a million-dollar stake in the parent company of ES&S. In Florida, Jeb Bush's first choice for a running mate in his 1998 gubernatorial race was ES&S lobbyist Sandra Mortham, who made a mint installing the machines that counted Jeb's votes...
    Howard Ahmanson shows up once again. Imagine that.

    Avenging Angel of the Religious Right:
    In the summer of 2000, a group of frustrated Episcopalians from the board of the American Anglican Council gathered at a sun-soaked Bahamanian resort to blow off some steam and hatch a plot. They were fed up with the Episcopal Church and what they perceived as a liberal hierarchy that had led it astray from centuries of so-called orthodox Christian teaching. The only option, they believed, was to lead a schism.

    But this would take money. After the meeting, Anglican Council vice president Bruce Chapman sent a private memo to the group's board detailing a plan to involve Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., a Southern California millionaire, and his wife, Roberta Green Ahmanson, in the plan. "Fundraising is a critical topic," Chapman wrote. "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 settling on it as the options clarify." It was a logical pitch: As a key financier of the Christian right with a penchant for anti-gay campaigns, Ahmanson clearly shared the Anglican Council's interest in subverting the left-leaning church. Moreover, Ahmanson and his wife were close friends and prayer partners of David Anderson, the Anglican Council's chief executive, while Chapman and his political team were already enjoying hefty annual grants from Ahmanson to Chapman's think tank, the Discovery Institute.

    Soon, the money came rolling in to the Anglican Council, with more than $1 million in donations from Ahmanson in 2000 and 2001...
    Ahmanson also just happens to be a member of St. James, Newport Beach, which is currently involved in a legal struggle with the diocese of Los Angeles since they decided to join a Ugandan diocese. I commented on this a few months ago. St. James might win this legal battle. Ahmanson has deep pockets.

    It is also worth noting Ahmanson's connection with the Institue on Religion and Democracy, which shares an office and mailing address with the American Anglican Council. The IRD is a well funded advocacy group which uses various tactics to push the agenda of the religious right within the mainline traditions. Their "Episcopal Action" segment recently played an important role in forming a witch hunt within the Episcopal Church. Roberta Ahmanson, Howard's wife, is a member of the IRD's board.

    Is there any reason for liberal and moderate Christians to be concerned about the religious right's attempts to manipulate American politics? This Episcopalian is concerned. I'll let you come to your own conclusions.