Monday, February 28, 2005

Feed My Sheep

From Anglicans Online;

...We worry that the survival of the Anglican Communion has become, for many, a pharisaical preoccupation, pulling us away from Gospel imperatives and the two great commandments of Our Lord. The Anglican Communion has always been more a web of love and history and not, till now, a juridical gleam in anyone's eye. Whether it will withstand the storm of Windsor and volleys of communiqués (for surely there will be more to come) is an important consideration, but one that ought never cause us to lose sight of What All This Is About: proclaiming the good news of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When 'vociferousness has exhausted itself', the homeless still need shelter. If the Episcopal Church in the USA becomes separated from the Church of Nigeria, if the Anglican Church of Canada finds itself no longer in the same room with the 'Southern Cone', our Lord still asks us 'Lovest thou me? Then feed my sheep.'

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Various Voices on the Primates' Meeting

Links to most of the press coverage can be found at Thinking Anglicans.

John offers some thoughtful suggestions to the Presiding Bishop regarding how to present our perspective to the Communion.

Mumcat points us to this interesting viewpoint from the Bishop of Cork;

Request from Primates' Meeting is not an enforceable decision

Susan Russell highlights a rather ironic news item;

Britain to Allow Legal Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples

This comment was made; "About two years ago I watched on C-SPAN as HRM Elizabeth II opened her Parliament. She rattled off a list of "to do" projects ... which included: "I ask my Parliament to extend to my gay subjects the right of civil union," or something like that." Does anyone else recall this? I'd love to have the direct quotation. Google couldn't find it.

Mark Harris reflects on the implications of the "victory celebration" following the Primates meeting, hosted by Akinola and paid for by the Americans;

Dinner at the Doomsday Cafe
Dinner at the Doomsday Cafe, Part 2

In the comments of Part 2, Christina Brennan offer this little ditty;

Ode to the Doomsday Cafe

The roast is cold
The bread is old
The Bishops seem a bit groggy
As they cheer with delight
At ECUSA's poor plight
Their grand Christian Witness seems foggy.

But let's not complain
Nor give back the same
Let's remember the other Great Table
Where the least were made best
And the best were the least
And know that with love we are able

To warm up the roast
And the bread we can toast
And invite whomever we please
To our banquet with friends
Where we gather to send
The hope of God's love and God's peace.
Moving on in that vein, The Topmost Apple offers some thoughts that I found extremely helpful in sorting out the complex emotions that are bombarding me at the moment;

...So all manner of thing shall be well - in Communion or out, ostracized or not. Today I am fasting till nighfall, as part of my observance of Lent. I said prayers this morning, and I will say them tonight; tomorrow I'll go to Lauds to sing Psalms, and then to Eucharist. And as I saw somebody do elsewhere today, even though it is Lent, I sing my song: Alleluia, alleluia.
Tomorrow, when I gather with the members of the parish, there is another perspective that needs to be honored; a perspective presented well at Shield the Joyous;

...While the discussion is going on, and the guys in purple try to decide what to do with the "problem children," the conflict and controversy isn't going to mean much for the lay-folks in the pews. Being "church" will go on as normal in worship, prayer, and service. However, once the discussions are over and the decision is finalized, whatever it is will sweep over the Communion like a sonic boom, knocking us off our feet...
What have you found in your wanderings?

Gracious God, we pray for your holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Primates' Communique on the Windsor Report

Thirty-five of the Primates of the Anglican Communion have been meeting since Monday to discuss the Windsor Report. This is the meeting in which the extremist conservatives had hoped that the Episcopal Church would be appropriately punished for the dastardly deed of confirming the election of a man in a committed, long term relationship with another man, and the Anglican Church of Canada would also be punished for the evil crime of providing pastoral care to gays and lesbians by offering them a rite of blessing. A statement was released this afternoon; a day earlier than anticipated. Here are the sections that refer specifically of the "sentence" handed down to ECUSA and the ACC and a couple of other "orders" that were previously "recommendations" included in the Windsor Report;

10. We also have further questions concerning the development of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and of a Council of Advice (x). While we welcome the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury as that of one who can speak to us as primus inter pares about the realities we face as a Communion, we are cautious of any development which would seem to imply the creation of an international jurisdiction which could override our proper provincial autonomy. We ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to explore ways of consulting further on these matters.
No Anglican pope. No magisterium...yet. Good news indeed.

11. We accept the principle articulated in Section D of the Windsor Report concerning the universal nature of the ministry of a bishop within Anglican polity (xi). Although formidable practical problems would attend any formal process of wider consultation in the election and confirmation of bishops, we request that Provinces should themselves find an appropriate place for the proper consideration of the principle of inter-dependence in any process of election or confirmation.
We don't have to get permission from the rest of the communion before consecrating our bishops. More good news.

12. We as a body continue to address the situations which have arisen in North America with the utmost seriousness. Whilst there remains a very real question about whether the North American churches are willing to accept the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion, the underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity is obscured, and the effectiveness of our common mission severely hindered.

13. We are persuaded however that in order for the recommendations of the Windsor Report to be properly addressed, time needs to be given to the Episcopal Church (USA) and to the Anglican Church of Canada for consideration of these recommendations according to their constitutional processes.
Essentially ECUSA and the ACC are being told, "You're wrong, but we'll give you a bit more time to realize it."

14. Within the ambit of the issues discussed in the Windsor Report and in order to recognise the integrity of all parties, we request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference. During that same period we request that both churches respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion.
This is going to get spun a lot of different ways. It is putting in place the recommendation in the Windsor Report that those bishops involved in the consecration of Bishop Robinson remove themselves from positions of authority in the Anglican Communion. The Primates went a step further. All members of ECUSA and the ACC are asked to "withdraw." Is this a suspension? Or just being sent to our room to think about it for awhile?

15. In order to protect the integrity and legitimate needs of groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their Provinces, we recommend that the Archbishop of Canterbury appoint, as a matter of urgency, a panel of reference to supervise the adequacy of pastoral provisions made by any churches for such members in line with the recommendation in the Primates’ Statement of October 2003 (xii). Equally, during this period we commit ourselves neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions.
Canterbury will take over Alternative Episcopal Oversight. No one is going to like this. I hope the extremist foreign bishops hear that last part loud and clear; STOP PILFERING PARISHES IN THE USA. We need an Episcopal equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine to keep these scoundrels out, I think. But, at least the Primates put a line in there addressing this most unscrupulous behavior.

16. Notwithstanding the request of paragraph 14 of this communiqué, we encourage the Anglican Consultative Council to organise a hearing at its meeting in Nottingham, England, in June 2005 at which representatives of the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, invited for that specific purpose, may have an opportunity to set out the thinking behind the recent actions of their Provinces, in accordance with paragraph 141 of the Windsor Report.
A hearing...sounds to me like a trial. Why don't we just skip all that foolishness and plead guilty? To show up, biretta in hand, for this hearing suggests that the extremists have a valid case. They don't. It's nothing but bigotry, plain and simple. There is nothing "Christian" about it. I pray we refuse to participate in such a mockery.

17. In reaffirming the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 as the present position of the Anglican Communion, we pledge ourselves afresh to that resolution in its entirety, and request the Anglican Consultative Council in June 2005 to take positive steps to initiate the listening and study process which has been the subject of resolutions not only at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, but in earlier Conferences as well.
Gentlemen, I'm sorry to inform you that you're a few decades late on this one. Peter Akinola has stated he can't even sit at the same table with a gay man, let alone TALK to one. There is no interest in dialogue among the extremists; never was. They have refused to abide by the Lambeth resolutions calling for this since the beginning, which has played a critical role in bringing us to the place we are today. This is nice trim for the statement, but will have little or no impact.

18. In the meantime, we ask our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on public Rites of Blessing for Same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage.
Will there be a moratorium on foreign bishops crossing diocesan boundaries? I doubt it. Will there be a moratorium on hate speech from the conservatives that directly contributes to hate crimes against gays and lesbians? Not likely.

There's more, but I'll let you read the rest without my commentary.

Bottom line? ECUSA and the ACC are being treated as criminals. From the perspective of one inside ECUSA, I cannot see any other path we could have taken, and feel this is an unjust and thoughtless judgment that is not worthy of any response. Whatever we do, we certainly cannot backpedal now. The world is watching. Now is the time to stand up for Christian principles, regardless of the cost.

The Primates will do what they have to do, I suppose. Most likely, in the end, there will be a new federation of North American Anglicans. We'll have to make room for the Europeans eventually, I'm sure, once the extremists have turned their testosterone-laden rage in their direction.

So, that is that. Now can we quit talking about all of this, and move on to some other things, like maybe proclaiming the Good News, feeding the poor, visiting those who are sick and in prison and setting the captives free?


The Journey Home

The following thoughts are a shortened and slightly revised version of a post from last year; Longing for Home. This week's quiet day gave me cause to revisit it.

In Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home, Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, offers us these thoughts about Holy Week;

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

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

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


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Seeking Your Heart's Desire

During my drive to the parish for an early morning Eucharist, I realized that I would be free later in the morning to attend the clergy day at the cathedral. I had previously planned on missing it due to things that needed attention at the parish, but the list of "must dos" had somehow evaporated during the previous 24 hours. So I made a pilgrimage to Trenton. I'm glad I did.

Our quiet day was led by Margaret Bullit-Jonas, a priest and writer from Amherst, Massachusetts who has taught courses on prayer at the Episcopal Divinity School since 1992 and has previously served as chaplain to the House of Bishops. The theme of her meditations was "Lent and the Longing for God." The easiest way to summarize the content of her meditations is to offer a quote from her book, Holy Hunger;

...I used to think that a saint was someone who had no desires. Now I know otherwise. A saint is someone who knows what he or she most deeply desires and, if need be, can let everything else go. By either definition, I'm no saint. Often I lose touch with what I really long for. I find myself kidnapped again by lesser desires, smaller wants. But at least I can trust now that listening to my deepest desires is a worthy enterprise, even a holy one...
I've explored this theme before here at Jake's place, but have been neglecting this perspective lately. Today I found looking within for my heart's desire to be a refreshing, as well as insightful, exercise.

Here are some of the questions we wrestled with during our last thirty minutes of quiet time. I hope you find them as helpful in sorting out your priorities as I did;

If today were the last day of your life, what would you want more than anything else to do?

If you were on your deathbed, looking back over your life, how would you want the world to have been blessed by your having been here?

Someone once said, "May you live until the word of your life has been expressed." What is the "word" you want your life to express?

If God were to whisper in your ear, This is why I sent you here. This is what I sent you to do," What would God say next? Find out.
Margaret also shared a well known saying that I had never heard before; "The two most important days of your life were the day you were born and the day you knew why."

The day was a blessing to me. Some of my answers to the above questions are still percolating to the surface. Right now my desire is to simply pass on a bit of the blessing.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

- Rainier Maria Rilke, Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, trans. Anita Burrows and Joanna Macy.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Stop Negroponte's Confirmation

W. has nominated John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence. He'll oversee fifteen different intelligence agencies. Unbelievable. Of course, his being nominated, and confirmed, as ambassador to Iraq, and to the UN before that, was equally as astounding, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

This is the guy who was the ambassador to Honduras in 1981. To refresh you memory, here's the way the Guardian summarizes his role in that particularly dark chapter of American history;

...To his detractors, he is tainted by his time between 1981 and 1985 in Honduras, a country that was being used as a launchpad for the illegal US-backed war waged by the contras against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The Honduran military was accused of taking part in torture and extra-judicial killings.

Had Mr. Negroponte reported this to the US Congress, military aid to the country could have been suspended and their cooperation in the war on the Sandinistas might thus have ended.

The Baltimore Sun re-investigated the US actions there in 1995. One former Honduran congressman, Efrain Diaz, told the paper that the attitude of Mr. Negroponte and other US officials at the time was "one of tolerance and silence".

"They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed."

For their cooperation with the US, the Honduran government had its military aid increased from $4m to $77m a year. Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch has accused Mr Negroponte of "looking the other way when serious atrocities were committed".
The Baltimore Sun series should be required reading for every member of the Senate before the confirmation hearings. It appears that Mr. Negroponte was not just "looking the other way";

...A dangerous truth confronted John Dimitri Negroponte as he prepared to take over as U.S. ambassador to Honduras late in 1981.

The military in Honduras -- the country from which the Reagan administration had decided to run the battle for democracy in Central America -- was kidnapping and murdering its own citizens.

"GOH [Government of Honduras] security forces have begun to resort to extralegal tactics -- disappearances and, apparently, physical eliminations ` to control a perceived subversive threat," Negroponte was told in a secret briefing book prepared by the embassy staff.

The assertion was true, and there was worse to come.

Time and again during his tour of duty in Honduras from 1981 to 1985, Negroponte was confronted with evidence that a Honduran army intelligence unit, trained by the CIA, was stalking, kidnapping, torturing and killing suspected subversives...

...The Honduran press was full of reports about military abuses, including hundreds of newspaper stories in 1982 alone. There were also direct pleas from Honduran officials to U.S. officials, including Negroponte.

A disgruntled former Honduran intelligence chief publicly denounced Battalion 316 (a Honduran death squad). Relatives of the battalion's victims demonstrated in the streets and appealed to U.S. officials for intervention, including once in an open letter to President Reagan's presidential envoy to Central America.

Rick Chidester, then a junior political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, told The Sun that he compiled substantial evidence of abuses by the Honduran military in 1982, but was ordered to delete most of it from the annual human rights report prepared for the State Department to deliver to Congress.

Those reports consistently misled Congress and the public.

"There are no political prisoners in Honduras," the State Department asserted falsely in its 1983 human rights report.
That's not "looking the other way." And it's not "misleading" the public. It is telling lies to keep both the money and the blood flowing.

Here's another curious point to ponder;

...According to the Los Angeles Times, shortly after Negroponte’s nomination (as ambassador to the UN) was decided, the U.S. government revoked the visa of General Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, who was Honduras’ deputy ambassador to the UN. General Discua was the commander of the Battalion during Negroponte’s tenure as ambassador. He has publicly claimed to have information linking Negroponte with the battalion’s activities. His testimony would be invaluable in illuminating Negroponte’s collusion with Honduran opponents on Capitol Hill. In 1994, the Honduran Human Rights Commission charged Negroponte personally with several human rights abuses...
Sounds like someone's got something to hide.

When he was confirmed as ambassador to Iraq, the vote was 95-3; only Democrats Tom Harkin of Iowa, Mark Dayton of Minnesota and Richard Durbin of Illinois voted against him. Unbelievable.

Here are a few quotes from Democrats on the Negroponte choice. When did they lose their spines?

Send the Baltimore Sun series to your Senator. Let's remind the Senate what kind of man W. has chosen to run the country's new secret police.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Raising the Minimum Wage

There's discussion in Pennsylvania among the Democrats of raising the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15. It doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon, but it's good to see Democrats continuing to champion this issue.

I was the evening supervisor for a homeless shelter a few years ago. I was the program director for another one before that. In both places, employment was one of the criteria for being allowed to stay for over 30 days. The majority of our residents were employed, yet few of them could afford to move out of the shelter because they held minimum wage jobs.

Consider some simple math. If a single parent with one child made $10 an hour and worked 40 hours a week, after taxes income would be roughly $1400 a month. How far would that go? Here's a bare minimum monthly budget;

700 rent
200 utilities
400 food and household items
150 transportation

Note that this does not include medical expenses, child care, insurance or savings, among a number of other items that many of us would include in our own bare bones budget. That's at $10 an hour; almost double the minimum wage in many places.

The "welfare to work" program makes no sense if you must continue to live in a homeless shelter and work 40 hours a week. It would seem to me that the wealthiest nation in the world can figure out a way to offer every worker a living wage.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Counting the Cost

I've come across a couple of news articles in the last week that initially had me rather confused. Both were supposedly on the same topic; the approval of a budget for 2005 by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. They offered quite contrary perspectives on what the budget tells us about the health of the Church.

The first article came out on February 11, which was rather surprising, since the Council didn't adjourn until February 14. The tale is told regarding the particular slant of this piece by the headline; "Episcopal Church funding down 12 percent". Gloom and doom. Here's the opening salvo;

A new report says giving by local dioceses to the national Episcopal Church dropped roughly $4 million last year - about a 12 percent decline in the first full year after the denomination confirmed its only openly gay bishop...
David Anderson, front man for the American Anglican Council, can't resist gloating just a little bit;

...Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, a conservative group of Episcopalians, said he expects donations to keep going down in protest of "the liberal revisionists' agenda, which includes a gay agenda."

"That big of a downturn, whatever the dollar amount is, hardly argues for a church where everything is fine and wonderful," Anderson said.
Anderson is the former rector of St. James, Newport Beach, which has recently attempted to leave the Episcopal Church and join a Ugandan diocese. You can read more about that, and his wealthy former parishioner Howard Ahmanson, here.

On Monday, after the conclusion of the Executive Council's four day session, the Episcopal News Service offers an alternative rendition of the budget; "Executive Council responds to Windsor Report, affirms budget increase in diocesan giving." Here is their take of the situation;

In other business, the Council affirmed a $49.6 million budget for 2005; this budget reflects diocesan giving that is expected to increase by 3.7 percent above 2004 levels.

Total fiscal commitments from among the church's 112 dioceses, which are mostly domestic, are budgeted at more than $28.5 million for 2005, according to Episcopal Church treasurer N. Kurt Barnes. This figure is up from some $27.4 million budgeted for 2004...
To be fair, the pessimistic first article did mention the 3.7% increase, but managed to bury it in the middle of the page. But what about the charge that giving is down by 12%?

Using some of the figures from the ENS article (which may be overly optimistic, imo), here's what actually happened;

In 2003, the budget asked for contributions of 29 million. They received 31 million. Where did the extra 2 million come from? Bishop Robinson was elected and consecrated in 2003. Some dioceses, anticipating a withholding of funds by conservative dioceses, voluntarily gave more than was asked of them. I know for a fact this was done by the diocese of El Camino Real.

In 2004, anticipating further withholding tactics by the conservatives, the budget was lowered to 27 million. The difference between 2004 and 2003 in anticipated income is 2 million, not the four million suggested by the first article. "Giving" was down by 4 million, yes, due to the voluntary "extra mile" giving during 2003. The budget anticipated, and appears to have realized, a 6% drop in giving, not the 12% insinuated in the first article.

Where is this drop coming from? Three of the dioceses who attach strings to their gifts to the national church are identified; Dallas, Springfield and Pittsburgh. Their giving, using the stats from 2001, represent a loss of 428,000, 114,000, and 119,000, respectively. These are old numbers, but they give us some ball park figures to play with.

Additional giving, beyond the regular asking by the national church, amounted to 60,000 from within the dioceses participating in the fiscal boycott, as well as an additional 180,000, effectively canceling out funds lost from Springfield and Pittsburgh. That means, out of 112 dioceses, we lost about half a million from one; Dallas.

I mentioned that I thought the news report from ENS is too optimistic. We still don't know what Fort Worth, San Joaquin, and portions of Florida are going to do. I anticipate others will join the boycott. There's at least eleven bishops in a huff over this.

As a rector and interim, I've always advised vestries to be careful about accepting funds with strings attached. These "special gifts" or "designated funds" can end up being a heavy yoke, and they are contrary to the teaching of good stewardship. Freely we have received; freely we give. When we give a gift, but insist it only be used for a designated project, or we'll only give it if the church does this or that, it's like we are still trying to keep a hold on it; we just can't let go of it. It also speaks loudly of a lack of trust in the Church.

I hope the Episcopal Church continues to ignore those who say to us, "Do it my way or I won't give you the gift." Who would want such a gift? Keep it. Your words and actions have already soiled it to the point that I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot crozier.

As with most budgets, the reality is that probably 80% of the national church's represents fixed costs. That means that the ministries that are the most vulnerable; outreach efforts, chaplaincies, prison ministries, support of small congregations, etc., are the most likely to get cut if there is a substantial loss in income. The ENS article states that this isn't going to happen. We'll see. It is unfortunate that the victims of this fiscal boycott will most likely be those in the greatest need. Do those who engage in "punishing" the Episcopal Church with such zealous tactics care that they are victimizing the victims? Apparently not.

Should these boycotters be allowed voice and vote at General Convention? After all, they have sent a clear message that they no longer consider themselves a part of the Episcopal Church. Personally, I hope we do grant them both. We should not engage in quid pro quo. That sends the message that the money matters. There are no membership "fees," for the same reason there are no "stole fees", in the Church. Grace is a free gift. We are bound to Christ and one another through baptism; not by paying dues.

I think we'd better tighten our belts. I suspect we'll see a continued loss of income during the next few years, regardless of the rosy report from the Executive Council. So be it. If we give in to the conservatives over money, then we will have shown the world that they were right; we have indeed ceased to be Christians.

What do we need to be the Church? Two or three gathered together, with Christ in our midst. We can do that in living rooms, in rented halls, and on street corners. Let the boycott begin. We will not serve mammon.


Monday, February 14, 2005

Raging Madman or Playful Jester?

Fifteen years ago, as I prepared for graduation from seminary, I ventured out into the world to seek a position within the Church. I'd decided I wanted to be an assistant (curate), which would give me a few years to complete my formation under the guidance of a mentor. One often begins such ventures full of hope and excitement about the future. For me, that hope was quickly dashed by a strong dose of reality served up during my very first interview.

It was a large parish outside Buffalo. The rector would only consider a graduate of Nashotah House as a curate candidate, which should have been my first clue that pursuing this position was not such a great idea. My family and I traveled by car from Wisconsin to New York by way of Canada. We arrived Saturday afternoon tired and cold. I met with the rector, who commented on my gray jacket. "We wear black here," he said. He then gave me a tour of the facility, describing various items in terms like "Jesus gave us this back in 1947." A bit odd, I thought, but hey, what did I know?

After describing the various duties of the curate, which involved a few things I thought were unusual, such as arriving each day at 6:00 (a.m., for heavens sake!) to make sure the heater was working, we parted for the evening, with his last comment being, "Mass is at 8:00. Wear black."

Since my family would be joining me for the late mass, he loaned me a small compact car for my journey to and from the hotel the next morning for the early mass, which I thought was quite considerate of him. The weather during the night, however, was not as considerate. When I approached the car early Sunday morning, I was amazed to find it entombed in at least two inches of ice.

Having lived in Wisconsin for some years, I was used to cold weather, including lots of snow and ice. But this was Buffalo ice; of a hardness and thickness I'd never encountered. After fifteen minutes of chipping and hacking, I'd managed to form a small porthole from which to peek out the front windshield. It was getting late. Good enough.

I made it to the church somehow, never getting out of second gear in my caution. I glimpsed the church sign, estimated that I was near the driveway, cranked the wheel, and promptly drove the rector's car into a snow drift six feet tall.

After another fifteen minutes of rocking and digging, I freed myself from the drift. While out of the car digging, I made a reconnaissance of the parking lot, noting the path to the garage in which I had been instructed to park the car. I carefully eased my way into the lot and lined up with the garage door, which obediently opened with the press of the button on the visor. I was slowly crawling forward, with less than thirty feet to go, when I heard an awful sound; the scream of metal scraping against metal. Not being able to see out the side windows, I ventured out once again, to discover that I had just sideswiped a brand new pickup parked in the church's lot.

I finished storing the rolling ice cube, and entered the church a good thirty minutes late. As I hung up my top coat, I realized that somehow I had failed to put on my suit coat before I left the hotel. At least the shirt was black.

I slinked into the back pew just as the rector finished proclaiming the Gospel and was stepping up into the pulpit. The interior of the nave was rather unusual; numerous colorful flags; not banners, flags, lined the front. The altar was set apart from the lectern and pulpit. There was separate lighting for each area. The pulpit was brightly lit; the altar was shrouded in shadows.

My assessment of the unusual interior design was interrupted by what I heard coming from the pulpit. It seems the rector was angry about something. How did he find out about the pickup already, I wondered? As I listened more carefully, it dawned on me his wrath was not directed towards me; he was angry with his flock. Why? Because they were not saying morning and evening prayer.

Near the end of the sermon, at which point he was literally screaming, he got down from the pulpit, strode to the door to the sacristy, and began to beat on the door with his prayer book, shouting something about "obedience" and "holiness." It was the most amazing sermon I'd ever seen. That's saying quite a bit. Keep in mind I was once a Pentecostal. I understand the tradition that expects a preacher to get red in the face and steadily increase the volume. But this was way beyond my frame of reference.

At announcement time, he introduced me. I stood up, in my shirtsleeves, and gave them a shy wave. After the Offertory, the lights shining on the pulpit were extinguished, and floods suddenly illuminated the altar. It reminded me of going to the circus as a child; the ring to watch is the one that's lit. Unusual to say the least, but after that display of homiletic skills, I was beyond being shocked by anything.

After the dismissal, the woman sitting next to me introduced herself, and said, "Isn't Father a wonderful preacher?" I muttered something about it being an "interesting" approach, and declined her kind offer to get me a copy of the text, which was available in the narthex. I excused myself to go out into the cold to await the owner of the new pickup. He turned out to be a gentle elderly man with an easy smile, who told me not to worry about it.

During the late mass, darn if he didn't beat on the door again, and the people loved it!

Needless to say, I didn't take the position. I spent much of the return drive composing my "thanks, but no thanks" letter.

It seems that, even with the careful screening process in the Episcopal Church, some rather strange birds manage to get through, and are put in charge of a cure of souls. I may very well be one of those strange birds. But one thing I would never do is scream at the people. That is just so contrary to everything I know about the art of homiletics.

What do I think is a good style for preaching? Let me refer you to an expert; the Rev. Dr. Linda Clader, Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Homiletics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, from her keynote lecture for Epiphany West 2004 entitled Dangerous Preaching;

...It's possible that I'm just a coward, but when I think about a prophetic voice that's appropriate to the communities I serve, I lean away from the image of John the Baptist, preaching out in the wilderness. I lean away from that caricature of a prophet standing on the street corner, shouting and carrying a sign. Both of those images are of people standing apart, outsiders challenging the insiders. But most of us preachers here are insiders. We're paid by the community among whom we preach. And our relationship with that community is multi-faceted and complicated by the fact that we are bound to one another by our care and our love. We can't preach at such a community. We have to preach with.

So the fuzzy-bearded prophet doesn't quite do it. I prefer the image of the fool, the jester who is granted the license to speak the truth to the king. In fact, I have a picture of a particular fool on the desktop of my computer, and I have a Hopi figurine of a sacred clown on the shelf in my office. But in my mind's eye there are also some Shakespearean fools, like the fool in As You Like It, with the provocative name of Touchstone. Touchstone: I like that name for what we do.

Some fools pretend they're mad in order to be able to speak the truth; some are simply playful. I'm not exactly advocating madness to my preaching students or to you, but I would like to encourage a playful spirit, the kind of playful spirit Masankho embodied for us yesterday. A person in power is more likely to lower his or her defenses to a non-threatening presentation than to a frontal attack. And for our part, when we use a lighter touch in our preaching, we're more likely to allow the Holy Spirit to shape our proclamation, and to enter our own hearts with surprises and with grace.

This is the key to my understanding of prophetic speech in the real world of liturgical preaching: it depends heavily on our faith in the action of the Holy Spirit. Good people resist change - even people who perceive that a change is in accord with God's will - because of a failure of imagination. We imagine that our options are limited to either-or choices. We keep on doing what we're doing, or we lose everything. There isn't a third way.

But if we preachers can find ways to loosen the hinges a bit, we can invite people to embrace the prayer and allow the Holy Spirit to enter and direct their hearts. When I talk about prophetic preaching, then, I'm talking about imagination, about finding ways to encourage our listeners to rattle around among ideas or images instead of hurrying to nail down simple solutions. More boldly, when I talk about prophetic preaching I'm talking about preaching faith - a faith that God really is in charge, that death really is nothing to fear, and so we human beings can back off on our urge to keep everything under control...
"Some fools pretend they're mad in order to be able to speak the truth; some are simply playful." There is a stark difference between a raging madman and a court jester, it seems to me. Both may be fools, but one uses force, the other prefers to play. Personally, I'd always rather play than rage. I think it is a safe assumption that most of those in the pews share the same preference. There appears to be exceptions however. Some folks seem to enjoy being beaten up from the pulpit, as witnessed by a naive seminarian in shirtsleeves in a frozen hell near Buffalo.


Sunday, February 13, 2005

Pointing to a Few Links

I've noticed a few new names around Jake's place lately, and also have found a few new blogs popping up here and there. Primarily for those folks, I thought I'd highlight some of the blogs I have linked at the right, since the list keeps getting longer every week, and may appear a bit overwhelming.

The list began, and still primarily is, for my use. It's the blogs I've found that I like to visit somewhat regularly. There's a lot of variety there, as I like to read different authors for different moods. There are some themes that kind of connect most of them however.

If I commented on the whole list, this post could become much too long, so I'm going to limit myself to an even dozen, broken up into four categories. Consequently, some folks won't be mentioned this time. Sorry about that. Let me just say that all of the list are blogs worth reading, and they all are updated somewhat regularly; I remove any that have been dormant for more than a month.

The first category I'll call Old Timers - those who have been on the list the longest. I started this blog as a refugee from the world of forums and listserves. I got tired of working on a post, only to have it removed or otherwise disappear. So, the first few bloggers I found were those I knew from other venues;

Pilgrim's Progress - this one is written by my wife Demi. She introduced me to the world of blogs. She writes sometimes funny, sometimes passionate entries, depending on her current interest (fixation?) at the time. She doesn't hesitate to speak her mind, which is not everyone's cuppa, but is also the first to recognize this is her current opinion, which may change over time. Demi is also a refugee from the world of forums and listserves.

Cat's Cradle - I first met Mumcat on Beliefnet, and her blog was one of the first that I discovered. Mum writes well, knows a lot about the Episcopal Church from the inside, and is someone who I almost always agree with! To me, her blog always feels like stopping to visit an old friend (does two years qualify us as old friends?).

Kinesis - Karen is also someone I first encountered on Beliefnet. She is a seminarian at CDSP, and often gives us a glimpse of the day to day life at that wonderful place. Karen varies her writing; one day quite theological, the next time reflective and contemplative, and another time humorous and chatty. You'll find a first class mind and a warm heart over there. It's been a privilege to walk with her as she explores the vocational call.

The next category is Artists - there's a few sites I link that are not blantantly "religious," although the quality of writing, and sometimes artwork, are certainly spiritual.

Word Shadows - Keith is probably my favorite blog writer. This guy should be published. Some might consider his style slightly eccentric; I think he has found a unique voice that works quite well. I don't know how to describe the style...Tom Robbins meets Jack Kerouac maybe? I'm not going to spoil it by planting any more preconceptions in your head. Go visit Keith.

This is My Body, This is My Blood - ellie is a published author, and at times her prose is like candy for the soul. I stumbled across her blog some time ago, when she had an entry up that I think was entitled "Tuesday's Child"...absolutely blew me away. She recently wrote one about her father that had me reaching for the phone to call my dad as soon as I finished reading it. From my perspective (English major as an undergrad), some of the best prose on the net is found on her site.

The Cassandra Pages - This is a fairly new blog for me, and I'm not sure I'm putting it in the right category. Beth writes beautifully, and offers some nice photography, so her site feels "artistic" to me, although she does explore specific spiritual and political issues from time to time.

The next category is Clergy. I count a dozen clergy blogs on my blogroll. I didn't realize that there were that many! Hard to choose only three.

Salt - John (The Salty Vicar...must we change that to Salty Rector now?) is a master at packing a lot into short posts. He covers a wide variety of topics, and regularly points to other things going on in cyber space. I often learn a thing or two when I visit. A good daily read.

Real Live Preacher - RLP is the most linked blog on the sites I visit because...well, because he's that darn good! If you've never visited him, this one is a must. He's a legend in the blogosphere already; he got a publishing deal from someone finding his blog. Yea, he really is that good. Go look.

maggi dawn - I've been reading maggi for awhile, and find her site a delightful place to visit. A diversity of topics are touched on, yet they are all approached with a hint of spirituality in the air. Maggi is an Anglican priest who is also quite conversant on all things "emerging," so her readers are a mixture of Christian traditions, which creates some lively discussions at times.

The next group I'll call Political, even though that does not really do the sites justice. During the election, I had a few political blogs linked, but one by one, for various reasons, I took them all off. There's only two left, but these two link to what others say that's worth reading.

Body and Soul - Jeanne offers excellent commentary on a number of current events. She is a finalist for the Koufax Award for this entry about Abu Ghraib.

Just a Bump in the Beltway - Melanie also offers a good review of the current news, with some keen insights as well.

Well, that's eleven. In order to make it an even dozen, let me add one more site that is news related; in this case news regarding the Anglican communion;

Thinking Anglicans - During the recent events going on in the Communion, this site was one of the best for following the latest news reports, press releases and statements. Not a lot of commentary, but it can save you time trying to sift through the mountain of words written on such topics as the Windsor Report.

Enough for now, I think. Happy reading!


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Not Ready for Prime Time, But...

...this guy sure seems to be having fun. Hit play, without subtitles, turn up the sound, and don't try drinking anything while you watch it.

Thanks to Waiting for Dorothy for the link.


Friday, February 11, 2005

The Abortion Debate

For those who regularly visit Jake's place, you may recall I tried to brush by this issue when commenting on John Kerry's book. There were a few reasons for doing that, beyond not really wanting to invite a flame war here. Primarily I avoid it because I don't feel qualified to say much about it for a few different reasons;

  • I'm a man. There appears to be a few aspects of this issue that I'll never fully grasp. Also, when men weigh in on this issue, you can sometimes smell the residual stench of a past patriarchal culture in the air; men trying to control the women, cattle and children.

  • I lived this decision. I was twenty when my first child was born. My wife was seventeen. I also had to face it with my youngest daughter, who decided her fiance was a jerk and called off the wedding after the deed was done. We made our choices, and I have no regrets. This causes me to have a biased view on the topic. Even though I know that I would have to live the life of another to fully comprehend why they make the decisions they make, I find myself rushing to a conclusion sometimes on this issue based on my life experience without fully considering the specifics of the situation.

  • I'm a priest. The spiritual considerations carry more weight for me than anything else.

  • I've never cared much for hard science, except for enough physics to understand a jet engine and how to rebuild a motor. I dropped out of school in the 10th grade, so I never got much biology. Consequently, I often make mistakes when discussing such topics (or applying first aid, for that matter).

    With those disclaimers, I want to try and see if it is possible to discuss abortion without all the usual emotion. If I make a mistake, point it out. You can point it out with a lot of heat if you want. It's a free world. This site is not free flame zone, however. Bring heat in here twice, and I'll show you to the door. The first flame is on me.

    As I understand it, the various positions on abortion can be broken down into three positions;

    1. Unborn babies are human beings.

    2. Fertilized eggs (or one celled zygots) are not human beings.

    3. We cannot draw a line defining when the fertilized egg becomes a human being.

    Considered separately, each of these statements appeals to common sense, to some degree. But #1 cannot contain #2, and #3 is really no position at all.

    Yet it is #3 that needs to be considered at the beginning, I think. As a Christian, one of the essential issues would be ensoulment, as that would be the moment the fetus would become a person. Does ensoulment happen at conception?

    Consider the situation of a fertilized egg dividing after conception, forming twins. If ensoulment happens at conception, do they each get half a soul, or is ensoulment delayed in this case? This might seem to be an absurd example to some folks. I don't think so, as what it reveals is that we have at least one specific situation in which we have to admit we don't know when the moment of ensoulment happens, which places doubt on the assumption that it happens at the moment of conception. Drawing the line at conception is making such a judgement based on assumption.

    Drawing the line at any time is problematic, as without good data, we find ourselves arbitrarily moving that line. Let's say we agree that three months is the line; a fertilized egg is not a human until that 91st day. I'm fairly sure that it would not be too difficult to convince you, in light of special circumstances, to allow a fetus that was 90 days, 23 hours and 50 minutes old to be considered a baby. Or, in other circumstances, to consider a baby that was 91 days and 10 minutes old to be a fetus. Drawing the line quickly becomes a slippery slope, with little or no consistency.

    One consistent position seems to be to draw the line all the way back to before the sexual act. That seems a bit extreme to me, and tends to mix some issues that I would think need to be addressed separately. Yet, possible solutions, from every side of the issue, do indeed include such line drawing to some degree.

    I think the lack of a line that everyone can agree on is at the root of why this issue is so divisive. So, problematic or not, I think we have to try and find such a line.

    How do we go about doing this? I'm going to refer to the two models of ethical decision making that I've mentioned a few other times here; deontology and consequentialism (a note, in case Radfem or Ms. Baber reads this; I'm conflating consequentialism and utilitarianism a bit here for the sake of simplicity). A deontologist would assert that some things are always right, and some things are always wrong, based on a moral code, often credited with divine inspiration. A consequentialist would claim that the greatest good for the greatest number is the right thing to do.

    The classic example of this is to imagine you are the captain of a sinking ship in the North Atlantic. You are in a life boat, which is sinking because it is overloaded. As captain it is your responsibility to make a decision; do you send some people over the side to freeze to death in order to save everyone else? Or do you refuse to do that, because killing another person is always wrong?

    The realities of life are not always black and white. In order to sort through some of the difficult ethical decisions we are sometimes called to make, most of us will end up a bit of both; a deontoligical consequentialist, if you will. Some things (rape, murder) are always wrong. Others are not so clear.

    I would think that most folks can agree on a few things being always wrong regarding this issue. I've yet to see a convincing argument that will sway me from believing that partial birth abortions are anything less than murder. If you disagree, I have to wonder if you are familiar with the details of the procedure.

    I've never met anyone who described themselves as "pro-abortion." I think we can agree that abortion is always a tragic event. Could we then say that using abortion as a form of birth control is wrong? There are better ways; such as improved health education, including teaching both contraception and abstinence, and better access to health services. A focus on preventing unwanted pregnancies would seem to be the way to eliminate abortions.

    But things happen. Let's consider some exceptions. What about rape victims? I'm not sure I can really talk about this, as I can't imagine living with that kind of trauma. The closest thing to it would be an attempted rape when I was in jail, which was not successful only because I resorted to physical violence. I was in the bull pen (all the prisoners sharing one common bunk area), which made the next few days after that attempt quite memorable; I moved my bunk to a safer area,and learned to sleep on my back, but the feeling of being hunted prey didn't leave me for a long time.

    But I digress...I've heard insisting that a rape victim give birth is "punishing" the woman for the rest of her life. I find that logic troubling. The potential child is innocent. Do we decide to terminate that life because of the possible trauma it may cause to the woman? Is that the greater good? I realize I'm going out on a limb here. The rape victims that I have known are sometimes quite traumatized for the rest of their lives. This may be one of those areas where I'm wrong, due to my lack of understanding of the specifics of the situation.

    Incest is another exception often noted. Once again, I don't know enough biology, or have much experience with this situation, and so probably should not even venture an opinion.

    Danger to the woman's health is another exceptional situation. I think this one calls for careful consideration. Ethically, one could make a case for self defense. The situation is not that clear, of course, as the infant/fertilized egg is innocent. Yet the woman's body is being threatened by another. The reality is, even if you're convinced that all abortions are acts of murder, in this case doing nothing could be considered intentionally harming the mother.

    I'm not going to go into some of the more extreme arguments, such as population control or eugenics, as I don't think they are worthy of consideration, and I haven't heard anyone advocating for either one for a long time. Those who still claim that pro-choice folks have such an agenda are stretching the truth a bit, it seems to me.

    Lots of words, that leads to what conclusion? Most likely a rather unsatisfactory one for some folks. Abortion is always tragic. As a form of birth control, it is abhorrent. At the same time, life experiences do not always fall into clean little categories. Any restrictions need to allow for consideration of the specifics of each situation. Blanket outlawing would be a step backwards, and would deny women the right to safe health care that met the needs of their particular situation.

    One last disclaimer. I don't agree with the right or the left on this issue, and am personally rather frustated by their inconsistencies regarding sanctity of life issues. The right wants to outlaw abortion to protect the unborn, while they cheer on those who murder innocent Iraqis and support a leader who as governor cracked jokes about the number of people he had put to death. The left protests the war and capital punishment yet gets in a lather if anyone suggests taking the life of an infant is an act of murder. We live in strange times.

    Life is a precious gift. I'm troubled by the Dr. Kervorkians, the Donald Rumsfelds, as well as some of the rhetoric I hear from the pro-choice folks. History shows that human beings can kill one another, and that over time we can become rather callous about it. It looks to me like we're rapidly growing some new callouses, in a number of different places.

    Personally, I think this inclination to be more accepting of taking life is wrapped up in our previous discussions about the individual. To a Western mind, the realization that God dwells in each of us often goes no further than an awareness that divinity dwells in the individual. The result is many little gods, who, unable to master the ultimate act of God, the act of creation, resort to a secondary power attributed to the divine by mythology; the power to destroy.

    To end on a more positive note, have you seen Senator Clinton's recent comments on this issue? It's worth a read. Here's an excerpt;

    ...There is no reason why government cannot do more to educate and inform and provide assistance so that the choice guaranteed under our constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances. But we cannot expect to have the kind of positive results that all of us are hoping for to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions if our government refuses to assist girls and women with their health care needs, a comprehensive education and accurate information.

    So my hope now, today, is that whatever our disagreements with those in this debate, that we join together to take real action to improve the quality of health care for women and families, to reduce the number of abortions and to build a healthier, brighter more hopeful future for women and girls in our country and around the world...
    Even though it's obvious that Hilary is positioning herself to run in 2008, and even though she made me shudder by using the "I" word (individual), she'll always get my vote. The Senator had me years ago, as soon as she went to work on a national health plan.

  • Tuesday, February 08, 2005

    The Observance of a Holy Lent

    I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
    With these words, the Church calls us to enter the forty days of Lent. I hope you will consider this season an opportunity for spiritual growth, as that is what it is intended to be. Consider it the “spring cleaning of the soul” if you will. We may not like to clean, but it sure feels good after it’s done.

    We may not like Lent, either, but if you follow a Lenten discipline, I assure you that it will transform your experience of Easter.

    The model for Lent is Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We are invited to make a similar journey, into the wilderness of our own soul. We are invited to look deep within ourselves, and confront those things hidden in the dark corners.

    To make this journey, we have to begin by recognizing that there are parts of ourselves that don’t want to go along. Our emotions, often the voice for the appetites and desires of our body, are going to protest. Our emotions, in league with our bodies, wants to be in charge of everything.

    The other part of ourselves that will most likely protest the journey inward will be our minds, which I often call “the committee that meets in my head.” Those folks never seem to shut up! Consequently, I can rarely reflect on much of anything. The internal dialogue goes on and on, often about pointless stuff, never giving me a moment’s rest. Beyond the incessant noise, I’ve also learned not to trust my head. I can justify almost anything, if I think about it long enough.

    The truth of the matter is that neither the body, the emotions nor the mind are really in charge. You are. They must submit to your will. Once they’ve submitted, the inward journey can begin.

    How do we get them to submit? This is where the Lenten disciplines come in. Let’s talk about some of them.

    Fasting - Traditionally the weekdays of Lent are considered fast days. We reduce our consumption of food. Maybe we serve smaller portions, or cut out desserts. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the only two complete fast days we have left on our calendar, which means that on these two days, if our health will allow it, we don’t eat anything until after the sun has set. Another common discipline for Lent is to abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. I guarantee you the body won’t like this, and will protest through your emotions. Don’t falter. With time, the body will stop rebelling, and the emotions will calm down.

    Self-Denial – But just in case the emotions are still acting up, we have this additional discipline to offer! We give up something we find pleasurable during Lent. Maybe it’s going out to dinner, to the movies, or having a beer, or a caramel machiato from Starbucks. Ideally, we would then offer the money we have saved to some worthy cause. Our emotions will not be pleased. They will call us to mope, and whine, and get grumpy. Too bad. Don’t give in. Eventually, when the emotions realize there’s a new boss in town, they’ll submit.

    Then it’s time to go to work on the mind. The committee up there has been holding a continuous meeting debating the various implications of what you are doing to it’s partners in crime, the body and emotions. Time to adjourn that meeting. How do we do that?

    Prayer – We commit ourselves to a regular cycle of daily prayer. Many Anglicans pray the Daily Office, especially Morning and Evening Prayer, every day. This is a good discipline, and one that I highly recommend to you. Contemplative prayer, which calls us to being still before God, is another form of prayer that many find helpful. If you’re interested in either of these forms of prayer, and are not familiar with them, let me know and I’ll see if I can help you get started.

    During our prayers, that committee upstairs might keep trying to interrupt us. Ignore them. Don’t be too forceful, though. That gives them the attention they want. Just let their jabberings float in one side of your head and out the other, while you continue your prayers.

    This may not be enough to quiet the mind, so we have another Lenten tool at our disposal;

    Spiritual Reading – Our tradition is that during Lent we commit ourselves to increased study of the scriptures, or some other spiritual text. We carefully monitor what kind of information we let into our minds, and give ourselves an extra helping of spiritual content.

    Once the body, emotions and the mind have submitted through using these disciplines, the real journey begins. Without the clamor of the emotions and the committee, we may be finally able to hear another voice; the voice of the Spirit of God that has dwelt in us since our baptism. This Spirit did not attempt to talk over the top of the mind or the emotions, instead she patiently waited until we quieted them down.

    As we listen, we might not like what we hear. The Spirit of God knows what is inside of us; she knows what is hidden in those corners that need to be cleaned out. This brings us to the next Lenten discipline;

    Self Examination and Confession – Now that we are quiet, we can honestly confront the sin in our lives; the destructive behaviors that have drawn us away from God, the harm we have done to others, the neglect of things we know are important. We admit these sins, confess them to God, make amends to others as we are able, and reorient our lives so that we are once again focused on God. Piece by piece, we haul out every dust-covered, cobweb encrusted fault the Spirit convicts us is an occasion of sin, and we get rid of it, forever. We also have the rite of Reconciliation in our prayer book, which I would recommend that everyone take a look at and consider using as another Lenten tool.

    We mark the beginning of this Lenten journey by placing ash on our foreheads as we hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This calls us to remember our mortal nature. In a sense, we are intentionally encouraging the demands of our body, our emotions and our mind to die just a little bit., so that we can be open to the whisperings of God’s spirit. There is no need to fear these little deaths. Easter, with the promise of the resurrection, is coming.

    I encourage you to observe a Holy Lent, resulting in abundant Easter joy.


    Monday, February 07, 2005

    Dialogue Difficulties; The Fowler Explanation

    John S. Morgan has written an interesting essay entitled Talking Past One Another in which he suggests that the difficulty we have in dialoguing with those with whom we disagree may be partially explained by considering James Fowler's premise from his book Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development. I haven't looked at Fowler's work since seminary, but, based on Morgan's summation, I think that he might be on to something.

    You might recall that Fowler based his "stages" on Piaget's earlier work on the stages of childhood development. Morgan suggests that our current difficulties in understanding one another is derived from the two positions being at different stages of faith; one group at stage three and the other at stage four. Here is his definition of stage three;

    Stage III - Synthetic-Conventional Faith
    As Fowler explains, "The Stage 3 individual's faith system is conventional, in that it is seen as being everybody's faith system or the faith system of the entire community. And it is synthetic in that it is nonanalytical; it comes as a sort of unified, global wholeness." Morality is simply a given of life. The individual can articulate and defend his positions and he likely feels deep emotional investments in them but has not made his value system the object of reflection as a system. He knows what he believes but as to why, he can only cite an authority. Authority defines morality.
    This stage reminds me of boot camp, at which we were taught that there were three ways to perform any task; the right way, the wrong way and the Navy way. It was an effective mindset, for that setting. It does not seem terribly valuable to me, however, when attempting to make moral and ethical decisions today.

    Morgan continues with a brief definition of stage four;

    Stage IV - Individuative-Reflective Faith
    The stage four faith system involves critical reflection on its systems of meanings; in stage four, meanings are separable from the symbolic media that express them.

    Some never proceed to a Stage 4 faith system. Fowler argues that individuals must "encounter and respond to situations or contexts that lead to critical reflection on their tacit value systems" to develop a Stage 4 orientation. If one is completely content with the conventional ethical and moral system in which he has grown up, if there is no conflict, there will be no development toward a Stage 4 faith system. One becomes locked into a Stage 3 faith when there is no impetus or urgency for change. Morality will be accepted rather than systematized.

    For "a genuine move to Stage 4 to occur there must be an interruption of reliance on external sources of authority." There must be a relocation of authority to an authority within the self.
    Some might see this stage as a vast improvement. I'm not so sure. What troubles me is the term "individuative." I'm not convinced there is such a thing as an individual. As a matter of fact, I suspect that some of our biggest problems in today's world are rooted in a belief of the individual being the most important consideration regarding ethical decisions. In the realm of belief systems, this focus results in the idea that each person can hold their own "personal" beliefs, without any need to reconcile those beliefs with tradition or reason, let alone the sacred texts or the culture that surrounds them. This seems to me to lead to spiritual anarchy, which instead of healing divisions will actually encourage them to increase. Can the individual be considered the final source of authority? I think not; especially since my "personal belief" is that the individual is a facade; no such entity exists (and yes, I realize the paradoxical nature of that statement; but no claim to have moved past stage four here).

    Morgan does go on to point out that stage four is not the ideal; nor is it the stage advocated by Jesus. The ideal is found in stage six;

    In the above discussion I am not trying to say that Jesus was at Fowler's Stage 4 level of moral development. In Fact, Fowler locates Jesus at his terminal Stage 6, the Universalizing Faith stage.

    I am primarily concerned with the transition to Stages beyond 3 because a transition out of 3 represents the line of demarcation in the culture wars. It is at stage 4 that the individual starts to make his value system the object of reflection as a system.

    Individuals in Stage 3 tend to look to an external authority formulated in creeds and dogmas for the answer to questions of morality - a readymade religion handed over on a silver platter. Hence there is a great temptation to believe in an inerrant scripture and the propensity to interpret it literally where possible as sort of a rulebook.

    A cursory reading of Fowler suggests that:
    Stage 4 - Individuative-Reflective Faith - is where individuals begin to understand the limitations of reliance on external sources of authority.
    Stage 5 - Conjunctive Faith - is where individuals make their own experience of truth the principle by which other claims to truth are tested.
    Stage 6 - Universalizing Faith - is where individuals have become incarnators and actualizers of the spirit of an inclusive and fulfilled human community.
    Note that stage five emphasizes "experience," which some have suggested (especially Methodists) is actually the fourth leg of the Anglican tripod of scripture, tradition and reason. I've always disagreed with that suggestion. I don't think "experience" by itself is much of an authority. It is the raw data, which must be filtered through the other three authorities. In my understanding, experience is a part of the reasoning process; not a separate category for consideration.

    Note that stage six includes what I consider the critical piece that was missing in the other stages; "An inclusive and fulfilled community." Without community, the rest is pointless, it seems to me. It is within the context of the household of God that we encounter the risen Christ. Only within a community that will uphold me, correct me and walk with me can I live out my vocation and hope to grow into the full stature of Christ.

    The thoughts regarding Dr.Ramachandran are interesting as well, although, in my estimation, not quite as pertinent to our current conversation.

    There's an opportunity for you to respond to the article at its conclusion. Rather than limit the discussion to Morgan's essay, I'll just toss out the question without any boundaries put on the responses;

    What seems to you to be the reason why religious liberals and conservatives seem to talk past one another?


    Saturday, February 05, 2005

    Legacy of Oppressed People

    I first saw this on Michael Moore's site; an essay by Mel Giles. This comes close to articulating that initial nagging feeling I had regarding Bob's response to the Dobson flap;

    Watch Dan Rather apologize for not getting his facts straight, humiliated before the eyes of America, voluntarily undermining his credibility and career of over thirty years. Observe Donna Brazille squirm as she is ridiculed by Bay Buchanan, and pronounced irrelevant and nearly non-existent. Listen as Donna and Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer take to the airwaves saying that they have to go back to the drawing board and learn form their mistakes and try to be better, more likable, more appealing, have a stronger message, speak to morality. Watch them awkwardly quote the bible, trying to speak the 'new' language of America. Surf the blogs, and read the comments of dismayed, discombobulated, confused individuals trying to figure out what they did wrong. Hear the cacophony of voices, crying out, "Why did they beat me?"

    And then ask anyone who has ever worked in a domestic violence shelter if they have heard this before.

    They will tell you: Every single day. The answer is quite simple. They beat us because they are abusers. We can call it hate. We can call it fear. We can say it is unfair. But we are looped into the cycle of violence, and we need to start calling the dominating side what they are: abusive. And we need to recognize that they will keep hitting us and beating us as long as we keep sticking around and asking ourselves what we are doing to deserve the beating...
    Some may suggest that we use the "vicitimization" explanation too often in today's society. That may be true. But that doesn't mean there are not instances when it is an apporpriate definition of the situation. This reminds me of the article by Giles Fraser from last June; Book Club Bullies. Bullies may be too light of a term, if you are the target of such behavior. I think "abusers" is more appropriate.

    If this premise is correct, it requires a slightly different response from the norm, it would seem to me. What is this difference? Here is Giles' description;

    ... How to break free? Again, the answer is quite simple: First, you must admit you are a victim. Then, you must declare the state of affairs unacceptable. Next, you must promise to protect yourself and everyone around you that is being victimized. You don't do this by responding to their demands, or becoming more like them, or engaging in logical conversation, or trying to persuade them that you are right. You also don't do this by going catatonic and resigned, by closing up your ears and eyes and covering your head and submitting to the blows, figuring that its over faster and hurts less if you don't resist and fight back.

    Instead, you walk away. You find other folks like yourself, 57 million of them, who are hurting, broken, and beating themselves up. You tell them what you've learned, and that you aren't going to take it anymore. You stand tall, with 57 million people at your side and behind you, and you look right into the eyes of the abuser and you tell him to go to hell. Then you walk out the door, taking the kids and the gays and minorities with you, and you start a new life. The new life is hard. But it's better than the abuse.
    Does this rule out some future reconciliation? No. But before any real reconciliation can happen, we have to stop the abusive behavior, which may require walking away. Otherwise, any future interaction will rise out of the past abuse, and we will continue to be victims; reacting to the violence instead of being proactive in seeking solutions.

    So, where is the path forward? Again from Giles;

    We have a mandate to be as radical and liberal and steadfast as we need to be. The progressive beliefs and social justice we stand for, our core, must not be altered. We are 57 million strong. We are building from the bottom up. We are meeting, on the net, in church basements, at work, in small groups, and right now, we are crying. Because we are trying to break free and we don't know how...
    I want to highlight one particular statement, which is quite different from the conventional wisdom that is offered regarding confrontation; " must promise to protect yourself and everyone around you that is being victimized. You don't do this by responding to their demands, or becoming more like them, or engaging in logical conversation, or trying to persuade them that you are right..." This is the critical difference when dealing with an abuser.

    If you think this is extreme, try for a moment to imagine yourself as an Iraqi civilian, a prisoner at Gitmo, a gay or lesbian Christian, or a person living in poverty. If you can't imagine that, I suggest you go out and listen to some of their stories. I think Mel Giles has come very close to hitting the mark.


    Thursday, February 03, 2005

    Some Strong Words from Jesus

    In my last post, I suggested that it is no longer effective to attempt to engage in gentle conversations with the bigots who have become a prominent voice within Christendom (I use the term bigots intentionally, as I think the common definition is fitting; bigot: one who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ).

    A few well intended folks attempted to correct me, suggesting that dialogue and understanding is what Jesus would have us use to turn their hearts.

    Maybe those folks are right. I'm not yet convinced, however. As one commenter pointed out, Jesus used different approaches for different situations. Here is one approach to ponder; Jesus' words from the 23rd chapter of Matthew;

    But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.

    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

    Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.”

    You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred...

    ... Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.

    You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

    You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness...

    ...You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?
    Sometimes, strong words and strong actions are called for. I believe this is one of those times.


    Wednesday, February 02, 2005

    Seek Toleration or Pick Up a 2 x 4?

    The Revealer offers some thoughts by Bob Smietana of god-of-small-things. The piece is entitled "Tolerating James Dobson." It concerns the current flap over the accusation that Dobson suggested watching SpongeBob will make you gay. Here's a brief excerpt;

    ...It's easy to dismiss James Dobson as a crackpot. It's a little harder, as Barbara McGraw, an associate professor at Saint Mary's College of California told Eric Deggans of The St. Petersburg Times, to dismiss all of his listeners in the same way. "You're not going to have millions of people following something that is completely stupid," she said.

    Barbara McGraw hit the nail on the head. Millions of people believe James Dobson is right. And millions of people believe he's wrong. Exploring why they think this way and explaining that in clear and compelling ways may help people on both sides understand each other a little more. Leading to a little more tolerance, and less name calling, something I think, that they -- and SpongeBob -- would appreciate...
    I agree with Bob, to a point. More tolerance and less name calling would be the ideal. The only problem with this approach is that it requires both sides of an issue to be willing to listen to one another. In the last twenty years, I've seen little, if any, evidence that Dobson and his crowd have any intention of ever listening to anyone other than those who agree with their perspective, which is that gays and lesbians are sinners, and allowing such perversions to become accepted as "normal" is a threat to the sanctity of marriage. How long do we wait for the dialogue to begin?

    There's a story about a man named Joe who bought a mule from his neighbor Charlie. After a few days, Joe brought the mule back to Charlie and demanded his money back. The mule was worthless. He refused to move. Charley picked up a two by four and whacked the mule alongside the head.

    "Why in the world did you do that?" cried Joe.

    "With this mule," Charlie said, "the first thing you have to do is get his attention!"

    When Jesus took up a whip and cleared the temple floor of the moneychangers, I don't think he was engaged in constructive dialogue. I think he was getting the religious authorities' attention. His act of civil disobedience was effective. He not only got their attention; he also signed his own death warrant. What the religious authorities didn't anticipate was that Jesus' execution would draw even more attention to this wandering rabbi from Nazareth.

    Millions of people believed at one time that civil rights for people of color was wrong. Millions of people at one time believed that it was acceptable Christian behavior to own slaves. Millions of people once believed that women did not have the intelligence or the emotional stability necessary to vote. Those millions were wrong. Dialogue did not convince them of this. Strong words and strong actions, including a civil war, were required. Sometimes we need to get hit with a two by four alongside the head just to get our attention.

    We are confronted with a segment of Christianity that use seven verses from the bible to deny the right for some people to enter a committed relationship with the person of their choice. They don't want to talk about it. The bible said it, they believe it, that ends it. Never mind that the bible also says that we cannot charge interest, we can execute disobedient children, and we must never eat shrimp. For some reason, the exclusion or inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians has become the line in the sand. "Real" Christians would never tolerate committed relationships between same sex couples.

    As a straight, middle aged priest, why do I even care about this debate? First of all, because I am a Christian who is sometimes placed in a leadership role within the household of God. As I understand the message of Jesus Christ, the Church is called to reveal God's grace to the poor in spirit and those who hunger for righteousness. We are to heal the sick and set the captives free. This has become a major justice issue. If I am silent, I would be rejecting the vocation to which I believe God has called me.

    There is another reason. I know rejection quite well. I know what it is like to be excluded, to be told I'm damaged goods. I simply cannot ignore those who, from a position of power, attempt to exclude members of the household of God because they don't easily fit into their image of who can belong to that household. Most especially, I cannot ignore such hurtful exclusionary tactics when they are done in the name of Jesus Christ!

    James Dobson is wrong. Call me intolerant for saying that if you will. We offered opportunities for dialogue for decades within the Episcopal Church and elsewhere. Those dialogues strived to teach toleration. Obviously, they were not very effective. Sorry Bob, although I agree with your ideal, from my perspective, I think it is time to pick up a two by four.