Tuesday, March 29, 2005

On Euthanasia

From the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, Section I, Resolution 1.14;


In the light of current debate and proposals for the legalisation of euthanasia in several countries, this Conference:
(a) affirms that life is God-given and has intrinsic sanctity, significance and worth;
(b) defines euthanasia as the act by which one person intentionally causes or assists in causing the death of another who is terminally or seriously ill in order to end the other's pain and suffering;
(c) resolves that euthanasia, as precisely defined, is neither compatible with the Christian faith nor should be permitted in civil legislation;
(d) distinguishes between euthanasia and withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating excessive medical treatment and intervention, all of which may be consonant with Christian faith in enabling a person to die with dignity. When a person is in a permanent vegetative state, to sustain him or her with artificial nutrition and hydration may be seen as constituting medical intervention; and
(e) commends the Section Report on euthanasia as a suitable introduction for study of such matters in all Provinces of the Communion.
In true Anglican fashion, this resolution could be seen to support your understanding of what "the right thing" to do would be in regards to the tragic situation of Terri Schiavo, regardless of what that understanding might be.

I've hesitated to comment on this, as until today, I've been somewhat conflicted. At a couple of hospitals where I served as a voluntary chaplain, one of my roles was to discuss with terminally ill patients the hospital's recommendation that they be placed on a "no code" status; no excessive medical treatment or intervention to prolong their life.

One particular situation involved the husband on the fourth floor of the hospital who was dying, and the wife on the third floor with a different medical condition. I was asked to request the wife to sign a paper allowing her husband to be placed on "no code" status. She signed the paper. I officiated at her husband's burial the following week. Even though this happened over a dozen years ago, it still comes back to haunt me once in awhile. She trusted me, and I may have encouraged her to make the wrong decision. I'll never know in this life if I was wrong or not. All I know is that today it still feels like a heavy weight, and probably always will.

Regarding Terri Schiavo, let me first mention the factors that I consider irrelevant;

I don't give weight to anything being said about either side of the family. It sounds like both the husband and the father have said and done some awful things, and some compassionate things as well. Until I've walked in their shoes, I cannot judge their motivations. Involving ourselves in character assasination tells more about us than it does about this family who has lived with this sad scenario for 15 years.

I don't think the possibility of a miraculous recovery is realistic. From what I understand, the brain is full of fluid. The supposed videos are the result of the hours of filming, with the clips of what is claimed to be voluntary movement being saved. I find that to be quite questionable as "evidence."

I think the professional politicians who decided to stick their noses in this whole affair should be ashamed of themselves. Using this tragic event as a political football is beneath contempt. More evidence why it is never wise to trust professional politicians to make ethical decisions.

If I hear W. use that phrase "culture of life," one more time, I'm going to throw something heavy right through the TV screen. The man responsible for the invasion of Iraq, in which thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed, has no right to utter those words. Along the same line, I cannot hear the evangelical voices that supported this war criminal. They reveal a lack of any consistent sanctity of life ethical stance.

A "culture of life" would involve more than a debate on abortion and euthanasia. It would also include pre-emptive war, capital punishment, access to medical care, as well as other social justice issues. Lack of food and shelter because of poverty seems to me to be an obvious "culture of life" issue. With the exception of Jim Wallis, and a few others, I don't see these issues being discussed among the evangelicals. If I am mistaken on this, please point out examples, and I'll gladly retract the statement.

There is a body which has been consistent on all these "sanctity of life" issues; the Roman Catholic Church. I disagree with Rome on a number of topics, but from what I can see, their consistency gives their voice more validity than any other one I've heard.

So where does that put me? As I was leaving a nursing home today after bringing an elderly member communion, I wondered if some of the folks I was seeing, some clearly in a vegetative state, would be allowed to continue to live twenty years from now if we head down this slippery slope. In the end, the question for me is, "Why must she die?" She has people willing to care for her. She appears to be in no pain. It would comfort her parents. Why? It would seem to me that there would need to be a clear answer to that question before taking such drastic measures as refusing food and water. I've yet to find a clear answer to that question anywhere. If you have one, I'd like to hear it.

When I look towards Iraq, or consider the executions in Texas, or the high rate of abortions, or those coming to the Church pleading for food for the kids, a cold chill runs through me. I'm concerned about the rather cavalier attitude I see emerging regarding death. When we are not sure what is ethically right, wouldn't it seem to be obvious that it is better to err on the side of life?


A Living Community Differs From a Museum

From the Easter sermon offered by the Right Reverend Michael Ingham, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster;

...And yet for resurrection to come some things must die. This church of ours, for example, is moving through a great time of change. And the paradox is that in order for the Gospel to live, some aspects of the church may have to die. Anglicanism has survived centuries of turmoil - world wars, religious wars, the end of slavery, the emancipation of women - but Anglicanism as we have known it for four hundred years may not survive the movement for dignity and respect that is now being sought for gay and lesbian people today.

There is a great struggle going on in our church between those who see God in the traditions of the past, and those who see God in the new wind of the Spirit challenging our old assumptions about human nature. It is the same struggle Jesus faced when he chose the way of compassion over the way of conformity. And it leads to a kind of death for those of us who have cherished and loved the old church we know and which we have served most of our lives.

But something wonderful is coming out of this turmoil. A new life is emerging from the pain of it, and it shows again the power of God to raise up and renew people who remain faithful and obedient in their decisions and actions. We are finding that unity cannot be built on injustice. Unity must be built on love and kindness even where this is resisted by the religiously orthodox.

We are finding that the identity of the church cannot be maintained by judgmentalism and condemnation, but by walking the way of Jesus even in the face of hostility. The struggle in our church today is not really about sex, it's about the courage to face new knowledge and new understandings when they challenge what we have long believed. It's about being open to the power of God to transform us from a people simply of tradition to a people of compassion.

Let me offer a word of encouragement to those of who are still seekers of the path, perhaps still wondering about Christianity. To you who may still be looking for your spiritual home, remember this: there is no spiritual growth without spiritual turmoil. There is no breakthrough without effort, there is no Easter without Good Friday. Do not look for a church that is free of conflict, where everything is settled, where no new questions ever arise. Never join a community that clings to certainties and resists new ideas.

A living community is a place of debate and dispute. It's different from a museum. In living spiritual communities people struggle to find truth. They never rest content with ancient dogmas or doctrines, even though they respect and cherish them. God disturbs and transforms every individual and every spiritual community through the power of the Resurrection. That is God's way. Images of spiritual tranquillity are a myth, a seduction, and a falsehood.

If we look for justice without suffering we are romantics. If we look for renewal without struggle we have missed the sequence of events. God is behind Easter, and its countless examples throughout history, but we have to make some important decisions before we can experience it for ourselves. If you have to make a choice, and you do, choose the path Jesus took. And join us, if you will, on this journey towards the miraculous and the new.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

He is Risen, But Where is He?

I don't usually post my sermons, as they are written for a particular group of people, and simply don't translate well into this medium. I'm making an exception tonight, as I think part of this one, offered within tonight's Easter Vigil, might be relevant to some of the conversations going on here at Jake's place. Do keep in mind that this is my last Easter message to these folks; I'm not preaching in the morning, and I'll be moving on in June. There's a bit of seed planting mixed in here:

On this night, around 2000 years ago, something happened. We don’t know exactly what happened. All we have is the testimony of those who saw evidence of this “something” the next morning. A wandering rabbi by the name of Jesus had been executed by the Romans for the crime of treason. They said he claimed to be king of the Jews.

Three days later, his tomb was found to be empty. Some of his followers told stories of seeing him alive. Throughout his small band of followers spread the message; “He is Risen!” At first, these followers weren’t sure what that meant exactly, except that one they loved, whose loss they had mourned, had somehow appeared once again in their midst.

Over time, this “something” that happened, this event, became the definitive moment in the faith tradition known as Christianity. Eventually it came to be understood to mean something like this; “through Jesus Christ, death, our ancient enemy, has been cast down and trampled underfoot.”

We are no longer held captive by our fear of death. That is a wonderful thing in and of itself, but is that it? Is that what Easter is all about? Not being afraid to die?

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem to cover the myriad of emotions I feel when confronted with the story of the resurrection. I think overcoming fear is a big part of it, but I’m not sure it is simply overcoming the fear of dying.

In the Gospel account, the risen Christ tells the women, “Do not be afraid.” That’s all well and good for them. If I was able to walk with Jesus Christ, the son of the living God risen from the grave at my side, I wouldn’t be afraid either!

With those in the Gospel story, we proclaim, “He is risen!” What do we mean by that? If he is risen, then where is he?

It’s time for my thunderstorm story again. A little boy was scared during a thunderstorm. His Mom tried to comfort. “Don’t be scared,” she said. “God will keep you safe.”

“But Mom!” the little boy cried. “Right now, I need a God with skin on!”

Sometimes we all need a God with skin on. In order for this idea, this concept of resurrection and immortality to not just float away, it needs to be concrete; it needs to put on some flesh.

One way of understanding a sacrament, an outward sign of an inward grace, is that these things, wine, bread, water, oil, words, people, in a sense become for us concrete ways that we can hold on to the lofty concepts that they represent. We understand Jesus to be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of God. We understand the Church to be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of Jesus Christ. We, those who are baptized and filled with the spirit of the living God, are the Church. Each one of us is a living sacrament. Each one of us can be God, with skin on, for each other. We can represent the risen Christ to one another.

It isn’t always easy to see Christ in your neighbor. Sometimes it’s because your neighbor is a jerk. But most times, I think we cannot see Christ clearly in others because our own vision has become cloudy. How do we clear our vision?

Last night I spoke to you about suffering and death, and suggested that sometimes we have to let something die in order to make room for the new thing God might be doing.
Sometimes we have to let go of something that we have been clinging to desperately in order to see the risen Christ in our midst.

Last night I spoke of the little pit bull that lives within me, and the need for me to let my old friend die. I mentioned that the reason that now is the time to finally let go of the attack dog inside of me that has kept me safe for so long was because I felt God doing something new within me, and this pit bull, with his growls and long teeth, was barring the way for this new thing.

What is this new thing? I promised you if you came back tonight I’d tell you about it. Now I’m not sure just how to describe it. It’s a particular way to view our relationship with God, and our relationship with each other. It’s not really that new, I suppose. It’s Christianity in its most basic form, actually. It seems that somewhere along the way, most likely while paying too much attention to the barking of my pit bull, I seem to have forgotten some of these basic themes.

I’m relearning this relational approach to God through the writings of one author. I’ve got four of his books, which I’m dipping into simultaneously. Right now, I’m allowing this writer to be God, with skin on, for me.

That may sound a bit strange to some of you. Keep in mind that I’ve been an avid reader since childhood. All of my life, it has been various authors who have been my spiritual guides. When I read the bible during the office, the conversation I have with those writers makes God more real, more concrete, for me. Many years ago, C.S. Lewis was the lens through which Jesus came alive. Later, it was through the writings of Alan Jones, then even later I stumbled across Walter Wink. And then there are the story tellers; Walker Percy, Iris Murdoch and Robertson Davies; and the poets, Wordsworth, Donne and Herbert. Each one of these wordsmiths invited me into a conversation that was exactly what I needed at that moment in my spiritual journey. They were, for this incurable bookworm, “God, with skin on.”

I’m not going to mention the name of the author who seems to be ushering in a new chapter in my own spiritual life, as some folks might be inclined to run out and buy his books. That would be a mistake. Most likely you would be disappointed. He’s not a great writer, and his ideas are not that novel. He speaks to me right now. I’m not sure he would speak to you.

This guy describes himself as an evangelic, catholic, poetic, biblical, charismatic, contemplative, anabaptist, clavinist, anglican, green, incarnational, depressed, unfinished Christian. I love it! He refuses to be put in a box. I’ve worn most of those labels at one time or another in my life, but the idea that I don’t have to take one off to put another one on is refreshing to me. It eliminates a lot of the internal arguments I have with my little pit bull.

He speaks of evangelism; proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ, as a dance! A dance…how wonderful. He talks about nature as God's artwork, God's text, showing us so much about the Creator.

He describes the tension between science and faith this way; “Science sought to explain the world without God, it produced a story without meaning. And Christians, trying to recast the gospel in the language of science and reason, produced a propositional belief system that lost touch with the story that gave it power. I am interested in seeing science and faith as collaborators.”

He reminds me that diversity is a good thing. “Life evolves to thrive in many different niches. The same should be true among Christians,” he says. "We need incredible diversity to fill many, many niches."

And most importantly, he speaks of Christianity as a relationship, not a set of beliefs. He calls for more conversations, and fewer debates.

The pit bull in me doesn’t like this guy. But right, now, he represents, for me, the whisperings of God.

How do I know that this author is right? I don’t. But when I close the book, and look around, I see evidence surrounding me of the truth of his words. And I see even more evidence for why the pit bull must be allowed to die. I want more conversations, more relationships, and this snarling attack dog is in the way.

If I am honest, the main reason I kept the pit bull around was because of my fears; fear of being rejected, fear of being wrong, fear of losing the debate, fear that God could not keep me safe. It’s time for me to hear my Risen Lord saying, “Do not be afraid!” It is time to place my faith in God, instead of an internal pit bull.

Christ is risen, and in our midst this night. How do I know? Because I feel a new life emerging within me. Because I’ve encounter the risen Christ in the writings of a wonderful man. Because I see Christ being made manifest in the love Demi offers me each day.

And, I know that my Redeemer lives, because I see him in each one of you gathered here tonight.

Do not be afraid. He is risen. Alleluia!


Easter Victory Denied

From Colbert I. King of the Washington Post; A Tainted Easter Message. The whole thing is a must read. Here's just a couple of excerpts;

...The Pennsylvanians pulled together more than $350,000 for Kasese to support HIV-AIDS patients as well as a little extra money for the Bishop Masereka Christian Foundation to help pay for the education of Kasese's orphans. The Pennsylvania Episcopalians also arranged to send a group of physicians and other medical personnel to the South Rwenzori Diocese this summer...

...Asserting that the South Rwenzori Diocese "upholds the Holy Scriptures as the true word of God," and implying that the Pennsylvanian diocese -- by supporting a gay bishop -- does not, Bishop Tembo proclaimed the two dioceses to be in "theological conflict," thus leading him to reject all ties to his brothers and sisters in Christ living in and around Harrisburg.

Apparently it matters less to the good Bishop Tembo -- who does not have AIDS -- that it is the suffering men, women and children in his diocese who may pay with their lives for his action, not the Central Pennsylvania Diocese. What's more, Bishop Tembo and his wife, Dorothy Nzerebende, are the proud parents of five children who don't have to fend for themselves. So when he turns down money for the education of orphans, it's no skin off the teeth of his kids.

Yes, Kasese has only 15 trained physicians to treat more than 500,000 residents. Which, however, is better? Thumbing one's nose at Episcopalians in the United States or bringing more doctors into the midst of Kasese's human suffering? Bishop Tembo made it known where he stands.

All this he did in the name of God.

Sadly, Bishop Tembo is being cheered by conservative Episcopalians in this country. Some of them believe that the Episcopal Church of the United States, by consecrating a gay bishop, is, as one of them put it on a conservative Web site, "sending people to hell by the boatload, by presenting a false gospel." Thus, the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania's money is tainted.

So here we are this Easter, the day that Bishop Michael Creighton of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania described in this month's message as representing "the victory of God's love and life." What a victory. What an Easter moment.
This is just too sad for words. What in the name of God are we doing to each other?

There's got to be another way to get funds and medical help to these people. Who has connections with another nonprofit? Doctors Without Borders? The Red Cross? The RCC?


Friday, March 25, 2005

The Way of the Cross

From Anglican and Global Relations;

Every year on Good Friday, pilgrims from all over the world gather to walk along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. Some carry a cross, to understand better the nature of the burden that Jesus bore. Others accompany them, as witnesses, as penitents, as believers. By dying on the cross at Calvary, Jesus delivered us from sin and despair.

For 150 years the Anglican Church in Jerusalem has borne the responsibility of sharing the cross of Jesus in a special way. By helping to maintain the Christian witness in the Holy Land, by serving all of God's people there in a variety of ministries, by proclaiming the gospel and promoting justice, peace and love throughout the four dioceses in that region, the church serves us all.

Since 1922, Episcopalians here have supported the ministries of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East through the Good Friday Offering. It is vital that we continue to share in this burden, and not let our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem carry the cross alone.

Walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Who Should Resign?

Diane Knippers, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy recently called for the resignation of Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. You may recall that last December, while leading a "witch hunt," she also called for the resignation of a staff member of the Episcopal Church Center. You may also recall that Mrs. Knippers often functions as a spokesperson for the American Anglican Council, a conservative group of Episcopalians with whom the IRD shared office space, board members and wealthy right-wing contributors for many years.

I find Mrs. Knipper's penchant for demanding resignations rather curious for a couple of reasons. First of all, why does she think she has any right to have a voice in the affairs of the Episcopal Church? In a previous entry, I quoted her as stating in a message; "I'm still on the SCER (Standing Committee on Ecumenical Relations) - but not because I could honestly represent the Episcopal Church in ecumenical dialogue...I'll resign when I need to, but I would like to hang in there as an obstinate and contrary voice a bit longer." One would assume that an inability to represent the Episcopal Church means that she no longer considers herself a member of that body. To continue to remain in a leadership position within a community that she obviously despises suggests her intent is to be a subversive element. Mrs. Knippers, I think the time for you to resign from all leadership roles in the Episcopal Church has arrived.

The other reason I find these calls for others to resign curious is because I assumed that one willing to make such bold calls would have no skeletons in their own closet to worry about. It turns out that the IRD, and Knippers specifically, are not exactly squeaky clean;

...During the 1980s, you'll recall, the United States did not regard all terrorists as "evil-doers." Some, like the contras of Nicaragua, we regarded as "freedom fighters." In support of such freedom fighters, IRD staffer Diane Knippers set her sights on CEPAD (an English-language site here), a relief and development agency coordinated by the evangelical churches of Nicaragua.

CEPAD originated in response to the earthquake that devastated much of Nicaragua in 1982. The driving force behind CEPAD was a medical doctor and Baptist minister named Gustavo Parajon. He and his American-born wife, Joan, were also commissioned as missionaries by the American Baptist Churches.

CEPAD ran a network of medical clinics for the poor, as well as a successful literacy campaign. That literacy work had won the admiration and support of Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, and his Sandinista regime.

Ortega's praise of CEPAD gave Knippers what she saw as an opening. The evangelical churches were not supporters of the Sandinistas, but Knippers portrayed CEPAD -- and therefore the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society -- as "guilty" by association. She wrote of CEPAD as a communist front, part of a supposed Soviet beachhead in Nicaragua.

No one in this country paid much attention, but the contras did. CEPAD's clinics became targets for their paramilitary terrorists. Knippers had placed evangelical missionaries -- doctors and nurses -- and the poor people they served in the crosshairs of terrorists.

Ron Sider, a Mennonite professor at an American Baptist Seminary and head of Evangelicals for Social Action, pleaded with IRD to correct its reporting on CEPAD. Sider invited IRD staff to travel with him and a delegation of prominent conservative evangelicals to Nicaragua where they could meet with the Parajons and other leaders of CEPAD. There, Sider insisted, they would see for themselves that these were not "communists," but medical missionaries, preaching and demonstrating the Christian gospel.

With several evangelical gatekeepers involved in the delegation, and with mainstream evangelical publications like Christianity Today closely following the dispute, IRD had no choice but to agree to the trip. Then, at the last minute, they backed out and refused to go.

CEPAD was vindicated and IRD suffered a devastating embarrassment. They were, rightly, perceived as an unreliable source of information -- closed-minded ideologues who were willing to attack others on the basis of irresponsibly flimsy evidence.

It took IRD years to recover from the CEPAD Affair. And just when they were getting back on their feet, along came the revolutions of 1989 and the end of the Cold War --which took the wind out of their favorite tactic...
People died because of the IRD's irresponsible behavior.

Other questions rise to the surface regarding this episode;

...At the National Religious Broadcasters 1986 convention, the IRD cosponsored a press conference with the National Association of Evangelicals. The star of the conference was Jimmy Hassan, former director of the Campus Crusade for Christ in Nicaragua, who was presented to the press as the archetype of the "persecuted Christian." Hassan, long-suspected of working with the CIA, has been accused by the Nicaraguan government of disrupting the draft, operating an illegal printing press, and entering the country numerous times with large, undeclared sums of cash from the U.S...

...Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto accused IRD of being "a CIA front organization... created by President Reagan's administration." The congressional chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence made an inquiry into these allegations and found no evidence to support them...

...A House of Representatives investigation of Penn Kemble's activities during the Iran-Contra Affair revealed that IRD worked with the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (S/LPD). S/LPD was a special office supervised by the National Security Council, which produced propaganda supporting Reagan's Central America policies...
Who is Jimmy Hassan?

...CAM (Central American Mission) has 85 churches in Nicaragua where it is connected to CNPEN (Evangelical Pastors of Nicaragua), the conservative evangelical group supportive of the Reagan administration's policies in Nicaragua and allied with conservative U.S. private organizations such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

CAM pastor Boanerges Mendoza, reknowned for his close connections with the U.S. embassy in Nicaragua, was picked up by the Nicaraguan state security (DSGE) for questioning about his connection to the contras, the CIA, and other U.S. agencies opposing the Sandinista government...While it is clear that Mendoza is well connected to and supportive of the political right in Nicaragua, it remains unclear whether he is or was more than "a useful pawn in the CIA's manipulation of the Nicaraguan religious scene."

Mendoza named Jimmy Hassan, a former leader of the Campus Crusade for Christ in Nicaragua and outspoken opponent of the Sandinista government, as co-pastor of his CAM-connected church...
The IRD obviously had a close relationship with the Reagan administration, and, although they continue to deny it, a possible relationship with the CIA. Clearly they were an arm of the government's propaganda machine. Considering statements such as this, I suspect they still are;

"Church leaders are wrong to speak on matters about which they lack the information and competence," said IRD President Diane Knippers. "Church leaders should teach, to both citizens and policy makers, the principles by which moral decisions may be made. But in the case of war against Iraq, those grave decisions must finally be made by government and military leaders within their spheres of competence and authority."
We should leave moral decsions to the politicians and the generals? There's a frightening thought.

Mrs. Knippers, as it seems that you have a history of working with right wing fringe elements, and that your work has cost the lives of innocent people in the past, and as irresponsible statements such as the above suggest that you intend on continuing to advocate, in the name of God, for more innocent deaths, maybe it is you who should resign from any organization associated with the Christian faith.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Deceptive Tactics

From an interview with Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church;

...In some of the Episcopal Church-related blogs you were quoted last week as singling out six Americans for having "detrimentally influenced" church proceedings. What did you say?

What I said was that there were notices put on the tables in Ireland describing "acts of oppression" within the Episcopal church that were highly inaccurate and I got up and said, "This kind of information is untrue. It’s taking facts and slanting things from a particular perspective. And I said, 'In scripture Jesus tells us the devil is the father of lies, and lying is his nature.'" Therefore this kind of material is really evil. And I said my sense is—and I didn’t assign it to any particular people—I feel that there is evil pressing on this meeting. And I said that any one of us can be caught in patterns of evil. Any one of us can misrepresent things to our own advantage.

I repeated it last week in Texas to the House of Bishops when I described my participation in the primates meeting. And I said there were several Americans in the hotel in Newry, including [Pittsburgh Bishop Robert William] Duncan--but I made no connection between those people and the piece of paper I was describing, and the misrepresentations on it.

Last year you talked obliquely about right-wing foundations funding the conservative cause in the church. A year later, what effect has that money had on the dispute?

The effect has been to take an internal battle in the Episcopal Church and project it onto the entire Anglican Communion. And one thing a number of the primates said to me from the global south was that they profoundly disagree with what we’ve done in the Episcopal Church, but that it is not their primary concern. Their primary concern is about life and death. Their primary concerns are AIDS, safe drinking water, civil war, hunger and disease. They say to me, "These are our issues, but sexuality in your country has taken over everything."

And, of course, the reason in part is because of various groups related to the Episcopal church--well-funded to be sure--who have engaged the disapproval of the primates around homosexuality in order to portray the Episcopal Church as grossly unfaithful and unbiblical, and in every way reprehensible...
An excerpt from the interview last year;

...You’re probably read about the charge that the protesting church members are being funded by conservative foundations. What do you make of that charge?

Yes, it’s a political movement, not just a [church] movement. And I think the important thing is to be upfront about it. I think the money has been there for a long time—but I think the dynamic has just become clearer. Over time, certain things are simply ready to become public. The more energy that goes into these causes, the more is known about what is actually at their heart in terms of financial support...

...What is your reaction to the letter leaked this week that details the secret plans of the American Anglican Council?

First of all I say, no matter what, these are limbs of the Body of Christ. And, second, I say a lot of the reaction comes from deep pain. I mean, I have visions of the church, and I can imagine myself feeling disconsolate if something were changed that destroyed my vision of what I feel the church is...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Holy Week

As we prepare to walk with Jesus through the pain, suffering and death of Holy Week, here are some resources that may be helpful;

This is Holy Week

The Days of Holy Week

Holy Week at Home

dylan's lectionary blog

Lectionary Reflections

An excerpt from a reflection on the last site; The Cross and Empire;

...What if the cross were not a symbol of triumph, but of judgment against all victimization, cruelty, and injustice? What if the victory of the cross were only the victory of faith, hope, and love over fear, despair, and hate in the human heart? And the great, eternal sign that this victory cannot be won by violence, that all violence is to our shame whether it be put to use for "good" or for "evil"?

We are obsessed by sin and by our easy categories of good and evil, an obsession Jesus did not share. It was suffering and injustice -- and the greed and grasping at power that caused it -- that obsessed Jesus. If Jesus' message had been primarily about saving people from sin, he never would have been crucified, because he never would have appeared on the religious and political authorities' radar screens. That he was a threat to their empire -- the control of people's lives feeding their own greed and power (not to mention their own version of the order of "good and evil") -- was the reason he was killed...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Closer Look at the Attempted Coup

The extreme conservatives, specifically the American Anglican Council, are not pleased with the recent Covenant Statement issued by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Keep in mind that this statement was written by David Anderson, one of those exposed by name by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold as lurking in the shadows when the Archbishops met in Ireland.

What some folks don't seem to understand is that NOTHING will ever appease the AAC, or the Network (same group, different name). They want a split. That's been their goal from the beginning. The plan has been to get themselves recognized as an "alternative Anglican province" in North America, get the Episcopal Church kicked out of the Anglican Communion, and then claim ownership of all assets previously held by TEC (with Bob Duncan as the new Archbishop, of course).

One would think that the article in the Washington Post over a year ago; Plan to Supplant Episcopal Church USA Is Revealed, regarding the leaked Chapman letter would have been enough to wake up most Episcopalians to what was going on. Here's just a small piece of that document;

During the months of Stage 1, we will begin to reform our relationships to build the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes. We will move to initiate support structures for fellowship and strategy, We will act courageously and faithfully to support "at risk" parishes. We will creatively redirect finances. We will refocus on Gospel initiatives. We will innovatively move around, beyond or within the canons to "act like the church God is making us". Stage 1 will enable congregations/clusters to keep clear use of their buildings for the foreseeable future, and would give critical time to strengthen our leadership circles for what promises to be a turbulent spiritual season.

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

The letter speaks for itself. Property, not piety is keeping dissident parishes in the Episcopal Church. In the longer term, the AAC expects to use foreign intervention to trump American law and the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons. Its leaders are assuring dissident parishes that the Anglican primates, a consultative body with no governing authority or standing in the United States, will ride to the rescue of Network parishes, negotiate property settlements and transfer the assets of 2.3-million-member church to a group representing perhaps a tenth of that body. The Chapman letter reveals the AAC's "realignment" for what it really is -- the overthrow of the Episcopal Church by extra-legal means.
The defense was that this was just the opinion of one person, was not the view of the AAC/Network, and various other smoke and mirrors tactics which seemed to have successfully removed this letter from the consciousness of many Episcopalians.

Since then, more documents have come to light as a result of legal action taken by Calvary Episcopal Church against certain officials of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, including Bishop Duncan. Calvary felt the need to do this because of planned diocesan canonical changes that would allow Pittsburgh not to be bound by the canons of the Episcopal Church, thus allowing the diocese to claim title to all property. This was seen as the first step in a plan by some officials of the diocese of Pittsburgh to leave the Episcopal Church.

The court documents used to prove that there was indeed a plan to leave the Episcopal Church are quite revealing. The link is to a rather large pdf file (sorry folks). The entire thing is worth reading, but you may want to jump right to the last dozen pages, which shows copies of the documents placed in evidence. Interestingly, every one of the members of the "Dromantine Six" (those lurking about the primates' meeting in Ireland who were chastised by name by PB Griswold this last week) make an appearance in these pages. I'll just mention a few things that jumped out at me.

The first piece of evidence is what appears to be a verbatim transcript of an earlier hearing, in which the Chapman letter was dismissed as "one individual...(making) notes on a piece of paper." A bit weak, it seems to me, but ok, let's move on.

The next document, which appears to have "Mainstream Meeting" scribbled at the top, dated 11/20/03, seems to be from a meeting of Network/AAC bishops. It has quite a few enlightening pieces to it, but the ones that caught my eye were near the bottom; "D. We intend to cross diocesan boundaries...F. We commit to the guerrilla warfare of the next year." Oh, that's what was going on in Ireland; guerilla warfare? Imagine that.

Next follows a few e-mails. The one from Hugo Blankingship, an attorney, is worth noting. He states, "John Rees won't listen to anything but our staying in ECUSA." Who is John Rees? The legal consultant assigned to the Eames Commission, the body which drafted the Windsor Report. The plan was to have the recognition of a separate province included as one of the recommendations in the WR. Since it looked like that wasn't going to happen (it didn't), plan B was to make sure "that changes if pressure within the Communion builds up."

The next rather revealing document is an e-mail from Diane Knippers, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, with whom the AAC/Network shared office space, board members and wealthy contributors for many years. To refresh your memory, the IRD started as an anti-communist grant clearinghouse during the Reagan era, focusing especially on Central America (does Iran-Contra and death squads in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras ring a bell?) When they ran out of communists, they turned on the mainline Protestant churches. Knippers begins with this statement; "...I believe it will be increasingly important for the Network to take on the various functions of a Church." Sure sounds like a planned coup d'etat to me. We then see Knipper's continued inclination towards clandestine operations in the last paragraph; "I'm still on the SCER (Standing Committee on Ecumenical Relations) - but not because I could honestly represent the Episcopal Church in ecumenical dialogue...I'll resign when I need to, but I would like to hang in there as an obstinate and contrary voice a bit longer." Infiltrate and be a subversive element; hmmm...that tactic sounds familiar.

Take a careful look at the "Draft Proposal for Overseas AEO" (Alternative Episcopal Oversight). This is where the foreign bishops come in. It's all spelled out in black and white. I wonder how Abp. Akinola is going to feel when it dawns on him he's been merely a pawn in the plan?

What conclusion do you come to when you read this stuff? What I see is a handful of folks, primarily bishops, priests, and attorneys, trying to orchestrate a takeover of the Episcopal Church; building this "parallel universe" on the backs of our gay and lesbian members. To the troops, they scream about the bible and tradition. Among themselves, it's all about property and power.

The sad thing is, I know quite a few good folks who have bought their...what was the phrase they used?...oh yea; "road shows," and are going to really be hurt when they wake up one day and realize they've been hoodwinked by a band of scoundrels, and in the name of God, no less.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bishops Spar and Adopt Statement

Things got a bit lively at the House of Bishops meeting in Texas;

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold identified by name six Episcopalians for having detrimentally influenced the course of the primates' meeting in remarks to the House of Bishops at their March 11-17 spring retreat at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas.

The devil is a liar and the father of lies and the devil was certainly moving about Dromantine, the site of the primates’ meeting in Northern Ireland, the presiding Bishop said, according to accounts from several bishops who spoke to THE LIVING CHURCH on the condition that their names not be revealed. The primates were "out for blood," Bishop Griswold told them.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh; the Rev. Canon Bill Atwood, general secretary of the Ekklesia Society; the Rev. Canon Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Parish, Fairfax, Va.; the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council; the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina; and Diane Knippers, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, were singled out for opprobrium by the Presiding Bishop for their behind-the-scenes roles at Dromantine.

Not present during the Presiding Bishop's remarks, Bishop Duncan was allowed a point of personal privilege at the evening session on March 13 to respond to the Presiding Bishop’s charges. Bishop Duncan told the House of Bishops he had not manipulated the global south primates nor used nefarious means to influence their deliberations. After Bishop Duncan finished, the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, rose and stated he did not believe Bishop Duncan, and repeated the charges of inappropriate meddling that had been leveled by the Presiding Bishop...
If you don't recognize the cast of six characters who were lurking in the shadows of Dromantine, I've mentioned some of them previously here and here.

So what was Bishop Griswold so upset about? This article sheds some light on the matter;

...Car traffic into Dromantine, however was busy throughout the week as conservative activists would take primates off-campus from the centre to dine and strategise...

...Bishop Griswold became perturbed after witnessing the departure of a number of global south primates with their American supporters to dine off-campus.

Bishop Griswold spoke with Dr Williams, who then dressed down the Primates upon their return for sneaking away. In rebuking the Primates, Archbishop Williams committed his first gaffe of the meeting, as his infelicitous tone offended the African leaders...
What did Bp. Duncan say? That he "had not manipulated the global south primates nor used nefarious means to influence their deliberations." Right Reverend Sir, in the future it may be wise for you to keep in mind that it is terribly poor form to tell a bold faced lie while standing accused before the entire House of Bishops. From the Guardian;

...Last night the leading critic of the Americans and Canadians, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, was said to be entertaining his supporters and the traditionalist American and English evangelicals, who have been circling the meeting semi-clandestinely all week, at what was described as a "celebratory" party, paid for by the Americans.

One of those in attendance was expected to be the US Episcopal bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh, who has led the opposition and has been staying locally, apparently holidaying in Newry in February...
If you still don't quite get the picture of why Bp. Griswold was so upset, let me offer you some words from Mark Harris that paints it with clear bold strokes;

...It is clear from the Conger report that the "Conservative American and British activists" worked with the clear intention of influencing the Primates' discussions. What is surprising is the brazen way in which there seems to have been not even a minimal effort to hide the fact that the efforts of the "global south" primates were managed or advised by a sizable body of "activists" not of their number. If Conger is right in his reporting there is little question that the management of the confrontation was in the hands of these so called activists.

From this report it would appear that the lack of any mutual interdependence and responsibility among the primates, a lack of community trust, and a break in communion, was confirmed in all respects: there was no common Eucharist, often there seem not to have been common meals, and certainly there was a breach of any sense of community restraint...
The next day, the bishops did proceed with their task of putting together a statement;

1. We reaffirm our commitment to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888 and each of its individual points. We reaffirm our earnest desire to serve Christ in communion with the other provinces of the Anglican family. We reaffirm our continuing commitment to remain in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and to participate fully in the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth Conference, and the Primates' Meeting, and we earnestly reaffirm our desire to participate in the individual relationships, partnerships, and ministries that we share with other Anglicans, which provide substance to our experience of what it is to be in communion.
We have no intention of walking away from the Anglican Communion.

2.We express our own deep regret for the pain that others have experienced with respect to our actions at the General Convention of 2003 and we offer our sincerest apology and repentance for having breached our bonds of affection by any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners before taking those actions.
Note that there is something new here; we admit that we were in error by taking "unilateral action." We were in error in this. We pulled the same stunt with women bishops; consecrating Barbara Harris before Lambeth instead of after as requested, so we could show up saying, "We already did it; too late!" This time, we got called on it. The apology is appropriate.

3. The Windsor Report has invited the Episcopal Church "to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges" (Windsor Report, para. 134). Our polity, as affirmed both in the Windsor Report and the Primates' Communiqué, does not give us the authority to impose on the dioceses of our church moratoria based on matters of suitability beyond the well-articulated criteria of our canons and ordinal. Nevertheless, this extraordinary moment in our common life offers the opportunity for extraordinary action. In order to make the fullest possible response to the larger communion and to re-claim and strengthen our common bonds of affection, this House of Bishops takes the following provisional measure to contribute to a time for healing and for the educational process called for in the Windsor Report. Those of us having jurisdiction pledge to withhold consent to the consecration of any person elected to the episcopate after the date hereof until the General Convention of 2006, and we encourage the dioceses of our church to delay episcopal elections accordingly. We believe that Christian community requires us to share the burdens of such forbearance; thus it must pertain to all elections of bishops in the Episcopal Church. We recognize that this will cause hardship in some dioceses, and we commit to making ourselves available to those dioceses needing episcopal ministry.
Excellent! If we are barred from consecrating specific types of bishops, we will not consecrate any. Note that once again it had to be pointed out to the Primates that the House of Bishops does not have the authority to mandate anything. We include the laity in our deliberations; a novel idea to those of a more hierarchal inclination, but we are Americans, after all. We like democracy. The bishops can, however, withhold their consents, which acts as a veto. No new bishops until 2006. Brilliant move.

4. In response to the invitation in the Windsor Report that we effect a moratorium on public rites of blessing for same sex unions, it is important that we clarify that the Episcopal Church has not authorized any such liturgies, nor has General Convention requested the development of such rites. The Primates, in their communiqué "assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship" (Primates' Communiqué, para. 6). Some in our church hold such "pastoral care" to include the blessing of same sex relationships. Others hold that it does not. Nevertheless, we pledge not to authorize any public rites for the blessing of same sex unions, and we will not bless any such unions, at least until the General Convention of 2006.
Some folks keep on confusing us with the Canadians. We don't have any rites for such blessings; that's your beef with our northern neighbors, remember? We're the ones with a duly elected bishop who had the audacity to be honest about his sexual orientation.

5. We pledge ourselves not to cross diocesan boundaries to provide episcopal ministry in violation of our own canons and we will hold ourselves accordingly accountable. We will also hold bishops and clergy canonically resident in other provinces likewise accountable. We request that our Anglican partners "effect a moratorium on any further interventions" (Windsor Report, para. 155; see also 1988 Lambeth Conference Resolution 72 and 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution III.2) and work with us to find more creative solutions, such as the initiation of companion diocese relationships, to help us meet the legitimate needs of our own people and still maintain our integrity.
Once again, a very clear admonition to those foreign bishops who come to America to do some plum picking; STOP LOOTING OUR CHURCH!

6. As a body, we recognize the intentionality and seriousness of the Primates' invitation to the Episcopal Church to refrain voluntarily from having its delegates participate in the Anglican Consultative Council meetings until the Lambeth Conference of 2008. Although we lack the authority in our polity to make such a decision, we defer to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church to deliberate seriously on that issue.
It's that democracy thing, again. The bishops cannot make such a decision. Neither can the Primates, which is why they worded it as a "voluntary withdrawal."

Read the whole statement. It's a good, solid piece of work. Note that it was not approved unanimously. Those who are working to take over the Episcopal Church won't sign it, as it will buy the rest of us some time until the General Convention of 2006, and throw off their plans for a coup. I think the majority of the Primates will find it acceptable, however.

More news will be out in the morning. It's late, and I'm going to bed. I had hoped that Frank would show us that he knew how to stand up when the time came. Past time, in my estimation. But better late than never.


NOTE: Some folks are reporting problems with comments. If you send me your comment by e-mail, I'll post it for you (e-mail addy is under the blogroll on the right).

Monday, March 14, 2005

Table Fellowship; the New Weapon

By now you have heard that when the Primates (Archbishops of the Anglican Communion) met in Ireland a few weeks ago, there was a controversy regarding sharing communion. It seems that the ultra-conservatives would not come to the Lord's table with heretics like Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Thinking Anglicans points us to a recent report in the Telegraph; Clergymen refuse communion with bishop in row over gays;

In what could be the start of an escalating conflict, at least eight conservative clerics have told the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev John Gladwin, that they will refuse to share Holy Communion with him. They are furious that the bishop and five of his colleagues sent a letter to a national newspaper earlier this week announcing their determined support for liberal Anglicans in North America...
First the bible is transformed into a weapon used to beat those with whom you disagree into submission. Now table fellowship is the new tool of destruction to be drawn from the arsenal. We live in bizarre times.

It's difficult to keep track of exactly who is still in communion with whom. Pretty soon, we'll have to answer a questionaire before we can approach the altar.

I'm not the only one confused by this latest tactic. Here are some of the thoughts of Stephen Gerth, rector of St. Mary the Virgin, NYC;

Let me see if I have this right. Rowan Williams has asked Frank Griswold not to come to dinner because if he shows up Peter Akinola and his friends won’t come. Rowan Williams is the archbishop of Canterbury. Frank Griswold is our presiding bishop. Peter Akinola is the archbishop of the Church of Nigeria. Akinola thinks Griswold does not belong at the archbishop’s table any more. I wonder why Williams is letting Akinola get away with this.

Akinola isn’t the only bishop who thinks his way. Griswold isn’t the only bishop in favor of an inclusive Church. The primates have also asked the Anglican Church of Canada not to send representatives to meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council for the next three years. We are told this will give us the opportunity to explain ourselves. I find myself thinking about the opportunity Jesus was given to explain himself. But Jesus wasn’t on trial. Pilate was. And I don’t think the Episcopal Church is on trial. The Archbishop of Canterbury is. He has to decide who is invited.

I’m stunned that the Archbishop of Canterbury would go along with uninviting people to the table. He has never found it necessary not to invite divorced and remarried bishops to Anglican gatherings. I find it amazing that he has allowed himself to be held hostage over this issue of the sexual orientation of an American bishop...

...I can’t help wondering whether Rowan Williams really wants to be held hostage by Peter Akinola and his friends over this issue. Does he really want the Anglican Communion to solve its problems by excommunication? Is Canterbury still in England or did it move?
It is worth noting that the Episcopal Church has not declared herself out of communion with anyone. I can't imagine a time when we would ever use the threat of excommunication as a weapon. If we did, I would strongly object. It's not our table, after all.

So Archbishop Akinola, although I know you will most likely decline the invitation, I want you to know that you will always be welcome to share the Holy Eucharist with me. Personally, I don't care for your style, your theology, or your politics, yet I must recognize you as a brother in Christ.

But, if you show up in rochet and chemire, I'm not sure I'll be able to honor the invitation. Sorry, but those frilly sleeves are just a bit too much.


Sunday, March 13, 2005


A Lenten Reflection

Be patient...the download may take awhile.

While you wait, why not offer a prayer for the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church meeting in Texas;

Gracious Father, 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 your Son our Savior. Amen.
Here is information about joining the prayer vigil; Bishops to be surrounded by prayer.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Will You Listen?

From the 1978 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, Resolution 10;

...The Church, recognising the need for pastoral concern for those who are homosexual, encourages dialogue with them.
From the 1988 Lambeth Conference, Resolution 64;

This Conference: 1. Reaffirms the statement of the Lambeth Conference of 1978 on homosexuality, recognising the continuing need in the next decade for "deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality...
From the 1998 Lambeth Conference, Resolution 1.10;

...We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ...
From the Primates' Meeting, October 2003;

We also re-affirm the resolutions made by the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues. We commend the report of that Conference in its entirety to all members of the Anglican Communion, valuing especially its emphasis on the need “to listen to the experience of homosexual persons, and to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ”; and its acknowledgement of the need for ongoing study on questions of human sexuality.
From the Windsor Report, October 2004;

We remind all in the Communion that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 calls for an ongoing process of listening and discernment, and that Christians of good will need to be prepared to engage honestly and frankly with each other on issues relating to human sexuality.
From the Primates' Meeting, February 2005;

...we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people. The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship.
The bishops have repeatedly called us to listen and dialogue. When we debate, we are listening only for those parts that we can use to make our case. When we dialogue, we are seeking to understand the other person's experience. We don't have to agree with it. We don't pass any judgement on it. We quiet our own internal chatter and attempt to be fully present to the other person.

Are we willing to do this? Let's try.

I invite you to listen to this story; The Result. Go read it now. Read it slowly. No need to rush. I'll still be here when you come back.

Don't respond right away. Sit with those words for a few minutes. You may want to read it a second time.

What are you feeling? What are you thinking? What do you want to say to this child of God?

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass;
I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that others will punctually come forever and ever.

- Walt Whitman

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Minimum Wage Vote Reveals Moral Values

The Senate decided now is not the time to raise minimum wage. Tim Grieve of Salon predicted this a few days ago;

But not to worry. The whole exercise is pretty much for naught. Santorum's proposal is plainly meant to give Republicans cover for defeating Kennedy's, and neither proposal has a chance of getting through the House of Representatives, where Tom DeLay has already announced that minimum-wage legislation will be dead on arrival. For the foreseeable future, the minimum wage will stay at $5.15 an hour -- just enough to leave a family of three about $5,000 a year below the poverty line.
For those who like to keep track of our Senators' "moral values," every Democrat voted to raise minimum wage. Four Republicans stepped up to show their support for the poor as well; Chaffee of Rhode Island, Coleman of Minnesota, DeWine of Ohio and Domenci of New Mexico.

One of the most popular arguments against raising the minimum wage is that it would force businesses to lay off workers. There is little evidence of this happening as a result of past raises. In the last few years, corporate profits have risen by 57.5%, while private wage and salary income has decreased by 1.7%. Increased profits coupled with the value of an employee's work being worth more than they are currently being paid suggests that a raise in the minimum would not result in "workers being priced out of the market." The real reason the move towards a living wage is being blocked is simple; more profit, or in "moral values" terminology; greed.

A company that refuses to pay a living wage, which qualifies it as a sweatshop, shouldn't be in business. Is that an unrealistic perspective? It didn't originate with me;

No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level - I mean the wages of a decent living.
- Franklin Roosevelt
There are other reasons such legislation will continue to be blocked by the current administration and this Republican-dominated Congress. If entry level positions are kept at below the poverty line levels, most workers will desperately hold on to the job they have in response to their fear of the alternative; living in poverty. Stable, docile workers is what those holding the reins of power want.

If those trying to survive in the lower economic levels have to suffer, tough luck. You've got to break a few eggs to make a capitalist omelet. If they don't like it, they can always join the army. We'll give them food, clothing, a cot to sleep on, and even extra ammunition so they can take pot shots at passing Italian communists if they get bored.

So these are the "moral values" of America? Excuse me while I go get sick.


Monday, March 07, 2005

American Atrocities Continue

The tragic story of kidnapped Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena's ride to the Baghdad airport raises lots of questions. One does not want to believe that American troops would target a journalist, although that seems to be inferred by Sgrena's own account. What would be the motive? Just look at some of her articles on the left side of that site. Here's just one example from November 2004; Napalm Raid on Falluja? It is safe to assume that this particular Communist reporter was not very popular among the American military. She was reporting the stories that no one else had the gonads to tell.

Is that too slim of a motive? It wouldn't be the first time the media have been killed, wounded or disappeared in Iraq under questionable circumstances. Jeanne D'Arc of Body and Soul offers a few examples. Eason Jordan's admission of knowing of 12 journalists killed by coalition forces is the kind of information the Bush administration will go to any lengths to keep from the public. There's some question in my mind if Jordan attempted to eat those words not to save his job, but to save his life.

The American media won't touch this one with a ten foot pole. The spin here in the States is about an "embarrassing incident." In Italy, this tragedy has increased the size of protests against the war. It seems the American media has become nothing more than a propaganda machine for this administration.

Bush's military adventure continues to make us the enemy of the entire world. Maybe this latest tragedy is simply a case of over-zealous soldiers. I doubt if we'll ever know, as the chances of any real investigation happening is slim to none. Consequently, the claim by many news agencies around the world that this was another case of American war crimes will become part of the legacy of this administration.

We turned a blind eye to the massacre in Fallujah. We ignored the warnings from our own allies regarding our sledgehammer tactics. We send a few guards to prison and dismiss the torture of Abu Ghraib as an isolated incident. Recently it came to light that the CIA has been jetting suspected terrorists to isolated spots for "interrogation" (spook code for "torture") since 1992. Most likely this will be forgotten within a week or so as well. We have seen videos of American troops killing wounded Iraqis. And now we pour 300 rounds into a car carrying an Italian journalist, free from captivity for less than an hour, who just happens to be an anti-war Communist. How can the American people continue to so easily dismiss the atrocities being committed in our name?

Some will claim that it is "unpatriotic" to speak of these war crimes. I suggest to you that it is unpatriotic to be silent about them. I love this nation. I volunteered and served honorably in the military during the Vietnam era. I consider myself a patroit, and see it as our patriotic duty to call to account an administration that has shown such a blatant disregard for human lives. This is not the American way. And is by no stretch of the imagination the Christian way. These actions do not represent my faith or my nation. They must be condemned, those responsible, including the leadership, must be held accountable, and we must pull US troops out of Iraq immediately.


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Convention; Light and Darkness

Last Friday and Saturday was our diocesan convention. This is a big diocese (over 100 congregations) so it's not unusual to have over 500 people in attendance. This was my second year. I don't have voice or vote (I'm not canonically resident), but I go to represent the congregation in which I serve. The advantage is that whenever they start the voting process, I can slip out and browse the exhibits. The disadvantage is I can't voice an opinion; quite frustrating for someone who is opinionated on most everything.

The Episcopal Church is small enough that at any gathering you'll always encounter a few people you already know beyond the delegation from your parish. Such was the case this year. I met a few new folks as well. As conventions go, this one went quite smoothly, including passing a 2 million budget with minimal discussion. Much credit must be given to our bishop, who is the best I have ever encountered, and diocesan staff, who obviously poured a lot of energy into this event.

Since it was overall quite upbeat, I was rather taken back by two incidents that reminded me that any time we stand in the light, the darkness is always near, sometimes pressing in hard enough to become visible. The first moment was during a hearing on the Windsor Report and the Primates' Meeting. One representative of the Network launched into his speech with the announcement that the Episcopal Church may soon no longer exist. He went on to suggest we should apologize to the gays and lesbians for not offering them the healing opportunities they need. That's when I felt the chill, and sensed the darkness surrounding us and closing in. It wasn't just his comments; it was the response to them. The majority of the people packed in that small hearing room (about 300, I would estimate) were deeply offended by his comments. The animosity finally broke loose just a bit near the end, with responses being shouted from the audience. Things never got out of hand, but you could have cut the tension with a knife. Two enemies were squaring off. It suddenly felt like a very dangerous place to be.

The other moment was when a resolution was presented condemning torture by the US military. Since I don't vote, I must admit to not reading it carefully before the convention. The intent was admirable; for our diocese to go on record as defending the dignity of every human being. The problem was the wording. Death squads were mentioned, for instance. I have no doubt such squads exist. The problem is that these reports are discounted by much of the public, unless the military themselves admit to the accusations. And even then, such as in the case in Abu Ghraib, if the military say that it is an isolated incident, the majority of the public accept it. People are scared since 9/11. They want a strong military.

Mentioning "death squads" almost assured that this resolution would fail. Heck, we still won't admit that Negroponte was involved in the death squads of Honduras, or I must assume that we won't admit it, since he is the new chief of our secret police. We wouldn't appoint a butcher as the head of the American Gestapo, would we? Actually, who better, I suppose. But I digress.

The other problem was the strident wording of the resolution, and the fact that copies of an article by Seymour Hersch were distributed as a support document. I respect his work, but his name has become connected with the anti-Bush crowd, and for some, is considered anti-American. Just hearing his name triggers a knee-jerk reaction with some folks.

As one might expect, a few veterans spoke against the amendment. Two clergy spoke for it. One amendment died for lack of a second because the wording was too convoluted for most folks to understand. The resolution failed. It shouldn't have. All it needed was to have the wording cleaned up. The majority of the crowd were progressive and moderate Christians. A resolution against torture should have been a slam dunk.

As I silently watched from the back of the room, the same cold chill and deep dismay swept over me. We were suddenly broken into two camps; "us" versus "them," and the darkness began to envelop us all once again.

Even though all and all it was a wonderful convention, I've found myself quite troubled since I returned home. I glimpsed our brokenness, and our inability to fix it. I was reminded that we are not yet redeemed, and how easily we can be swallowed up by the darkness. I've been reflecting on my own brokenness as well, and questioning the times I thought I was bringing light into a situation, but instead created adversaries, and possibly victims, by my own anger and self righteousness.

It's so easy to fall into the secular fundamentalist's mindset; that we humans can fix everything if we just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get on with it. There's no question that we have to do what we can do. But in the end, my faith is not in human progress. No matter the great strides we make towards justice and equality, in the end we will still be broken, and won't be able to fix it. We will still have no defense against the darkness.

Today I find myself questioning the faith I have placed in the Church as well. As is becoming more and more evident to many of us, she is also broken, and no human process, document, or edict from on high seems to be able to fix her.

Witnessing the darkness so easily invade the space occupied by good, dedicated Christians, who were sincerely attempting to do God's work, has been a wake up call for me. My faith needs to be focused on the healing power of God's love, and that alone.

Does this get me off the hook from having to do anything? No. In the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, when the disciples came to tell him that the people were hungry, his response was, "You feed them." So they did what they could do, and came up with one boy's lunch. This they presented to Jesus, and trusted him to do the rest. We first do what we can do, and then we trust God for the rest.

I chaired a peace and justice commission for a few years in another diocese. We managed to get a few resolutions through. This is a bigger diocese, and so may be tougher to work, but, if I'm ever granted voice and vote, I might give it a shot. Today, I'm not so sure, though. The people have become too polarized. My perspective has become too biased. Out of the chasm caused by such divisions swirls a darkness that fills me with a sense of futility that is not easily dispelled. It's not healthy. We must consider the cost, both personally and corporately, before engaging in such struggles. Today, the cost feels too high. But that might be the result of my own spiritual weakness right now. This time next year, who knows?


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Recalling the Splendor of Mythic Rats

I awoke this morning thinking of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. For those who may not be familiar with this creature, he grew in mythic fame for my generation as a result of the efforts of Firesign Theatre.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought this Sumatran rodent into being with a passing reference in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire;

"Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson," said Holmes in a reminiscent voice. "It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared."
Speculation regarding the identity of this strange creature has ranged from the African giant rat, which has been known to grow to three feet long, to the moon rat, which can be found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The moon rat seems more closely related to a hedgehog than a rodent, but can grow to two feet long, from snout to tail tip, which some might feel qualifies it as a "giant."

I prefer to envision something along the lines of the depiction found on the album cover; a huge monster that would cause even the most mean-tempered grizzly to turn tail and scamper back to his cave. My version wouldn't be quite so cartoonish, though. Matted, stinky fur, with patches missing. One eye almost swollen shut from a previous battle. Sharp teeth protuding from a drooling mouth. And hissing...lots of hissing.

It seems that today "truth" has become a slave to empiricism. We're only interested in facts. We are losing the ability to think mythically; a loss that will make this a much more dreary world. Limiting creative expression hobbles our search for truth, and keeps the new thing that may be happening among us forever just beyond our reach.

Demi, my dear; when you left for school this morning and I advised you to beware of the giant rat of Sumatra, I was grieving the loss of the power of myth. I haven't completely gone over the edge...yet.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

- Wm. Wordsworth

The FP Interview

Jake was recently interviewed over on Faithful Progressive. No big surprises for regulars of Jake's place (and no, I didn't remove the mask). I got a bit preachy near the end. What can I say; it was late on a Sunday night.

FP has also interviewed Tim Simpson and Chuck Currie so far. Nice idea for a series.

Due to the lack of anything even resembling a meaningful revelation in my contribution, I'll entertain a few questions here. No promise of answering them, of course. I will promise to file them away for possible future rambles, however.

Look around over at FP while you're there. Looks like a good regular read.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A Pack of Dogs?

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."
- John 10:11-16
I sometimes hear bishops and priests referred to as "shepherds." The bishop's crozier is often described as a "shepherd's staff." I've always been uncomfortable with this image.

In the Book of Common Prayer, page 521, there is a reference to this imagery in the consecration of a bishop;

...fill, we pray, the heart of this your servant whom you have chosen to be a bishop in your Church with such love of you and of all the people, that he may feed and tend the flock of Christ...
And again, at the presentation of the bible;

Receive the Holy Scriptures. Feed the flock of Christ committed to your charge, guard and defend them in his truth, and be a faithful steward of his holy Word and Sacraments.
Note that in the first quote, it is "the flock of Christ." In the second, the role is that of a "steward." The bishop is not the shepherd; Christ is.

I think this is an important distinction. Eastern thought seems to able to embrace the idea that the divine dwells in us all without too many repercussions. The greeting, offered with a bow, of Namaste (the divine in me greets the divine in you) is a beautiful tradition; one that would seem to be worth being adopted by us all. Imagine the way our world might be transformed if we treated each person as Christ.

Western thought, with its emphasis on the individual, seems to constantly stumble when trying to embrace this concept. It seems that I often never get to God dwelling in you because I get stuck on the notion of God dwelling in me. I like being God. If I make you God as well, the notion is not quite as pleasant.

Consequently we have to emphasize that we are creatures, not the Creator. God is God, and we are not. Without this caveat in Western thought, strange creatures arise who attempt to draw all power unto themselves. Maybe someday we can fine tune this idea, but as recent events continue to reveal, that day has not yet arrived.

I think this distinction is especially critical for bishops (and priests as their representatives) to recognize. Bishops are sacramental persons; outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. They are icons, or windows, through which we are all drawn towards growing into the full stature of Christ. In this role, there is an ongoing tension between representing the people before God, and representing God for the people. The latter is the most problematic role, and seems to be the one that is most prominent in our liturgies today. I think it is helpful to remind ourselves that, as with any sacrament, we can say "this is God" only if we add the disclaimer "but God is much more than this." The bishop is a symbol of the Good Shepherd, but he or she is not Christ.

I want to suggest that a better image for bishops would be that of a sheepdog. Stay with me for a minute; don't shake your head and click out yet. The sheepdog works with the shepherd by keeping the flock safe, but the dog has more in common with the sheep than with the shepherd. The relationship is different, yet the full knowledge and authority rests with the shepherd, to whom the dog must always submit.

The sheepdog also has much in common with the greatest predator of the sheep; the wolf. They are of the same family. The dog knows the dark side well, and so is of great help to the shepherd in defending the flock.

I suggest this image with some reservations. Over a dozen years ago, my daily routine was to say Morning Prayer with the Dean and the Bishop, and then adjourn to the bishop's office for coffee. One morning over coffee I presented this idea to the bishop. He sat silently for a moment, and then responded with, "Father, are you suggesting that I am a dog?" Needless to say, I did some quick backpedaling. I don't recommend that you mention this image to your bishop!

I happen to be a dog person; I've shared my life with dogs over most of my adult years. I recognize that some dogs are much better suited as a shepherd's helper than others. German Shepherds are probably the most intelligent, in my experience, but they tend to have a hard side; sometimes they seem more related to their cousin the wolf. The Golden Retriever is a gentle and beautiful breed, but, like the Irish Setter, not very bright, and tends to easily get lost. My choice would be the Black Lab; smart, eager to please, good temperament, yet able to call on those ancient genes from the wild when confronted by an intruder.

Gender is also a consideration, although not as important as breed, it seems to me. I've found females to be better companions, over all. Over time, they are more predictable and mellow. The males tend to continue to do goofy things even into their adult years, and never seem to quite outgrow the "alpha-wolf" games.

Returning to the consideration of bishops, has it struck anyone else as significant that all of the 38 archbishops who gathered for the recent Primates' Meeting happened to be male?

At a recent forum at General Theological Seminary regarding the Windsor Report, this point was mentioned by the Rev. Ian Douglas, professor of mission and world Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School and the Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam, Bishop Suffragan of New York;

...Both Bishop Roskam and Prof. Dou­glas were of the opinion that any deep­ening of communion among Anglican provinces would require broader rep­resentation of its grassroots member­ship among the instruments of unity.

"Over 95 percent of those who com­prise the instruments of unity are men and bishops," Prof. Douglas said. "I dissent from the idea that bishops rep­resent the primary manifestation of the local faith community."

Women are even less represented among the existing four instruments of unity than the general grassroots pop­ulation, according to Bishop Roskam, who concluded that if women's repre­sentation approached something closer to half, then no matter the province in which they resided, homo­sexuality would not be a potentially Communion-breaking issue.

"This has to do with manhood," Bishop Roskam said. "Women hold the same range of opinions as men, but they suffer in so many other ways"...
It is my opinion that gender issues are at the root of much of the turmoil we see within the Church today. Allow me to call your attention once again to an excellent article from the Witness that more fully explores this possibility; Fear of the Feminine;
..."What is driving the intensity of our current church infighting?" Is it really just about what people do sexually with each other?

Probably not. A more likely reason for a significant amount of the negativism is that same-sex relationships violate the rules laid down by all patriarchal cultures about how men and women should behave in relationship to one another. The same rules also narrowly define acceptable relationships between people of the same sex.

Looking through this lens, we can see that the offenses pile up rapidly. If a lesbian woman does not need a man to satisfy her, protect her and keep her in line, the threat of the feminine is there; if a gay man is able to access the feminine side of his being, his every move can be considered suspect and an affront to many. If long-term relationships between two people of the same sex toss the age-old formulas attached to male dominance and female submission out the window, what are we left with? And if we must allow people who are partnered in this way to live openly and with our blessing -- so that we can't pretend that this is not happening -- how offensive is that? It is only offensive if we continue to cling to a patriarchal framework which keeps the feminine in her "proper" place.
Returning to the shepherd/sheepdog analogy, are the sheepdogs confusing themselves with the shepherd? How much authority do we grant them? Does the breed matter? Does the gender matter? And, to introduce a future discussion, is it appropriate for the sheepdogs to make major decisions regarding the well being
of the flock without listening to representatives from among the sheep?


P.S. I just had to come back and add this pic, as who knows when this topic will ever come up again. It appears that sometimes even sheepdogs just want to have fun!