Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Facade of Anonymity

The parish in which I serve as interim has called a new Rector. He was in town yesterday to look over the rectory and meet with some of the vestry members. Since I had not met the man, I wandered over to the rectory to introduce myself.

When he saw me, he broke into a big smile, strode towards me with his hand extended, and greeted me with the words, "Father Jake! It's so good to finally meet you!"

It appears that he is an acquaintance of Louie Crew. Not long ago, Louie had asked for my permission to circulate something I had written. In order to strengthen the impact, he requested that I allow my real name to be attached to the piece. I gave him permission. Within a week, I noted that on at least one conservative site I had been "outed," complete with a link to the parish where I serve, and the accompanying photo.

The only reason I chose to be anonymous in the first place was because of a request from a family member. I've never been very deeply undercover. Quite a few folks have asked privately as to my real identity, which, in most cases, I have given. Others have figured it out, through various means.

I want to caution all of you who think you are completely anonymous that it is quite difficult to keep such anonymity over time. The technology alone makes it fairly simple for a persistent person to dig up enough info to identify you. For instance, some of you might be surprised to know that I can track such things as the city in which a visitor lives, which site they visited prior to mine, and where they went afterwards. Such info is rarely of much value, unless your site is being used for marketing, but sometimes, especially when you suspect someone is playing games, it can be helpful.

I have always assumed that I would be outed, and have written with that in mind. It is helpful for me to imagine that my bishop and my senior warden are visiting Jake's place.

Does this mean I'm going to stop being Jake? No, for the one valid reason for not using my real name; google. As one example of why it is better to limit folk's ability to google you, it could be disruptive to a family member's ability to effectively live out their vocation. The words we put out in cyber space will be around for a long time. Even if we are brave enough to take the risk of being controversial for some cause, the effect that this might have on those around us needs to be considered.

The parish's new rector is a fine man, who I feel has clearly been called to this place at this time. We had a good visit. At it's conclusion, he shook my hand, and said, "I look forward to speaking again soon, Father Jake."

I must admit that is is rather disconcerting to be better known by my online identity than my rather mundane 3D one. We live in strange times.


Friday, April 29, 2005

Episcopal News Worth Noting

In a follow-up to their March 8 statement, leaders of the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church , United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church speak out against President Bush's 2006 Federal Budget;

...As we view the FY '06 Federal Budget through our lens of faith this budget, on balance, continues to ask our nation's working poor to pay the cost of a prosperity in which they may never share. We believe this budget remains unjust. It does not adequately address the more than 36 million Americans living below the poverty line, 45 million without health insurance, or the 13 million hungry children. Worldwide, it neither provides sufficient development assistance nor adequately addresses the global AIDS pandemic. Therefore, we ask Congress to reject this budget and begin anew...
21 conservative bishops sent a letter to Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, asking to explore ways to move towards reconciliation. At the same time, these bishops sent a letter to Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, asking for an emergency meeting. The Living Church broke the story of these letters, in spite of the fact that everyone involved had agreed to keep these communications confidential. The Presiding Bishop, who had not been informed of the letter sent to Canterbury, was not pleased to pick up this tidbit of information from an article in a magazine;

...I had read your letter as a sincere and honest attempt to build on the spirit established at Camp Allen and our Covenant. I had already been in conversation with the President of the House of Deputies about establishing a group to address many of the concerns implicit and explicit in your letter. I plan to respond further to what you have written," Griswold wrote. "… It seems to me extremely discourteous to me, and to the Office I hold on your behalf, not to inform me or send me a copy of what you submitted to the Archbishop. I must also ask myself why an appeal was made to Canterbury before receiving a response from me...
Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria, continues to insist that his interpretation of scripture be the only one allowed in the Anglican Communion;

...Akinola asserted there were U.S. dioceses where "the clergy are still continuing the practice of blessing same-sex partnerships" with the bishops' permission.

"I find this duplicitous and I would point out that the underlying issue is not a temporary cessation of these practices but a decision to renounce them and demonstrate a willing embrace of the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted throughout the Communion," asserted the Nigerian archbishop.

In March, Nigeria's Anglican bishops had resolved not to ordain women as priests...
Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh and Moderator of the Network, affirms that the goal of the conservative organization is indeed nothing less than a coup d' etat. Note that the "body" referred to in the excerpt is the Network;

TLC: So, as a body within the Episcopal Church, what's your "lifespan"?

Bishop Duncan: Well, of course we claim to be, constitutionally, the Episcopal Church. And there's every evidence, both from what the Windsor Report says and what the primates said in accepting it, in their communiqué in Northern Ireland, that we are the Anglicans. If the Episcopal Church's constitution says that we'll be constituent members of the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Communion now says, Episcopal Church, you're in time out. In fact, you're not only in time out, but it appears you're making a decision to walk apart. If in General Convention 2006 the Episcopal Church determines to walk apart, then the question we ask is, who is the Episcopal Church? And our legal basis will be to say, we are, of course, because they have broken the constitution.

TLC: Do you think General Convention will be the turning point?

Bishop Duncan: Oh, yeah. The Presiding Bishop has made it clear, and he made it clear in Northern Ireland, that this church has thought about this, prayed about this, and is committed to this course, and there'll be no turning back. And I think he reads the situation right. We also believe there'll be no turning back. We intend, one of the issues for us going into General Convention, and we will be in General Convention, is to attempt to force this Church to make a very clear decision, unmistakably clear as to whether they're going to walk with the Communion and repent from these actions, return to standard Anglican practice, or really going to move forward. They call it moving forward; we call it walking apart.

If they determine to move out, well, then they've determined to move out. We're the Anglicans here. We'll also stand in a way that says, we're the Episcopal Church where we are. You know, there'll be infinite court battles, but it'll be very interesting, since the Communion will have said the Episcopal Church walked apart, and the Episcopal Church's Constitution says that you've got to be constituent members, and we're the only ones they recognize as constituent members, so who's the Episcopal Church, legally...
There's been lots of talk among the conservatives about the six priests in Connecticut who may face disciplinary measures, and even be deposed, for refusing to recognize the authority of the diocesan bishop. I've seen such challenges of authority happening in both conservative and progressive dioceses. Americans don't handle authority issues very well, as a rule. I don't see this as a case of persecution of conservatives. Rather, it seems to me, it's a matter of neither side being willing to do the hard work of reconciliation. When a priest refuses to allow his/her bishop to make a visitation, you can be guaranteed there's going to be trouble. When a bishop doesn't look hard enough for alternative ways to follow the spirit of the canons, rather than the letter, there's going to be a confrontation. This is a sad example of the tensions in the Episcopal Church being labeled either conservative or progressive issues, when the reality is our discomfort, as Americans, with authority in general, and especially with an authority figure who reminds us of the aristocracy of the Old World. This episode is made even more sad by the fact that it appears it could have been easily avoided.

And finally, on a personal note, I have accepted the appointment as vicar of a small mission. I'll begin ministering with these people beginning June 1. It will be an exciting challenge, which I'll be taking on with my eyes wide open.

As to why I finally made this decision, there were many factors, including the conversation we had here at Jake's place, for which I am truly thankful. In the end, it came down to asking if there is a vocational call to this ministry. There is. What I personally wanted became secondary in light of that.
Having made the decision, I'm at peace about it, which feels like an affirmation that it is a decision that will be blessed by God. Of course, that is yet to be seen.

Enjoy your weekend. I'll be fertilizing the lawn, and then hoping for rain. And preparing a sermon, of course. Hmmm...can I tie in fertilizing the lawn with the Gospel reading of the vine branches bearing fruit? Something along the line of, "We are called to be the fertilizer in the fields of the Lord." Maybe not.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Facing Fear

Have you ever had a dream in which you were running away from an unseen adversary, who seemed to lurk around every bend in the road, while at the same time so close you can hearing him panting behind you?

It's a common dream. Some would suggest that the one who is chasing you is the devil; a personification of evil. That is certainly one way to talk about that presence we feel prowling the perimeter of our lives, looking to devour us. And, depending on your audience, it may be the best way to describe this feeling of fear that many of us have experienced.

I'm reminded of Evagrius of Pontus, a 4th century Greek monk, who is credited with writing a rather obscure little book entitled Praktikos. He uses the terms demons and passions, and angels and virtues interchangeably. He had a remarkable insight into the working of the human psyche for his time. I found Evagrius helpful in my own attempt to sort out the inward and outward aspects of spiritual struggles. As a side note, I must admit to being uncomfortable with some of his suggestions, such as the appropriateness of using one demon (passion) to drive out another demon in cases when the angels (virtues) seem unable to dislodge that particular demon. The hope is that the angel will have better success in thwarting the remaining demon. Using evil to fight evil is a dangerous ploy, it seems to me. One final side note; Evagrius, along with Origen, was condemned by the Church as a heretic.

I bring up Evagrius to point out that sometimes it is not always external forces with which we contend. I suspect that more often than we want to admit, the real struggle is internal. I think this realization is an important one. If the threat remains external, we have no control, and the fear will overwhelm us. Our response will be fueled by this fear.

For instance, consider the notion of sin. If it is an external reality, with God's help, I can surgically remove it. What often happens, when this approach is taken, is that the sin (or the passion) is repressed, but reappears in some other manifestation at a later date. The person is then devastated, either thinking of themselves as somehow unworthy of God's healing, or else questioning their belief in God's redemption.

To slip into some Jungian phraseology, this denial of our dark side is one of the most spiritually unhealthy things we can do, it seems to me. For instance, as I've pointed out before, I know I'm a killer. I can take life without a second thought. That happens to be one of my demons. I don't deny this, or believe that this part of my personality has somehow been miraculously removed. Instead, I call on the angels, the virtues, in this case compassion, to form a fence around this particular kind of behavior. As a result, I am much more adamant about killing things than some other folks might be, because I know the darkness of the killer so very well.

It seems to me that the most dangerous person in the world is the one who has not confronted their own dark side, their own demons. Only when brought into the light can such destructive aspects of our personality be subdued, and hopefully, over time, by the grace of God, be transformed.

In one dream in which I was being pursued, I turned and faced the lion. What I saw was a much younger version of myself. My greatest fear was a very dark, angry young man that still lurks somewhere inside of me.

I don't know of any better way to overcome fear except to face it. That means being willing to consider worst case scenarios. Some folks, with good reason, suggest that it is never healthy to even put such negativity in the air. Personally, I find it much more detrimental to live in fear of some invisible adversary.

In summary, recall the words of the philosopher Pogo; "We have met the enemy, and it is us!"


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Returning Evil For Evil

The May edition of Episcopal Life arrived in the mail yesterday. One column seemed to be a good response to some of the comments to my previous post. The title of the column is Patriotism Supplanting Piety. The author, Kerry Walters, is co-editor of Episcopal Peace Witness, the newspaper of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. This piece is not up on the EL site yet, but I did find a shortened version of it here. What follows are a few excerpts to get the conversation started;

...The Gospel is crystal clear that Christians are not to return evil for evil. We are to work mightily in the world for justice, but we are never to use violence and coercion, the world's methods of choice. The tools Jesus commands us to take up are love, patience, nonviolent resistance, and a willingness to suffer for the sake of others. These are non-negotiable. If we rationalize them away, how can the salt retain its savor? If the Church refuses to live the Sermon on the Mount, what distinguishes her from the world...

...Given the tens of millions of self-identified Christians in this country, think of the incredible work for the Kingdom we could do if we took the Gospel we pretend to honor seriously. Ron Sider proposed in 1984 that Christians live out their commitment to the Prince of Peace by getting themselves en masse to war-torn areas and putting their bodies between the opposing sides. But, with few exceptions, we don't. We rarely even raise our voices in protest against savagery. Instead, we piously talk about the unfortunately necessity to resort to arms in the protection of the innocent. And so the myth of redemptive violence is reinforced, the killing continues and our hands are bloodied...
In the longer EL version, Walters concludes by suggesting that "Episcopalians should reflect prayerfully on the scandal that only a tiny handful of Christian denominations are designated 'peace churches' and that our denomination is not one of them." That is scandalous, and worthy of reflection, but I like his closing comment in the shorter version better;

...Should we really continue to call ourselves followers of the Prince of Peace? If there's one sin that Jesus loathed, it's hypocrisy. Until we repent of our willingness to accommodate to a world overtaken by fallen powers and principalities, the least we can do is find another label for ourselves.
It's good to hear someone say this clearly. As Christians, some things are non-negotiable. The violence against the people of Iraq can never be sanctioned by any group claiming the label Christian.


Monday, April 25, 2005

Be Not Afraid

Chapter 7 of Jim Wallis' book, God's Politics, is entitled "Be Not Afraid; A Moral Response to Terrorism." Before commenting on this chapter, let me offer some current news, to put the discussion of terrorism in perspective.

From the Seattle Times;

The State Department decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered...

...According to Johnson and U.S. intelligence officials, statistics that the National Counterterrorism Center provided to the State Department reported 625 "significant" terrorist attacks in 2004. That compared with 175 such incidents in 2003, the highest number in two decades.

The statistics didn't include attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, which President Bush as recently as Tuesday called "a central front in the war on terror"...
Over three times as many terrorist attacks in 2004 compared to 2003, and this is not counting any of the attacks in Iraq. Interestingly, some 300 of these attacks were carried out by extremists supported by Pakistan, who is supposed to be an ally in Bush's "war on terror."

Keeping that news item in mind, let's take a look at chapter 7. Wallis begins by suggesting that we were all terrified by 9/11, and that we still are. He claims the war in Iraq was justified by fear. He quotes Thomas Merton; "The root of war is fear."

If only it were that simple. There's no question that the fear card was played to argue for the invasion of Iraq. But I don't think fear was the primary motivation; nor has fear by the primary driving force behind the wars of the past. Greed, a lust for power, nationalism fueled by ideology and revenge are just some of the motives that can cause one nation to attack another. Some would suggest, and I would tend to agree with them, that these motives were involved in that attack of 9/11 and the decision by the current administration to invade Iraq. Fear was a tool used to try to rally public support for an invasion that was a form of terrorism itself; one that has caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians. When evil is used to fight evil, one can anticipate an evil result.

This administration has done everything possible to keep the public's fear of another attack at as high a level as possible. Why? As Wallis tells us;

...fear can cause us to give up important things, to accept other things that violates our own best values, and even do terrible things to other people. Fear has led us into a new foreign policy based on preemptive and potentially endless wars - which are not likely to remove our fears and could likely make the dangers we face even worse...
The dramatic increase in terrorist attacks suggests that Wallis is right.

Wallis affirms the need for us to bring to justice the few thousand people who are involved in terrorist attacks, but he cautions that our response "must not inflame and infuriate the tens of millions more in the Arab world (and elsewhere)..."

Wallis suggests that the religious community, which exists as an international rather than American community, might be helpful in the essential work of self-criticism and repentance that must be done. The reasons why Americans are so deeply hated in some parts of the world, and not trusted in most of the rest, need to be confronted. Here are just a few that Wallis identifies;

The truth that most of the world knows is that the US government has far too often supported military dictators in Latin and Central America, Asia and Africa who have murdered as many or more innocent people as Saddam Hussein. The truth is that the United States has not been an honest broker for Middle East peace and has not sought the proper balance between Israeli security and Palestinian human rights. The truth is that American and Western appetites for oil have led to a corrupt relationship with despicable Arab regimes. The truth is that the United States sits atop and is leader of a global economy in which half of God's children still live on less than two dollars a day, and the United States will be blamed around the world for the structures on injustice that such a global economy daily enforces. To speak these truths is very hard, sometimes especially in American middle-class congregations, but speaking hard truths is part of the prophetic religious vocation.
To engage in this essential work of self-examination, Wallis notes three things that are important to keep in mind;

1. When "telling the truth," it is important to not imply that America "deserved" what happened on 9/11. Nothing justifies terrorism.

2. Terrorists are not "freedom fighters who went too far." Osama bin Laden wants to create more oppression, not liberation, as evidenced by the Taliban.

3. Global injustice is not the cause of all terrorism. Such fanaticism is often more ideologically driven. Global justice is a part of the solution, as poverty creates an environment in which such fanatics may find recruits, but solving those problems will not eliminate the violent acts. Justice issues cannot be used as a negotiating tool when dealing with terrorists.

On the first anniversary of 9/11, Wallis wrote an article entitled "Ten Lessons to Defeat Terrorism." Here are the introductory statements for his ten lessons;

1. Treat the threat of terrorism as very real.
2. Avoid bad theology.
3. Listen to the different perceptions of Sept. 11 around the world.
4. Let's define terrorism the right way, and allow no double standards.
5. Attack not only the symptoms, but also the root causes of terrorism.
6. The solutions to terrorism are not primarily military.
7. It is time to move on beyond the debates of pacifism vs. just war...
8. It is time to end the unilateral action by any nation...
9. This is not a time for peace loving, but peacemaking...
10 The fight against terrorism is a spiritual struggle, not just a political one.

Wallis is quite adamant that the way the "war on terrorism" is being carried out is a big mistake. I think we have just started to see the signs that he's right.

The religious community needs to take the lead in self-examination and repentance. That is the only way towards reconciliation. Is such a unilateral call for repentance unAmerican? Only if you see this as a struggle between good and evil, with America in the role of the good guys. To thwart this dangerous self identification calls for humility; a recognition of the ways we have fallen short of the mark.

We have no control over what others do. The way of reconciliation and peacemaking has to begin with us. If we, as people of faith, do not begin to point to this way through our actions, who will? This way may be costly, but, as Wallis tells us, "the alternatives are both impractical and frightening."

Links to discussions of previous chapters of Wallis' book can be found here.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Earth Day, 2005

Willis Jenkins offers us this reflection; Ideology, Ecology and Bonhoeffer. Here's a brief excerpt;

...So let's learn about those religious values of the evangelical Right. If the environment comes into consideration only as a matter of personal stewardship, of individual responsibility, as one part of the “purpose-driven life” – okay, let's talk about it. What purposes drive our overconsumption, our disregard for threatened species? Are those the purposes of God? How does exurban sprawl relate to the land responsibilities of the covenant? What does stewardship mean in an era of global warming...

...So we can do two things. We can call the cultural Right to encounter anew the name of Jesus. Jim Wallis of Sojourners has been reminding the Christian Left for years that we cannot abandon preaching Jesus in irritation that his name has been claimed by the Right. Rather we must proclaim his words still more clearly, that once again the miracle of faith may unsettle political binds and speak peace to haunting fears. For inevitably, if we truly encounter the one through whom all things are created, the one in whom all things are already reconciled, our desperate patterns of life will change.

And secondly, we can work to put a cog in the wheel with all those who already glimpse the way of the reconciled world. We may discover, as Bonhoeffer did, that these people are often found outside the church, and so come to know anew where the broken body of Christ is being resurrected.
Speaking of Sojourners, they offer a great set of links in a feature entitled Create in Me a Green Heart. Here's a sampling;

Evangelical Environmental Network
Sustainable Table
The National Council of Churches' Eco-Justice Program
Grist Magazine

Finally, since Sojourners and Jim Wallis have been mentioned already, let me remind you of the ongoing discussion of his new book, God's Politics.

Christy comments on chapter one.
Bob and Betsy reflect on chapter two.
Bill and Jen offer some thoughts on chapter three.
Bill dips into chapter four.
Naomi offers some insights on chapter five.

The only commentary I would add about the book at this point is in regards to the few references I've seen suggesting that Wallis is biased towards the Democrats. I hope folks keep in mind how far to the right the center has moved. This present administration makes Reagan look like a moderate. Wallis consistently champions the poor and speaks out against war, while maintaining his evangelical roots. Since those are my primary faith issues, and I don't hear much from other Christian leaders on these two areas, I'll put my support behind Wallis, even if he voted for Ross Perot (or maybe the Bull Moose party?).

We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty of earth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains and rivers; for the song of birds and the loveliness of flowers. We praise you for these gifts, and pray that we may safeguard them for our posterity. Grant that we may continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation, to the honor and glory of your Name, now and forever. Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

God Summoned to the Vatican

Some of you may have seen this, as it is making the email rounds;


Vatican sources have today confirmed that next week, the new Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church, will begin his pontificate the way he means to continue it.

He will summon God to the Vatican to give an account of His increasingly liberal views on a number of important issues.

Benedict commented, "God exercised complete and authoritative control in the past, but He began to go all soft after He sent His non-Catholic Son to Palestine without permission of the Holy See. Jesus, the Son, then caused a great deal of trouble by going about preaching, challenging the religious authorities and subverting the socio-economic system prevalent at the time. Even His mother could see Him for the troublemaker He was becoming, saying, ' He is out of His mind! Get Him out of there!'

Furthermore, his penchant for preaching the good news to the poor led towards the formation of the aberrant liberation theology movement. And as for His attitude to women: He actually made disciples of them and allowed them to minister to people. We would not want to allow those actions to raise false hopes in the women of today because it is not something my cardinals and I would want to encourage. (Certainly not after I have been awarded the Triple Crown.) I know I have their complete trust, because I recommended their appointments to my more liberal predecessor, Pope John Paul II, over the course of the last twenty-five years.

You must understand that we all trust our meeting next week will be resolved in an amicable manner in accordance with the rules of the Universal Church as interpreted by the prestigious Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."


Embargoed until Wednesday, 20 April 2005
Better to laugh; the alternatives cause ulcers.

For those wanting something more substantial, some interesting reading on Salon; The Church will continue to suffer; Father Andrew Greeley, Michael Lerner, Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Fox, Amy Sullivan, John T. McGreevy and others weigh in on the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI.


Monday, April 18, 2005

The Pope, the Prince and the Premier

When the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles was rescheduled for the day after the pope's funeral, I didn't think much of it, except to recall that I heard earlier that Monday that the wedding would proceed as planned. I wondered at the time what caused the royal family to reconsider and reschedule.

Some of the British press are suggesting that the reason for the change was because Tony Blair decided he was going to the funeral. Some of the press are not pleased about this, as can be seen in this article from the Guardian by Martin Kettle entitled It's as if the Reformation had Never Happened;

The funeral of a pope, let us be clear, has never until now been the sort of event deemed to require the attendance of the British prime minister - or even of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The late Lord Callaghan, who was premier when the previous two Popes died in quick succession in 1978, attended neither of their funerals. Nor did anyone at the time think it remarkable that he chose not to go. The more so when not even Dr Donald Coggan, Cantuar of that time, saw it as an essential duty to attend the funeral of John Paul I either.

This time, as yesterday's extraordinary flurry of hasty rearrangements showed, the assumptions could not be more different. No British prime minister, as far as I know, has ever attended a papal funeral, but Tony Blair will have been absolutely determined to be in St Peter's on Friday. Even more striking was the similar instinct in Lambeth Palace, where Dr Rowan Williams was yesterday reported to believe that, offered a choice between officiating at the royal wedding in Windsor or attending the papal requiem in Rome, Rome would win every time... is hard not to catch one's breath at the rupture with national history that all this represents. Ours is still, after all, legally established as a Protestant nation. Until very recently the mere idea that a prime minister or the head of the Anglican church might have any kind of dialogue with Rome - never mind rearrange the next Protestant king's wedding to suit the cardinals in Rome - would have been regarded as close to treason. Catholicism, in its time, was as anathema to the British state as communism was in a later era. Five centuries ago we broke with Rome so that a king could remarry. Today our re-embrace of Rome means that a future king's remarriage has to be postponed...
In the Telegraph, Peter Osborne claims that Blair betrays the Crown as well as the country;

...Nothing, however, so completely displays Tony Blair's contempt for his constitutional role as the circumstances surrounding yesterday's wedding between the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles. The events which took place last Monday as news came through that the Pope's funeral was to be held on Friday and would clash with the wedding, were so extraordinary that they can only be understood as signaling some kind of punctuation mark in British history...

...Partly this is a question of manners. The formal invitation to the royal wedding had arrived several months before, and been carefully RSVP'd. And yet the Prime Minister and his wife were ready to ditch the invitation without prior notice or proper consultation.

Still more curious was Tony Blair's immediate determination to go to Rome. No prime minister has ever attended a papal funeral before, and with good reason. Britain is not a Roman Catholic country - though admittedly anyone who has read the British newspapers over the past few days might be forgiven for supposing that it was. The papacy stands for autocratic and hierarchical principles and attachments to ancient dogmas that are alien to the British state...
I think it would safe to assume that Mr. Osborne does not care for the Prime Minister. I'm afraid I have to disagree with him on one point. In light of the celebrity status surrounding Pope John Paul II, and the fact that so many other heads of state would be present, it would have an unnecessary expression of poor manners if Prince Charles and Tony Blair had not been present in Rome.

Osborne assumes that Blair's insistence on attending the funeral was politically motivated. There are other theories, however, such as the one put forward by Damian Thompson; Revealed: Tony Blair's Catholic Secret.

The discussion in the British press leads to a consideration of loosening the constitutional establishment of the Church of England. Martin Kettle concluded his comments with this suggestion;

...As this week shows, our constitutional relationships are currently in a rare muddle. We are reduced to picking and mixing among the elements of the inherited constitutional settlement, rather than honouring and celebrating it as a whole with indiscriminate confidence, as we should. We improvise inconsistently. This week our established leaders will do honour to Catholicism on Friday, then perpetuate Catholicism's subordination on Saturday.

As a result we have an Act of Settlement which simultaneously contains provisions which are inspiring - such as the independence of the judiciary - and others which are absurd - like the bans on Catholic monarchs or consorts. If there is one over-arching lesson for Britain from the swirling political, religious and constitutional issues of the moment it is surely that we need a new Act of Settlement, one which defines the proper spheres and relationships of the crown, the government, the parliament, the judiciary, the component peoples and their faiths in 21st- rather than 18th-century terms...
A recent editorial in the Telegraph expresses similar sentiments;

...The really extraordinary thing about the present constitutional establishment of the Church of England is not its absurdity, but that nobody really believes in it any longer. The tight links between parliament and the church's general synod seem to both sides a mysterious encumbrance. Parliament is not Christian. There is no reason for it to be able to veto the synod's legislation, as it presently can, and no reason why the Church of England should regulate its own affairs by legislation, as it presently must. If the church were no longer established, then those ties would quietly become otiose. Neither the Queen nor Tony Blair would have a role in appointments. Nor is it clear why bishops should sit in the House of Lords. Breaking those constitutional links, which is what it usually meant by disestablishment, is a simple, sensible reform...
What I found most interesting about all of this is that while here in the States some of us are getting nervous about the current blending of faith and government to the point of seeing theocrats in every corner, the British are discussing loosening those same ties. It might be worthwhile to listen in on this discussion. We may hear some rational arguments for keeping Church and State separate that may be better received than the polarized rhetoric so popular today.


Sunday, April 17, 2005


Psalm 23
John 10:1-10

Our Gospel lesson appointed for this morning speaks of entering the sheepfold. This sheepfold was a type of corral used in Jesus' time to keep the sheep safe during the night. This enclosure was usually made of 4 simple stone walls, often with thorns on top to keep thieves from crawling over the wall. Often, different flocks would be put inside the same community sheepfold, with one attendant assigned to watch the gate all night. In the morning, the attendant would allow the shepherds he knew to go into the fold, and call out their sheep. Each flock recognized the voice of their shepherd, and would follow him out of the sheepfold.

It appears that Jesus is suggesting that those listening to him were the sheep, and the kingdom of God is the sheepfold. That means that we are the sheep. This is not a very complimentary role for us to play, is it?

I’ve heard it said that at the heart of every Scanadanavian there is a viking, under the surface of an Englishman one uncovers a philosopher king, and Americans fancy themselves as cowboys. But when we look at the stories told by the Israelites, we find their identity symbolized by a wooly sheep. Maybe they are on to something. Maybe humans are indeed much more like sheep.

Sheep are not known to be the most intelligent animals God ever created. They will follow one another right off the edge of a cliff, if they don’t have someone to watch over them. I’ve been told that if you place a stick before a line of sheep, the lead sheep will nimbly jump right over it and continue walking. If you then remove the stick, the rest of the line of sheep will also leap at the same place the stick had been. Are we like sheep?

I recall years ago a time when I took my four children to the store. My oldest daughter must have been about 8 years old. It was a Saturday, and the parking lot was full, with cars darting about competing for the limited parking spaces. As we started to get out of the car, I said, “Now, you all stay with me.” By the time I got to the other side of the car, my oldest daughter had already started for the door of the store, and the other three children were following right behind her, like a flock of mindless sheep. I saw them headed right into the path of a car, and shouted “Stop!” My oldest came to quick halt, and the other three almost bumped into each other. My children had followed one of their own, one of the sheep, instead of their dad, who was acting as their shepherd that day. Yes, I think sometimes there are similarities between humans and sheep.

The 23rd Psalm reminds us that it is the Lord who is our shepherd. Our Gospel passage ends with verse 10. In the next verse of that chapter, Jesus tells us, “I am the good shepherd.” We hear many voices calling us with promises of greener pastures. The temptation is strong for us to follow some of these voices. It is important to remember whose flock we belong to. We belong to God. We must be careful that we don’t mistake one of our own, one of the sheep, for the voice of God.

In today’s world we are bombarded by many voices calling for our attention. In the midst of all this noise, can we hear the call of God? The television, the radio, the internet, all try to get our attention. And these voices are often successful. Today, the people who seem to know human nature better than any other group are not the psychologists, or even the psychiatrists. The ones who know us best are the advertising agencies. Every day we hear and see hundreds of messages, many intended to entice us to buy a particular product, with suggestions that we will be happier, look better, or live longer if we answer their call. I think that often we are as helpless as sheep because the advertisers are so clever. The messages are so well packaged that sometimes they stay with us, at least in our unconscious, for much longer than we think. We still remember jingles from 30 or even 40 years ago.

Pop pop, fizz fizz...
Ring around the collar!
I’d like to teach the world to sing...

Add to this the voices we hear from Hollywood...the image of John Wayne, for instance, the rugged individual who doesn’t need anyone, who can take on any challenge all by himself. Or Frank Sinatra, so proud that he did it his way. And then pop music, which often includes subtle messages of anti social behavior that we often never object to, because it is an art form, after all. And the internet, putting an overwhelming amount of information at our disposal, but with very little accountability as to its accuracy, and little or no censorship of the negative messages that can suddenly appear on the screens in our homes by the simple click of a mouse.

We have an unbelievable amount of information available to us today. But, it seems to me, we often fail to help each other learn how to use this information, how to think about all this data. Sometimes the amazing number of choices we have today can overwhelm us, even paralyze us.

Every day, we are bombarded by so much data that we can’t take it all in, or we will overload and blow a fuse. In a desperate act of self preservation, we develop filters, which screen out much of this data. Over time, if we are not careful, we can even filter out the voice of God, the One who calls us to lie down in green pastures, leads us beside still waters, and invites us to dwell in God's house forever.

When I was about eleven years old, I went to the county fair with my cousin’s family. My cousin Art and I had worked hard moving lumber for my uncle at a penny a board. With our pockets full of what to us was a small fortune, we wander through the game booths, with the carnies calling out for us to come play their games. The temptation was strong, and the prizes seemed to promise true happiness. We were completely caught up in the noise and the excitement of that moment, and ended up responding to the call of one of the carnies, laying down our hard earned money, lured by the promise of an easy prize. Just then, we heard a voice rise above the din of the carnival. It was my Uncle Dale, calling us back to the family. We immediately followed him, and so were spared losing our fortunes to a slick talking hustler.

We may not like to admit it, but we are very much like sheep. We need a keeper. We need a shepherd. We need God. In this noisy world we live in, how can we hear the voice of God?

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus also refers to himself as the gate. You cannot enter the sheepfold, you cannot enter the kingdom of God, except through this gate, except through Jesus Christ. In other words, we might say that Jesus is the filter. As we are bombarded by messages each day, we can run these messages through the filter of Christ. We can ask ourselves, “Is this message of Christ? Is this information something that is worthy of God’s kingdom?”

In order to use this filter, the Christ filter, we must continue to grow in our knowledge and love of God. Such spiritual growth usually doesn’t just happen. For most of us, it requires discipline. We set aside a time for prayer each day, time to be still before God, to listen to God’s voice, to hear the spirit of God within us. We study the bible, allowing God to speak to us through the holy scriptures. We are faithful to our community, to our Church, and listen for the voice of God from our brothers and sisters in Christ. We respond to the needs of others by willingly becoming the healing hands of Christ in the world today.

As it turns out, in the eyes of God, we are very much like sheep. We cannot save ourselves. If we try, we will wander off, and get lost, fall off a cliff, or be overcome by wolves. God loves us, and will keep us safe, if we listen for his voice....if we heed his call. We need not be afraid of the cliffs, or the wolves. The Shepherd we follow offers us not only life, but abundant life, a life full of God’s goodness and mercy.

Let's try to shut out some of the noise in our lives, and listen for the voice of our Good Shepherd, who will revive our souls, and guide us along right pathways.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Showdown at Nottingham?

The latest installment in the ongoing saga of the Anglican Communion is out.

Before getting into the latest news, let me offer a very brief summary of the previous events that led up to this new development;

The global body known as the Anglican Communion has been in an uproar over the last few years. The events that seem to have launched this current turmoil were the consecration, by The Episcopal Church, USA, of an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire and the approval of the blessing of unions by the Anglican Church of Canada. Various parts of the Anglican Communion responded by declaring themselves either "out of communion" or in a state of impaired communion with Canada and the US. A small group of conservatives in North America launched an attempted coup, hoping to destroy the Episcopal Church and replace it with their own entity, known as "the Network."

The Archbishop of Canterbury formed a commission to study the tension in the Communion. The commission's report, known as the Windsor Report, issued last October, made a number of recommendations as to how we might keep the communion from splitting. These included identifying four Instruments of Unity within the Communion; The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops (held once each decade), the Primates' Meeting (periodic meetings of the Archbishops), and the Anglican Consultative Council (the only Instrument to include laity and priests). The Commission further recommended that the North Americans apologize, refrain from consecrating gay or lesbian candidates as bishop and blessing unions, not include Gene Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire, in any global events (not invite him to Lambeth), and those who participated in his consecration were to voluntarily remove themselves from any leadership role in the Communion.

These recommendations were more or less affirmed when the Primates met in February. One small section from the Primates' Communique needs be quoted, in order to understand the latest development;

14. Within the ambit of the issues discussed in the Windsor Report and in order to recognize 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.
The statement from the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, which met last month, took things a step further by declaring they would withhold their consents for the consecration of all bishops until the next General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2006. Regarding the point quoted above, the bishops stated that they did not have the authority to tell the representatives of the Anglican Consultative Council to withdraw. That decision was left to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.

The Executive Council met yesterday. Here is the part of their letter regarding our representatives being present for the next ACC meeting to be held this June in Nottingham;

...We are mindful that Christ has made us members of one body, and that no part can say to any other "I have no need of you." At the same time we wish to express our openness to the concerns and beliefs of others. In the spirit of the Covenant Statement recently adopted by our House of Bishops, we voluntarily withdraw our members from official participation in the ACC as it meets in Nottingham. As an expression of our desire "to bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2), we are asking our members to be present at the meeting to listen to reports on the life and ministry we share across the Communion and to be available for conversation and consultation.
We will withdraw from "official participation," but we'll be present just the same.

I don't think this is going to go over very well with those who are upset with us; specifically Archbishop Peter Akinola. He is already rallying his troops and encouraging them to be present at Nottingham, in case our representatives have the audacity to show up;

...In that letter I describe the preparations for the Anglican Consultative Council meeting that will be held in Nottingham in June 2005. I am convinced that this will be a critical meeting in the life of the Anglican Communion. I am confident that there will be a concerted attempt by ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada to undermine the gains made in Dromantine. This must be prevented. I also believe that it is crucial that we all send strong, well prepared representatives to the ACC meeting so that those of us who are present can work together effectively.
It would be most helpful if you could communicate the names of your representatives to Bishop John Chew so that we can coordinate our efforts.

I would also strongly urge each one of you to consider the possibility of coming yourselves so that we can stand together. I realize that this will entail considerable personal sacrifice but I am convinced that this is a critical moment in our history. Although I confess that I am not looking forward to spending ten days in carefully managed meetings!

One of the issues for which we will need to prepare is the likely possibility that the representatives from ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada will attempt to attend the meeting in defiance of our request that they ~step back.~T­ We need to think through our response to this because we must not allow them to defy our hard won compromise...
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Frank Griswold, was quite upset by the tactics used by the conservatives at the Primates' Meeting in Ireland in February. It looks like more of the same is scheduled for Nottingham. Will Peter Akinola take on the role of sheriff? If so, the son of Robin would be the obvious choice to challenge his authority.

No doubt this saga will be continued.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Reconsidering the Tentmaker

I've suggested before that I suspect it is time to reconsider having full-time professional clergy on the staff of most congregations. For many churches, this is simply not good stewardship of their resources. Clergy packages, often mandated by the diocese, can consume up to three quarters of a small church's net disposable income. Beyond this, there is still the assumption, now often unspoken, that the clergy are hired to "do ministry," because the laity are too busy.

If the church is intended to "equip the saints for ministry," when does the equipping end and the ministry begin if the assumption is we can hire someone else to do it? What is the point of the worship and educational opportunities? To enhance our own spirituality? To make sure we have our ticket to heaven?

Primarily, I see this as a stewardship issue. My understanding of healthy stewardship is that we give half of all income away. Half for maintenance and half for mission. I see no other way to keep those two priorities in balance. For a small congregation to accomplish this, they cannot spend the bulk of their pledge income on full time clergy.

This kind of thinking is not popular. I told one search committee that I thought their problem was that they had too much money. They had this huge endowment, and it was clear from reviewing their materials that they were quite distracted by the need to protect this money. The strongest indicator that this preoccupation with the endowment was unhealthy was the huge amount of endowment income that was used to fund their operating expenses. The members had no personal investment in the institution. Large endowments can kill a church. We've all seen this happen.

I suggested to them that they live within their means; function only on pledge income (even if this means not having full time clergy), and use the endowment income to fund community events or outreach projects. In other words, give it all away. This would result in a proper use of the funds from a Christian perspective, as well as cause the community to sit up and take notice of the parish, resulting in increased membership. Needless to say, I wasn't called back for a second interview.

Personally, I'm quite weary of the popularity contests, "auditions," and the theological sparring involved in the hiring process within the Church. If you tell the truth, you might not get hired.

I have four possible positions opening up when my current one ends sometime in the near future. One is more or less a start-up; a small church that will be using their savings to hire a full time priest for two years to turn them around. Another is an interim position (advantage of interim ministry? No popularity contest!). Another is running a program for a large non-profit (which I doubt I'll get, but it's fun to go through the process). And the last one is teaching High School English, and offering my services on Sunday to those congregations in need of a priest.

I'm inclined to go for the last option. On a personal level, that makes no sense, as I won't be adding to my church pension. That's the real glue of the Episcopal Church, btw; the clergy have an excellent pension fund. If it wasn't for that, many of the angry priests in TEC would have left a long time ago. Consequently, I don't think the pension fund is such a great thing.

Since I question the wisdom of every church employing full time clergy, and wonder sometimes if the pension fund is creating a unity based on personal security rather than any spiritual bond, maybe it is time to walk the walk?


Monday, April 11, 2005

The Spread of Theocracy

During my commute this morning, I heard a brief news story on NPR regarding a Christian pastor in Iran who may be sentenced to death for apostasy. The story doesn't seem to be getting much attention yet, but can be found on a few sites, such as Compass Direct;

Iranian Christian Hamid Pourmand must appear before the Islamic (sharia) court of Iran within nine days. An exact court date has not been released. Arrested last September when security police raided a church conference he was attending, the Assemblies of God lay pastor will be brought up before the Islamic court between April 11 and 14 to face charges of apostasy from Islam and proselytizing Muslims to the Christian belief. Both "crimes" are punishable by death...
Such situations are hard to even imagine for those of us who take religious freedom for granted; a freedom guaranteed by the Constitution;

Amendment I - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
The Constitution also protects us from having our government taken over by religious extremists who demand that every office holder adhere to a particular set of religious beliefs;

Article VI. - ...The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
With these checks of power in place, the US seems to be safe from the threat of the type of theocratic government we see in power in Iran. We are safe, aren't we?

Consider the wording of the following piece of legislation, The Constitution Restoration Act, currently before the Senate - bill S. 520;

Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the Supreme Court shall not have jurisdiction to review, by appeal, writ of certiorari, or otherwise, any matter to the extent that relief is sought against an entity of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer or agent of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official or personal capacity), concerning that entity's, officer's, or agent's acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.'
A governmental agent can claim God as the "sovereign source of law", and there's not a thing the courts can do about it. My skin is beginning to crawl. What is this all about?

Here's David Kubiak's take on this bill, from his article entitled Introducing The Constitution Restoration Act - Say Hello To Taliban America And Goodbye To Godless Judges, Courts And Law;

...In other words, the bill ensures that God's divine word (and our infallible leaders' interpretation thereof) will hereafter trump all our pathetic democratic notions about freedom, law and rights -- and our courts can't say a thing. This, of course, will take "In God We Trust" to an entirely new level, because soon He (and His personally anointed political elite) will be all the legal recourse we have left.
Katherine Yurica suggests it's not simply the religious right that is behind this bill. She links it to the Dominionists, also called the Christian Reconstructionists. In case these folks aren't familiar to you, here's a good definition offered by Frederick Clarkson;

...But another largely overlooked reason for the persistent success of the Christian Right is a theological shift since the 1960s. The catalyst for the shift is Christian Reconstructionism--arguably the driving ideology of the Christian Right in the 1990s.

The significance of the Reconstructionist movement is not its numbers, but the power of its ideas and their surprisingly rapid acceptance. Many on the Christian Right are unaware that they hold Reconstructionist ideas. Because as a theology it is controversial, even among evangelicals, many who are consciously influenced by it avoid the label. This furtiveness is not, however, as significant as the potency of the ideology itself. Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of "Biblical Law." Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home. Insufficiently Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder to include, among other things, blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality.
The source for much of the thought behind Christian Reconstructionism is found in Institutes of Biblical Law, published in 1973 by Rousas John Rushdoony. A brief perusal of the Chalcedon Foundation, founded by Rushdoony, makes it clear that Clarkson is not exaggerating. Here's just one direct quote from one of their theology articles;

...From this discussion we can see that, according to the teaching of the Torah and following the metaphysical, moral and judicial definitions provided by the law of Israel, this sin, this metaphysical disorder, this moral and social disorder which is the nature of homosexuality, merits the death penalty...
Some might think that the reconstructionists will never have much influence, as their views are seen as too extreme. I suggest to you that they already have much more influence than we might imagine. Knowing that some folks see them as rather scary, they now work through other organizations.

One of these organizations is the Council for National Policy, which was described by ABC News as "the most powerful Conservative group you've never heard of." A look at their membership roster shows us that the gang's all there; Dick Armey, John Ashcroft, Gary Bauer, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Trent Lott, Ed Meese, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, among quite a few other well known names. Also included is Gary North, the son-in-law of Rushdoony. This list, from 1998, includes R.J. Rushdoony, the father of Christian Reconstructionism, as a member of the CNP.

Another name on this list that Episcopalians might recall is Howard Ahmanson, the wealthy backer of the American Anglican Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, who served on the board of Rushdoony's Chalcedon Foundation for a couple of decades.

If you want to read further about what is going on behind the scenes within the religious right, visit Theocracy Watch. Religious Tolerance offers a good summary of Dominionism here.

I don't feel very safe anymore. Do you? Any suggestions as to how to thwart this Christian version of the Taliban?

One thing I'm planning to do is to try to attend this conference; Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right, being held at the CUNY Graduate Center April 29 and 30. Note that two of the writers quoted above, Katherine Yurica and Frederick Clarkson, will be making presentations, as well as Karen Armstrong. Jeff Sharlet, who some of you may recognize as the editor of The Revealer, will also be there as a presenter.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Faith and Politics

Bob Carlton has invited a few folks to engage in a discussion of Jim Wallis' new book, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it. Over the next few weeks, various blogs will be discussing specific chapters of the book. You will find a proposed schedule for this discussion here.

I must admit to having mixed emotions about the blending of faith and politics. When I first entered the ordained ministry, there were some basic "dos and don'ts" that my mentor taught me. For instance, to mention just a few of the "don'ts"; clergy do not date members. Clergy do not make deposits and keep the books. Clergy purchase libations at the liquor store in the next town over. Clergy do not mow the lawn in a torn t-shirt and baggy shorts. And, finally, clergy do not endorse candidates or political parties.

For the most part, these unspoken rules have served me well, although I must admit that it has been a long time since I reflected on why these are good standards to uphold.

I can understand why some folks are nervous about faith playing an important role in politics. We don't have to look very far to see the dangers of a theocratic government. The attempt to meld faith and politics is not limited to nations far away; it is alive and well in America. The theocrats, with their extreme understandings of "God's law," which they desire to make the law of the land, should make us all a bit nervous.

The reality is that faith has often played a role, to some degree, in politics, and probably always will. I'm old enough to remember when John Kennedy was elected. I can recall my parents (a Greek Orthodox and a Baptist, who compromised and both became, of course, Episcopalians) talking about being uncomfortable with electing a Roman Catholic, as his first allegiance would be to Rome. Years later, I heard very little of that kind of talk regarding Jimmy Carter, who made it rather clear that his first allegiance was to the Kingdom of God.

This is the point where I can understand the concern of those who are not persons of faith. If I am honest, I would have to admit that I am first a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and secondarily an American. If someone believed that religion was a crutch, the opiate of the masses, delusional thinking, etc., then they wouldn't want a politician who gave a high priority to his faith in office, as there would be another loyalty fueling their agenda.

The difficulty right now is that in the last election, Christianity was blatantly used as a political football. Some, like Jim Wallis, are claiming that it is time for persons of faith to become more vocal to counteract the message of religious right and the secular left (disclaimer; no, I don't think all Republicans are a part of the religious right, or all Democrats are part of the secular left; this is simply one way to define the tension, by identifying the extreme poles). To be quite honest, I was dubious of the faith of both Bush and Kerry. It sounded to me like they were being fed lines to show how religious they were by their handlers.

Since the pollsters came out with their claim that the election was decided on "moral values," now every politician, Republican and Democrat, is looking for opportunities to talk about God. I'm not sure that more God talk is going to convince anyone anymore that the speaker deserves their vote. It won't convince me.

What will convince me are actions. Specifically, actions that reveal a desire to offer a hand up to the poor and a willingness to explore the systemic causes of poverty. What will convince me to support a candidate are actions that give evidence of a consistent life ethic that includes not just discussion of abortion and euthanasia, but also of the thousands of innocent Iraqis who have died due to the American invasion and those on death row who will be murdered in the name of the state. What I'm looking for are politicians who express their belief in the dignity of every human being by standing up for those who would be excluded because they are different in some way from the majority. I want a leader who recognizes our responsibility to be good stewards of all of creation, if for no other reason than to make sure that we don't leave our children's children a toxic wasteland.

Will these actions merge faith and politics? Most likely. The changes that need to be made are going to require using every tool we have. But if you trot out your faith thinking it will get my vote, save your breath. Actions speak louder than words. Show me, don't tell me.

Bob offers some good discussions regarding faith and politics here, here and here.

Dave begins the discussion with a call for more humility and restraint here.

Naomi links to a good background interview with Jim Wallis here.

To be continued. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Tired of Being Called a Homophobic Bigot?

Here's some good advice from Roy Clements;

...To sum up then, if you would avoid the charge of homophobia you must demonstrate:

the sensitivity that chooses tactful words;
the rationality that offers arguments rather than assertions;
the consistency that expresses equal indignation about other social issues;
and, perhaps most important of all, the humility to admit that you might be wrong.
You may complain that pro-gay speakers and writers do not show such consideration to you. Instead your sincere moral convictions have been denounced as homophobic bigotry. I acknowledge that this could be true. But, however unfair the misrepresentation of your views, the situation is not symmetric. Christian gays are not trying to eject you from the Church or from ministry, you are trying to eject them.

In law a verdict of "Not Guilty" requires only the establishment of "reasonable doubt". Even if you feel the case against gays has been proved, there are other members of the jury who are less convinced. No one wishes to shut you up, but what you say and how you say it makes a huge difference.
Sensitivity, rationality, consistency and humility; that sounds like the recipe for a healthy conversation on any number of topics.

A final slightly off topic question; is anyone familiar with this organization?
Human Rights Campaign
I need to do some quick homework on it, so would appreciate hearing of any personal experience, either positive or negative, anyone has had with these folks.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Breake, Blowe, Burn and Make Me New

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to'another due,
Labor to'admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly'I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me,'untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Holy Sonnet XIV,
John Donne
I recently transferred Donne's Feast Day (March 31) so that we wouldn't miss commemorating this wonderful poet. As a part of the dialogue sermon, I offered the above sonnet, simply because it is my favorite from his work.

Reflecting on this piece, and the discussion that followed its presentation, has caused me to recall some work I did years ago on the theology of romantic love.

Charles Williams is one of the authors that immediately comes to mind who has written on this topic. Simply put, the idea is that God is madly, head over heels in love with us, and is constantly wooing us, and all of creation, into being.

Dante works with this theme as seen in his pursuit of Beatrice. When he finally catches up with her, he finds the light of love in her eyes, which compelled him to pursue her, was reflected light; the source was the griffin (two creatures in one nature; get it?).

This idea also ties in nicely to one understanding of the Trinity. The Lover (Father) loves the Beloved (Son), and that love is returned. The Flow of Love (Holy Spirit) between them is eternal (beyond time; no beginning and no end).

This Flow of Love has been extended to include us through the Incarnation, in which the Beloved appears in our midst. To the degree we are able to stand in the place of the Beloved (pray and act in the name of Christ), as the adopted (created beings; not of the same nature as the Trinity) sons and daughters of God, we are able to become a part of this same Flow of Love (receive the Holy Spirit). It is then that we become what we have always been intended to be, the Beloved of God.

I think this understanding is essential to grasp before engaging in ministry. If our every word and deed is intended to express God's love, we had better have some knowledge regarding what divine love is all about. There's lots of different understandings of the term "love" floating around. If we don't get that part right, I think our witness to the world becomes less than it could be.

God is madly in love with you. Right now, God is wooing you into being. How will you respond?


Monday, April 04, 2005

Let Light Perpetual Shine Upon Him

From Dr. Rowan Williams' tribute to the life of Pope John Paul II;

I think in these past few days, we've seen an extraordinary "lived sermon" for Eastertide, about facing death with honesty and courage; facing death in the hope of a relationship which is not broken by death but continues beyond it. Pope John Paul showed his character in the way in which he met his death; clearly frustrated, clearly suffering, and yet at every point accepting; facing his frailties and remaining courageous and hopeful. I feel there's a certain appropriateness about the fact that he died within the Easter season — a time of the Church's year which meant so much to him. It has been a season in which he was able to give a message to the whole of the Christian world, and in fact to the whole human world, that won't be readily forgotten.
May he rest in peace.


Saturday, April 02, 2005

A Consistent Life Ethic

From Democrats for Life;

A Consistent Life Ethic Pledge of Nonviolence

by Carol Crossed
from Harmony: Voices for a Just Future, Vol. 7, No. 6, July 2001.

We believe life is threatened in today’s world by war, abortion, economic injustice, racial violence, human oppression, euthanasia and the death penalty.

We believe in the protection of all life - minorities, the unborn, the condemned, the enemy, the elderly, the poor. We see no one group as less or more important than another group.

We understand that each of us, as participants and shapers of democracy, plays a role in the violence of the world, and we are complicit.

We believe that this protection of the vulnerable against violence can only come about through non-violence.

We recognize that non-violence is not inaction, but is aggressive mentally, emotionally, spiritually. It is only passive in its nonaggression toward our opponents.

We recognize non-violence as different from peacefulness. Creative tension, confrontation and disturbing a negative peace, or agitation, describe what is needed to morally force the opponent to continue the dialogue for resolving the injustice.

We recognize that before nonviolence unites the community with all the oppressed, born or unborn, condemned, guilty or innocent, it may first divide us from the broader community.


We vow to educate ourselves and, to the extent we are able, others, about our cooperation with evil.

We will actively resist evil and refrain from silence and fear of unpopularity to the best of personal and collective capability.

We pledge to attempt to love willingly, knowing that the return may be hostility. We will try to accept suffering rather than inflicting it.

We challenge one another to maintain a cooperative spirit of peace, but not necessarily peacefulness, a spirit of respect and reconciliation, but not forbearance in the face of injustice, in protecting all groups of the unprotected.

The words in boldface are the words of M.K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Consistent Life Ethic Activist Carol Crossed has been active in Native American rights organizations, Bread for the World, Feminists for Life and has been arrested at various peace, justice and life witnesses. She has been Executive Director of The Seamless Garment Network, Inc. and is a member of its Board of Directors ( She is co-Editor of Harmony, and a celebrated and popular speaker for the consistent life ethic cause.


Friday, April 01, 2005

Hypocrisy, Texas Style

A few folks have mentioned the case of Sun Hudson, a baby who was taken off life support against his mother's wishes. This act was seen as proper because it was legal, according to Texas law.

Here are a few excerpts from Jonathan Alter, who refers to the death of baby Sun as but one example of the hypocrisy of our President's claim to be a champion for life;

...I bring up that story because it's just one of several ironies that have arisen in connection with the Terri Schiavo saga, in which the president said that the government "ought to err on the side of life." Fine, but whose life... about Sun Hudson? On March 14, Sun, a 6-month-old baby with a fatal form of dwarfism, was allowed to die in a Texas hospital over his mother Wanda's objections. Under a 1999 law signed by Bush, who was then governor, cost-conscious hospitals are empowered to decide when care is "futile." The Hudson case is the first time ever that a court has allowed bean counters to override the wishes of parents. "They gave up in six months," Wanda Hudson told the Houston Chronicle. "They made a terrible mistake"...

...Congress did real damage to their own principles by sticking their nose in this mess. They replaced reason with emotion, confused law with theology and allowed politics and tabloidism to trump the privacy this agonizing family tragedy deserved.
I would suggest that the tension is not between law and theology, but law and ethics. The law is the best system we have, and is to be highly regarded, but it's not perfect. I get concerned when folks no longer reflect on the ethical implications of a legal decision because they figure the courts or the politicians have already done the ethics for them.

The irony in the first paragraph of Alter's article is rich. Governor Bush signed the death warrant for 152 criminals. He shortened his review time of these cases to 15 minutes. Why? "He trusted the courts to sort through the life-and-death complexities." Over the last month, in regards to the Terri Schiavo tragedy, he has flip-flopped, and supported attempts at an end run around the courts. Was this sudden switch because he champions life? His record on the death penalty, his signing the law that ended the life of baby Sun and his invasion of Iraq suggests that he has a lack of respect for life that should concern every citizen. It's about politics, plain and simple. As time goes on, I despise this man more and more.