Friday, July 29, 2005

Update on Connecticut

Nine bishops sent a letter to the Standing Committee and Bishop of Connecticut, in which they inform Bishop Smith of their intention to begin "shaping of a presentment against you for conduct unbecoming [Title IV, Can.1, Sec.1 (j)] a Bishop of this Church."

Bishop Smith responded to the letter, and sheds a little more light on the situation;

...The Standing Committee found that the Rev. Mark Hansen had abandoned communion with his bishop by the demands of the May 2004 letter. Further, he ignored well-established disciplines required by priests by ECUSA Canon and the policies of this diocese. Also important, for a time which as yet we have been unable to determine, he has abandoned his ministry in St. John's to hold a secular position in another state while at the same time on sabbatical from St. John's.

The parish leaders of St. John's enabled and protected Fr. Hansen in these arrangements, and are uncooperative, evasive and not forthcoming when questioned by members of my staff. For more than a year the parish has ignored its payments to our revolving loan fund. Members and leaders who disagree with Fr. Hansen have felt intimidated and many left the parish. There are significant outstanding bills and the electric company had sent the parish a shut-off notice. We have not seized any funds of the parish, as you claim we have, and in the past week we have paid more than $20,000 in parish bills from diocesan resources - including $8,500 owed on Fr. Hansen's pension...
The Bishop also wrote a letter to St. John's, Bristol, which fills in a few more blanks;

...No one who came that day or since seeking access to St. John's on parish matters has been denied access to the building...We had no keys to the building and the locks were changed late in the afternoon to ensure the security of the property. Keys to the new locks have been issued to parishioners who have assumed responsibility for certain work already begun as part of the effort to rebuild St. John's life, mission and ministry...
I doubt very seriously that the presentment will go forward. But I have little doubt that the inhibition and deposition of Mark Hansen will.

I still have the nagging feeling that there's more to this story that we aren't hearing.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

CAPAC; Justifying Criminal Actions

In review, allow me to remind us of some of the events that have led to the latest developments with the Anglican Communion, and specifically within the Episcopal Church.

Some of the more conservative members of the Episcopal Church have been proclaiming that the Church is going to hell in a handbasket since at least the '50s...actually there's always been someone playing the role of Chicken Little, but I'm limiting this discussion to the events that have occurred in my lifetime. Bishop Pike was the lightening rod in the '50s. Some of the ideas in Dr. John Robinson's Honest to God was the next target during the '60s. The '70s were especially turbulent, with the signs of doom being the ordination of women and the adoption of the '79 BCP.

During the last 25 years, the conservatives having been organizing themselves, much like they have within the political scene. The latest sign being held up to denigrate the Episcopal Church is our acceptance of gay and lesbian members as brothers and sisters in Christ, and the affirmation that they are not second class citizens in God's kingdom. That isn't a very radical idea. It is clearly the perspective that one would expect anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ would take. Yet, it has become the issue that is used as the rallying cry for all of those in the Episcopal Church who have designated themselves as God's official gatekeepers. There are claims now being made that unless you disagree with the Episcopal Church's position on this matter, you cannot be a Christian.

The harsh attacks were ignored for many years, as they were mostly made up of absurd arguments based on the "ick factor." It was assumed by many that eventually sanity would return. The assumption was wishful thinking. Ignoring the loud extremists simply gave them time to organize.

And organize they did. The goalposts were moved, however. No longer was reform of the Episcopal Church sought. The new goal was to destroy the Episcopal Church by any means possible, and set up an alternative entity, run by the conservatives. The details of this plan were revealed in the Chapman Letter. It is worth taking a moment to review that document. If we consider recent developments, it is clear that this is the plan we are watching unfold. For more thoughts on this plot, take a look at my previous commentary, A Closer Look at the Attempted Coup.

I want to focus on one segment of the Chapman Letter;

...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.

Some congregations have already proceeded to “Stage 2” because of local circumstances. While we cannot offer AEO under an AAC diocesan Bishop at this time, we do have non-geographical oversight available from “offshore” Bishops, and retired Bishops. We may also be able to offer oversight from special designated priests acting on behalf of our AAC Diocesan Bishops...
"...non-geographical oversight available from 'offshore' bishops..." Keep that phrase in mind while we consider another internal memo from these conservatives, contained within the court documents of the case of Calvary Church vs. The Diocese of Pittsburgh. The memo is near the end of this lengthy file, and is entitled "Draft Proposal for Overseas AEO." Here is a summary of the proposed phases;

Phase One is "Dual Citizenship." A priest stays canonically resident in ECUSA, but also becomes canonically resident in an offshore diocese. The suggestion is made that CAPA (Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa) take an active role in this process.

Phase Two: The priest leaves ECUSA for the offshore diocese. The congregation leaves with the priest. The ECUSA bishop deposes the priest. The offshore bishop does not recognize the deposition. The example given is David Moyer.

Phase Three: The offshore bishop delegates responsibility of spiritual oversight to the Network (a group of conservatives within ECUSA). The U.S. is divided up into "overseas diaspora archdeaconries."

We've already seen phase two put into motion in the diocese of Los Angeles, and other places.

The new glitch in the conservatives' plan was the release of the Windsor Report, which included this recommendation;

We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own:
* to express regret for the consequences of their actions
* to affirm their desire to remain in the Communion, and
* to effect a moratorium on any further interventions.
We also call upon these archbishops and bishops to seek an accommodation with the bishops of the dioceses whose parishes they have taken into their own care.
We further call upon those diocesan bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) who have refused to countenance the proposals set out by their House of Bishops to reconsider their own stance on this matter. If they refuse to do so, in our view, they will be making a profoundly dismissive statement about their adherence to the polity of their own church.
Since the conservatives want to use the Windsor Report for their own purposes, this meant that they would have to carefully word any future communications regarding their plan to use foreign bishops to take over the Episcopal Church. Consequently, the statements from the first group of foreign bishops they hoped to use, CAPA, have to be carefully read to understand what their intention actually is. For instance, consider this one, dated 7 April 2005, from Abp. Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria, regarding the formation of the Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America;

This Convocation will function as a ministry of the Church of Nigeria in America. Our intention is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada but rather to provide safe harbour for those who can no longer find their spiritual home in those churches. While it will initially operate under our Constitution and Canons, it will have its own legal and ecclesial structure and local suffragan episcopate. I will be asking the next General Synod of the Church of Nigeria, which will meet in September 2005, to make the necessary constitutional amendments.

During the intervening months, in cooperation with our friends in the Anglican Communion Network, I will be appointing episcopal visitors from among already consecrated bishops to provide pastoral and episcopal oversight for those congregations already in operation and in formation. I am excited by the possibilities before us and look forward to seeing this ministry grow.
Sounds like the implementation of the "master plan" to me, with the disclaimer inserted that the intention "is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada." How it can be read to be doing anything other than that escapes my understanding.

We now have the emergence of the second group of foreign bishops who will be used to implement the conservatives' plan; the Council of Anglican Provinces of the Americas and Caribbean (CAPAC). In their statement, we find this;

...A common call to unify Communion-committed Anglicans currently fragmented by history and the present strident challenges to the historic faith and, in some places, the tragic oppression of faithful Christians. Intending to serve the wider communion by addressing the numerous overlapping jurisdictions in our hemisphere, CAPAC seeks to provide a solution in the context of the wider Anglican Communion.

Cognizant that it may be necessary to establish interim, provisional measures for mission and ministry, we fully intend to pursue cooperation with the Instruments of Unity of the Anglican Communion in compliance with the Windsor Report and the direction of the Lambeth Conference of 1998...
They declare they will comply with the Windsor Report, but may have to "establish interim provisional measures..." One can assume that means they will do exactly what the Windsor Report explicitely said not to do. This statement is signed by Drexel W. Gomez, Archbishop of the West Indies, Gregory J. Venables, Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, Robert W. Duncan, Moderator, Anglican Communion Network and Donald F. Harvey, Moderator, Anglican Network in Canada. Note that "the Network" has no official recognition as anything other than a voluntary affiliation of like-minded people. Duncan is the bishop of Pittsburgh; nothing less and nothing more.

J-Tron, over on The Propaganda Box has some good commentary and discussion on this latest attempt to make an end run around the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church sees the plan unfolding, yet appears to have no plan of their own as a response, other than to attempt to continue with business as usual. The conservatives' plan may be flawed and unethical, but challenging their actions on that basis doesn't seem to have had much impact. As far as the conservatives are concerned, the end justifies the means.

Appeals to Canterbury have been made, and will be made in the future, but realistic expectations must be held regarding the Communion's response. First, the wheels move slowly, and second, many involved in these events do not consider the Communion's statements or resolutions as binding.

So how can the Episcopal Church thwart this attempt by foreign bishops, in league with their conservative allies, to steal congregations? At this point, the only option is the secular courts. I'd suggest that we not wait until the deed is already done. If a foreign bishop steps on the property, have him arrested for trespassing. If a foreign bishop claims ownership of a congregation, have him charged with theft. These people are planning and engaging in criminal actions. It's past time that is said clearly, it seems to me.

Extreme? Maybe. I'm open to suggestions of other responses. In the meantime, if you see unknown clergy prowling the perimeter, ask for their credentials.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Bishops; A Blessing or a Bane?

Back in the early '90s, I was invited to participate in a gathering of local ELCA pastors, who were meeting to discuss the proposal that the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America enter into full communion. This group had one question for me; "In your opinion, is having bishops a blessing or a bane?"

It was a good question. I'm not sure I did it justice. Because the honest answer is; it depends.

I served on staff with a Presbyterian pastor at one time. We disagreed on an issue. I took it to the diocesan bishop, who made a judgment on the matter and wrote us a letter informing us of his decision. When I received the letter, I informed my associate that the issue no longer existed. This confused her. No committee? No long meetings? This is one of the blessings of having bishops. The buck stops with them. They are given the authority to make a judgment on many matters, which is quite helpful when a timely resolution of the issue is an important factor.

Some people, especially Americans, are not very comfortable with one person holding this much authority. It certainly could allow a tyrant to emerge. My experience, from serving in places where the bishop did use a rather heavy hand, is that creative ways are found to soften the impact of this particular leadership style. In extreme cases, the bishop is removed.

But we need to talk about how we remove a bishop. The idea that you do it through the use of the canons and courts is really not too realistic. Regardless of what one thinks of Bishop Pike, he was a superb lawyer. He anticipated that one day he might be tried for heresy. In the years leading up to this, he subtly sponsored various canonical changes. When the time came for his trial, the Church suddenly realized that it was nearly impossible to remove a bishop on charges of heresy. So, if your bishop has stepped over the line in his/her use of authority, don't waste your time and money on attorneys and courts. The chances are very slim that you will be successful, even in a secular court, as they give much weight to the existing constitution and canons of a religious organization as the standard by which all parties had previously agreed to function.

Does that mean there is nothing one can do if your bishop needs to be removed? No. It is done. But it is not pleasant. The easiest way is to pressure the bishop to take an early retirement, not only for the good of the diocese, but for his/her own personal well being. This usually includes a very generous "severance package" for lack of a better term. This is a distasteful method, as the history will go down as the bishop was "paid off," but it is more graceful than other methods, especially if the difficulties are rooted in the bishop's physical or mental state, which are beyond his/her control.

What has caused me to reflect on this "blessing or bane" question is the heavy stream of verbiage that is being created in regards to the situation in Connecticut. It appears that Bp. Smith has used a heavy hand. In response, I hear many stating that the way forward is to remove the bishop. I don't see how that's going to happen, for the reasons I've already stated.

Some have suggested that the Archbishop of Canterbury's new Panel of Reference be asked to referee this matter. At this point, the diocese of Connecticut has not felt that such an action would be appropriate, as they view this as a local situation.

There's another reason why I would imagine that many members of ECUSA would be uncomfortable with bringing the Panel in on our domestic difficulties; a reason that is not stated often, as it doesn't sound very PC. The reality is that we consider all statements, resolutions, etc. from any source outside of General Convention to be advisory only. They have no final authority. We could debate if that is a good or bad thing in and of itself, but that would be a somewhat tangential discussion. What I'm suggesting, in order to move forward in learning from the events in Connecticut, is that we simply accept as the reality the fact that ECUSA does not feel bound to do any more than respectfully listen to the pronouncements coming from the Anglican Communion. Thus, I doubt that the Panel would be very helpful in this case.

Keeping that idea in mind, let's consider what I believe to be the primary issue in Connecticut; "Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight" (DEPO) vs. "Adequate Episcopal Oversight" (AEO), which are actually two very different things.

The diocese of Connecticut uses the model presented by ECUSA's House of Bishops. Note that reconciliation is the goal. Divorce is not even considered an option. Using this model as a template, the diocese of Connecticut developed their own method for implementing DEPO.

Bishop Smith offered this option to the six dissenting parishes in Connecticut. They rejected it.

The letter they wrote regarding their rejection of DEPO spells out the only conditions under which they would enter into such an agreement;

1. The bishop must repent from his action of participating in the consecration of Gene Robinson.

2. All meetings must be with all six parishes.

3. Suspension of canons requiring an assessment of funds in support of the diocese.

4. A one year review by the ABC on behalf of the Primates.

5. The selction of future clergy will be decided by the parish and the bishop they choose, with the diocese playing no role.

6. The diocese will also have no role regarding candidates for holy orders.

This is not DEPO, as envisioned by the House of Bishops. This is "Adequate Episcopal Oversight," which grants the same authority to the alternative bishop as that held by the diocesan bishop. This would, for all intents and purposes, create the rather unique situation of having more than one diocesan bishop in a particular geographical area.

Regardless of what you think of Bp. Smith, it would seem obvious to most folks that such demands really put him between a rock and a hard place. His response could have anticipated;

We can disagree about many things, but we cannot disagree about the role of the bishop in his diocese. I cannot break my own vows as bishop, suspend the constitution and canons, and relinquish my authority because we don't agree on a given issue.
The standing committee of the diocese of Connecticut recommended the inhibition of all six priests under Title IV, Canon 10. There's some confusion about this canon, so I'll offer the relevant section for future reference;

...if it shall determine by a vote of three-fourths of All
the Members that the Priest or Deacon has abandoned the Communion of this Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or by a formal admission into any religious body not in communion with this Church, or in any other way, it shall be the duty of the Standing Committee of the Diocese to transmit in writing to the Bishop of such Diocese... If the Bishop affirms the determination, the Bishop shall then inhibit the Priest or Deacon from officiating in the Diocese for six months...
The letter from the six priests, by itself, would seem to me to be rather strong evidence that they had indeed engaged in a renunciation of the discipline of the Episcopal Church. I grant that the point is arguable. But it is an argument worth engaging, it seems to me, as I think this is the crux of the matter in Connecticut. I further believe that careful consideration of these events might be helpful to us all in regards to developing a better mutual understanding of the role of bishops in our common life.

We have either heard or experienced horror stories of bishops behaving badly. Hopefully, we have also experienced bishops as profound expressions of grace. It seems to me that we cannot simply dismiss the office, because we don't like, or disagree with the person holding it at the moment, can we?

In regards to honoring the office of bishop; regardless of our opinion of the person holding the office, we have to keep in mind that Donatism, the idea that the effectiveness of the sacrament is dependent on the moral character of the priest or bishop, was rejected by the Church in the fourth century. It is also worth noting that Donatism is also rejected in the 39 Articles, which, although they are placed as "historical documents" only within the American BCP, are included in the list of criteria by which the six Connecticut priests will judge the worthiness of a bishop; a rather ironic twist, it seems to me.

Let's also recall the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch;

Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.
What are your thoughts? Is the bishop a blessing or a bane?


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Making of a Connecticut Martyr

I've been hesitant to say anything about the inhibition of Mark Hansen, rector of St. John's Church, Bristol, Connecticut, as it seemed obvious that there was more to the story than we were hearing from the initial reactions. But, since there's been nothing new reported in the last few days, it looks like we may never know what really happened.

For those who are not Episcopalian, let me see if I can briefly summarize the story that led to the rather bizarre events of last Wednesday;

Six priests in the diocese of Connecticut no longer recognize Andrew Smith as their diocesan bishop. Why? Because he participated in the consecration of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of the Church. They have demanded that their bishop repent, that they no longer be required to give any funds towards the work of the diocese and the right to choose their own bishop. Here's how the Episcopal News Service described the situation, and the actions by the diocese in response;

...The "Connecticut Six," as they have become known in the media, want to be released from their ordination vows of obedience to Diocesan Bishop Andrew D. Smith, with whom they disagree about Smith's support of the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003. The six, all rectors of congregations, are also demanding suspension of selected canons governing financial obligations, ordination procedures, and clergy succession.

Attempts over the past year to reconcile differences or reach an acceptable way forward -- including Smith's proposed implementation of the Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) plan approved by the House of Bishops last year -- have been unsuccessful.

The Standing Committee of the Diocese in March determined that the six rectors had "abandoned the communion of the [Episcopal] church" and recommended that the priests be inhibited from practicing their ministries in the diocese for six months.

The six priests claim that they are being gagged and their careers threatened because they don't support Smith's views. The bishop says that's not true.

"We can disagree about many things, but we cannot disagree about the role of the bishop in his diocese. I cannot break my own vows as bishop, suspend the constitution and canons, and relinquish my authority because we don't agree on a given issue."
Let's stop for a minute and think about the story so far. We are the Episcopal Church. We understand the role of bishops to be quite important. It is one of the things that sets us apart from other Protestant groups. The recognition of bishops in apostolic succession is one of the four elements of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral that defines the parameters for all of our ecumenical discussions. Yet these six priests see themselves as not under the authority of their diocesan bishop, because they disagree with something he did.

I simply do not understand this kind of thinking. The priest functions as a representative of the bishop. The idea of the priest as a free agent is a very Protestant notion, but one that, unfortunately, shows up in almost every gathering of priests. We Yankees have never been fully comfortable with the notion of bishops. They smell too much like aristocracy.

I've served in both progressive and conservative dioceses, and at every clergy gathering, there's always a group of priests that sit and grumble about the bishop. Often, they are the cardinal rectors, who know they could do a better job. They're easy to spot. They're the ones with the permanent frown painted on their faces.

But, I digress. So, these six priests want to be released from their ordinations vows...from the Book of Common Prayer, page 532;

Bishop; Will you respect and be guided by the pastoral direction and leadership of your bishop?

Answer; I will.
...and further, they want to then be given the freedom to choose their own bishop. So much for being a person under authority. Don't like your bishop? Just order up a new one. And, you don't have to contribute towards the work of the diocese, but can still expect to have voice and vote in diocesan affairs, and be recognized as a member in good standing. We live in bizarre times.

The story continues. Note that the standing committee recommended inhibition (suspension from functioning sacerdotally for six months) back in March. But the bishop hesitated.

Personally, I think the hesitation was a mistake. We need to keep in mind the lesson Bishop Bruno learned the hard way in Los Angeles. We have foreign bishops prowling the perimeter of the Episcopal Church, seeking troubled congregations they can gobble up. Six parishes in one geographical area would have been some nice ripe plums for such unsavory predators to stumble upon. If the organization of some of the breakaway groups is any example, that would be enough to declare a new diocese, and appoint a bishop. Now, that would really be a mess, wouldn't it?

In March, Mark Hansen, rector of St. John's, Bristol and one of the "Connecticut Six," sent this message to the members of his parish;

It is with deep regret that I now share in writing what I announced in Church two weeks ago: That April 10 must be my last Sunday as your priest, at least in terms of directly providing for your pastoral care and leadership in worship. After that, I will be officially on sabbatical...
If you read the rest, you will see that this is clearly a farewell letter.

From what I understand, Fr. Hansen's reasons for leaving involved his son's medical needs, which required him to seek other employment that would fulfill those needs. That is an honorable and understandable reason for resigning. But, he made two dreadful mistakes; he allowed himself to be talked into the subterfuge of a "sabbatical," and failed to inform his bishop of his plans.

The parish was afraid that if he left the bishop would appoint a "liberal" as interim in his place. So, they wanted him to remain officially their rector, until they could find a suitable replacement. Thus, the subterfuge.

I almost got involved in a situation like this once. I was serving as interim for a parish in the South. They were very conservative, and rather evangelical. Being a son of the House, and a former evangelical, I simply did what many interims do, and played chameleon. These were good folks at heart, whose previous clergy had led them in a certain direction. So, I avoided the hot button issues, did the interim work that I was charged to do, and preached up a storm. They loved it, so much that at one point, when I was considering leaving the assignment early, one of the lay leaders came to see me, and begged me not to go, as "we don't want the devil getting in here." I tried not to laugh out loud, although I was tempted to do my best Mick Jagger imitation and break out with, "Pleased to meet you, won't you guess my name?" The point of this tangential bit is that this is a strategy used by conservative congregations in which the trust relationship with the diocese has broken down; they do whatever they can to hold on to their "orthodox" clergy. They believe the horror stories about "those liberals," and imagine them all to be devils in vestments. Thus, St. John's "arrangement" for Fr. Hansen to "officially" be on sabbatical, when in fact, he had left the parish. As I said; bizarre times.

A third party faxed the bishop the above message. This is how he found out what was going on at St. John's. Can you imagine leaving a parish and not contacting your bishop? After all, in the end, it is the bishop's congregation, and Fr. Hansen is his representative. To this day, Bishop Smith tells us he does not know Fr. Hansen's new address.

I walked away from a parish once, for personal reasons. My first phone call was to the bishop. My second one was to the Senior Warden. I can assure you, if I had not made those phone calls, I would not be a priest today. Abandonment of a cure is taken very, very seriously, as it should be.

But let's get back to St. John's. There's one more piece to the puzzle, beyond the fictitious "sabbatical." St. John's borrowed $100,000 from the diocese to build their church. They still owe $77,000. Their last payment on this loan was in December of 2003. Yet, when the bishop contacted them asking where their rector was, he received a one paragraph response, stating that Fr. Hansen was on sabbatical.

Put yourself in this bishop's shoes. A priest who does not accept your authority is missing, a congregation has stopped contributing towards the work of the diocese and paying on a loan given to them in good faith, and foreign bishops are prowling about licking their chops. What would you have done?

Well, here is what Bishop Smith did;

A letter formally inhibiting the Rev. Mark H. Hansen, St. John's rector, was delivered by Bishop Smith to St. John's Episcopal Church in Bristol. The Bishop was accompanied by the diocesan Canon for Stewardship and Administration, John ("Jack") W. Spaeth III, the Rev. Susan J. McCone, and Mr. Ed Seibert, who will provide administrative assistance. Fr. Hansen was not at the church or rectory; the bishop has not been notified of an alternate address.
An eyewitness account spells out how ugly and terribly sad the scene was;

...The bishop had planned his timing well. There was only an AA meeting and the church secretary in the building when Drew Smith showed up with Chancellor, computer hackers, and a "priest-in-charge." The entourage made demands of the church secretary, admonishing her with canon law. She responded that she was just a secretary, not an Episcopalian, and didn't know anything about canon law. Several times during the day she was in tears. The hackers set to work on the computer, took down the churchÂ’s website, and brought in a locksmith to change the locks. A few more parishioners showed up, and we stood in the parking lot.

The parish's lawyer showed up, and asked for papers. The Diocesan Chancellor handed him papers from the Bishop and Standing Committee saying that Fr. Mark Hansen was inhibited for abandoning communion, and could not step foot on church grounds, exercise any form of liturgical ministry, or have contact with church members for six months. We stood in the parking lot.

The media showed up, and tried to get interviews. I told them I did not have anything to say. One of the older couples in the church talked to them, and, I think, were interviewed by every newspaper, and television station in the area. The warden, the lawyer, and the rest of us stood in the parking lot. Cell phones kept ringing; I drove off for coffee. One of the members of the parish who makes crafts to help raise money went into the building and asked if she could have her materials, which she donates. We took them out in boxes. The Sr. Warden fetched his alb, which is his own. Bishop Smith and his spokesperson seemed to be giving interviews to the press inside the church's worship space. The two women who were there complained that they felt violated. The men did what men do. We toughed it out. But mostly we stood in the parking lot - for several hours...
The bishop shows up, and changed the locks! Unbelievable.

Is this what it's come to? If so, I'm not sure I have the stomache for these kinds of battles anymore. I have little sympathy for Fr. Hansen, other than recognizing his need to put his family first. He made so many mistakes, and dragged his entire congregation down with him. I do think it is high time that we call the extreme conservatives on their disregard for the authority of our bishops, their subterfuge, and their downright rudeness. But, changing the locks? Bishop Smith has created martyrs, where previously these folks, or at least their rector, were only foolish fanatics.

But, no foreign bishop will scoop up St. John's. And it sounds like there is a "faithful remnant" that accepts the authority of the bishop. So, hopefully, the life of this parish will eventually move on.

What would I have done? I don't know. Like I said, I smell more to this story, like maybe a "Godly admonition" from the bishop that was ignored.

Regarding the other five Connecticut priests; the bishop has agreed not to make his annual visitation to their parishes. Another move that I can't quite figure out. You send one strong message, and follow it up with backpedaling? Remember David Moyer, Bishop Smith. Bishop Bennison waited ten years, and caught the wrath of every conservative on the globe anyway over that one. These five are getting great press, and can now wear the mantle of martyrs proudly. If you are going to lead, now is not the time to blink. The standing committee gave you the green light. Inhibit, but please, leave the locksmith behind next time.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Big Brother is Watching

The FBI is after the ACLU. Imagine that. Details and links are here. Falwell makes an appearance again. That's two weeks in a row. You think I'm carrying a grudge? Hmmmm....nah.

But, for your entertainment, let me bring you the lyrics of a little ditty put together by Roy Zimmerman (it's intended to be humorous; I'm hoping it won't be too off-color for the regs at Jake's place). To "get it," let me refresh your memory of Falwell's statement two days after 9/11;

...I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'
Now I'll let Roy take over;

Jerry Falwell's god was standing by the elevator while we were talking about the party, so we had to invite him.

Secretly, we were all wishing that he wouldn't come, because he's vengeful and jealous and he tends to smite people.

And, of course, he knew we were thinking that, so it made him all the more determined to show up and punish us.

And I wanted to invite my god, but I couldn't find him.

But, Jerry Falwell's god is hard to miss... the gossamer robe and the beard down to here, and the button that says, "What would Jesus do?"

And sure enough, day of the party, there he was at the door.

And he spoke, spaketh he, saying, "I AM COME."

And I knew there was a joke there... but Jerry Falwell's god will not be mocked.

So I said, "Come in."

Jerry Falwell's god
Jerry Falwell's god

Now, I'm no heavenly host, but I throw a decent party, and there were people of all kinds there — black, white, Swedish, Norwegian, the whole human spectrum.

And right away, Jerry Falwell's god found the two people who would listen to him and began spaking in a voice so loud, it made the Beastie Boys sound like the Vienna Boys Choir.

And he made the lame to walk.

And these were my friends, so they were still lame, but they could walk.

And he turned the loaves to fishes, and the Oreos to Hydrox.

And he divided up the room, divided he, saying "Gays here, lesbians here, pagans here, abortionists, feminists, civil libertarians, People for the American Way," and frankly, some of us did not know where to stand.

I went with the lesbians.

Jerry Falwell's god
Jerry Falwell's god

And he pointed his huge finger at each group in turn, saying, "I blame you, and you, and you, who have secularized society and cast me out of the town square," and I thought, "Man you are the town square."

He said, "Lo, I have lifted the Veil of Protection, for the end days are here, and the judgment is nigh, where I will draw the faithful to heaven and will leave the unrepentant to walk a desolate earth." And I thought, "More polyester for the rest of us."

And he spat fire, and he rained toads, and he brought forth seven bowls of seven plagues, and finally I just said, "Look, I'll tell you one thing Jesus would not do.

Jesus would not wreck a guy's party.

And Jesus would not preach hate.

And Jesus would not stand in the rubble and say, 'I told you so.'

And Jesus would not use an international catastrophe to score points for some misogynistic, narrow, homophobic, anti-Semitic interpretation of his life and teaching.

And if people are jealous and judgmental and vengeful and violent, maybe it's because you made them in your image.

And if people have cast you out of the town square, maybe it's because you are a finger-pointing, moralizing, rageaholic, stone drag who gives deities a bad name!

And if people have turned away from your word, maybe it's because you have spinach in your teeth!"

And he smote me.

Jerry Falwell's god
Jerry Falwell's god


UPDATE: You can hear Roy performing this number here (Thanks, Paul).

ANOTHER UPDATE; You'll never guess who Jerry is claiming rang him up the other day. Yep, it was the White House, seeking a little advice regarding the Supreme Court appointment. I suppose this makes it safe to assume that it won't be Tinky Winky getting the nod tonight?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Next to the Bed

Joe tagged me with the "bedside meme." Btw, congratulations to Joe on entering the realm of Daddydom; John Thomas looks like a beautiful baby boy.

My dresser is right next to the bed and, because of limited space, it doubles as my nightstand. Here's some of the things on it right now;

A pewter bowl containing collar buttons, cuff links, etc.

3 knives; one 5" folding hunting, one swiss army, and one small single blade hook.

2 alarm clocks (I often sleep through the first one).

1 DVD (The first season of Northern Exposure)

2 belts

1 comb

2 bottles of holy oil

1 stole

1 Palaroid camera

1 reading light

And, of course, a few books;

RSV bible
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Children of God, Mary Duria Russell
Slaves of Obsession, Anne Perry
Alvin Journeyman, Orson Scott Card
The Essential Kabbalah, Daniel Matt
The Stones of Summer, Dow Mossman
Father Joe, Tony Hendra
The Laughing Jesus, Freke and Gandy
How Israel Lost, Richard Ben Cramer

Add to the above assorted scraps of paper, various writing instruments, last year's pocket calendar, and plenty of loose change, and there you have it. It looks like absolute chaos, but I've asked Demi never to try to straighten it up. I'd never find anything if she did.

Ok, who should I tag...hmmm...

Demi (of course)

For those who were looking for something a bit more profound, like maybe today's sermon, you can find it here. I updated and tweaked it a bit, but that was basically the message.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Santorum in '08, Please!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the darling of the religious right got the GOP nomination in 2008?

Consider the lovely quotes he's already accumulated;

From 2002, regarding the pedophilia scandal in the RCC;

...Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.
Tuesday, when given the opportunity to soothe the Bostonians' outrage, he digs the hole a little deeper;

"The basic liberal attitude in that area . . . has an impact on people's behavior," Santorum said in an interview yesterday at the Capitol.

"If you have a world view that I'm describing [about Boston] . . . that affirms alternative views of sexuality, that can lead to a lot of people taking it the wrong way," Santorum said.
Does the junior senator from Pennsylvania care to say more about these "alternative views of sexuality"? In fact, he does, as seen in this 2003 interview;

I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts. As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual...if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does...whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality....
Ok,so he's lost the Massachusetts and the gay vote. He could still get the nomination, couldn't he? I think it'll be an uphill battle, especially with his new book coming out this month, which includes pithy little statements like this;

The notion that college education is a cost-effective way to help poor, low-skill, unmarried mothers with high school diplomas ... move up the economic ladder is just wrong.
Well, there goes the women's vote. If we also consider his identifying the demise of the nation to be yoked to the time when "universities began to champion the importance of 'diversity' as a central education value," it's probably safe to say he's lost the ethnic minority vote as well.

And then there's that little comment he made on the floor of the Senate a couple of months ago regarding the Democrat filibuster;

..the audacity of some members to stand up and say, how dare you break this rule. It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942; "I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city? It's mine."
So, the Democrats are Nazis? There goes the crossover vote.

How many straight white male Republicans are there in this country? You think there's enough to get him nominated? One can only hope.

But first, he has to beat Bob Casey in the '06 senatorial race, which doesn't look too promising at the moment. What's Casey's strategy? Keep your mouth shut, and let Rick dig his own grave. It seems to working quite well, according to the polls.

Even Ted Kennedy, who in my opinion is one of the worst choices to champion "moral values," could beat this guy in the general election. Heck, my little pup Barkley could probably beat him. Not that I'm suggesting we should pit "dog on man" or whatever the case may be. That's not to pick on Republicans. It is one thing...

I think I'll now take a page from Casey's play book, and shut up.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Jerry Says I'm Not a Christian

Jerry Falwell sent a letter to his followers in which he attacked the Christian Alliance for Progress, claiming, among other things, that we are not Christians.

My first reaction was, "Who does this guy think he is?"

My second one was, "Why should I care?"

Since it was my turn up to bat, I got the privilege of responding to Jerry.

Some are suggesting it was too hard. Others say it was too soft. I think it was just right. Now, if we just had a few bears, we'd have all the makings of a grand fairy tale.


Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Anglican Communion; Does It Matter?

The July issue of Episcopal Life arrived today. It includes an excellent article by the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas entitled Why Should We Care About the Anglican Communion? The July issue is not online yet, but, thanks to the wonder known as google, I was able to locate an earlier, and somewhat different, version of the article here.

Dr. Douglas suggests that there are at least two good reasons for placing a high value on the Communion. The first one is ecclesiological;

...Max Warren, the great General Secretary of the English Church Missionary Society in the mid-twentieth century is credited with saying: "It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel." Warren's statement underscores the belief that the Gospel contains universal truth that is meant for, and accessible to, every person and every culture. At the same time, Warren's words emphasize that any one cultural expression or contextual embodiment of Christianity is limited in its understanding and experience of the Gospel. No individual, no local eucharistic community, no national ecclesial body, not even any one province of the Anglican Communion, can pretend that they alone, that we alone, know and reveal all that God has done in Jesus Christ.

So to know the whole Gospel we need the whole world, in all of our differences, in all of our peculiarities, in all of our gifts, and all of our mistakes. The Anglican Communion, that family of 38 national or regional churches in 164 countries with 75 million members, all of whom trace some part of our history to the see of St. Augustine of Canterbury, offers an incredible means by which the catholicity of the whole Gospel in the whole world can be lived out. To turn our backs on the Anglican Communion is to turn our backs on one possible way by which we can live into the fullness and wholeness of the Gospel.
The second reason is missiological;

...The mission of God is to restore all people, all people, to unity with God and each other in Christ. The mission of God, the missio Dei, is one of justice, compassion, and reconciliation that seeks right relation with and between all people and all creation. In order to be faithful to the mission of God, we need to be in relationship with others, near and far, those similar to us and those very different from us, who share this vision of God's reign.
Unless we are involved in a global mission, our vision of the future may turn inward, and become nothing more than an extended expression of our personal egos. The Episcopal Church is not my Church; it is God's Church. The movement of God; from glory, to glory, rolls through all things. The temptation to trust my perception of the God's movement is to fall prey to a limited vision that is more parochial or congregational in nature, and, in the end, excludes many from God's kingdom.

We need each other. We are called to move from faith to faith, trusting that God is moving among us. This movement breaks the bonds of time and space. In this present moment, in which all times are gathered together, God's mission moves forward; a mission which is nothing less than the transformation of all of creation.

No doubt there will difficult times ahead for the Anglican Communion. We hear pronouncements claiming that this group or that one has broken away. Rumors of future schisms trouble us. No doubt we will see much more of this kind of thing in the years to come. In the end, the deciding act will be who the Archbishop of Canterbury invites to the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

Lambeth has been the principle instrument of unity within the Anglican Communion since 1867. It is fitting that this unity is represented, not by resolution, or mandate, or ultimatum, but by an invitation. And more importantly, a personal invitation. Rowan will personally invite each bishop in the Communion to join him at Lambeth Palace.

What might happen at this coming Lambeth? If we consider worst case scenarios, there is a real possibility that Rowan will not invite the bishop of New Hampshire to the party. Such a slight would most likely result in a number of North American bishops declining their invitation, in a show of support for one of their brothers who is seen as being treated as an outcast and an untouchable. If Gene is invited, other bishops from other parts of the world may decline the invitation. I suspect that some bishops, who are very upset with us for numerous reasons, will decline the invitation if any bishop from North America is invited.

The other worst case scenario to consider is the rumor that a schism has already been planned, with the timing to be prior to the next Lambeth. If this happens, I wouldn't be surprised if Rowan ignores it, and sends an invitation to those bishops anyway.

Regardless of these scenarios, which may or may not come to pass, we can't give in to the feelings of hurt and outrage they may cause. If we look at the history of the Church, there have been numerous divisions, schisms and disagreements that lasted for many years. Some of those wounds were eventually healed, and unity was once again achieved. Some have yet to be healed, although work towards reconciling these divisions continues even today. The next few years may be difficult, but they will not write the end of the story.

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. To accomplish this mission, to move with God, we need each other. We cannot accept unity at any cost. We may have to stand firm for the witness we offer the world. But let's never fall into the error of saying to our brothers and sisters "we have no need of you." If we are split asunder in the coming years, let us not despair or become bitter. Instead, let us see these painful wounds as an opportunity to reorient ourselves towards that which is our ultimate hope; the healing power of God's love.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Madness Continues

The mad dogs have now attacked London.

From Tony Blair;

...This is a very sad day for the British people. But we will hold true to the British way of life.

The purpose of terrorism is just that - to terrorize people and we will not be terrorized.
The news reports show the British people responding with amazing calm to this disaster. I think this madness will strengthen their resolve.

It is times like these that I have to question the hardline pacifist stance. No, we cannot use violence against violence; evil against evil. But we also cannot allow the mad dogs to run wild.

If my home, or that of my neighbor, was attacked, I know I wouldn't hesitate to use force. I'm not justifying such a visceral response, or claiming that it is good ethics. It is, however, a very human response.

May God have mercy on us all, and comfort those who mourn this day.

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Think Globally, Act Locally

A recent post regarding homelessness has caused my head to spin once again around old arguments that have never been resolved. Anyone who has invested much time and energy in poverty issues knows well the high level of frustration that comes with the territory. Real solutions seem impossible, and handing out band-aids leads to burn out.

One reason that real solutions seem to slip away easily is that once you really begin to grapple with root causes, the connectedness of us all becomes vividly apparent. We can't just focus on the microcosm and ignore the macrocosm.

Teaching a person life skills so they gain employment doesn't accomplish much if they can't earn a living wage. A living wage is not possible in a world embracing a global labor pool. Limiting out-sourcing might help American workers, but will hurt those seeking a way out of poverty in China.

What can we do? Good faith efforts are made to address the global reality. The recent Live 8 concert is a good example. Although, I wonder, is canceling debt really a solution? It's a good start, but over the long haul, it doesn't solve much. To make a lasting change, global trade pratices need to be considered.

The fair trade proposals will bring income to those in need, but will also make a living wage even more distant in this country, which brings us back to considering local solutions.

See the frustration?

I don't think it serves anyone to simply ignore this tension, however. Putting on blinders results in duplication of efforts and limited alliances. We have to think globally, and then attempt to model grassroots efforts to work in tandem with the goals developed by those working with a global perspective.

One such perspective that is worth keeping in mind is the UN Millennium Development Goals. To refresh your memory, here are the goals all 191 UN members have pledged to meet by 2015;

1. Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.
2. Achieve universal primary education.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
4. Reduce child mortality.
5. Improve maternal health.
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
8. Develop a global partnership for development.

Episcopalians might be interested in learning more about a group within the Church that is championing these goals; Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.

Continue to feed the hungry and shelter the poor in your own backyard. But keep in mind that real solutions also require us to recognize that our connection with others has moved beyond tribal and national boundaries. We are now engaged in an awesome task; nothing less than transforming the world.

Also remember that we can't fix anything by ourselves. We are called to do what we can do, and then trust God for the rest.

From the EGR website;

A Four-fold Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator, Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

UCC Approves Equal Marriage Rights

The General Synod of the United Church of Christ overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for "equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of gender" on Monday. Chuck Currie, who is liveblogging the Synod, has more info here. I offer a couple of links in this week's Christian Alliance for Progress commentary.

Thanks be to God!


Monday, July 04, 2005

Update on the Anglican Consultative Council

Simon Sarmiento offers a good summation here. As he points out, regardless of how many times the conservatives repeat the spin, this was a defeat for them. Instead of getting the North Americans banned from all leadership positions within the Anglican Communion, the resolution was amended to include the two bodies under the direct authority of the ACC. The resolution affirmed that which already existed; nothing more. The North American delegations had already voluntarily withdrawn from the ACC, and the ACC does not meet again until after Lambeth 2008.

The other interesting thing to note is that this weakened resolution, which changed nothing, only got 30 votes. Since the Global South had 33 votes, it appears that they were the only ones who voted for it, and at least 3 of their delegation either abstained or voted against it. So much for the claim that the majority of the Communion seeks to punish the North Americans.

Susan Russell, one of the presenters for the Episcopal Church at the ACC meeting in Nottingham, debunks the Conservative spin quite well;

1. On June 22nd the ACC passed two resolutions. In the first, they voted to accept the voluntary withdrawal of the US and Canadian delegates from official representation. As both of these provinces had already voted to do just that and the ACC doesn't even meet again until after Lambeth 2008, the truth is: it was a meaningless and repetitive vote.

2. “Listening” was the focus of a second resolution that included the call for the Anglican Communion to listen to the experience of homosexual persons. This affirmation re-engages a commitment to listen made at the Lambeth Conference 1998 -- a commitment that up until now has been sadly ignored. The truth is: the overwhelming endorsement of this radical new commitment by voting representatives from every Province in the Communion is an extraordinarily hopeful sign for ECUSA, the Communion and the Gospel.

3. The vote on the first resolution was extremely close (30-28 with 4 abstentions) and if the US and Canada had been allowed to vote it would not, in fact, have passed. The second resolution passed unanimously. This totally debunks the fiction that the US reactionaries are promoting that it is “North America against the world.” The truth is: half of the world supported us and the other half has committed to listen to us.
Meanwhile, David Virtue gets an "exclusive" interview with Archbishop Bernard Malango, Primate of Central Africa. Keep in mind that Virtue is not highly regarded even in Conservative circles. He is an angry man who is the most mean-spirited Episcopalian I have ever read. So, we cannot put too much weight to anything he reports, including supposed interviews. But, in the off chance that there is any truth in it, it is worth at least noting that the Archbishop stated that the Global South will form their own Communion before the next Lambeth, with their headquarters set up in Alexandria, Egypt.

David Anderson, President of the American Anglican Council, denounced Virtue's interview, and took a few personal shots as well. Virtue responded of course;

...What irks Anderson and others of his kind is that they have lost the power to change anything. The power has moved to the Global South and the AAC is a succubus, drawing from the spiritual life blood of the south because he and the AAC have none in themselves. The AAC is a parasitic organization.
Mark Harris wonders if this little exchange among the conservative factions isn't an example of the Chapman plan unfolding on schedule, with the AAC becoming less, to allow the Network to become more.

Personally, I think the Global South is fed up with all the North Americans, liberal and conservative, and they are going to go their own way. Statements such as the recent one out of Kenya suggests that they are now making even more bold ultimatums, because they are ready to bolt. If Rowan invites the North Americans to Lambeth, they're going to split off.

So, what do we do? We press on, recognizing that these are challenging times for the Church. Inclusive Church offers a good definition of this challenge;

...The Anglican Church has made a unique contribution to Christian witness. We have always been Catholic and Reformed, standing between the extreme certainties which caused such terror and suffering in the Reformation era. We are commtted to maintaining the value of that inheritance. We are not surprised when something that has so much within it that works for good and redemption is under attack.

But this Church that we love is now under threat. The Gospel of broad and generous inclusion is being undermined by a dangerously monochrome interpretation of scripture.

The loss of our voice; the change in our ecclesiology; the equating of our Anglican tradition with other hard-line, protestant, or neo-conservative churches would be a serious and permanent diminishing of Christian witness to the world...
The ACC also passed a resolution regarding Israel which has caused some controversy. It seems some folks want to believe the illusion that the Israelis are the good guys, and the Palestinians are the bad guys, in all cases. That Christians would even suggest that the Israelis also have blood on their hands is blasphemy to those who pour over their interpretations of the Revelation to John. But I think this issue is best left for another day.

In honor of today being Independence Day, I'll end with a quote from Judge Learned Hand, shamelessly stolen from Susan Russell;

What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.
-The Spirit of Liberty
, (1944) p. 190.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Homeless Feast at Groomless Wedding

Would-be bride throws homeless a party;

When a would-be bride called off her wedding 12 days before the big event, she threw a party anyway -- and invited the homeless.

Residents of the Interfaith Family Shelter attended the bash thrown by Katie Hosking, 22, a medical assistant, and her parents...
An unusual solution, but there is a precedent for such behavior;

"A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for all is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses... So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.' And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'"
- Luke 14
I'm sure the folks from the shelter appreciated the party, but I can't help wondering how they felt about it when they woke up the next day in the shelter, once again faced with the daily struggle to simply exist.

For some, the experience of an extravagant banquet may encourage them to work even harder to improve their situation, in the hope that one day they might host such a feast. But for others, a taste of the good life can be cause for becoming even more discouraged, and even bitter. The difficulty of the climb out of poverty becomes even more vivid by glimpsing how the other side lives. A one-time flood of generosity is not always the best way to address the needs of those living on the edge of desperation.

People are generous during the season of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Food and toys pour in for the poor. Such generosity is a wonderful thing. But, consider what might be done with those resources if they were spread out over a few months, instead of one deluge of charity that will bring relief for a few days. Sometimes I wonder if people give during the holidays more out of a need to feel good about themselves rather than a serious attempt to address the issues of hunger and homelessness. I suggested this once to a Captain in the Salvation Army . He was in charge of the shelter at which I was the Program Director. I almost lost my job on the spot. I suppose I understand why he got so upset. A couple of huge one-time donations are better than small ones trickling in throughout the year. Something is better than nothing. But is it?

Most of the poor in this country try as much as possible to stay invisible. It is considered un-American to be poor. They are ashamed. They feel like they have some flaw, some missing piece, that keeps them down. They are unworthy of a handout. When they accept one, they feel like a parasite, a drag on society.

If it wasn't for the shame, they would speak up and tell us that they'd rather have a job offer than a turkey on Thanksgiving. They'd rather have the security deposit for an apartment instead of plastic toys for the kids on Christmas. But they don't. They keep their eyes lowered, say thank you, and disappear as quickly as possible.

The US Department of Health and Human Services tells us that as many as 600,000 men, women and children go homeless each night in the wealthiest nation of the world. In New York City, estimates are that 30,000 people live in emergency shelters.

What are the solutions to this? There are plenty of good ideas floating around. But, I think the first step has to be to recognize that some people will always need a hand up. I'd estimate that about half of the homeless suffer from mental illness and drug abuse, or both. They need to get access to professional help for these problems. But, in the meantime, they need to be cared for.

Unfortunately, some of the more "successful" programs will not take residents with these kinds of problems. They cream the crop, taking only those who are employable, thus assuring they keep their stats up. The donors don't object to this practice, and the public seem to pay little attention to it. Why? Because of the almost universal, yet often unspoken, premise that help should only be given to those who prove they are worthy.

Any solution that consciously or unconsciously follows that premise will not solve the problem. As Christians, we should understand this. None of us are worthy of God's grace, God's unmerited favor. It is a free gift. Freely we have received, and freely we give.

We don't offer a hand up to those in need because they deserve it. We offer our hand to them because they are human, created in the image of God, and so members of our family. We don't offer our help out of our need to be generous, but as a response to their need, their current crisis, which might not always fall on Thanksgiving or Christmas.