Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Word Became Flesh and Blood and Moved Into the Neighborhood

A Christmas Poem: Prudentius

Though you came from the mouth of God,
Born as his Word on earth below,
Yet as his Wisdom you lived
Forever in the Father’s heart.

This Wisdom uttered made the sky,
The sky and light and all besides;
All by the Word’s almighty power
Were fashioned, for the Word was God.

But when the universe was formed
And ordered by unchanging laws,
The Cause and architect divine
In the Father’s bosom still remained,

Until the slow revolving years 
In centuries at length had passed,
And he himself condescended to come
Down to the world grown old in sin…

But such destruction of humankind
The heart of Christ could not endure;
And lest his Father’s handiwork,
Unvindicated, should be lost,

He clothed himself in mortal flesh,
That by arising from the tomb
He might unlock the chains of death
And bring man to his Father’s house.
 
This is your natal day, on which
The high Creator sent you forth,
And gave to you a form of clay,
Uniting flesh with his own Word.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Walk in the Woods

My friend Michael Povey has some thoughts about grumpiness at his blog Povey Prattle. I know I was grumpy this past week. Grumpy when a bureaucrat at Social Security demanded another document before I could start collecting benefits. Grumpy when I received the second call about how satisfied I was with the service department at the local Toyota dealership - I was very satisfied - and the caller couldn't accept that I didn't want to talk with her. I get grumpy and I am very thankful for Michael's gentle prodding that got me to think about something that happened today that got me very tired and cold, but not at all grumpy.

This morning I took our family's eight-month old black lab Scout for a walk in Ravenswood Park in Gloucester. The 600 acre park is one of those owned and maintained by The Trustees of Reservations. According to someone I met on a previous visit, the donor of the land stipulated that it be maintained as a place where dogs could run free. An eight-month old black lab needs a place to run free and that she did this morning.

When we arrived, I saw a man with two dogs a short way up the road in the woods. Scout, after the obligatory sniffing around the area, bounded up the road to meet the dogs and the man. He patted her, made a comment about what a nice dog she was, assured me that his two were very good with other dogs, and then we were off walking. I lagged a bit behind, not quite up to his pace, but also quite sure that he hadn't come to the woods to chat with me, just as I hadn't come for a long talk, but for a long quiet walk. For the next half-hour or so we walked, the dogs racing ahead and then coming back and then wandering off the road for a bit to sniff out something interesting. I lagged even farther back as we walked, but Scout kept stopping and looking back to be sure that I was still with her. As we reached the end of the circuit we had taken and approached the parking lot and the road beyond, the man stopped and petted Scout again and held her collar until I could put her back on the leash. He told me that there had been some dogs hurt as they raced out of the park and into the road and that he always stopped with his dogs a few feet short of the parking lot. I thanked him and we parted.

I never got his name, but I am thankful for his part in this very ungrumpy adventure. I probably would not have taken as long a walk if I hadn't sensed that there was no chance of getting Scout to go anywhere but where the other dogs were going. I am also very thankful for The Trustees and for the donor of Ravenswood Park, Samuel E. Sawyer, for providing just the place for me to get over being grumpy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I Don't Get It - Again

Even though my grandparents were ardent Republicans and I have many friends in that party, I don't understand how all the Republican Senators, except Susan Collins, could vote against repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell. Maybe my Republican friends are as confused as I am by the refusal of members of the party of Lincoln and the party that prides itself  as being pro-military to end DADT. The law weakens our national security by preventing committed and talented women and men from serving in the military.

The President has taken the position that he is bound to enforce DADT and has waited for Congress to repeal it. I think that it is well past time for the President to decide that he cannot enforce a law which is a threat to our national security.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Don't Get It

I am not an economist, so I probably shouldn't get it, but I find the Republicans' argument for continuing the Bush era tax rates unconvincing. Tax rates were much higher in the 1950s, a period of, at least from my perspective, prosperity. They were higher during the Clinton era and we got a balanced federal budget. And during the Bush era, tax rates were lowered, the national debt grew, and the economy crashed. 

So, the Republicans want us to go back there?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A New Year's Resolution

The Church Year begins this Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, and it's as good a time as any to make resolutions. Although there are more that I could - and even should - make, I am making at least this one: I am not going to worry about the future of the Anglican Communion and simply tend to being a member of the Episcopal Church, the Associate Priest at Saint Peter's Church in Salem, Massachusetts, a Trustee of Episcopal Divinity School, and a member of my wonderful family.

What brought this on were two events that happened on the same day and the flurry of responses to them on various blogs. 
  1. The General Synod of the Church of England voted to send the final draft of the Anglican Covenant to the dioceses for consideration. If a majority of dioceses recommend its adoption, the General Synod can then decide whether or not to adopt. This process will take two years and is aimed at insuring that the Covenant is given serious consideration.
  2. A group of Primates (senior Bishops of member churches of the Communion)  from the Global South released a statement that the Covenant was unacceptable to them and that they would not be attending the next meeting of the Communion's Primates early next year.
It does not seem to be a coincidence that these two events happened on the same day, especially as the statement from the Primates was from a meeting in October. There are some of us who saw the Covenant as a very imperfect attempt to keep the Communion together in the wake of strong objections by leaders from the Global South to the attempts at full inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the Communion's member churches in North America.  The Primates' statement makes it clear, to me at least, that nothing that do, short of accepting their convictions about same-sexuality, will keep the Communion together. These men have decided to walk apart, not only from the member churches in North America, but from all the other member churches. 

The Anglican Communion is broken and I'm not going to waste any more time or energy worrying about it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Christ the King

Our friend Cathy is recovering from surgery and I offered to preach in her parish church this coming Sunday. As I read the lessons for Sunday and some commentaries, I learned something I had not known before. In three different stories in Luke's account of the Good News, we find Jesus speaking about today.

Near the beginning of Luke, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and, after reading a passage from Isaiah, 
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
he says,  "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 

Near the end of Luke, we find the story of Jesus' encounter with the tax collector Zacchaeus. Jesus is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem and, in order to get a better view of him, Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore tree. Jesus sees him and says,  “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” After dinner, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” 

In Sunday's lesson, we find the third of these stories. Jesus is on the cross and one of the two men being crucified with him says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus came to "proclaim the year of the Lord's favor," to bring us and all creation the Good News of God's unconditional love. Throughout his ministry, that love was made real today, not off in the future, in the sweet bye and bye, but in the present moment. The response of the religious people in the synagogue in Nazareth was to attempt to throw Jesus off a cliff. They could not fathom how Jesus, whom they had watched growing up, could make such an offer. I know that in my own life, and in the lives of people with whom I have been privileged to work and worship, there are times when Jesus' offer is rejected, often because we can't fathom how we could even begin to deserve God's love. But Zacchaeus and the man crucified with Jesus grasped what we so often fail to grasp. It isn't at all about deserving or having played by the rules; it's simply about God's grace, about God's deciding to love us even though we don't deserve that and far too often reject it.

Today this offer is made anew and God yearns for us to accept it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hope Abundant

My friend Kwok Pui-Lan has edited a collection of essays by women theologians from the Global South and the United States. For far too long the theologians we heard were white men from Europe or North America. We now have new opportunities - including Hope Abundant - to hear other voices.







Strong Turnout?

The local paper reported that there was strong turnout here for Tuesday's election - just under 60%. Strong? If I had accomplished that percentage in school, I would have received an F, but we seem pleased when more than 40% of our fellow citizens decide not to perform one of the simplest and least burdensome of their responsibilities.

Benjamin Franklin told a questioner during the Constitutional Convention  that the Convention had created "a Republic, Madam, if you can keep it." We seem to be doing a very poor job of keeping it if more than a third of us don't even bother to vote. 

Although I don't agree with their agenda, Tea Party activists understand that keeping a Republic is hard work. Even though much of the success of the candidates that movement endorses was due to well-funded media campaigns and the influence of Fox News, activists did put in many hours as campaign volunteers. The leaders of that movement are also committed to work in 2012 to defeat candidates they supported this year if they don't live up to the movement's expectations. Whether this threat will work in enforcing absolute adherence to the Tea Party agenda remains to be seen. Some of these newly-elected members of Congress may discover that the perfect is often the enemy of the good and that compromise is not always a bad thing.

Whatever our politics, engaging with those elected to represent us is our responsibility. They cannot do the job well without our help. That conversation between citizen and representative ought to be one of mutual respect. Demonizing those who represent us does us no good. It may feel good to characterize a represent with whom we disagree as "not a real American," but it effectively puts an end to any chances of productive conversation with the representative.  Respectful disagreement and attempts to find common ground are often difficult in a political environment in which civility is all too rare, but I see little hope for keeping the Republic unless we are willing to do this difficult work.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Taking Back Our Country?

On my way to the doctor's I passed a couple of people holding signs for a candidate in tomorrow's election. Pasted to the back of one of the signs was another that said ,"We want our country back." It is probably a good thing that I was on my way to an appointment and wasn't free to engage them in discussion, good because I might have crossed the line into rude and that would not be good for a newcomer to town. But if I could have talked with them calmly, I would have asked them, "Back from whom? Do you think it was stolen?" I'm not sure that I can even guess what their answers might have been. If they had identified big  business as the thief, I might have agreed with them. If they had told me that Democrats had stolen the country, I would have pointed out that Democrats are also Americans and all that they did was win some  important elections. I might even have pointed out that many of us who voted for the President think that not enough has changed and that there is still a great deal that we can do to realize the promise of America. 

I understand that people are angry and want someone to blame for whatever they think is wrong. But one's political opponents are not the enemy and no one has stolen our country. What may be the case is that we haven't taken our share of responsibility for our political life. Many of us don't even vote. Even those who vote may not even remember the names of those who represent them in Washington or Boston. Few of us take the time to communicate with our representatives about issues that concern us. And yet we feel free to complain that our representatives haven't done their jobs when we have failed to do ours. It's time we got it right and began practicing the advance citizenship of being Americans.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Career Politicians

I am a career politician.

I have only run for government office twice and only been elected once. The first-time I lost to my mother in a crowded field of candidates for a small number of seats on a representative Town Meeting. The second time I ran unopposed. Although I served for less than five years as a public housing commissioner, I still think of myself as a career politician. I am, as one of my professors used to say, the holder of the highest political office in the United States. I am a citizen. As a citizen I try to become engaged in the politics of the nation and in the more local politics of state and town. I vote; I write to elected officials;  I served once as an honorary co-chair of a friend's campaign; and this year I'm doing a very small of volunteer work for a political party. 

I see politics as the way we make decisions for our communities. We elect people to represent us and we engage those representatives in a continuing conversation about public policy, especially the issues that matter the most to us. If we aren't pleased with the decisions that our representatives do, we remember that they work for us, and not the other way around, and we fire them, voting them out of office.

Yes, I am a career politician.

I didn't begin the thought process that led to this post with any thoughts about my own political life, but with some thoughts about the term career politician. Why is it, I wondered, that career politician has become a slur, while career physician or teacher or banker haven't? Why don't we see elected office as a calling that might be a person's life work? Clearly there have been corrupt politicians, but corruption can be found in the ranks of every profession. Why is it that a calling that is so important to our common life is not thought of highly? Many of those who held elected office could be much better paid doing something else, and yet they choose public service. And for that choice they are frequently treated as little better than common criminals, and because of that kind of treatment there are many, I would guess, who choose to avoid public service, even though they have much to offer.

Career politician should be an honorable title and, because so many of us don't see it that way, our common life is much the poorer.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Nicene Creed

Every Sunday I pray the Nicene Creed, pray it because I see it as an act of praise and adoration  But praying it each Sunday doesn't mean that I find the philosophical language in the Creed particularly helpful in my journey of faith seeking understanding. I don't doubt that the language of substances, of  "one in being with the Father," was helpful in the 4th century, but it's not so helpful to me - and others - in the 21st century.

The choice of that particular philosophical language can be seen as the triumph of the tradition of Athens over the tradition of Jerusalem. The biblical witness is less focused on questions of being than of being with. The Bible is a book - or, rather, a series of books - about relationships: the relationship of God with Israel, the relationships of Israel with the nations, relationships within the community of Israel. It is about how God walks with God's people and about how they are to talk with one another and with the people of the nations. 

Using the philosophical language of Athens was not the only way, and maybe even the best way, that the Church could have come to a common mind about how to explain its faith in the One who had claimed them. There were, it is true, heresies to be opposed, and perhaps there was no better language to use in defining orthodoxy. But the Christian faith need not be understood primarily in opposition to heresy. Here in the 21st century we need not be tied to the language of substance in our thinking about God, in our theology. Here in the 21st century the focus of our theology can be on Jesus' being with the Father and being with us, and what that tells us about how we are to live.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What If?

I have to admit that I have cynical moments. One of those moments came as I was listening to the news about Juan Williams’s firing at National Public Radio. The cynical moment came as I heard about the new contract that Williams had signed with Fox News after NPR fired him. A scenario began to form in my mind. What if Williams wanted to leave NPR for a higher-paying job at Fox? What if he thought that it would be fun to leave behind the reasoned tone of NPR for the more bombastic style of Fox? What if he thought that the best way to accomplish that was to say something on Fox that was guaranteed to get him fired and to make that firing a major news item on NPR and other media?

This scenario is, of course, a product of my imagination, but I have heard Williams’ name on NPR more in the past two days than in the past two years. Maybe it's not just my imagination.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Real Americans

There has been a disturbing trend during the past several years to refer to only those with whom we agree on political issues as "real Americans."  I first noticed this in statements by conservatives, but I have heard liberals saying it as well. 

I don't like it at all. There are no phony Americans or unreal Americans or bogus Americans or counterfeit Americans. One American isn't less American than another. We're all real Americans whether we voted for John McCain or Barack Obama or didn't vote at all. I may think that voting for Sen. McCain was a bad choice, but those who did it are as real as I am. Those who don't vote may be accused of being lazy or irresponsible, but they are still real Americans. And those who joined me in voting for our President can't afford to think that those who didn't aren't real Americans.

Using labels like "real American" doesn't help us to solve the problems that this country faces. In fact, it makes the work of solving them a bit harder because, if those with whom we disagree aren't "real Americans," they have nothing of value to contribute to the political process and we can simply stop listening. Stop listening and miss out on the possibility that there are good ideas on the other side.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thank You, Ellen DeGeneres!

NIMBY - NOTE - BANANA

During the years that I was Director of the Erie County Commission on Homelessness, I often ran into opposition to the siting of services. The cry of "Not in my backyard" was heard so often that some of us coined two additional acronyms: NOTE - not over there either; and BANANA - build absolutely nothing at or near anything.

NIMBY arguments have been heard here in Massachusetts recently in the debates over wind power. An opponent of a plan to build turbines near the Cape Cod Canal said that they shouldn't be built in anyone's backyard. Of course, no one was proposing to build them in her backyard at all, but only on some land nearby. I don't  whether or not there are the health risks that she and other opponents cite as the reason for their opposition. What I do know is that there are health risks for all of us if we continue to use fossil fuels as much as we do. And I know that there are very serious health problems for people, especially children, who live close to  coal-fired power plants and other polluters. These are facilities that should never have been built at or near anything.

The NIMBY arguments, whether about wind turbines or social service agencies, are entirely myopic. If wind turbines or social service agencies serve the common good, why shouldn't they be located near where I live, not in my backyard, which isn't big enough, but in my neighborhood? One of the costs of living in community is being willing to set aside personal interests for the good of the community.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rivalry

It seems to me that the temptation to define ourselves in opposition to or rivalry with others is a dead end. While I am sure that there are revisionists like me who define themselves as not-the-Anglican-Church-in-North-America, I see this oppositional definition frequently among those who have adopted the labels traditionalist and orthodox. In blog post after blog post there are attacks on the Episcopal Church, attacks which seem to me to part of a self-definition of not-the-Episcopal-Church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I have been told, declined to make any judgment about whether or not the Nazi-controlled church was a true church. He simply stated that he believed that in the Confessing Church one could see the three marks of the true church; the Gospel faithfully preached, the Sacraments faithfully administered, and the church's life faithfully ordered. It is these marks that I see in the Episcopal Church and I will make no judgment about the Anglican Church in North America.

In all the continuing debates within the Anglican world, we would do well to follow Bonhoeffer's example.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Being With

For the past few years I have been reading quite of lot of the writings of two theologians, Douglas John Hall and James Alison. Hall is a Canadian and his theology could be described as Lutheran, although he is a member of the United Church of Canada. Alison is English and a Roman Catholic and his theology is deeply influenced by the work of French philosopher RenĂ© Girard. As I have read these two I have looked for areas of agreement or convergence.  Although there are probably many points about which these two would disagree, I have long sensed that there was much about which they do agree.

Reading Alison's latest book, Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal, I found this:
...it is inaccurate to talk about humans as if we have a 'self' within us which is just born that way,...and which then independently, and from out of its own resources, chooses to get in touch with rest of humanity. What we have is an intrinsically relational self.... (Page 162)
A relational self? That was something about which Hall was also very clear:
In the tradition of Jerusalem, however, the primary interest is not with various distinctive beings and the qualities that constitute them but rather their interrelatedness....To put it in a formulary way, being itself for this tradition is relational-is "with-being" (Mitsein). (Professing the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context, page 147)
I have become who I am because of the relationships in which I have shared, from the earliest relationships with my family to the wide variety of relationships that I now share. My being is, as both Alison and Hall assert, relational, with-being. And that is also, in the tradition of Jerusalem, true about God's being - God is Emmanuel, God-with-us. I have said many times, at the risk of being branded a heretic, that my reading of Scripture has led me to believe that God wants to be God only in relationship with us.

Being with presents us with some challenges, both in our more intimate relationships and in other less intimate but important relationships. Marriage, as I have pointed to couples, is not an extreme makeover operation. We are changed in marriage, but not because our spouses demand it, but because God works in that relationship, as God does in other relationships , to mature us. A problem arises in any relationship when one party insists  on a specific change in the other in order for the relationship to continue. The problem isn't that such demands are always unreasonable, but is whether the specific demand can be met without damaging other important relationships.

It seems to me that Episcopalians face this kind of challenge. We have been blessed to be in relationships with Anglicans in many countries, but now many of those Anglicans are demanding that we change in order to continue those relationships. The specific change that is demanded of us is to reverse the course we have taken towards full inclusion of lesbian and gay members of the church, or what has been called sacramental equality for all members. Reversing course on this would damage what I count as very important relationships within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, as well as relationships with a wide variety of people outside the church.

I believe that many of us in the Episcopal Church have, to use a term from the Lutherans, bound consciences. We have, after careful study of Scripture, come to the conclusion that committed same-sex relationships can be holy and appropriate for the church to bless, and that persons in such relationships may be ordained.  We believe that God has led us to this conclusion, although we recognize that we could be wrong, and that we are bound to this conviction unless and until we are convinced that we were wrong. I have listened to the arguments against this conviction and remain unconvinced. I would be very pleased if I could remain in communion with Anglicans who disagree with me about this, just as I was pleased to be in communion with Anglicans who did not share my pacifist convictions. Sadly this now seems impossible.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Place of Shame

I have been struggling for some time with the issue of sameness and difference, In an e-mail about a year ago, I suggested that trying to ignore cultural differences might be one stage in a process of assimilation and, perhaps, the assertion of hegemony. If we are all the same, the sameness must be the sameness of the dominant culture.  But on the other hand, we are the same, we are all human, molded by cultures that, in spite of many important differences, are alike in defining themselves in rivalry with other cultures, in seeing reality as “us against them.”

It is that rivalry which, at its worst, leads to scapegoating and genocide, Ignoring our common humanity, the Other becomes the target of our hatred, the one on whom we project all the nasty bits of ourselves that we are unwilling to acknowledge. We begin to suspect that the presence of the Other is the reason why life isn’t perfect.  If only we could get rid of the Other, life would return to the way it used to be, the way it was always meant to me.

We see signs of this in the growing xenophobia in this country, as well as in the still dominant heterosexism. The chief cause of all our problems is the presence of immigrants, not only undocumented ones, but also those who have permission to be here and those who have become citizens. Of course, the evil Other is not every immigrant, but only those who are not like us,. The chief threat to marriage and the family is not the infidelity of married heterosexuals, but the lesbian and gay persons who have been or want to be married.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ we are offered the possibility of living without rivalry. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8) We see Jesus occupying the place of shame on the cross, freeing us forever from the power of death, freeing us to seek peace, not by driving out the Other, not by killing the Other, but by being forgiven and becoming forgiving.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The President's Faith

The other day, in a blog discussion about the President's decision not to join a church in Washington, someone commented, "That is because he's more comfortable in a mosque." I hope the President would be comfortable in a mosque, in a synagogue, in a Christian church. But the comment was not about the President's ability to be present in a wide variety of places. It was about the weird notion that this President, an adult convert to the Christan faith, isn't a Christian, and the frightening subtext of the comment appears to be that it is alright to be prejudiced against Muslims, in the same way that it once was, in many places, alright to be prejudiced against Roman Catholics or Jews. I lived as a very young child in a suburban community where it was impossible for a Jew to buy a home. I didn't know that until a half-century later when a Jewish friend told me that the reason she had grown up in a neighboring town was because her family couldn't buy a home in the town where I had lived.

Standing up to prejudice against Muslims, as New York's mayor did in his remarks about the Islamic center controversy, doesn't mean being uncritical about actions of some Muslims. In fact, we need to be honest about our assessments of the actions of all our neighbors, not scapegoating any of them, but holding them to same standard to which we are held. It is, I think, appropriate for New Yorkers to say that they would rather the Islamic center be built somewhere else, but is entirely inappropriate to insist that that point of view trump the desire and the rights of those building the center. There are many things in life that I would rather not have to endure, but it would be childish of me to insist that those things be banned.

The question of the President's faith raises another question: is having a religious faith essential to success in politics? The Constitution, in Article VI, section 3, is clear that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." That's the Constitution, but it seems that having no religious faith would be an almost insurmountable obstacle to political success.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The First Amendment

I sometimes wonder how some people can miss the point entirely. The current controversy over the building on an Islamic center a few blocks from the World Trade Center is one of those times. 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
While the first section of this First Amendment to the Constitution originally only applied to the federal government,  by the middle of the 20th century the Supreme Court had ruled that both the anti-establishment and free exercise guarantees applied to the states as well. Given the free exercise guarantee, why are people trying to block the Islamic center? Because they think that the guarantee only applies to them? Because they don't see that restricting other people's freedom means that their freedom is at risk? Because they think that their being offended by the proximity of the center to the WTC should be reason enough for the center's organizers to scrap their plans?

Near the end of the movie The American President, President Shepherd makes a telling comment about Senator Rumson's attacks on him for belonging to the American Civil Liberties Union. Shepherd said that he realized that he had been wrong to think that Rumson didn't get it. The reality was that Rumson couldn't sell it. I think that maybe that's true about those who oppose the Islamic center. Yes, they understand the First Amendment guarantees, but opposition is so much easier to sell. As President Shepherd said earlier in that scene, America is advanced citizenship. It's hard work, the hard work of defending the rights of  people who are very different from us, people who hold opinions that offend us, even people who do terrible things. It's the hard work of my realizing that those who are speaking out against the plans for the Islamic center have a right to do that and my defending that right. President Shepherd was right that it's advanced citizenship and I worry that we might not pass the course.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Numbers

In my occasional visits to conservative blogs in the Anglican world, I have found comments about the drops in the average Sunday attendance in the Episcopal Church, comments that assert that these are evidence that the "revisionist" position of the Episcopal Church is wrong. popularity become evidence that one was following Christ?

I think the focus on - perhaps obsession with - numbers is an indicate that we are embracing, not the theology of the Cross, but the theology of glory. Success as the world measures it - in market share, in growth in budgets - is not what Jesus was about. Paul put it succinctly in his letter to Christians in the most powerful city in the world:
Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Romans 12:2, Phillips translation)
While it was comments by conservatives that set me to thinking about the numbers game, I am well aware that revisionists like me are as prone to play the game as anyone. We are being called, I believe, to be communities in the diaspora, communities that are no longer the dominant cultural and religious ones in the United States. We are being called to live faithfully, discerning as best we can God's will for us, and not worrying about whether we are winning any popularity contests.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Incardination

Although the term is from the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, incardination is a good word to use when any Christian moves from one place to another. In my case, it was moving from East Aurora, a village in Western New York, to Danvers, a town in Massachusetts. In East Aurora I had some sense of what it meant to be a Christian, an Episcopalian, and, as the English would say, a Clerk in Holy Orders. Here in Danvers I will have to work that out or, more accurately, discover it, have it shown to me. I will, if I want to preside and preach regularly, have to be licensed by the Bishop of Massachusetts. But preaching and presiding is not all that there is to being a presbyter, and being a Christian, one who is "sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever," is a vocation all by itself. So the work of discerning how to be in this new place, how to be incarnate here may take some time. There will be others involved in the discerning - my wife, our daughter and son-in-law and their eleven-month-old daughter, old and new colleagues and friends, and some perfect strangers. I can trust that God will use all of these people to teach me how to be me in this new place.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Boundaries

There have been on some conservative blogs in Anglican cyberspace assertions that the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop has denied the divinity of Christ and the resurrection. I responded to the challenge to read a very lengthy analysis of some of the Presiding Bishop's statements. The writer of that analysis concluded that while Bishop Jefferts Schori had not actually denied that Jesus is divine or rose from the dead, her statements could lead - by what I saw as a convoluted path - to an implicit denial of the two doctrines.

The assertions raise the question of how much theological diversity is possible within the Episcopal Church.  It seems obvious that there are boundaries, that there are theological positions that are out-of-bounds. However the discerning of exactly where the boundaries are is not simple. Thoughtful and faithful Episcopalians will disagree about whether a way of understanding the atonement or the person of the Christ is beyond the boundaries. I have, for example, been told that my rejection of Anselm's theory of the atonement puts my understanding of the atonement out-of-bounds. 

I recognize that others have in their minds placed the boundary for theological diversity where I wouldn't and that there will always be arguments about boundaries. My hope is that we can recognize these differences, not as matters of bad faith, but as honest disagreements among sisters and brothers in Christ, disagreements that need no lead to separation, but to continued discussion and, perhaps, deeper respect for one another, 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Free Speech - Again

Our very smart son-in-law pointed out that the idea of a corporation as a person is enshrined in federal law, but he also provided a  quote from Thomas Jefferson that indicated his concerns about the role of corporations in this nation:
I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
Even though I am wrong in my inclination to refuse to give corporations the rights of persons, I think I'm right that the speech which is protected under the Constitution is primarily public speech and that the protection is not absolute. Private speech generally needs no protection and it is the right to speak in the public square that needs protection. But protected speech doesn't mean speech without consequences. Just as the private speech of a child who swears at his parents will certainly have consequences, so the public speech of persons or corporations should not be without consequences. Target, in its support of a pro-business candidate who opposes gay marriage, has learned that its protected speech may have serious consequences. Will I be willing to continue shopping at Target? I haven't decided yet, but losing customers is a possible consequence of that protected speech. 


The framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were not, I believe, concerned to protect anonymous  speech. Corporations, given the recent Supreme Court decision, are free to speak by supporting political candidates, but I believe that that speech should not be anonymous.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Campaign Finance and Free Speech

I don't know enough about the campaign finance bill that was blocked by a filibuster today to know whether it was good legislation or not. However the comments of some of the opponents of the bill were, in my opinion, pure hogwash. How, I would ask some of these men who work for us, is requiring corporations and unions to disclose their political contributions a violation of free speech? (And I won't even ask the question of how the constitutional protection of a person's right to freedom of speech got extended to corporations.) I value my freedom of speech, but inherent in that valuing is my willingness to be open and honest about my convictions and opinions. I do not post anonymous comments on other blogs and I have no problem with those who read this blog knowing who and what I am. If corporations are so ashamed of the political speech they support with their money, what does that say about the integrity of those corporations and those who run them?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Divinity of Jesus Revisited

There have been a few responses – here and on Facebook – to my previous post. MadPriest – one of my favorite bloggers – commented on the problem of dualism, “the splitting of the spiritual and the bodily” which leads to seeing matter as inferior to spirit. Dualism is not part of the tradition of Jerusalem, but of Athens, and the witness of the Scriptures is that matter is good. The Christian's hope for eternal life is not for a disembodied life, but for the resurrection of the body."

Another comment focused my thinking on the question of the two natures of Jesus the Christ. Again I see the underlying problem with much of our Christology as a dependence on substantialistic philosophical language. Again its the tradition of Athens that has led us to think in terms of being, rather than of being-with, which is the tradition of Jerusalem. “Does Jesus have two natures?” is wrong question, or, at least, a question that we can't answer. The questions that we can answer are, “Is Jesus one with us in our humanity?” and “Is Jesus Emmanuel God-with-us?” The apostolic witness, with no mention at all of two natures, was that in this human person they met God. In some way, which they could not explain, Jesus was the revelation of the God of Israel, the one true God. We try to explain that at our peril and always get it more or less wrong. We shouldn't stop thinking about God, stop reading and writing theology, but we need to be willing to see where some theology might lead us astray.

What seems to me to be lost in much of the talk about the divinity of Jesus, is that Jesus was – and is – theocentric. The man we meet in the Gospels was centered upon God, upon Abba. He pointed not to himself but to Abba, and unless our Christology is theocentric, rather than christocentric, we are missing the point. Seeing Jesus as the one who perfectly represents God to us and us to God is, I think, much more helpful – and faithful to Scripture – than the two natures Christology. Representation is relational, and not substantialistic, and the Good News is about God's desire to be in relationship with us. While it may border on heresy, my reading of Scripture has led me to believe that God wants to be God only in relationship with us and with all creation. Or, as my friend Fr. Aaron Usher used to say, Jesus invites us to get intimate with the ultimate.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Divinity of Jesus

I read conservative blogs from time to time, especially ones that address issues in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. On some of those blogs there have been assertions that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church doesn't believe in the divinity of Jesus. Although I have to yet see anything close to clear proof of those assertions, they does raise an important concern for me: the implicit denial by many Christians in North America of the humanity of Jesus.

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has suggested a very challenging way of understanding Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
According to Brueggemann, we must walk humbly with God because that is the way that God walks with us, not only in the person of Jesus, but throughout the story of God's relationship with the Hebrew people.

In North America, we have so frequently focused on the omnipotence of God that we have nearly lost sight of the Good News of God's power being manifested most perfectly in the humiliation of Jesus on the Cross. We like an all-powerful God, largely because we like to think of ourselves as powerful, as masters of our own lives. We defend the divinity of Jesus, as if anything about Jesus needed defending, because we want an all-powerful Savior on our side. And having formed in our minds an image of this all-powerful Savior, we run the risk of seeing Jesus as not really human, not really one of us, not really one with us.

Christian faith, if is true to the witness of Scripture, is faith in a human person, Jesus of Nazareth. This is the person whom I trust, the one in whom I believe God has been revealed fully. This is the one who, far from being experienced by his disciples as all-powerful, was content to be weak and humiliated out of love for us. This is the one whose humanity we deny at our peril.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tea Party?

I have made it a habit to refer to people and groups by the name which they prefer. However, I do reserve the right to comment on the appropriateness of the name that groups choose.

Growing up in Massachusetts, I heard the story of the Boston Tea Party when I was in school. How much of what I heard was entirely accurate, I can't say. What does seem to be true about that Tea Party is that it was a somewhat risky venture. The participants could have ended up in prison. It was also a protest against the levying of taxes on colonists who had no representatives in the Parliament.

Today's Tea Party movement shares neither of these characteristics with the Boston Tea Party. Participating in this movement carries no risk of imprisonment and the taxes which these Americans don't like were levied by their representatives. There can be no cry of "Taxation without representation is tyranny" from these tea partiers. There problem is not tyranny, but their own failure to elect to Congress enough people who agree with their agenda.

And what is that agenda? From where I sit, it appears to be simply anti-federalist. What this movement seems to want is a radical diminishing of the role of the federal government. To achieve the tax cuts that this movement appears to want, without cutting the defense budget, there would have to be major cuts in expenditures for such programs as Head Start, Medicaid, WIC, and Section 8 housing assistance. To follow the agenda that the tea patiers seem to me to advocate, might well lead to the abolition of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education.

Of course, I am an alarmist, but there are times to sound an alarm, and this may be one of them. When I worked as the Director of the Erie County Commission on Homelessness, I often heard and used the phrase, "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor." I understand that the members of the Tea Party movement are, like most of us, experiencing some difficulties during the recession. I understand how common it is for people to look for someone to blame when things aren't going well. This nation is facing some serious problems, but laying the blame on the federal government and diminishing its role in our common life isn't the solution.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Race Still Matters

Recently there has been a ripple or two of comments on the blogosphere about the NAACP's resolution asking the leaders of the Tea Party movement to condemn the racist signs and actions of some people in the movement. Movements are, of course, not always tightly organized and the leaders of the Tea Party movement can't control the actions of those who show up at rallies. But they can be clear in their condemnation of racist signs or actions.

As far as I know, there have been no such condemnations from the movement's leaders. In fact there have been assertions that the NAACP has made more money out of race that the slave traders ever did. There was also what its author, Mark Williams, described as a parody, a letter from the leader of the NAACP telling President Lincoln not to grant freedom to slaves because “Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. This is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop.” Williams, whom I believe to be one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement, removed the parody from his website after tea partiers were invited to meet with leaders of the NAACP. He removed it but, in explaining its removal, he did not apologize for writing and posting the letter, actions that I consider to be racist.

The white, middle-class members of this movement don't seem to get it. As they experience some pain during this recession, they seem to forget just how privileged they are. Unlike people of color, they will not be stopped by the police because of their skin color. They or their parents and grandparents haven't had the experience of being unable to buy a home or rent an apartment in some towns or neighborhoods because of the color of their skin.

Certainly people of color have not been the only targets of discrimination. “Irish need not apply” signs and other forms of discrimination were far too common at the end of the 19th century. Fifty years ago I lived in a town where Jews couldn't buy homes. Racial and ethnic prejudice are still part of our common life and denying it, as the Tea Party leaders seemed to have done, doesn't help at all.

I hope that when the leaders of the Tea Party movement and the NAACP meet it will be an opportunity for the leaders of the Tea Party to get it, to understand the nature of their privileged status in this country and to see that race still matters.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bishops Are Bishops

The General Synod of the Church of England has decided to move ahead - slowly, to be sure - towards the ordination of women to the episcopate. During the Synod meeting a proposal from the two Archbishops was narrowly defeated. I don't fully understand the proposal, but I think that it would have provided that if a woman became your Bishop and you didn't believe that women could be Bishops, you would have the right to a male Bishop whose authority was not granted by the woman Bishop but by the Church of England. I think that's right, but it was a bit confusing. Without that provision, under those circumstances, the male Bishop would have the authority delegated to him by the female bishop. 
The objections to this from Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical groups came quickly and there are predictions that many in the former group will head for Rome. While I have some sympathy for those who hold in conscience minority positions - after all my pacifist position has been a minority one - I find the logic of the objections a bit weak. If I held that it was impossible for a woman to be a Bishop, or in Holy Orders at all, why would I want to remain in a church which purported to have women Bishops? Wouldn't every action of such a church be suspect because women were exercising authority which they cannot have? Wouldn't the conscientious choice be to leave?
I don't want folks with whom I disagree to leave. It saddened me when parishioners left Saint Matthias Church after the General Convention consented to the ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. It saddened me, but I realized that conscience made it impossible for these folks to belong to a church that had a partnered gay Bishop. 
When I was struggling as a teen-ager with  my pacifist convictions, I was very thankful for the support of one of my high school teachers who was a member of the National Guard. He accompanied me to a draft board hearing and assured them that, although he didn't agree with me, he recognized that my convictions were genuine. I hope that I can have the same attitude towards those who disagree with about the ordination  of women, I will continue to pray for those sisters and brothers in the Church of England who struggle with this uncomfortable situation, as leaving or staying would both be difficult. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Liturgy of Democracy

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. (Winston Churchill)

I had the opportunity yesterday to speak to some young political campaign workers. I ended talking about the hard work of citizenship, work that far too many in this country don't even recognize as work that belongs to them, let alone work that they are willing to do. Liturgy, a word that now is used only in ecclesiastical circles, originally meant the public work of the people in sustaining the life of the city - the polis - and that meant politics.

Politics is the way in which we make decisions about our common life, and thus politics is far too important to leave to our elected officials. Voting is not the beginning and the end of our work as citizens, even though many of us don't even show up for that work. Engaging with elected officials between elections is one of the responsibilities of citizenship that is neglected by most of us. We can't be bothered or we think that our opinions don't matter and so, while we grouse to our friends about the decisions that are made in Congress or the state legislature, we never write or e-mail or call the people whom we elected to represent us. When we are silent, the voices that are heard are those of lobbyists and others who understand how to influence political decisions.

It doesn't take many calls or letters or even e-mails to get an official's attention. One Roman Catholic nun with whom I once worked said that twenty letters from constituents about an issue was a deluge. A legislator's staff member said that the phones had been ringing all day with calls about an issue - there were seventeen calls. We are mistaken if we think that legislators don't pay attention to the opinions of constituents. And we are dead wrong if we think that it isn't our responsibility to help shape the decisions that are made about our common life.

I heard someone said that serving others is the rent we pay for living on this earth. I agree and would add that active involvement with politics is the rent we pay for living in the United States.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Communities of the Diaspora

In the final volume of his trilogy on Christian theology in a North American contest, Douglas John Hall quotes comments of Rabbi Dow Mamur of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto about Christians and Jews meeting one another:
They often come from the same realization that our society is, alas, no longer dominated by Christianity but by the neo-paganism that goes under the name of secularity. Both Christians and Jews find themselves in the Diaspora; because of their history, Jews are better equipped to live in it.

Not long ago I spent an afternoon with a group of Bishops talking about want it is like to live in the Diaspora. It brought home to me the truth of how much we need each other - not for conversion but for comfort; not for politics but for testimony. This is, indeed, a time for all women and men of good faith to stick together.
While I am not at all sure that our North American societies were dominated by Christian faith, but rather by the ideology of Christendom, I think Rabbi Marmur is right that Christians have a great deal to learn from Jews about living in the Diaspora. In fact, I think that embracing our vocation as communities of the Diaspora is necessary if we are to be faithful. Nostalgia for the time when belonging to a church was normative in American society will do us no good. Even though there are mega-churches with thousands of  worshippers each Sunday, if we are at all honest we know that churches and other religious institutions are no longer as important to society as thy were fifty years ago.

Living in the Diaspora involves hard work, the hard work of thinking about the Christian faith, about ethical decisions, about how our faith shapes our life in society. This is the kind of work that Jews have done for centuries, the work that was necessary if they were to avoid being crushed by Christendom. This is the kind of work that Christians need to do if we are to withstand the temptation of conformity to the world's standards. The Christian faith, like the Jewish faith, is counter-cultural. We are called to stand against the world for the sake of the world, to bear witness in the world to the Good News of God's love for the world. That has been, I believe, the witness of Jewish people for centuries. That is to be our witness now as marginalized communities of the Diaspora.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Companions on the Way of the Cross

"Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem." (Luke 9:51)

While we may not like it - do not like it - we Christians are called to follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross. Luther was right in rejecting the dominant theology of glory (theologia gloriae) and embracing the theology of the Cross (theologia crucis), but we are more likely to agree with Luther in theory than in practice. We may sing, "In the Cross of Christ I glory," but we are slow to embrace the demands of the Cross. We are reluctant to join Jesus in the place of humiliation. We are reluctant to accept the humiliation of the Church.

This is particularly true of Christians in the United States where we very much wish that the label that Jesus applied to the disciple community, little flock, wasn't true of our congregations. We want to be seen by the world as big and successful. We have ignored the admonition of Paul in his letter to the Church in what was then the world's super-power:

Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Roman 12:2, Phillips translation)
We have let the world's ideas of success seduce us into believing that bigger is better, that a mega-Church is more pleasing to God than a faithful congregation of twenty-five. Margaret Mead was right when she said, "Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. It’s the only thing that has."

And so these little flocks of faithful Christians are companions on the Way of the Cross. Companions, those who share bread, the Living Bread of the Eucharist and the Bread which is the Holy Scriptures. (In the tradition of Lectio Divina the meditative reading of Scripture is described as Feasting on the Word.) There is no room here for a privatized Christianity, we are fellow travelers, pilgrims together.

This is true not only for those little flocks who gather Sunday by Sunday for the Eucharist. It is also true for the whole Church - we are companions with people we will never meet this side of the Last Day. We are companions with people we like and with people we don't like, with people who share our convictions about important matters and those who don't, with people who embrace theologia Crucis and with those who cling to theologia gloriae. Following the Christ is, after all, a messy business!

When Jan and I lived in England, I was often struck by the realization that the Scriptures that I read and prayed in the Daily Office were the ones that friends back home were reading and praying. We were companions in spite of the thousands of miles between us. One Sunday, after we had returned to Massachusetts and I had been ordained as a presbyter, I was driving to preside and preach at one of the congregations in our area ministry. As I drove, I found myself praying for the other congregations in the area ministry, and then for other congregations - Baptist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Assembly of God, United Church of Christ, Methodist - as they gathered for worship. Found myself praying because what was happening to me was a gift and not some good work that I was doing.

This coming Sunday, June 27, will be the last Sunday that I spend as Rector of Saint Matthias Church. I have been blessed in more ways than I know by this congregation's sharing of its journey with me. The journey has not always been an easy one. Some of our sisters and brothers left the parish because of serious and important disagreements - and maybe some trivial ones as well. Others have joined us during these years and have enriched our life together. We are a smaller congregation than we were ten years ago, more of a little flock, and our dreams of becoming bigger have not been realized. But we have been what matters most, companions on the Way of the Cross, and we will continue to be that forever. Deo gratias!

Education, Health Care, and National Security

Recently I heard a retiree say that she was moving from New York to escape the high taxes. I am sympathetic to that, but it raises again for me a question about tax policy in the United States. I have long believed that services that were of vital interest to the nation ought to be completely or chiefly paid for with federal tax dollars. I would put health care and education in this category because I think both are matters of national security. When most people lived their lives in or near the community where they were born, it might have made sense to pay for education and health care locally. With such a highly mobile population, it makes no sense to leave these vital matters to localities. When someone is raised in a community or a state where public education is inadequate and moves to another state, it is the other state that will continue to bear the burden of that inadequate education in ways to numerous to mention. Or when a child grows up with inadequate health care and then as an adult moves, it will be the new community and state that bears the cost of dealing with the poor health of that person. Until we decide to fund the lion's share of these vital services at the national level, we will continue to have regional health care and educational inequality. And that is a matter of national security.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Failure to Communicate?

In February 2008 the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice, "Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective." Much of the lecture dealt with the question of a possible recognition of some elements of Islamic law in England. Prior to the lecture, Dr. Williams said in an interview on BBC that the adoption of certain elements of Islamic law "seems unavoidable." That comment, perhaps more than the lecture itself, was labelled by Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola as “most disturbing and most unfortunate."

Reflecting on  that now almost forgotten controversy and on recent comments about the "American exceptionalism" of the Episcopal Church, I was reminded of a line from the movie Cool Hand Luke: "What we've got here is failure to communicate." I think that one of the central problems within the Anglican Communion is our seeming lack of awareness of the contexts in which others in the Communion are living. Was Dr. Williams not aware that any positive comments about Islamic law would not be well received by Anglicans who experience that law as oppressive in their own countries? And if he was aware, how did he communicate with Archbishop Akinola and others that his positive remarks should be understood as contextual, as appropriate in the English context, and not as in any way applicable in the context of, for example, Nigeria? And how aware was Archbishop Akinola of the English context and of the nature of the relationships between Christians and Muslims there?

Actions taken by the Episcopal Church during the past ten years have not been well-received in many churches of the Communion. In some places they have been seen as creating serious problems for relationships between Anglicans and other religious communities. To some extent, I see the problem as a lack of awareness - what one might call a lively awareness - among leaders in the Episcopal Church of the contexts of others in the Communion and how this church's actions might have an effect on them. I see also an apparent lack of awareness in other churches of the Communion of the North American context, the context in which the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada seek to live faithfully.

The challenge to the member churches of the Communion is not only to cultivate a lively awareness of the contexts in which other churches seek to live faithfully, but also to communicate with other churches in ways that honor that faithfulness. What might have been the response from other churches if the Episcopal Church, before it took controversial actions, had assured other churches that we understood that our actions might have a negative effect for many of them, but that the actions seemed right to us in our context, and that we were committed to supporting them as they dealt with those negative effects? I am not so naive to believe that any statements of that sort would have been universally received as enough to maintain unity in the Communion, but I do believe that such statements, far better than statements after the fact, would have been an indication of the Episcopal Church's deep desire to remain in relationship with all the churches of the Communion.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Too Many Voices

In the Gospel reading for Sunday, June 20 we hear Jesus ask a man who had demons for his name. The man replied, "Legion." There were as many as 5,000 soldiers in a Roman legion, and the man's response suggests that there was a cacophony of voices in his head. Too many voices - like too many cooks - san lead to confusion, even disaster.

We live in a time of many competing voices - in politics, in ads, in the Episcopal Church. It seems that everyone has the Truth about something that is very important. Like the man with the Legion of voices competing for his attention, we may want to turn off all the voices, to find, as Elijah did in the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures for June 20, the place where we can hear the still small voice, the sound of sheer silence, the place where God can speak to us.

That desire is real and important. We need to find places and times of silence, but we also need to listen to at least some of the voices all around us. God has a funny way of speaking to us through others, even through - or perhaps especially through - those with whom we disagree, those whose voices we would like to silence, or at least ignore. Listening to those voices may well lead to revelation. Rowan Williams, before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, said that revelation for God's people is not simply about new information, but about new information that transforms us. Revelation is Good News.

A few years ago I was talking with two friends about how we listen for God's voice in our congregations. As we talked I shared a story about a discussion of human sexuality that had taken place in our congregation soon after the confirmation of the election of Bishop Gene Robinson. I described how angry one of the older conservation members had appeared as other members disagreed with him. One of my friends then said something that was a revelation, something that changed me. She suggested that this man - and perhaps others - was grieving for the loss of a church in which his opinions would be greeted not only with respect but with agreement. I began to see that sympathy for this man's loss did not require agreeing with him about human sexuality. I hoped that, recognizing his loss, I might be able to have a better relationship with him. Sadly, through my fault as much if not more than his, that didn't happen. But my friend's insight changed me a little and has made me a bit more sensitive to the grief of others as the  Episcopal Church changes. I can support those changes without dismissing those who disagree, those who mourn for the loss of the way things were in the Episcopal Church.

That conversation with my friends was a time and a place where for a moment I could hear the sound of sheer silence, the still small voice of God.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An End to Debate?

On another blog I posted a comment about my hope for the Anglican Communion:
I understand that there are many in the Communion who are upset that TEC acted on its discernment about the election of two bishops and has made some allowance for dioceses to act on their discernment about same-sex relationships. I don’t expect - nor do I think most Episcopalians who share my convictions on this matter do either - that other Anglicans will accept TEC’s actions as consistent with Anglican teaching. I continue to accept that TEC may be removed from the Communion because of actions which I fully support. What I had hoped for - perhaps naively - was that we could continue to be in communion with one another in spite of this serious disagreement. We have managed that with disagreements about other unresolved issues - including the ordination of women - and I hoped that we could live with this disagreement as well. In that hope there was no insisting that others accept TEC’s actions as good, no demand that any member church recognize Gene Robinson or Mary Glasspool - or Katharine Jefferts Schori - as bishops. There was only the hope that we could continue to work together as Anglicans, sharing our common commitments in mission, and engaging in a continuing conversation about human sexuality.
This brought the following comment from a conservative cleric:
TEC has ceased the discussion and ended the debate by its actions.
The fact that the debate goes on on that blog and elsewhere calls this cleric's assertion into question, but the cleric is right that for some Anglicans the discussion is over. In fact, for some Anglicans any serious discussion of human sexuality never began. The Episcopal Church did not end the debate. Some Anglicans decided to respond to our actions by withdrawing from the discussion, but that was their decision and not ours. Our actions did not create the reactions of others, and adults don't blame others for their own decisions. In the words of President Andrew Shepherd, "We have serious problems to solve and we need serious people to solve them."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What Is One To Do?

Over at the Covenant blog  I posted some comments in a thread, "You Can Be Right or You Can Be in Relationship"  The thread was started by a priest for whom I have great respect, Fr. Nathan Humphrey, and his post is well worth reading. Here is part of one of my posts:
I disagree that those of us in TEC who want to remain in relationship with siblings with whom we disagree are demanding that our “vision of biblical interpretation and discernment is considered right and good” by others. No one has to agree with me to remain in relationship with me.
A few hours later someone responded to my post and began with these words:
You are insisting that the rest of the communion change its teaching such the status of homosexual sex is not part of the adiaphora of the Church.
Aside for the fact that the sentence is badly written, something which is true about many of the sentences in my posts, this brother in Christ has misunderstood or - could it be? - willfully mischaracterized my position. Reading such comments I wonder if it is possible for Anglicans to have reasoned conversations about sexuality or any other controversial issue.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Picture Is Worth....


Thanks to Jim Simons at Three Rivers Episcopal for what Jon Stewart might call a moment of Zen.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Special?

Over at Preludium Mark Harris has posted a thought-provoking piece, What Makes the Episcopal Church so "Special" in the Archbishop's Eyes? I think Mark is right and that there is something very odd about the decision of the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion to dismiss only representatives of the Episcopal Church from the various committees that the Archbishop mentioned in his Pentecost letter. That decision raises a question about whether the problem is violating the moratoria recommended in the Windsor Report or something else. Perhaps, as Mark suggests, the real problem is that the Episcopal Church broke an unwritten moratorium by electing as its Presiding Bishop and Primate a woman. Misogyny is not a stranger in the Anglican Communion - nor in the Episcopal Church - and it seems to me that there are some fairly clear links between sexism and heterosexism. Patriarchy dies hard and at least some Patriarchs (Primates?) may want to keep women and LGBT sisters and brothers in the kitchen and in the closet.

It's All Grace

From time to time I have serious problems with the shorthand that people use for Paul's central theological point. Justification by faith can be misunderstood and people can fool themselves into thinking that it is their faith that justifies them, thus turning faith into another work. While Paul did himself use that shorthand ("justified by faith in Christ" in Galatians 2:16), we need to guard against pulling the phrase out of the larger context of Paul's theology. In Romans 3:22-24, we can read a fuller exposition of Paul's understanding of Paul's understanding of justification: "For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

All have sinned. It's all Grace.

In the Lord of the Rings there is an interesting reflection of the theology of Grace. During the long and difficult journey to Mordor and Mount Doom, Frodo Baggins comes to see that his unwelcome travelling companion, Gollum, is more like him and other hobbits than he had originally thought. Although Smeagol's humanity had been corrupted by his love for his Precious - and by the evil of the Dark Lord who forged that ring - Frodo could see in Gollum the vestiges of the humanity of Smeagol. Having sought to be more by stealing the ring from his cousin, Smeagol had become less than fully human.

The same thing happens to us when we sin and fall short of the glory of God. Perhaps, like Adam and Eve, we want to become like God, or, again like Adam and Eve, we let someone else do our thinking for us, but whether our sin is pride or sloth, it corrupts our humanity and alienates us from God and one another and the creation. And there is nothing that we can do about it.

Grace happens.

Although we can never justifiy ourselves, never reconcile ourselves to God or one another or God's creation, God can, has, will. It's pure gift with no strings attached. All we have to do is accept the gift, surrender to God's love, trust Jesus. That sounds simple, even easy, but surrender is difficult for us. We want to earn our way, to be deserving of the gift, perhaps even to yield to the temptation to thnk of ourselves as better than others because we've been saved. But if have been saved, one of the things that we've saved from is the arrogance of thinking that we are better than other sinners. And one of the things that we have been saved for is community with other sinners, not only those who are receiving the gift of Grace, but also all those who have yet to surrender to Love Incarnate.

The Germans have a word for it - as usual. It's mitsein, being with. The glory of God, as Irenaeus asserted, is humankind fully alive. We see that glory in Jesus, but it isn't about talents or gifts or abilities but about relationships, about being with, about mitsein. Jesus reveals to the world that God is an accompanying God, One who desires to be in relationship with us, One who, I believe, wants to be God only in relationship with us. Created in the image of God, reconciled by the Cross, we are given the Grace to live in right relationship with all creation. It is the gift that we need to accept and unwrap and enjoy. It is the gift that Paul was pointing to when he wrote to the community in Rome:  "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God...." (8:19) In the words of the African-American poet June Jordan, "we are the ones we have been waiting for."