Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Transitive Relationships

My Disciples of Christ neighbor and I were talking about ecumenical relationships. I asked him if being in full communion Lutherans meant that Episcopalians were in communion with all those with whom the Lutherans were in communion. The answer, as I already knew, is No.

What has been true about ecumenical relationships has now become true about relationships within the Anglican Communion. All the churches of the Communion are in communion with the Church of England, but not necessarily with one another. This is not something for which I give thanks, but it is a situation which I hope will not get worse. I have no illusions about the prospects for the restoration the Episcopal Church's relationship of full communion with some of the churches in Africa. The best that I can hope for in the short term is that the Church of England will be able to remain in communion with all the Churches of the Communion. Even that seems doubtful at times, but I can still hope.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Just Plain Silly

Sarah Palin must have time on her hands, because I can find no other explanation for her criticism of this year's White House Christmas card, which showed a sleeping Bo by the fire in a beautifully decorated room. Mrs. Palin's objection to it was that it had no images of "family, faith, and freedom." I guess she wanted something more like President Bush's card in 2005 which showed the family's two dogs enjoying the freedom of the snow covered White House lawn.

I grew up with very staunch Republican grandparents who would be embarassed by just how silly some Republicans have become. But as a member of the Democratic Party I hope Mrs. Palin and her ilk will keep on the road to silly.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Anglican Covenant

I have long thought that the proposed Anglican Covenant would not provide a healthy way forward for the member churches of the Anglican Communion. What I thought it would do was encourage a culture of compliant within the Communion and could result in less honest communication between those who disagree with one another and more triangulation as member churches chose to lodge complaints with the Communion's Standing Committee. 

I had not, however, taken the time to think about an alternative to the proposed Covenant, something which the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to think is required if the Covenant is rejected. I felt, with some justification, that one need not propose an alternative to an innovation, but could simply reject it. A logical alternative to any proposal of this sort is the status quo. Jonathan Clatworthy has done what I could not do, tackling the question of an alternative admirably in  Instead of the Anglican Covenant at the Modern Church website.


There continue to be arguments that the Episcopal Church is not hierarchical. We have the traditional hierarchy of Holy Orders, but the way the Episcopal Church governs itself isn't much like the most obvious hierarchical church, the Roman Catholic is governed. But there isn't only one way to be hierarchical. While Episcopal parishes and dioceses have a great deal more autonomy than Roman Catholic parishes and dioceses, their autonomy is clearly limited.

Here are a few examples of limitations:
  • The election of Rectors in parishes requires the consent of the Bishop.
  • The election of a Bishop requires the consent of a majority of diocesan Bishops and Standing Committees. 
  • Ordinations of clergy must be approved in accordance with the Canons of The Episcopal Church.
  • The sale of real property by a parish must be approved by the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese.
  • The establishment of new Dioceses requires the approval of the General Convention.
The hierarchy of the Episcopal Church is not so much a hierarchy of clergy as a hierarchy of parish Vestries, Diocesan Conventions, and the General Convention. As in other hierarchical organizations, there are decisions that can be made at every level, but the determination of which decisions can be made at each level is made at the highest level, in this case, the General Convention.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Playing to the Baser

A generation or so ago some American evangelical Christians - but clearly not all - demonized three groups of their fellow Americans: Jews, Roman Catholics, and African Americans. In the past few decades that has changed. Many evangelicals, for reasons that have little to do with respect of Judaism, have made common cause with Jewish Americans in support of Israel. They have also joined Roman Catholics in opposition to abortion, and have found themselves in agreement with many African-American evangelicals on social issues.

But political campaigns often requirs enemies and in the past two decades some Republican candidates have courted evangelicals by demonizing gay and lesbian Americans. Among the latest of these appeals to the baser instincts in voters is the recent Rick Perry ad. The ad appears to have backfired, as Joshua Green pointed out in a recent column in the Boston Globe. In the wake of the negative reaction to Perry's ad I would have thought that Newt Gingrich would have avoided demonizing another group of people by claiming that Palestinians are an "invented people." As smart as he appears to be, Gingrich went ahead with that blatant lie and has not backed down when challenged about it. I hope that another column in the Globe, this one by New Hampshire's former Republican Senator John Sununu, will convince Gingrich to stop appealing the the baser instincts of voters, but I doubt it will.

I had heard the "invented" comment more than twenty years ago, that time from a rabbi who   thought that it was actions of the Israeli government, actions which he did not support, that had helped to create a sense of national identity among Palestinians. I think that was a reasonable observation. A similar observation could have been made about how the actions of the English government helped create a national identity among the people of the American colonies. In a sense we are all "invented people," with national identities that have been created by the events of history. 

Gingrich's observation, however, was not intended to highlight the role of the Israeli government in creating a Palestinian national identity. His comment was intended to dismiss the aspirations of Palestinians, perhaps to garner support among Jewish voters, but more likely to appeal to voters who see all Arabs and Muslims as the enemy. I hope Gingrich's appeal doesn't work, not because I don't want him to be President, which I don't, but because I want to see an end to the use of bigotry and demonizing in American politics.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ashamed To Be a Christian?

When I was newly ordained the Rector of the parish where I was serving reminded me that if I wanted to claim Mother Teresa as a sister in Christ I had to be prepared to claim Pat Robertson as a brother in Christ. Today the challenge is to see that Rick Perry is my brother in Christ, even though his attack on gays serving in the military is repugnant to me. Perry is an embarrassment, but he is still a member of the Body of Christ and I pray that the comments of many others in the Body will help him come to repentance. God, after all, rejoices when a sinner repents.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Elizabeth Warren and TARP

It is interesting that Karl Rove's political machine is attacking Elizabeth Warren for having had oversight of the Troubled Asset Relief Program which was signed into law by Rove's former boss, President George W. Bush. Rove must be counting on voters in Masschusetts having poor memories. The financial meltdown that TARP was created to address was not Warren's fault, unless Harvard professors have more power than I think they do.

Friday, December 2, 2011


For a long time I have struggled with the issue of privilege. As a fairly well educated white heterosexual man I have had privileges that many people in this country don't have, and most of those privilges are unearned. I have been hoping that there would be more honest discussion of privilege in our country, but recent comments about privilege made by Gov. Rick Perry are not what I would call honest. In attacks on the President, Gov. Perry has made the claim that Pres. Obama has had a privileged life, one that makes it impossible for him to understand hard-working Americans (like Gov. Perry?).  I would never deny that the President enjoyed some privileges as he grew up - the privileges of a mother committed to seeing to it that he had a good education and of scholarships that allowed him to get that education. He also appears to have intellectual gifts that Gov. Perry doesn't have.

What makes Gov. Perry's comments less than an honest contribution to a discussion of unearned privilege is his total lack of any acknowledgement of his own privileges as a white male heterosexual evangelical Christian in Texas, nor any acknowledgement of the less than privileged aspects of the President's early life. I know what it is like to be raised by a single mother, but I have no idea, nor does Gov. Perry, of what is like to be a biracial child growing up in America.

Perhaps there are Americans who will buy Gov. Perry's assertions about the President's privileged childhood, but I hope that most Americans will scratch their heads and wonder, as I did, about whether Gov. Perry has finally lost touch with reality.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On My Watch

At first I felt sorry last night as I watched Syracuse University's basketball coach Jim Boeheim asserting that it was not yet clear what had happened on his watch. But after he repeated the phrase "on my watch" for the umpteenth time I began to wonder why he wasn't watching on his watch. If the allegations of sexual abuse by his assistant coach are found to be true, then I expect Boeheim's words may come back to haunt him and he may find himself unemployed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Transgender Rights

Yesterday the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (the legislature) passed the Transgender Equal Rights Bill and Governor Patrick has said that he will sign it. It is a good beginning, but there are still areas, e.g. public accommodation, where discrimination is still permitted. The opponents of the bill should be ashamed of some of the arguments that were used in opposing it, especially the references to it as "bathroom bill."

At 65 I am too old to put up with much more of the nonsense of those who want to preserve white male heterosexual privilege. As a friend and an ally I will keep working to get an even better bill passed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Proper Matter

I got myself involved in a very unproductive exchange of comments over at Mark Harris's blog Preludium. The exchange prompted me to think - once again - about the very different reactions that there have been to the ordination of women and to the blessing of same-sex unions. I suggested that both controversies involved disagreements about the proper matter for a sacrament. Traditionally the proper matter for the sacrament of holy orders was an adult male and there were those among the faithful who believed - and still do - that ordaining a woman was not only wrong but simply impossible. Traditionally the proper matter for the sacrament of holy matrimony has been an adult male and female couple and there are some among the faithful who believe that the uniting of two men or two women in holy matrimony is simply impossible.

I am still puzzled by the way in which Anglicans have found themselves unable to maintain relationships with those who disagree about the proper matter of holy matrimony when they had been able to live with diversity of convictions about the proper matter of holy orders. Is there a logic to this that is beyond my capacity to understand? Or is this simply heterosexism, a clinging to heterosexual privilege? If it is heterosexism, perhaps the way forward is a path quite like that which many opponents of the ordination of women followed a generation. My bishop at the time said that his mind was changed when he met women who exhibited the same kind of gifts and sense of calling that he saw in men preparing for ordination. I know that the witness of the lives of the same-sex couples that I have been blessed to know have helped to change my mind - along with some serious reading of Scripture.

The traditionalists are right in asserting that this way of understanding marriage is a departure from the past, a new thing. Changing our thinking about matters, especially matters of importance like holy matrimony and holy orders, is clearly a big deal, and not, to paraphrase the marriage rite itself, to be done hastily, but soberly and deliberately. We know that we may get it all wrong, that decades later we may come to realize that we made a mistake. But for me the greater mistake, the one that does incalculable damage to God's beloved children, is to cling to the old understandings.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Taxes, Anyone?

There has been some talk about continuing the payroll tax cuts that have put a bit more money in the pockets of working people. Some members of the GOP, who seem to like every tax cut, are not so happy about this one, or the tax credits that have help working people get out of poverty. Their argument is that everyone should pay taxes as a way to have a stake in the game. But nearly everyone, even those who don't pay income tax, pays federal taxes. For every tank of gas that I buy, the federal government gets $2.76 in fuel tax. That's not much, but it is a stake in the game. And if I didn't own a car, I would still be contributing to some trucking company's tax payments every time I bought anything. Put simply, we all have a stake in the game.

When I was a teenager my politics began to shift to the left. This got me in some trouble with my unwavering Republican grandmother. I wasn't allowed to wear Democrat's campaign pins in her house and I quickly learned to keep my politic convictions to myself. For a long time the memory of being told to take off a campaign bothered me. Years after her death, I found a way to make a kind of peace with my grandmother. I put a bumper sticker on my car: FRIENDS DON'T LET FRIENDS VOTE REPUBLICAN! 

Over the years that I drove that car and even after I passed it on to our son, I got a few negative responses to the bumper sticker, to which I always responded by saying that the bumper sticker was only a joke, and a very mild one at that. But this year I'm not so sure. With many Republicans in Congress unwilling to see that spending cuts alone won't eliminate the federal budget deficit or that spending increases for infrastructure would help the economy, I'm beginning to think that friends should not let friends vote for some of these Republicans. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Eradicating the Poor

Our daughter, Meghan MacLean Weir, MD - yes we are very proud of her - has a post on her blog about the controversy surrounding the proposal that birth control counselling and presciptions be provided to women at no cost. I won't enter the fray on this controversy, but something Meghan wrote about eradicating the poor got me thinking about something that has been on my mind since the week my wife and I spent at Chautauqua. One of the speakers was Harvard professor Michael Sandel. His course on justice, which was recorded and broadcast by PBS, and his book Justice devote considerable attention to the question of the common good. One of the controversial issues that Sandel considers, one which is the subject of a debate among his students on the PBS program, is whether it is right for the government to use the taxes it collects from the rich to help the poor.

I will not attempt to lay out Sandel's answer to that question, but in the book he considered the claim that those who are rich deserve their wealth. I have long known that their is not a level playing field in this matter in America. Some of us are born with a whole lot more money than others. Some are born with college-educated parents. Some get to grow up in safe communities with good schools. All of that has been part of my understanding for years, but Sandel pointed out other factors that I had rarely considered. Some are born with considerably more talent than others. I knew this because it had bothered me for a while as a teen-ager that some of my friends were smarter, more athletic, better looking and more popular than I was. I had not, however, considered how this factor played out in the question of deserving success and wealth. Tiger Woods did nothing to earn or deserve his athletic ability. it was a gift. Tiger Woods has, of course, put a lot of effort into developing that ability, but even that is not entirely of his own doing. He was encouraged - some might say pushed - to develop that ability by his father. Woods was privileged to have that kind of encouragement and support, to have that particular father. He did  nothing to deserve that, any more than any of us get parents that we deserve. 

So the question of moral deserving is not as clear-cut as some, like libertarians, claim it is. Very successful people owe their successes not solely to their own hard work, but also to all those other factors which they did not control or deserve.  The very successful do not have an absolute moral right to the fruits of their success. In the various lotteries of life they were already winners while still in diapers. It is morally right to tax those who have succeeded and who have more than enough money to meet their needs in order to assist those who weren't as privileged. Given the current political climate in this country, I don't hold out much hope for the kind of tax policy that I consider morally right. After all many of those who are in Congress exhibit a kind of "I've got mine and I deserve it" attitude, as do many of those who contribute to their campaign funds. But I continue to hope that some of the privileged will have the moral insight to understand the nature of privilege and support tax policy that will require them to pay more taxes. That may seem like wishful thinking, but I believe, as Dr. King said, that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

America the Beautiful?

From time to time I get into conversation with friends about our National Anthem. I suggest that a text written in the midst of war, particularly a war with one of our closest allies, might not be the best choice, even if the tune were not so difficult. As a descendant of the brother of Katherine Lee Bates, I also am bold enough to suggest that "America the Beautiful" would be a good replacement. One of my friends - and he remains a friend in spite of this - tends to dismiss Aunt Katherine's poem as Victorian sentimentality. I concede that Aunt Katherine's sensibilities are dated, but every time I read or sing her words I see in them the kind of challenge that this country needs if it is not to slip into the role of an imperial power exploiting those who are weaker than we are.

Consider these words from the second stanza:
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
 Or these from the next stanza:
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine
What Aunt Katherine was expressing, in the language of her time, was an awareness that we are not a perfect people, a perfect nation, and that we need mending. As a child growing up in Falmouth, Massachusetts, she had a concern for the welfare of Native American children and an awareness that the way her - and my - ancestors had treated those who were here before us was the reason that those children were not as privileged as she was. She was, actually, not nearly as privileged as I have been. After her father's death soon after her birth, her family struggled for years, but it was in those years of struggle that Katherine became aware of the needs of others, including native American children.

I would be surprised if Aunt Katherine's words ever became our National Anthem, but I hope that they will always be part of our national memory, challenging us with their appeal to our "better angels."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I have been pretty good at honoring my decision not to get bothered by all the high drama within the Anglican Communion, but I do still read some of the blogs that deal with such matters. Recent comments about the ongoing discussion of the proposed Anglican Covenant brought to mind a discussion that I had several years ago with a friend and colleague. He had suggested an analogy for the crisis in the Communion that had been precipitated by the Episcopal Church's decision to ordain Gene Robinson to the episcopate. It was, he said, like one member of a family deciding to paint the family home without consulting others about the color. My response was that the analogy was a bit off, that we had only chosen to paint our own room.

Analogies aside, the idea of the Communion as a family does provide some insight into the crisis and into the attempts to resolve it. Whether in softer or harder ways the attempts have been aimed at making the Episcopal Church get in line with other members of the Communion on the matter of same-sexuality. Not all the other members, to be sure, but with what appears to be a majority of the members churches. The attempts, to use my friend's analogy, are aimed at limiting the choices of color for one's room.

All this insistence upon family conformity brought to mind how mistaken I was about my mother's political convictions when I was 13. That was the year of the Kennedy-Nixon race and I was convinced that my mother was voting for Nixon. After all her parents were staunch Republicans and I never heard her say anything in support of Kennedy during the campaign. It was decades later that she told me that she had, of course, voted for Kennedy, but that she had said nothing about it so as not to upset her parents.

For years Episcopalians had been moving towards "voting for" sacramental equality in the Episcopal Church. Much of that movement was not noticed by many others within the Communion, but after Bishop Robinson's consecration it was hard to ignore it. Like members of some families, some in the Communion think that it is impossible to remain a family with such differences of conviction. I disagree. After all, my mother and I still loved her parents, even though they had voted, we assume, for Richard Nixon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Long?

In preparing for this past Sunday's sermon at Saint Michael's Church in Marblehead, I found the opening verse of the psalm claiming my attention: How long, O LORD? will you forget me for ever? how long will you hide your face from me? How rare is it for us to get that honest about our suffering. We live is a culture which is suffering-averse, a society in which the expected answer to "How are you?" is "Fine."

In God and Human Suffering the Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall points out that in the Genesis accounts of Creation there is suffering, even before the Fall. Humans suffer from loneliness, limitations, temptations, and anxiety. In fact, without these sources of suffering, we would not be able to recognize the blessings of friendship, the joy of personal growth within the inherent limits of our humanity, the maturity that comes from resisting temptation, or the peace that comes from entrusting our anxious minds to God. Such suffering is unavoidable, but far from being the ultimate reality for us. Neither is the suffering that comes after the Fall - the fratricide of Cain and all the injustices and atrocities that have followed. 

To find our way to experiencing the ultimate reality of the One who chooses to be God only in relationship with us, to be Immanuel, God with us, we need to be honest about our own suffering. We need to learn again the value of lament, the value of beating down the doors of heaven with our cries of "How long...?" We can never be in solidarity with those who suffer more conspicuously in our world until we are honest - at least with God, if not with those closest to us - about our own sufferings. We cannot be the wounded healers that the world needs if we keep denying our own wounds.

Later on Sunday I discussed the sermon with a close friend who is a psychiatrist. He asked if I thought many of my colleagues would have preached such a sermon.  Perhaps there would not be many, just as in our wider society it seems that psychiatrists are among the few who are willing to face the reality of our suffering. Perhaps aversion to suffering still has the upper-hand and that we continue to be in denial about the impossibility - and undesirability -of a suffering-free world. But maybe, just maybe, the myth of endless progress has lost its allure and we can dare to be honest about the suffering that is inherent in human life and have the courage to relieve the unjust suffering that so many have to endure.

The Good News of Immanuel was lived out by one who was acquainted with suffering, who embraced our humanity, suffering and all. And we who are called to bear witness to that Good News are also called to embrace our own humanity, suffering and all. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Our daughter Meghan has a recent post at her blog Advanced Maneuvers, Practice Medicine, Not Martyrdom. Her post is a response to an op-ed piece by another physician who criticized physicians who don't work full-time. One of that doctor's arguments was that medical education is to a large degree subsidized and that places an obligation on doctors that isn't there for people in other professions.

I trust that I am not the only person who sees the large hole in that argument. It would be hard to find an educational institution in this country that covered all its expenses with money collected from its students. The average college budget shows income from a variety of sources, often including government and foundation grants, endowment income, and gifts from alumni/ae and friends. Higher education in this country is heavily subsidized for everyone, and so it isn't physicians alone that could be said to have an obligation to pay back what has been given them by using their gifts to serve others.

Musing about this question for the last week or so, I recalled one of the most disappointing sermons I have ever heard. It was at the baccalaureate mass for the Roman Catholic high school where I was teaching. All of the graduates have been my students in the required ethics class and I knew a bit about some of their career plans. One was planning to be a pharmacist. Another planned to serve in the military. Not at all to my surprise the only student who was mentioned in the sermon was the one who was considering the priesthood. That vocation alone was considered worthy of mention. The irony is that the young man did not become a priest, while others in his class have successfully pursued the goals they had at graduation.

The priesthood is an honorable vocation, even though a somewhat difficult one in the Roman Catholic Church now. But so are the vocations of those others. The physician to whose op-ed piece our daughter responded and the priest who preached that terrible sermon both have a narrow, perhaps even a distorted view of vocation. To them there are certain jobs that merit the title vocation and there are others that are simply jobs. Priesthood and medicine are vocations, but delivering the mail is only a job. What utter nonsense. We are in grave danger if we forget that "our common life depends upon each other's toil," the toil of the garbage collector as well as that of the physician. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Marriage Equality

For a long time this blog has announced that it - that is, I - support marriage equality. Actions, they say, speak louder than words, and today I have the opportunity to act on my commitment. Two people who married a decade ago will celebrate their anniversary by renewing their vows in church. The ceremony will be simpler than  their wedding, but we will together be able to do something which was not possible ten years ago - to have their marriage recognized by at least some of these United States. In the state where they live, New York, marriage equality is not yet fully realized. Marriages occurring in places like Massachusetts,  where marriage equality is a reality, are recognized in New York, but same-sex couples are still not able to get married there. That may change in the next few weeks, but only if New Yorkers who support marriage equality advocate for change with their State Senators. There are still many people in high places who are heterosexists and are trying to block in the Senate the bill that has been passed in the Assembly. The voices of New Yorkers who support marriage equality need to heard now.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Focus and Means of Unity?

I had completely overlooked the reference in the Anglican Covenant to the Archbishop of Canterbury as "a focus and means of unity," (3.1.4.I) until Tobias Haller pointed it out in a comment on his blog, In a Godward Direction. I agree with Fr. Haller that such a description of the Archbishop is blasphemous.

The focus and means of our unity is God and God alone. It is the Triune God who has created and redeemed us and holds us together in unity. Creatures like the Archbishop may help us to see our unity in Christ, but that unity is a gift, a work of the Spirit. 

Here is yet another reason to say, even if the Episcopal Church were to adopt the Covenant, that it is a deeply flawed, at time blasphemous, and at time idolatrous document. It may be the better course to adopt it - with reservations - and to work towards a better articulation of what it means to be part of the Anglican Communion. Or it may be better, as some have suggested, for the Episcopal to say we cannot accept the Covenant as it is but are committed to continuing conversation with others in the Communion about what it means be Anglican in our various multi-cultural and multi-faith contexts.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Love Wins and Friendship

Last night at Trinity Church in Boston Rob Bell responded to a question about how an Episcopal parish could become a mega-church. Rob's first point was that size isn't the issue and that small churches are not less important than big ones. His second point was that what draws people to a church is often friendship with one of its members. He told us that he had once asked another pastor who wanted his church to grow if he had friends who weren't members of the church. The pastor didn't. Bell said that he - and others at Mars Hill Bible Church - try to make lots of friends in the community and that those friendships are often what draw people to Mars Hill. In the Happening and Cursillo movements this idea is often expressed as "Make a friend. Be a friend. Bring a friend to Christ."

I think friendship is important, although I sometimes worry that we might see our friendships with those outside the church as purely instrumental, as only for the purpose of increasing church membership. Friends are important, simply as friends, and not as prospects for membership.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Love Wins

A few months ago my friend Elizabeth Kaeton recommended Rob Bell's new book Love Wins. I had used some of Bell's Nooma videos a few years back at Saint Matthias Church and liked his way of sharing and thinking about the Good News. Given Elizabeth's recommendation I bought and read the book and I recommend it highly. This evening I got the chance to hear Rob speak at Trinity Church in Boston and to speak with him briefly as he signed a copy of the book that I had bought for a friend. Earlier today as I was thinking about hearing Rob, I gave some thought to the books title. I trust that Rob is right - and that I and others have been right - and that love does win. I agree with Rob that we can refuse to let love win in our lives, we can turn away from the offer of love and live in hells of our own making. I also believe that we can make it very hard for love to win in other people's lives. When we abuse someone, particularly when parents and teachers and clergy abuse children, we make it harder for love to win. But I continue to believe that love finds a way even into the most bruised lives and can win. What seems clear to me, both from the stories that Rob told tonight and my own experience, is that our congregations can make a difference, can be communities where love can be experienced and where lives can be transformed. What it takes, in Rob's words, is for congregations to be Eucharist for their communities.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Haunted by Relationality

Carter Heyward recently gave a lecture at Episcopal Divinity School. I was glad to meet her, having been away from our school during her tenure there, and I was very impressed with the lecture. I am glad that it is now posted on the 99 Brattle blog and I recommend it.

The idea that some of us are haunted by relationality originated with Jewish theologian Marc Ellis. Carter's lecture got me me thinking - again - about the strange and perhaps rather empty victory of the high Christology John's Gospel during the first centuries of the Church's life. When I read Jesus saying, "The Father and I are one" I hear it relationally. But in the world in which the philosophy of Plato was so dominant, theologians tended to hear it as a statement about substance. Thus we get in the Creed "one in being with Father," or, as the new English translation of the Eucharist for the Roman Catholic Church phrases it, "consubstantial with the Father." I suspect that quite a few worshippers will find that hard to say, and even more difficult to understand.

We don't talk or think about the world and our place in it in with the philosophical language of Plato. Not many of us - outside the chem lab - think about the nature of things in terms of substances. We are more likely to be interested in relationships, in how things and people interact with one another. And that, I think, is how the very first followers of Jesus thought about things. What was so apparent about Jesus was his relationship with God, a relationship which he wanted to share with others, with everyone. While in the pictures of Jesus we get from the other Gospel accounts we can see this relationship, in John's account we see it in bold face. For the Johannine community the relationship of Jesus and the Father, of their being one, was of central importance. Explaining that in terms of substance, speaking of Jesus as being consubstantial with the Father, may have been appropriate in those early centuries, but clinging to that language now makes little sense. What does make sense is a relational Christology, the kind of Christology that we find in the writings of theologians like Carter Heyward.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Making the Far Near

One of the joys of retiring on Massachusett's North Shore is that I'm close enough to audit a course each term at Episcopal Divinity School. Last term's course was on the Gospel of John; this term's is Globalization: Mission , Ethicsand Theology. One of the readings for this week is an essay by Thomas W. Walker in Global Neighbors: Christian Faith and Moral Obligation in Today's Economy. In the essay Walker examines the ideas of far and near in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke's Gospel. In that parable, robbers come near to the man travelling on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, they become for a time his physical neighbors, but their actions are not at all what the Torah demands of neighbors. Having robbed and beaten him, they leave him for dead by the side of the road. Two passers-by, a Priest and a Levite, keep themselves far from the man, each passing by on the other side of the road. Finally, a Samaritan, one whom the Jewish community would have seen as someone culturally and religously far from them, draws near, showing compassion in binding his wounds, paying for his continued careat an inn, and promising to return to pay whatever more needs to be paid. 

The parable, so typical of Jesus' teaching, confronts its hearers, including us, with the challenge of seeing the world in a new way. How might we begin to see that those whom we see as far from us - geographically, culturally, ethnically, ideologically - are those whom God wants us to make near ones, our neighbors? How might the needs of these neighbors, as well as their gifts and great beauty, be considered as we make decisions about our lives? Not in the same way or to the same degree that the needs of our families and communities have a claim on us, but in some measure.

A central challenge of globalization for Christians, and perhaps for others as well, is making the far near, seeing ourselves as inextricably connected to everyone in this global village. We share, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has said, in a covenant of fate with the whole of creation, partners one with another in the work of healing a fractured world. The stakes are simply too great for us to retreat from the challenge into ethnic or religious or ideological or geographic isolation.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The End of Silence

I'd like to claim that the nearly two months since my last post was intentional, perhaps the result of a decision to refrain from posting in order to spend more time in prayer. Not even close. It was simply a matter of getting distracted and not being sure that I had anything at all worth writing. And that hasn't changed much, but I am writing.

Yesterday my friend and colleague Paul preached about the healing of the man born blind in John 9. Part of what Paul said was that we don't get to see what lies ahead when we begin something new. Neither of us cold have known when we graduated from Episcopal Divinity School in 1972 where our work as priests would lead us. We couldn't see the creation of food pantries and soup kitchens and homeless shelters that would be part of each of our lives in very different communities. And, as he was preaching, I thought that it was probably a very good thing that we couldn't. Some of the things that we come to see we would not have been unable to handle earlier in our lives, especially things about ourselves. Some of the challenges that we took on would have been impossible tasks for us in our early years and it may be providential that we didn't those challenges when we were fresh out of EDS.

Something that Paul didn't talk about - or, at least, I didn't hear him - was something I find interesting about the story. After making a paste of dirt and saliva and spreading it on the man's eyes, Jesus sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam and the man "went and washed and came back able to see." There is so much that we don't see because we are unwilling or unable to look at things from a new perspective. When we are willing to move, to find a new vantage point, our blindness can be healed.

So much of Jesus' teaching involves challenges to our ways of seeing the world, challenges that are invitations to see the world and our place in it in new ways. We are far too often isolationist in our approach to the world, unwilling to see that our connections to people everywhere, and not only to people, but to all of creation. For those of us privileged to live comfortable North American lives, I think Jesus challenges us to see that our comfort has been purchased in some measure through the sufferings of underpaid workers in the two-thirds world, that our homes are heated and lighted at the expense of the earth itself.

Jesus does not lay on us a guilt trip, but challenges us to see the world in new ways and let that seeing be part of our transformation. And to let our transformation become part of the world's transformation.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Are You the One?

I was privileged to share in the Eucharist yesterday in the Episcopal Divinity School Chapel. We were commemorating Absalom Jones, the first African-American ordained in the Episcopal Church,  and the preacher was the Rev. Viola Morris Buchanan, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Lynn, Massachusetts. At the heart of her message was the challenge to take our place in the work of advancing God's mission in the world. Each Christian needs to be able to say, "Yes!" to the question, "Are you the one?" It is not a matter of sinful pride to "claim the high calling angels cannot share." It is our baptismal calling, both a privilege and a responsibility.

I can imagine that God could have chosen to advance the missio Dei without our participation. But the witness of the Scriptures is that God has chosen to want - perhaps even need - our sharing in the mission. My reading of the Bible has led me to the conviction that God desires to be God in  relationship with us, and even, only in relationship with us. 

So, when we sense that we are being called to some new participation in God's mission, when the question is, "Are you the one or should we look for another?" I pray that our answer will be, "Yes! Send me!" 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


My friend and colleague Fr. Paul Bresnahan preached a challenging sermon this past Sunday. To paraphrase Fr. Paul, "I won't go to heaven unless all of you are there as well." This is challenging to me because, to be as honest as I can, there are some folks with whom I would rather not spend eternity. But that's not my call, is it?  Perhaps, as my spiritual director once told me, I can only enter heaven arm in arm with my enemies.

Fr. Paul's sermon got me thinking once again about C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, a book that every serious Christian would do well to read. In it Lewis describes the arrival of a bus from hell at the outskirts of heaven. The bus's passengers are met by some of the citizens of heaven and given the opportunity to enter. Some, however, are unwilling to enter, unwilling to give that which keeps them from accepting God's grace. 

I believe that God's intention is that all shall be saved, all renewed, all transformed. I am also very much aware of how we resist God's love and seek to thwart God's purposes in our lives. Because the Church has so often proclaimed a very different message, i.e., that God only wants to save some of us, I have often turned to Robert Buchanan's "The Ballad of Judas Iscariot" to remind me that I can't put a limit on God's mercy. Here are the final stanzas:
'Twas the Bridegroom stood at the open door,
    And beckon'd, smiling sweet;
'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
    Stole in, and fell at his feet.
'The Holy Supper is spread within,
    And the many candles shine,
And I have waited long for thee
    Before I poured the wine!'
The supper wine is poured at last,
    The lights burn bright and fair,
Iscariot washes the Bridegroom's feet,
    And dries them with his hair.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Internet Courtesy

I commented in a recent post about the name-calling that I sometimes see in the blogosphere. One of the problems with blogs is that so many of the comments are posted anonymously and that means that people can avoid accountability. One of my friends said that she prefers comments on Facebook where anonymity is harder to pull off. But there are still rude and condescending comments on Facebook and I have decided to confront those who post such comments.

Yesterday there was a batch of comments about a link I had posted on my Facebook page. The link was about Chick-fil-A's links to anti-gay organizations. When one person defended Chick-fil-A, several people weighed in. The person's response to one of them began, "I'm assuming either a limited experience with, or an influencing  involvement in, homosexuality." Later I confronted the person on what I saw as a very condescending comment, one that might have been interpreted as an assertion that the person he was addressing was either too inexperienced to be able to have a rational opinion about homosexuality or had been brainwashed. The response I got was that no offense was intended. I will assume that that was true, but unintentional rudeness is still rudeness.

Blogs and Facebook and other media have provided ways for us to communicate with wider circles of people. I tend to post on Facebook links to blogs that I find valuable and have been thanked by friends for introducing them to blogs they might never have discovered. But new media present us with some of the same old challenges of maintaining a level of civility in discussing serious - or not-so-serious - matters. I remember navigating some difficult conversations with family members about the Viet Nam war a generation ago. Just as we learned then that we could endanger relationships by poorly thought out comments, so we need to learn to more thoughtful in using these new media. In the same way that SPAM makes e-mail less valuable and at times seem destined to make it useless, so rudeness in comments on blogs or Facebook makes these tools less valuable. I think we need to take the time to hold one another accountable for lack of civility and be willing to be held accountable ourselves. Higher standards of behavior are unlikely to be effectively imposed from above, but we can make a difference.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Duty Calls?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Book

A Dead Hand

In one of his most recent books, Paul Theroux refers to writer's block as having a dead hand. Although I am not a writer, I understand. For the past week or so I have had a dead hand. I started writing a post for another blog and got as far as the first sentence. The only writing of any length that I have managed have been a couple of responses to post on other blogs, one of which was something of a rant.

There are reasons why I have had trouble getting started writing. One is that I have a habit of thinking about too many things at the same time: the GOP attempt to turn back the progress on health care reform; the continuing battles in the Anglican Communion; whether the snow will make it harder for me to get to a class today at Episcopal Divinity School. Not all of them very important, but they rattle around in my brain and I have very little ability to do what doctors call triage. (BTW, there is a wonderful blog post, Triage, at our daughter's blog, Advanced Maneuvers.)  

One of the things that I have been thinking about lately is how unbelievably rude people can be in their comments on blogs. It seems that whatever manners they may have had are completely forgotten as they call people they have never met the most crude and hateful names. I recall someone mentioning a couple of simple questions that we should ask before doing something. "Would I want my mother to see me doing this?" and "Would I want this reported on the front page of my local newspaper?" Not bad questions, and ones that some posters of comments might seriously consider.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Advanced Maneuvers

Our daughter, Meghan Weir, M. D.,  has a book, Between Expectations, coming out in March. She also has a new blog, Advanced Maneuvers. I recommend both the book and the blog without reservations.