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.