Sunday, December 31, 2006

White, Straight Happyness

This afternoon, my wife and I slipped away from our three-year-old son, leaving him with his loving grandparents so we could get a break for a few hours together. . .
. . . climbed into my parents' Jeep
. . . did a bit of shopping
. . . stopped by the local Micky D's for a snack
. . . drove to the local movie theater

And chose, because we had a choice, to see a remarkable film, The Pursuit of Happyness.

Now, before I continue, let me put a few things into perspective. This film stars Will Smith, easily one of the most well-known and successful African-American actors in Hollywood. His and the movie's are the story of the American Dream, that belief in the cultural water that somehow, with enough determination, sweat, and toil, people can pull themselves up by their own merit and achievement and become successful in the world's eyes. The movie is set in San Francisco -- home for us -- and a beautiful, most enviable part of the world to live in . . . its beach fronts, bridges, parks, and great restaurants. . . despite its out-of-sight housing prices, visible homelessness, and clear and seemingly intractable racial and socio-economic divisions . . .

But if this is all you are willing to see, please give this movie a miss. Because then you will have not prepared yourself to look beneath the good marketing and Tinseltown big bucks. And you can get those in just about any film these days.

What moved me to tears in The Pursuit of Happyness was not the classic American success story it told with all the clever drama of fine writing, directing, editing, and acting.

What moved me to tears was its patient, plaintive reminders about privilege.

Namely, white, male, straight, wealthy privilege: the often forgotten weight that holds much of the nation's and world's population safely in check for those who can take the food on our tables, a house, a family, a car, and a bank account for granted.

But before I go on some self-righteous tirade, I need to remember who I am.: a priest in charge of an Episcopal Church in Marin County, California, one of the wealthiest parts of the world. So I'm not high on the socio-economic strata there, but I can take for granted things that billions in the world, millions in this country, and many of my colleagues in ministry -- lay and ordained -- must struggle and fight for. I'm white, straight, male. I have an education. I was fortunate that my parents were both educated. We're not enormously wealthy, but we're quite comfortably middle class, no matter what the media says about the squeeze we all supposedly feel.

The genius of the Pursuit of Happyness is that it illustrates how a $5 cab fare for a European-American (straight, I would guess) stock broker is a last meal on a plate for a struggling African-American family. How a mother working double-shifts has to pour back into the pitcher the tea her family didn't drink at dinner. . .if only to save a few pennies. How she is forced to make awful choices between her sanity and being with her child and the child's father. And how spluttering platitudes like 'cause Jesus said won't, in a million years, do a thing to overcome the stress and keep her family together.

Or how a wealthy homeowner with power over millions in pensions can blithely turn down the business offer of a penniless intern and at the same time invite him to prime seats at a 49ers game. How a poor man has to hide his poverty simply to be seen. And how a guy at the office is asked repeatedly to get coffee for his supervisor or move his car for him, simply 'cause this guy at the office. . .is black.

We drove home after the movie and enjoyed a nice New Year's Eve dinner. Daniel had the privilege, and he doesn't even know it as a privilege yet, of refusing to eat what was presented him because he's not hungry. On Monday, I can enjoy a day off without worrying about making ends meet. On Tuesday, I have the privilege of flying with my family back to San Francisco without breaking the bank. On Wednesday, I drive over the Golden Gate bridge back to my office and get to grab a bite to eat from the local market without worrying if there will be enough for dinner later on.

We might not be able to afford a house near the church, but we can look for an apartment, and we can generally afford a roof over our heads, quality childcare, healthcare, and food on our plates. I can afford to worry about whether the hymn we picked or not was the best choice, how I'll best prepare for the next committee meeting, word smith my next sermon, or consider when to plan my next vacation. And then go home and watch TV.

Being white, straight, and male, I can walk away from the struggle for LGBT inclusion in the life of the Church. I can also end a pastoral meeting when I deem it necessary, schedule pastoral visits when they fit in my calendar, and attend to others' needs mostly when I feel like it. And I might just have a chance of getting away with it most of the time. Simply because I'm the one with privilege, I can choose which "issue" or "cause" to be most invested in. And I can walk away, because I don't have to struggle with my whiteness, my straightness, or my lack of power.

Don't get me wrong. I love my work. I feel called to be where I am. That's why I call it a vocation. I love the people I am in ministry with, and I have no intention of leaving them.

But. . .

Tonight, countless throngs in the world will be hungry. Another young man will pick up a gun in Baghdad because there's no work. Gay and lesbian Christians will be turned away from the sacraments of the church, or worse, told again that they are an abomination. A woman will be informed with kind, patronizing tones that she can't be clergy because of her gender. Someone will be turned down for a job because he doesn't look like us, or because she didn't have the right educational opportunities. Someone will receive a bill from the IRS demanding payment of taxes due and try to balance that with paying for needed medications, keeping food in the 'fridge, or making back rent payments. And a homeless mother will have to spend another night under a bridge hoping that Child Protective Services or the police won't take away her children. . .because there was no room or them at the inn.

Do I feel guilty? I'll answer that for now with another question. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things how I feel?

If there's any valid criticism of ++Katharine Jefferts-Schori's call for The Episcopal Church to adopt the Millennium Development Goals, it's not because it's too much to ask. It's too little. 0.7% is a luxury for us. Frosting on the cake. An extra day out or a dinner or two.

Yet it means clean water, an end to hunger pangs, medicine for a year in a village, a fertile field, or a subsistence job in many parts of the world. Closer to home, it means another month's rent, more food in the 'fridge, or even better schooling for those who don't otherwise have access to decent education. It means another chance for someone who's without hope tonight start to move forward for a more stable future for their families tomorrow.

And we could give so much more than 0.7%, not miss that weekly latte or the dinner out, and still have more than enough for ourselves and our children.

Guilt is not the issue here. Justice is. Right relationship with our brothers and sisters is. Recognizing the gift that we have and sharing out of it, even giving it away like we should with every gift we have. . .these are at issue here.

My resolution for the New Year is to wake up to my privilege, and get to work on the Gospel.

This is a Gospel mission for us white, straight, happy males: to turn our power into good for those who don't share our privilege. . .to cash in a bit more of our privileged "happyness" and power so that others may have a chance at peace and true freedom. To do our part in dismantling the structures that give us our privilege at the expense of others. To begin learning that we, too, are limited people with real needs that money and power cannot buy.

Still blinded by my privilege most of the time, I don't yet have a real clue how to move forward in this Gospel mission. . . only inklings. . . but I pray for a clue. . . and I already know two things:

It will be hard, 'cause Jesus said so. But we have to do it. . . 'cause Jesus said so.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Roots of the Matter

Mark Harris has just posted a fascinating question and an opening for discussion with Are the English Mission Societies fighting a war by proxy, with the Episcopal Church as the turf?

One of many parts of note is the contrast between accounts of two conversions to Christianity:

Two quite educated and articulate bishops from Africa illustrate the profound difference in how they came to understand their initiation or conversion into Christianity. Bishop Alpha Mohammed told a clergy conference in Delaware once in the 1980’s that he knew precisely the date of his conversion, which occurred on his reading the New Testament for the first time with a sense of comprehension in which he knew he was being called to new life in Jesus Christ. I am told he has used this illustration on other occasions. Bishop Desmond Tutu often recites his experience of witnessing Fr. Trevor Huddleston treat his mother with respect, naturally, and feeling called from that to a life of faith in the Church. That too has been a regular part of his testimony.

The post raises for me deep questions about our current conflict in the Communion, and that perhaps many of our brothers and sisters who were baptized into Christ through the Anglican tradition joined an ongoing theological dispute not of their own making, rather one that has roots in the unique contexts of the Northern European Reformation(s) in the sixteenth century. That we are fighting a renewed battle across rifts opened by Calvin, Luther, Medieval Catholicism, et. al., with a healthy dose of nationalism thrown in is a haunting, if not intriguing thought. That human sexuality then is only a focal point might be a relief in an intellectual sense, but it still does not fully address the plight of LGBT Christians in many parts of the Communion, or the profound and often inter-cultural questions about biblical interpretation and authority, or the legal and ecclesiastical quagmires posed by actions of late by Truro, Falls Church, et al., or the violations of traditional jurisdictional boundaries of the Communion.

So whether this will all be helpful ultimately is also an open question -- but in no way do I mean that to diminish Mark Harris' illuminating thoughts. Perhaps, at very least, his words serve to remind us that the Elizabethan Settlement between Puritans and Catholics was the first of many delays in an ongoing theological dispute close to the heart of the Church -- a theological dispute that many branches of the Body of Christ "solved," at least for a time, through formal schism, violence, or both.

Anglicanism's genius, even given the impetus of political interests and periods of our own violent upheavals, was to hold such disputes in subjection under our primary unifying head: Jesus Christ.

If I am right in that, then all of us have to be very careful about what we mean when we claim that the other "side" no longer has the mind (or the heart) of Christ. That is the language of schism. And perhaps we can utter more definitively, that is not Anglican.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Age of Fear

Nativity, by Hiroshi Tabata, Japan

What does the
Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8


I had to reread yesterday's post and examine my own vehemence.

My spiritual director has long held before me that anger is most often, if not always, rooted in fear. There is little else to add except to reflect for a moment on the roots of the current crisis in the Anglican Communion through that important piece of understanding.

The most unnerving thing about the recent article in The New York Times about Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria is not so much what he says, but how he reflects in his words and actions a deeply rooted anxiety -- fear -- that resides at the center of so much of the vitriol on all sides of the rifts we suffer from in our faith community at present.

We live in an age of fear. I don't have the experience to say if it is more so now than at other times in world history, but the language of the great movers and shakers of our day reflects the root of so much driving the human family at the present time: war on terror, insurgents, evil ones.

Even the language of Anglicanism in our day, with all its subtleties, has overtones of fear: the title of the Windsor Report: "Walking Apart". Impaired Communion. Canonical Violations. Episcobabble. Voluntary withdrawal. Strained bonds of affection. And some old Christian standbys: heretics, schismatics, apostasy.

I dare not venture to argue which side likes to use the fear language more. It is too easy to demonize. And demonization is a child of fear.

We have a common enemy, perhaps among the oldest and most devious and universal of demonic tools: fear.

We fear the other. We fear those who disagree with us. We worry about the ones who might try to harm us if we dissent.

The antithesis of fear is, of course, courage, but more importantly, daring to love in the midst of such heated attacks and rages of fear, even as it burns holes in our communities and digs chasms that appear impassable.

I confess for myself and to God that I want to start looking for this new way out of fear in the New Year. So I learn to stand in solidarity with those who suffer most from fear, be it their own or those of others. Perhaps there we have more in common, be we "progressive" or "conservative," "reasserters" or "reappraisers."

And we have Christ in common. And Christ is born in our hearts, leading us to resurrection, to be born again. Born again free from fear, and to stand anew with the One who is ushering in a new day.

The Christians better than I will be standing outside the fear in the days to come. Help me watch for them and may we learn from them together.

God's peace.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Akinola's Gospel

The Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, re-hashes his "good news" in a devastating article in The New York Times.

Mark Harris offers analysis, and Fr. Jake has his take with lots of commentary.

Good news? I think Charlie Brown had it right with, "Good grief!"

Normally I don't like fighting fire with fire, but in the discussion at Fr. Jake's, it was enough to drive me back to some foundational passages of Scripture.

Like so many pieces of the current controversy in the Anglican Communion, this might be funny were it not so incredibly tragic. What really weighs heavy on my heart is how much this distracts from the realities on the ground in Nigeria, which include regular violence between Christians and Muslims, abject poverty, governmental corruption (juiced to some degree by American oil interests), and rampant AIDS.

The NYT
article describes Akinola's "fixation" on homosexuality. Other leaders in Africa, including Archbishop Ngundane of Capetown, have confronted Akinola, exhorting him to use his position to articulate the real priorities of the African continent, but to little avail. Akinola, by feeding the media with his personal outrage over disagreements about human sexuality, has marginalized saner voices in Anglican Africa.

The way Akinola is behaving right now strikes me as dangerous. He appears to be allied with a growing movement of fundamentalism in major world religions, fundamentalism marked by a narrow, anti-modern/anti-postmodern worldview that denies our interconnectedness, reduces the world to simplistic divisions of good and evil, demonizes all opposition, scapegoats those least able to defend themselves, trumpets a triumphalist theology and, in the worst cases, cultivates violence.

That he foments anti-American sentiment is somewhat understandable, and his anti-colonialism slant is certainly justified. But he has a tendency to connect these sentiments with scapegoating gays and lesbians as well as The Episcopal Church, and then uses the excuse to justify his own cross-jurisdictional interloping in the Anglican Communion, and, along with his allies, working to hijack the agenda of the Primates' meetings to the detriment of more pressing matters. In short, he is hiding, his protests to the contrary notwithstanding, what looks like power grabs and prejudices behind a smokescreen of post-colonial victimhood.

Okay, so he threatens the English-American hegemony in the historic Anglican Communion. So be it. I've written before in this blog that there are some things that need to be permitted to mercifully pass, and a Communion built on myth or a sentimental notion of empire, commonwealth, and colonial rule is one of them. But Akinola appears to want something equally as colonial, if not tyrannical, to rise in its place. . . only someone from the Global South would be "in charge" instead.

By no means does he have to be converted to our point-of-view or theology. But an ounce of respect for The Episcopal Church's provincial autonomy wouldn't go amiss, surely, just as we respect the Church of Nigeria's. Instead, he has dismissed The Episcopal Church as apostate, irrelevant, and worthy only of ecclesiastical invasion. He seems to have attacked, rather than negotiated with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England. He has used the Windsor Report's recommendations for his own ends, excoriating entire provinces with one recommendation as though it is Anglican canon law, and dismissing other exhortations in the report that don't suit his interests.

But, beyond his public support for legislation undermining essential human rights for gay and lesbian people in Nigeria, the real risk Akinola poses is to his own people. With each new stir of the sexuality controversy, and with each new insult and anathema for The Episcopal Church and gay and lesbian Christians, there is less time, credibility, and opportunity to work for and woo substantial aid and support for the thousands -- if not millions -- who are hungry, suffering from disease, and desperate for peace. These are primary justice and human rights matters that have implications for the work of the Gospel and Nigeria's place in a shrinking world and a global economy. Surely, even assuming homosexuality is a sin, there are greater priorities at hand in the world.

Finally, Akinola does not appear to be shooting from the heart of the Gospel at this stage. At least not the Gospel of Jesus Christ I have come to know. Even a "plain reading" of Scripture will bear me out on that. We need to stand up and articulate the core virtues of the Gospel -- charity, compassion, and justice for those who have none -- so as not to cede the Gospel of "Christ is risen" to a myopic agenda of prejudice and hunger for power. We lose that Gospel at our own peril.

That he is under unimaginable pressure from Muslim on Christian violence in Nigeria, I concede, but I sincerely hope there is more to Akinola as a Christian than we have seen. Ironically enough, +Gene Robinson placed himself before our General Convention for consideration and went to his own consecration under threat of death. Yet he is willing to remain in communion with those who most despise him. But heaven forbid that ++Akinola would learn something about Christianity from a man he dare not touch!

Perhaps he simply suffers a major PR problem. If I have mistaken him in small or great ways, God forgive me, and I will happily bear correction. But the pattern of bullying and spiteful polemic he continues to weave does not yet suggest to me otherwise.

Prayers be with ++Peter Akinola. As Mark Harris has pointed out, we may be watching him dig his own hole. How many more have to suffer needlessly before he stops?

Lord have mercy. . .


What Child is This?

Sermon delivered at Church of Our Saviour,

Mill Valley, California
on Christmas Eve, 2006

Readings for Christmas Eve

audio available


Now that I’ve been a dad for three years. . . thirty-eight months, twenty-four days, ten hours, thirty minutes. . .well, who’s counting, right?

. . . but at last I think I can say with some authority that children are strange.

Any of us who are parents know that starting a family means welcoming some level. . .maybe a high level. . . of chaos – an overturned applecart of carefully ordered lives. Of learning the hard way to conform to a schedule best titled as “life interrupted” by strange, unpredictable bundles of energy. . .

. . .and that universe that seems to somehow fall towards their gravitational centers: whether swaddling clothes or diapers, groceries, tuition, bills, taxes, toys, doting friends and family, or other children.

Much the same it must have been for Mary and Joseph two millennia ago, when their first-born came into the world at the edge of empire, into a lowly village in Judea, amongst animals and shepherds skirting the civilized world. Joseph and Mary weren’t married and were away from home and the warmth of family. That was strange enough.

But Jesus was their firstborn, an event to be celebrated in an age when male children were the best way to continue a bloodline and a family legacy. Yet Jesus, with all the usual strangeness that babies have with their scrunched-up faces and other-worldly cries, was even stranger.

From the early centuries, Christians depicted the baby Jesus in iconography several ways – almost always with a halo of light surrounding his head – a mark of some special divine blessing or purpose. Sometimes he was depicted as a tiny, but fully-formed man, gazing lovingly at his mother or out at us who give him peculiar titles and talk about him a lot. Sometimes he was swaddled peacefully asleep, the watchful shepherds, wise men, and animals standing by, with angels looking down or celebrating in the heavens.

Either way, this baby was something quite unusual, perhaps stranger than strange. Luke’s gospel has Mary wondering at what it means that the stars themselves seem to predict where Jesus is born, that angels come to foretell his birth, and that shepherds show up – the ragtag of their world – to worship.

Of course, if Mary knew what we knew now, she might be terrified. This little baby crying for his first milk and wrapped up tightly swaddled is the keystone of a world-changing tradition. No matter what we believe about Jesus, his name and what his followers have attributed to him have brought about the destruction of empires and their rebuilding. . . they have greatly influenced the moral, political, and even economic and scientific foundations of a world we now tend to take for granted. The record simply shows Jesus among the most important, if not the most important figure in recorded world history.

His actions critical of religious authority and his gruesome death at the hands of an unsavory Roman governor and what his disciples say happened next sparked a movement that would threaten emperors, kings, and princes for generations. His teachings and accounts of him remain the subject of great debate and scholarly inquiry. Christians in many places in the world still give their lives in his name. . .

. . .and whatever awful corruption and warfare have been unleashed by invoking allegiance to this first-century child, the core of his message still speaks, bringing hope even to those who have never entered a Church or lifted their voice to sing his praise. Above all, he is often the light in places far from civilized or peaceful. . .the last hope for those near death. . . the guardian against total despair, even at the gates of illness, suffering, and rampant poverty.

And tonight, we gather to hear the familiar story about his birth and wonder with Mary at all the beginnings of this strange, world-changing child, wrapped up warmly and placed in the manger amongst the straw, the earth, and the smells and gazes of peculiar, yet ordinary people like you and me.

And we call it “incarnation.” That light around his head in ancient iconography means there is something very special about this baby indeed – maybe even the reminder in him that God has come among us not just as a vision or an angel, but as a person with all our fleshiness and fragility. . .with all our ephemeral nature as we pass much like grass, and scarcely a blink in the great cosmic dance. God comes as a person with a genetic and cultural heritage, a worldview, a birthplace and a family. . . made of the earth, and made of the stardust from which we are all fashioned.

“Emmanuel,” God with us, means that everything we thought separated us from divine perfection – and that is a lot, isn’t it? – it means that all that separation is gone. It doesn’t ultimately matter because God has erased the chasm and come not only near, but right into our humanity, beginning with the cries of this newborn child.

We gather to draw comfort from that thought. But we are also challenged by it.

Again, because this baby Jesus is strange. He’s as strange as any human newborn appearing in our midst. . .a bundle of raw humanity without convention, language, culture, or a sense of his own identity. And in some ways, he will grow up to still be even stranger. He will say things like this to us home bodies, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” He will run out into the wilderness and face down the darkness that lives out there and within us close at hand. He will leave his family and become an itinerant preacher and healer. He will invite others to leave their homes and follow him. He will heal the down-trodden and touch the untouchable. He will decry violence and oppression and cross almost every social boundary he sees for the sake of his new family of ne’er-do-wells. And he will stand up to the educated and the religious and political authorities at great peril, and lose his life, and then take it up again in a way that defies explanation and has inspired millions to love him and the God he points to.

But for tonight, we have a moment to catch our breath, bask in the warmth of this story yet, and maybe spend time with friends and family before the world again overtakes us with its demands and troubles. For all the strangeness of this baby named Jesus, and the strange Gospel he has yet to bring to us with an invitation for transformed, resurrected lives, he is this night the center of peace and all that is holy and good and just in the world.

He is the baby, small, maybe cute, certainly beautiful as all newborns are. . .he is the baby held lovingly by a mother tired from her labor but joyous to behold her son with her own eyes. Of a father, a carpenter looking out for his family’s safety and security, happy to see some of the most unnerving months of his life end with a healthy child. A wonderful thing for shepherds who have been eking a meager living off the wool, sheep, and grass that they know as well as the stars. . .Shepherds who have been given the favor of a visit from angels, and who will not forget what they have seen. They are the first to know. . . they stand at the beginning of a great story that spans humanity.

And we should pause and stay awhile, gazing at this image in our hearts, pondering as Mary pondered what she could scarcely imagine.



Saturday, December 23, 2006

From Bethlehem

The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke these words at the International Peace Center in Bethlehem. Without quibbling with some of ++Williams' tone -- he is an Archbishop after all! -- the substance of his words makes a profound Christmas wish. May we all pray with him and with the people of Bethlehem and throughout the Middle East.

Your excellencies, dear brothers and sisters we are I think a little overwhelmed by the welcome that we have received here. And although we are used, we have visited here before to be welcomed with this generosity today has been exceptional.

We are indeed here to say to the people of Bethlehem they are not forgotten. We are here to say that what affects you affects us. We are here to say that your suffering is ours also - in prayer and in thought and in hope. We are here to say, in this so troubled, complex land, that justice and security is never something which one person claims at the expense of another or one community at the expense of another. We are here to say that security for one is security for all. For one to live under threat, whether of occupation, or of terror, is a problem for all, and a pain for all.

The wall which we walked through a little while ago is a sign not simply of a sign of a passing problem in the politics of one region; it is sign of some of the things that are most deeply wrong in the human heart itself. That terrible fear of the other and the stranger which keeps all of us in one another kind of prison.

In one of the hymns which we sing in English during the Advent season we sing about Jesus Christ as the One who comes the prison bars to break. And it is our prayer and our hope for all of you that the prison of poverty and disadvantage, and the prison of fear and anxiety will alike be broken. We are here on pilgrimage because we trust that 2000 years ago an event took place here which assured us that these prisons could be broken, broken by the act of a God in whose sight all are equally precious: Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Christian and Moslem. A God for whom all lives are so equally precious that the death of any one is an affront to all. That is why we are here.

We are not here to visit an ancient and interesting site. We are not here to visit a museum and we are not here to visit a theme park. We are here to visit a place and people whose very existence speaks of the freedom of God to set human beings free. That is a truth which remains day after day, year after year, millennium after millennium. It is that good news that has driven us here. It is that good news which has teaches us not to despair even in the terrible circumstances in which so many of you now live.

Thank you once again for what you have done to make us feel at home here. We who are now fellow citizens with you here in this place. Pray for us in the western world, for us in England, that our faith may be strengthened by yours. That you are a gift –- remember -- to us. Unlike the wise men who came from the East 2000 years ago, we not very wise men from the West have not come to pour out our gifts. We have come to receive the witness of your faith, your endurance and your hope. To receive the gifts of God from you. So pray for us. Pray that we may be strong. Pray that we may be loyal friends to you and to all the peoples of this land and we shall pray for you also.



Friday, December 22, 2006

An Advent Mess

Well, here's a quick inventory of where things are along the fault zones of the Anglican Communion:

Truro, Falls Church, and several other Virginia parishes have voted to secede from The Episcopal Church and now find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to explain why they allied themselves with an Archbishop who has publicly supported legislation in his own country to not only ban same-sex unions, but to utterly destroy essential human rights for any gay or lesbian. Archbishop Akinola himself begins a difficult dance of words around previous statements the Church of Nigeria made about the "evil of homosexuality." [Mark Harris offers another take on the "CANA two step" here.] Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for the breakaway parishes to negotiate a settlement with the Diocese of Virginia regarding the property and assets involved before expensive litigation is joined in the fray.

Calvary Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh has reopened a lawsuit against the Diocese, charging that Pittsburgh's edging towards schism remains in violation of canonical and constitutional provisions of The Episcopal Church. They have long been a thorn in Bishop Duncan's and the Diocese's side ever since talk of schism started to turn to action in the form of Diocesan canonical changes over property rights. Looks like +Pittsburgh will have his hands full in the New Year as his own try to hold him accountable to the church that consecrated him.

The Church of England evangelicals are now falling on each other over an attempted covenant that they presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Problem is, it read more like a manifesto or even an ultimatum. The document has provoked considerable controversy, most particularly within the evangelical networks themselves. The Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright, long one of the most widely respected, articulate, and scholarly evangelicals in the C of E, has pilloried the proposal and made no bones about his annoyance at what he perceives as an ill-conceived and ill-timed effort.

Tanzania and Uganda have both made serious attempts to throw wrenches into the upcoming Primates Meeting scheduled for February. Tanzanian bishops voted to create a list of anathemas that will, if enforced, keep out virtually every Anglican priest, deacon, bishop and Primate in the Western world, as most have participated in the ordination of a homosexual at some point in their ministry. Adding insult to injury, the Tanzanian bishops included a clause that hangs the weight of the anathemas around the poorest of their own people by blocking aid from other parts of the Communion.

The Archbishop of Uganda issued his own ultimatum. Apparently, ++Katharine Jefferts Schori's steady, graceful presence at the upcoming Primates' Meeting (ironically enough, planned to meet in Tanzania) is just too much to bear. A day or two after the Archbishop's statement went public, Uganda offered the follow-up: an incredible excuse that they had thought that The Episcopal Church had been "suspended" from participation in the Anglican Instruments of Unity (including the Primates' Meeting). The Archbishop of Canterbury has apparently since responded. He has made it clear that ++KJS will be invited to the meeting, effectively calling the bluff of Uganda's Archbishop. But it also seems ++Rowan Williams will be inviting others from The Episcopal Church who represent dissension, or, at least, "Windsor compliance." I am troubled about how this treats the authority of our Presiding Bishop to represent us. At any rate, this suggestion already has the blogosphere abuzz. We will simply have to see whether this exacerbates the situation or begins us moving towards something with which most Provinces can live.

In short, the Anglican Communion begins Christmas suffering from an Advent mess, or really a series of messes wrought by the considerable efforts of those seeking to purify their churches and consciences from the discomforts of being in community with those with whom they disagree.

The media has had a field day, drawing and exaggerating the boundaries and divisions in caricature. I don't know if anyone looks better than anyone else to the outside world. But fighting over sex makes great press. As my friend, John Kirkley, points out, the media's take (and even our own much of the time) is a gross oversimplification of something remarkably more nuanced and complex. And while there are predictions the whole thing is going to hell in a handbasket, including, I must admit, my own. . . most Anglicans, and most Episcopalians, for that matter, have simply gotten on with church. Some have even kept their focus on what it means to be Christian.

The actions of a few Episcopal parishes, the abortive attempts at "covenant" amongst some evangelicals in the Church of England, along with the proclamations from a few African bishops and archbishops only serve to demonstrate the hardship of making a clean break with anything, let alone anyone. Purity and perfection in narrow notions of orthodoxy are impossible ideals to meet -- and perhaps unworthy of such energy in a global context where life is ever more messy and interconnected than many of us care to acknowledge.

Meanwhile, the world's suffering continues. Iraq becomes a greater quagmire than ever as the instigators of the war try to find a way forward, if not a way out. AIDS, malaria, starvation, and economies in shambles remain the most pressing problems for Africa, large swaths of Asia, and the greater Global South. Violence perpetrated in the name of religion is daily fare in many parts of the world. Back at home, our quest for greater productivity has led to scarcity of time for the truly important things: compassion, companionship, and hope. Homeless continue to wander the streets. Poverty is still with us, even in a nation that prides itself in our collective abundance. And the slow creep of global warming and the cries of all creation go on in many places unheeded.

Making the way straight for Christ's coming was the name of the game in Advent. Looks like many of us barely got started, and some of us failed pretty miserably.

But Truro Church and Falls Church, and St. Stephen's Church in Heathsville, VA, will presumably all be open this weekend for Christmas services. So will the many churches of Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda. So will thousands of communities in the Episcopal Church, and millions around the world in all kinds of places.

Because we have something in common:

We all agree that the Good News of Jesus Christ is coming anyway, born in the messy company of animals to unmarried parents in a little town far from home. Born into a messy world where the machinations of the powerful continue to grind down those least able to defend themselves -- a world that suffers violence and upheaval on a regular basis. A messy world where most people simply try to keep their heads down and get on with the day-to-day tasks of daily life, praying through the shades of gray and occasional darkness as they wait for the Light.

And, yes, Christ is coming to the Anglican Communion with all the heaped-up vitriol, divisions, and spite that were exchanged this Advent. God is returning to the less-than-admirable attempts at righteousness, the posturing, and the politics. Jesus is walking into the half-baked fear-cloaked-as-theology and the pain of broken communities and friendships. He is coming to the divisions where Christan brothers and sisters deny each other and the Gospel with which they were entrusted. He is coming where the Church has oppressed rather than lifted up, destroyed rather than healed, and focused inward at the expense of focusing outward. He is coming where pride in piety has led to isolation and self righteousness.

God is coming. . .to our mess in dire need of redemption.

People are preparing to enter our churches to hear about that this weekend. They want Good News, even if that means only one more bend in the road of their life journey might be straightened, or at least made a little easier to travel.

Let us therefore put down the language and tools of discord, put on the light, and attend to our doors, keeping awake, ready to open them to the Christchild when he comes, or maybe even go out like the shepherds to behold this miracle given to us, and given as hope to a broken and struggling, messy world.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Fare Thee Well

ENS has just a released a disturbing report on the departure of the congregation of St. Stephen's, Heathsville, Virginia, as it joined with 15 other churches in the Diocese (including Truro Church and Falls Church who have been all over the media), most of whom are becoming part of CANA, a missionary district overseen by the Archbishop of Nigeria that, despite apparent aspirations to becoming an alternative Anglican Province in North America, enjoys no clear sanction from the Anglican Communion (see here and here). Mark Harris has an excellent take on the bigger churches' departure as well as the ramifications, but having grown up in a small Midwestern church, my heart is most immediately drawn to the fragmentation of the smaller communities involved in this schism.

30-or-so members of St. Stephen's are seeking a way to remain part of the Episcopal Church. According to canon law, they should be able to inherit the property, but Bishop Lee of Virginia has suspended legal proceedings for thirty days in order to provide time for both sides to seek a negotiated settlement. Fr. Jake has posted comment on the clericalism that appears to have been in high gear at St. Stephen's leading up to the decision.

Also among the more notable quotes from the ENS article is this:

"Two of the speakers who wished to secede from the Episcopal Church told those of us sitting in the congregation that if we voted 'no' we were imperiling our immortal souls, and that was hard to hear," said [Sandra] Kirkpatrick, describing a discussion held during the week before the voting began. "This was said lovingly by people who have been my friends - dear friends - for over 10 years but they are very, very, very convinced that they are dong the right thing in leaving the Episcopal Church and they are acting genuinely worried about those of us who are not."

I found this deeply distressing pastorally, as it amounts to a form of spiritual blackmail. That Ms. Kirkpatrick took it as a sign of concern is a deeply loving and understanding, and dare I say Christian response. Prayers remain with her and everyone at St. Stephen's as they seek a way forward.

But this quote also signifies to me the isolating nature of the theology behind much of this schism -- a sort of shrinking border around those who believe themselves righteous and who tend towards fearfully shutting out all those who dare to openly disagree, let alone those who are different.

I would wager this does not bode well for the future of CANA or any number of the other schismatic groups. Once the apostate Episcopal Church is out of the picture and the unifying force of a common heretical enemy is no longer present, will there be another manifesting heresy within the breakaway group itself to lead to yet another schism?

I am reminded of the arguments that arose amongst the first disciples:

Then Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

Before we hold each other's immortal souls in judgment, let us remember Jesus' words to his followers that turned the whole argument about power and righteousness on its head:

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:33-37


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Light in the Darkness

Caught by the light, indeed! Our Presiding Bishop reminds us about our call as Christians.

from ENS:


For the People of the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church continues to focus on its mission of reconciling the world, particularly as it cares for the least, the lost, and the left out. We participate in God's mission to heal the world as we feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate children, heal the sick, and seek to change the systems that perpetuate injustice.

We also seek reconciliation with those within and beyond this church who differ from us theologically. While we regret the recently publicized departures of individuals from churches in Virginia and elsewhere in this Church, and the rejection of this Church's elected leadership by various bishops here and across the world, we continue to seek reconciliation.

God is not served by bickering, name-calling, and division. We recall Jesus' prayer in John's gospel, "that they may be one" and understand that to include the whole world -- those who agree and those who disagree, people of different faith traditions and none, and the poorest and most broken among us.

We will continue to engage in that mission of healing the world, whatever others may decide. In this season, we affirm the ancient dream of peace in our day, shalom, salaam, the peace of God which passes all understanding.

May the Prince of Peace shine in your hearts, and may that light bless the world.

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1:5).

Shalom,

Katharine

-- The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori is Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Prophet or Two

A Sermon for 3 Advent [Readings for this day]

A classmate in seminary – I’ll call her “Marti” – had a penchant for making life uncomfortable. Many of us, of course, were on the ordination track. There was an air in those early years of our moving into ordained ministry that we were God’s gift to the Church, the next wave of leaders who would make the Episcopal Church burst open at the seams with new faces. We sometimes liked to hide our struggles and pretend we had the best answers – and the right ones, whether they were liturgical, theological, ecclesiastical, spiritual, or simply how to better throw the next class party.

Marti would have none of this. She was not on the ordination track. But she was studying alongside those of us who were and constantly burning a hole in our pride with her pointed words. She called a spade a spade. She never failed to point out to us the homelessness present right outside the seminary doors and our propensity to shutter the windows, to hunker down in our self-absorption.

Yes, she annoyed me. She put me on the defensive. I even attempted to argue with her on occasion. Can’t say I ever won. She was a self-avowed prophet. And prophets, self-avowed or not, are a tough-minded, dangerous lot.

John the Baptist says in today’s Gospel:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Welcome to the Third Sunday of Advent.

John the Baptist has a unique place in Christian tradition. In the canonical gospels, at least, he is the only person other than Jesus given a stage to teach.

We can only begin to surmise the myriad of reasons he chose the language he did to address the crowds coming to him for the baptism of metanoia, coming for guidance to begin a pilgrimage of repentance. He was certainly standing firmly planted in the tradition of the ancient prophets of Hebrew Scriptures – curmudgeons they could be at times with words that cut deep. Prophetic voices have always been like that.

He was very much in line with what we now call the Rabbinical tradition – he used hyperbole, bold imagery, and even shaming words to grab the ears of his listener. Amazing how that still works, 2,000 years later. As comfortable as many of us get hearing these words over and over again year after year at this time, they honestly still make my skin crawl a bit.

Because there’s also apocalyptic in John. No doubt about it. He stands on the cusp of something, or better yet Someone, who is intending to remake the world. As we were reminded last week, John is calling for paths to be straightened and rough places to be made smooth for the coming of the Lord, the God of salvation.

What John the Baptist calls forth in the crowds who come to him, and what I believe he continues to call forth in us today, is the sense of dread we all carry around inside of us. . .that small kernel of unease that sometimes bubbles up as fear. It’s primal – as real as our nightmares. It’s raw, so that in civilized company we go to great lengths to conceal it. It can be ugly. Those who love us most see it sometimes, and it has tested our most intimate relationships. It’s the raw fuel for our anger and the keeper of our comfort zone. It recoils at the stranger and worries about what others think about us.

And it stands as an obstacle, a part of our cross, to the change and transformation of our lives we so desperately need to become more fully human in God’s grace.

So John names these fears, tickles them, and even leads the crowds more deeply into them. By exercising their worst terrors, he pushes them to the spiritual edge. By articulating the threat of their disinheritance as children of Abraham, and, indirectly, children of God, he breaks their hearts, so that they might be opened.

The transformation metanoia demands is no easy journey. Our hearts are often hardened by habit, by the scars of our lives, by the tasks and responsibilities that weigh heavily on us – especially this time of year. Our hearts of stone must be broken to reveal the fleshy, tender, vulnerable places inside where God can work anew.

John in all his otherworldly strangeness, knows this sometimes closely guarded secret about each of us.

He names it, and then he paints the great journey of salvation. Just when we’ve gotten out our fears and worst bits and pieces on the table, just when we feel broken inside and close to being disinherited, when we are most humbled by our falling short in so many ways, we are embraced by a God who loves us and strengthened to lead new lives. In Luke’s gospel, John is very specific about what these new lives will look like.

They begin with compassion: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” The fears now named, exercised, and addressed, they may be set aside. The fears gone leave room for a love that begins healing all the sore places and empty stomachs of the world, as well as those rough places inside, the hurts we hold, and the roots of all our angers and fears. The path to a free life with God is through our compassionate action for others. . . as well as for ourselves.

And how we lead this life is as specific and unique as our address, our families, our friends, our backgrounds, our vocations. John begins addressing the people in the crowd in exacting terms, demanding that in each of their paths, they lead lives of justice, set aside dishonesty and open themselves to the challenging grace of God.

And Luke closes this account with a remarkable turn of phrase. He calls all this “good news” – gospel. John has laid the foundations for Jesus’ teaching, for the calling of our Savior to lead lives of compassion. John has opened the prophetic door to the coming Messiah, Grace Incarnate, who will make all gospel living possible, the heart of God coming among us first as a small, fragile child who will break our hearts open this Christmas for each other and the strangers just outside our doors.

Let us be ready to hear the voice of the prophets in our midst. They are around. We know them because they make us squirm a little. . . sometimes a lot. What they say haunts us and names our worst fears. And what they call us to is something strange, but very specific and transformative to our unique lives brought together as children of God.

Join me in listening to them with greater care. Like John the Baptist, they are paving the way in our hearts for Christ to come.

So, as Advent draws to a close, be watchful – that calling phrase of Advent – for these prophets both far away and near. . . listen closely to what they have to say. . . and find wonder in what happens next as a Child of compassion is born in our midst. . . born into tender, broken hearts.



Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bethlehem's Clarity

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem has unanimously declined to consent to the consecration of The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina.

The final outcome for Fr. Lawrence and South Carolina, vis a vis The Episcopal Church, has yet to be decided, but I post this to commend the Standing Committee's clarity in explaining why they voted as they did. It is a breath of fresh air at a time when obfuscation seems to be in vogue.

May all of us, rightly or wrongly, respond to clouds of words, distortions, ultimatums, and threats of schism with such clarity.

This portion of the statement (made public on the diocese's website) I have drawn from a post on Fr. Jake Stops the World. In bold are areas that I particularly agree with:

...Asked if the Presiding Bishop would be welcome to preside at his consecration, Father Lawrence said that “would be a most unwelcome situation for the vast majority of priests and laypersons of the Diocese of South Carolina.”

Asked further if he would recognize Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and as his Primate, Father Lawrence evaded the question, saying simply that he recognized her “as the legitimately elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church,” and that he recognized also that “her actions as bishop of Nevada in condoning same sex blessings … put her in violation of the Windsor Report and, consequently, compromise her ability to function in primatial authority and relationship.”

Considering the current nature of the Windsor Report, one cannot be “in violation” of it, though one can act in violation of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. We heard Father Lawrence’s answer as non-responsive.

To a question about what his response would be if the convention of the Diocese of South Carolina voted to leave the Episcopal Church, Father Lawrence said, “I don’t think that speculative questions of this nature … are either reasonable or helpful.”

We heard that as a refusal to respond to a question we thought had to be asked, and answered.

To the question whether he would “uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church as now constituted,” Father Lawrence said “neither the Standing Committee of South Carolina nor I have made plans to leave the Episcopal Church.”

We would have been encouraged if Father Lawrence had a plan not to leave the Episcopal Church.

Some may ask why we would not consent to the election by South Carolina of Father Lawrence as their bishop when the Episcopal Church consented to New Hampshire’s election of Canon Gene Robinson.

We consider the consent question to be an ecclesiological, not a theological, question. Neither Father Lawrence’s nor Canon Robinson’s theology is relevant to the consent process.

Had Canon Robinson been as unclear or cavalier about his willingness to remain at table with those who disagreed with him, even defaming his character, it is likely he would not have received the required consents for him to be a bishop.

The crucial difference between the ecclesiology of these two men is that one clearly indicated that he would not work for reconciliation within a church with whom his own theology and understanding of scripture disagrees. Father Lawrence’s own words suggest rather that he would work with those who would expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion.

We do not see how Father Lawrence can claim to promise to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church. He would see himself as a bishop of the Anglican Communion and not of the Episcopal Church. However, we are only in the Anglican Communion by virtue of our being a part of the Episcopal Church...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Shameful

The game is up.

Mark Harris reports that the Archbishop of Uganda has resorted to a direct threat to the integrity of the Primates meeting and the integrity of our electing ++Katharine Jefferts Schori as our Presiding Bishop.

Apparently now, the demand is that another bishop, selected by "orthodox" dioceses in The Episcopal Church, be sent in her stead to sit at the February Primates' meeting, as the Archbishop of Uganda refuses to even sit with her at table, let alone speak with her -- a poisonous and arrogant slight. I can only imagine the scriptural passages that might be quoted to support such an outrage. Now we see the theology coming to full flower: the Bible used as a weapon to justify human division, misogyny, and plays for raw power. But however couched in pastoral language the Archbishop of Uganda's letter flows, between the lines I feel the disdain and scorn that is rooted, along with so many other schismatic actions right now, in anger and fear. None of these are Gospel virtues, it seems to me.

No matter what stand we take on human sexuality or women in Holy Orders, this is not the Way of Jesus.

As the request invites a brazen violation of jurisdictional boundaries by attempting to interfere in the polity of this province -- in effect, ecclesiastical violence to our General Convention as the Ugandan Archbishop attempts to usurp its authority -- and even more clearly dishonors primary, God-given human dignity, this is nothing less than a direct attack on the integrity of the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church.

No doubt, we in The Episcopal Church will continue to be blamed for this crisis because we consecrated +Gene Robinson, or began ordaining women, or [you fill in the blank]. Or because we dared to commend "what we have seen and heard" in our part of the world: that perhaps long-standing bigotries in Christian tradition could continue to be questioned, and that deeper truth in Scripture and our relationship with God in Christ might be renewed and revealed through the Spirit -- even in our day.

Yes, we will be blamed. Acts of schism and all forms of ecclesiastical and spiritual violence against us will be justified as punishment or "consequences", and we will be blamed.

But there is a parallel to this kind of blaming. . .in abusive family relationships. Sometimes abusive relationships need to end, if healing is to begin.

The game is indeed up. The Anglican Communion as we have known it, a vestige of old empire, commonwealth, and colonial rule, is issuing a last gasp. The rattling of ecclesiastical swords by bishops at home and abroad is the death rattle.

What God will raise up when all is done is remains a mystery, but one I dare hope for.

My prayer is that we as a Christian community in The Episcopal Church, come what may, respond to Uganda and all those who have broken communion with us with the love and compassion in the truth that Christ has given us: that we take up our cross and find new and deeper ways to walk for those truly in need -- to renew our seeking the face of Jesus in all the earth's people. . .even those who most despise us.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Millstone of Heresy

"You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!"
Matthew 23:23

And just when we thought things couldn't get any uglier in the Anglican Communion, the bishops of Tanzania release a comprehensive statement declaring broken communion with all bishops and dioceses of the Communion involved with the ordination or consecration of homosexuals, and, it seems, imperiling the Primates' meeting scheduled there for February. Their anathema list includes:
  1. Bishops who consecrate homosexuals to the episcopate and those Bishops who ordain such persons to the priesthood and the deaconate or license them to minister in their dioceses;
  2. Bishops who permit the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses;
  3. Gay priests and deacons;
  4. Priests who bless same sex unions;
Brother Causticus, with his scathing wit, cuts to the quick. . .if the Tanzanian statement is to be taken at face value (that is, taken in a "plain sense"), the Church of Tanzania has not only "uninvited" ++Katharine Jefferts Schori, but has just broken communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and is, in effect, no longer part of the Anglican Communion.

This might all be a bit sad or even mildly amusing but, as Tobias Haller most eloquently writes, those who will suffer most will be the poorest of Tanzania, who are now effectively blocked from receiving aid from some of the wealthiest in the Anglican Communion by their own beloved Church. So now we see where the millstone of heresy will fall heaviest, and just in time for Christmas, too:

. . .Further to the consequent state of the severely impaired communion, the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Tanzania declares that henceforth the Anglican Church of Tanzania shall not knowingly accept financial and material aid from Dioceses, parishes, Bishops, priests, individuals and institutions in the Episcopal Church (USA) that condone homosexual practice or bless same sex unions. . .

Will the faithful bishops of Tanzania then wash their hands and blame us for the suffering of the poor in their country? Or, perhaps, they expect us to be merciful, and to channel aid in ways that they will not "know" we are sending it.

Either way, we are left with a millstone writ large that the Anglican Church of Tanzania's sexual ethics trump all, even good news for the poorest among us. Jesus' teachings. . .read in the "plain sense. . ." have something to say about this, too, I believe.

Sarcasm (almost) aside, the bishops of Tanzania and all struggling for basic necessities in their country have my prayers. . .even if they regard those tainted as well.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Metanoia and the Other

Sermon delivered at Church of Our Saviour,

Mill Valley, California
on the Second Sunday of Advent, 2006

Readings for this Sunday

audio available


You might have noticed that the Episcopal Church was in the news a fair bit this week. Our own bishop led a peace march and Eucharist in San Francisco on Thursday. A few of us from Church of Our Saviour joined over two hundred others, including veterans, Quakers, Buddhists, Muslims, and those who claim no faith tradition at all, in praying for all the dead in Iraq and hoping against hope for an end soon to hostilities there. Out of heartfelt witness for peace, Bishop Marc and his wife, Sheila*, joined 11 others in being arrested for civil disobedience.

While we were together outside the Federal Building raising our voices in song, praying, and breaking bread together, I confess I felt uneasy. My brother is in the military at naval flight school. How would he feel, I wondered, about me showing up for a peace protest? And I felt uneasy about the situation – not so much about witnessing for peace in a carefully planned, non-violent demonstration, but for the present circumstances on the ground in Iraq – the same kind of unease I heard in our President’s voice this week.

Even as he stood with his staunchest ally in this war, he faced unnerving and difficult questions about how we best handle an end to the occupation without bringing our own people or the Iraqi people to further harm. Whether we were for the invasion or against it, we have now a situation that no longer gives way to sound bytes, dogged insistence, or quick policy fixes. We are all re-learning the painful truth that it is so much easier to unleash the terrifying forces of war than to rein them in again. And the discussions, the recommendations of a special commission, and the heated debates beginning in Congress all happen against a backdrop of abysmal popularity ratings, and a still uncomfortably divided country and international community.

And not even the Episcopal Church is immune from this ongoing divisive discomfort. A week ago yesterday, our brothers and sisters meeting in special convention next door in the Diocese of San Joaquin voted overwhelmingly to take the first step forward in eliminating the Episcopal Church from their constitution and canons. If this decision is confirmed next year, it would mean their Diocese secedes from the Episcopal Church – a possibility we haven’t confronted as a community of faith since the Civil War.

And two large parishes in Virginia this past week considered recommendations that they leave The Episcopal Church and joining a North American “Anglican” group under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Nigeria. That’s a move that hasn’t been seen in over 500 years of history in Anglican tradition, and is largely unknown in 2,000 years of Christian history. From the Archbishop of Canterbury to our newly elected Presiding Bishop to our leadership in this Diocese, the question remains about how best to respond to ultimatums and brazen schismatic acts, the seeds of division, as some of our sisters and brothers batten down the hatches and shut out communion from those with whom they most disagree.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the old Chinese curse, “May you live to see interesting times. . .” I suppose these are interesting times in which we live. But also divisive. The “middle,” as so many pundits have opined over the past few months, seems to have disappeared, not only in the Episcopal Church, but across the nation and in the world. We live on a divided planet.

Our own sense of unease, of feelings running high, means we take on such issues of war and peace, communion and schism with a great deal of fear and trembling. People are leaving over such things – departing from community. Friends are becoming bitter enemies. Neighbors we thought we knew and loved become hostile and threatening, as we are tempted to hurl abuse at each other across the chasm between us. And we, liberal or conservative, theologically or politically or both, or even if we count ourselves amongst that shrinking and increasingly invisible group of moderates, are tempted to batten down the hatches, count our losses with those who disagree with us most, and shut out anyone and everyone who is different. . .shut out the other.

It’s into this divisive context that we hear the words of Isaiah, quoted in today’s gospel reading:

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'

John the Baptist was out in the wilderness teaching and offering what in the ancient Greek is baptisma metanoias: the baptism of metanoia, a term so full of meaning, that it might be better left un-translated. We have often translated metanoia as “repentance,” but it implies much more than a turning away from sin. It signifies a change not only of the mind, but of the heart – a complete and utter transformation of what makes us human inside and outside – the remaking of not only our souls, but the remaking of all our relationships with each other, with the earth, and with the God who stands at the center of all being.

In our media-driven age, we might be tempted to chide John a little for going about his business in a most wrong-headed way – for being out in the boonies declaring such a message. Would it not have been better to go to Jerusalem, to the seat of the religious tradition and the heart of Roman power in ancient Palestine. . .to get a better hearing, perhaps even draw over some converts in the higher echelons?

But there is a dangerous assumption in that question. We are caught in a fallacy as a spiritual people look for metanoia in all too familiar places – where we know the situation and the circumstances. . .where we know who’s in and who’s out of power, and how we are in relationship with them. In our divisive age, we are often seeking metanoia amongst only those who agree with us the most, amongst those with whom we are most comfortable.

No, John understood something in his bones about where metanoia would most likely occur. And that was on the edge, with a radical encounter with the Other. By “Other” I mean something or someone wholly different from who we are ourselves. . .a different place, a person with whom we radically disagree, or a strange God who comes to us in unexpected ways.

The wilderness was a forsaken place for John’s contemporaries. It’s why he went there to find God and draw others into new relationship. We will also see Jesus, if you stick with us long enough. . .we will see him go to the wilderness for metanoia, for transformation. It’s because out there, in the strangest places of our lives, meeting with the strangest people or even the beasts, where all bets are off, where we are made uneasy and uncomfortable – this is where we find true conversion, true metanoia – a changing of our hearts and minds, and even new eyes to see our own world in unexpected ways.

This Advent, we often gather here, some of us for the first time, some as we have over many years past, for some comfort. . .sometimes for the familiar. But the journey of Advent calls us outside of what makes us comfortable into the edge, into our own wilderness, so that we might encounter with John the metanoia of the soul, where the valleys are lifted up and the mountains laid low. Where our relationships, just in time for Christmas, are remade, and our eyes see the world in a new way. Where our divisions cease and new horizons for the human family become visible.

This Advent, when we are called to busy ourselves with holding up the old and the familiar, when we are tempted into the divisions of a fractious age, take time to go out into the wilderness and seek the transformative presence of the Other. Make time this Advent to get to know a complete stranger, or sit down for coffee with someone who sees the world completely differently than you do. Or head out to a new place you’ve never been before, a new wilderness for you, if only for an afternoon. Or seek an empty place, devoid of all the distractions of the home, the office, and the familiar. Step out of the known and comfortable and invite God in, laying bare all those things that the familiar protects and shields. And be transformed. . .making room for the One who is coming. . .to set us free from division, and sow the seeds of a new community and a new creation, where “all flesh will see the salvation of God.”

*Sheila Andrus, while she did stand with Bishop Marc in the civil disobedience action, was not among those arrested, as had been reported in some of the articles about the event. I left before all the arrests were made and regret stating this error in fact. (12/14)




Friday, December 08, 2006

Walking, Talking, Breaking Bread, and Dying for Peace


The spinmeisters will spin.
The cynics will shrug their shoulders.
The planners will plan more destruction
. . .and profit from it.
Our sisters and brothers will forfeit their lives
For the wishes of someone in faraway comfort.

While we attempt again to buy freedom at the point of a gun.

As you read this a mother is weeping for a lost child,
the pangs of hunger roar like anger through another's soul,
and well-heeled watchers keep their vigil and post.

For when will our bread be broken for all, our life poured out
for the children of the Earth, tenderly offered without fear or condition?

When will words of peace not bear the price of our power or the fee of fallacy
. . .spun as truth?

When will the Children of God dismantle the children of death, those arsenals too awful to see?

So we pray, we walk, we talk, we break bread, and we die for peace -- each day, each breath, each hope into darkness.


Jan has more at Happening Here and John Kirkley has a brief reflection at Meditatio. For a "secular" perspective, check out Civic Center. And links to lots more pictures can be found at the Diocesan website.

photo from Happening Here

Monday, December 04, 2006

A New Bishop?

Thinking Anglicans has just posted The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence's open answers to pointed questions regarding The Episcopal Church's pending approval for his consecration as the next Bishop of South Carolina.

There is a great deal of material there. Mark Lawrence is clearly not given to glib answers, which I find initially impressive. (More conservative bloggers have fallen into calling the opposite of glib "episcobabble," but it seems that even some of their favorites are not immune.) I am thankfully not entrusted with the weighty decision of approving his consecration and investiture. That duty belongs to our current bishops with jurisdiction and our diocesan standing committees. But among some of my puzzlements stemming from his writing, there are two big concerns that surfaced immediately:

He writes:

"I too am a member of a diocese that has asked for Alternative Primatial Oversight. . ."

Yes, namely The Diocese of San Joaquin, which just took a first vote overwhelmingly in favor of effectively seceding from the Episcopal Church. I cannot help but wonder how Mark Lawrence voted.

He avoids answering the hypothetical question #2 -- one asking simply if he would support The Diocese of South Carolina if they voted to secede -- by hedging against a "future crisis that could send any of us into a conundrum of canonical contradictions." The future is now, I'd say.

He writes elsewhere:

"I also recognize that [Katharine Jefferts Schori's] actions as bishop of Nevada in condoning same sex blessings, for which she has expressed no regret, put her in violation of the Windsor Report and, consequently, compromise her ability to function in primatial authority and relationship."

As part of a lengthy justification for marginalizing the new Presiding Bishop in a place where he may end up having jurisdiction, Mark Lawrence appeals to her "violation of the Windsor Report." Canons can be violated. So can constitutions. But I'm not sure the Windsor Report can be. It was not handed down as a prescription to be followed to the letter, nor was it given authority over this or any other constituent province of the Communion. It was a starting point for discussion amongst the instruments of unity -- and it has already been taken very seriously by this Church -- as the tears and heartache around the pained B033 at last General Convention testify. Must it also be enshrined as canonically significant?

Mark Lawrence's claim that our Presiding Bishop is somehow "compromised" in her ability to function as our Primate by her "violation" of WR is just as specious (not to mention slightly presumptuous -- does he speak on behalf of the Primates?) as appealing to the WR as a precedent for "Alternative Primatial Oversight" -- a phrase that never appears even once in the lengthy document.

Mark Lawrence acknowledges that Katharine Jefferts Schori was duly elected as our Presiding Bishop. Just like Bishop Schofield of San Joaquin, ML+ was granted his priesthood and license to function as an ordained member in the Episcopal Church by the same set of canons that contain provisions granting ++KJS her authority. To bar the PB on the one hand and approving of appeals to extra-canonical authority on the other (namely, APO from the other Primates, who have no direct canonical authority in this Province of the Communion) does not express to me a willingness to fully engage in the unity of The Episcopal Church -- something that, as bishop, he would be called upon to safeguard.

It might be convenient at times to dismiss the polity of canons and constitutionality on biblical grounds. He seems to argue elsewhere in this apologetic that liberals have done the same (I agree, although the canons were subsequently brought into line through due process at General Convention.) But where Mark Lawrence appears to be flagging, and most dangerously, is that the canons and constitution exist primarily not to hold the church back from innovation, whether "progressive" or "traditionalist." While they have been used this way, note how San Joaquin, Quincy, and Fort Worth have continued for over thirty years to bar women from priesthood: a canonical violation, but tacitly respected out of pastoral consideration from GC and the House of Bishops. (I'm not happy with that consideration, but it goes to show that bending the canons and constitution on pastoral grounds and out of deference to more local autonomy cuts all ways.)

Rather, it seems to me the spirit of the constitution and canons is first and foremost to set the boundaries of our common life most precisely when we are in conflict. Like right now. . . So that we keep a common life by "fighting fair", i.e. threats of divorce are kept off the table (as in any healthy marriage -- an analogy that Mark Lawrence appeals to). . .a common life that seeks to safeguard unity, even when we strongly disagree. . .a common life as the Body of Christ expressed in our core sacramental practices of Communion and Baptism, and yes, around Scripture, as heated as our differing interpretations and understandings may get.

The more I consider Mark Lawrence's writing, the more I understand the unease many have with the thought of his becoming bishop in The Episcopal Church. Be that as it may, withholding consent of a bishop-elect is a very weighty matter, and would likely lead to more schismatic acts. But then, so may giving consent in this case, based on what ML+ has written.

May our Bishops and Standing Committees pray deeply over this decision. My prayers are with them. My best one remains: "May God's will be done. . ." in this and in many difficult matters facing our common life at present.

You can also see Tobias Haller's comments on this matter, as well as two posts -- Mark Lawrence and his answers and Time to say No by Mark Harris over at Preludium.

Leit Relyf


Each minute, if not each second, another blog is born in the blogosphere. While I admit myself envious of the coverage some of my companion bloggers receive, I myself tend not to go too far afield in my blog tours, confining myself to the familiar, tried, and. . .well. . .places where I've left my own retorts, rebuttals, and bewilderment.

Then, on occasion, there arises a blog so brilliant, so remarkable, that it is well worth a mention, and a referral.

One such was born this week, with its scathing wit and brilliant insights into the so-called life of the Episcopal Church. . .

Brother Causticus. . .and his adventures at St. Euphemesius-By-The-Freeway. . .

Thank you, Brother Causticus. The Anglican blogosphere may indeed by "inbred," but it grows with the grace of laughter and wisdom, thanks to your contribution!