Saturday, June 30, 2007

Essential Equipment

. . . for the 10. . . make that 11. . . make that. . .

Oh, heck, who's counting those new bishops for the North America alphabet soup networks anyway?

Here's a short shopping list for the newly elected missionary bishops in these dark, hostile, heretical parts:

Mileage Plus Card

Every good bishop has one, as airports can be a favorite haunt. Just don't count on racking up miles flying to Lambeth next year. Rumor has it that the tailwinds over the Atlantic have turned to mighty powerful headwinds due to Global Warming and a gay bishop or two.

Plastic is also a great guarantee against handling the money of the unfaithful.

And don't forget your neck pillow.

Telescoping, SuperStrong™ Fiberglass Crosier (spares recommended)

Better get this one custom-made, guys. Long journeys make traveling light a necessity, and the smaller it collapses, the better.

Plated with the gold plundered from heretics, of course.

Ask for extra strong fiberglass in case you need it to discipline unruly clergy or the occasional disagreeable civil court judge.

And if all the clergy in your jurisdiction have been made bishops, well, get it extra EXTRA strong.

Telescoping design offers added reach for far-flung parishes or deep court room benches.

Fencing lessons wouldn't hurt now and again, either.


Armed, well-versed in orthodoxy, able to iron copes in a single sweep, these super-versatile companions and protectors are essential for traveling the hinterlands of hereticdom.

One may be currently seeking employment, since he has not posted on his blog recently. But be careful trying to seek out his true identity. Gnostics are everywhere these days.

Oh, and remember: First come, first served.


Yep. The ideal, chic, in vogue communication tool, complete with conference calling capability, mp3 player, text messaging, wireless internet, and your instant link to Google maps. Perfect for traveling the long distances and navigating the strange neighborhoods of a non-geographical jurisdiction.

Some say they are even theologically correct.

Listen to the latest podcasts of your favorite Archbishop during your long journeys as a bonus, and catch those nasty heretics in the act every time using the 2 megapixel camera.

And the on-screen keyboard means you can type the full name of your missionary network without risking tendinitis.

Word to the wise: Wear your purple shirt so you can cut in line to get one of these beauties.

As an alternative (Relax, guys, I don't mean lifestyle!): an orthodox episcopal blessing for Mr. Jobs might also speed up delivery direct from the warehouse.

Bishop(s) Suffragen

A suffering. . . er, suffragen Bishop or two to hold down the home front, office, parish, day job -- whatever -- while you're traveling abroad.

Limited only to your affectionate Primate's imagination, of course.

It's said that you can find eager candidates in Panama, but you didn't hear it from me.


The author received no compensation nor encouragement whatsoever from United Airlines, Apple, Steve Jobs, Brother Causticus, Bishops Unnamed Ruling in Panama (BURP), Global South Primates, Crosiers Unlimited™, or the Institute for Religion and Democracy for this post.

In lieu of compensation, free will donations may be sent to the RLOEAPCPEFCCAAAEGYRWIGSGNAGCSWEYGG or The True, Really, I Mean It, Church™.

Apologies in advance to the MadPriest, because I thought of this one first.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Open Table

The subject of open communion is an ongoing one in the Church, but has been so overshadowed in recent years by the controversy over sexuality as to be rendered virtually invisible.

I was moved to reflect more about our hospitality around Holy Communion by Taste and See, a sermon delivered recently by our deacon, Betsy Rosen, reflecting in part on Sara Miles' Take this Bread. Also prompting me was a remarkable essay by friend and theologian, Christopher over at Betwixt and Between.

At the center of this discussion in The Episcopal Church we have the brief, rather sharply worded canon, however else it was intended:
No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.

This is often rephrased, for self-evident pastoral reasons, when put in worship bulletins something like this:
All baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion.
As an important aside, the phrasing in the positive rather than a negative takes on more than a different tone, but points to an underlying change in trajectory. Compare, for example, these two quotes attributed to Jesus in the gospels:

Whoever is not against us is for us.
Mark 9:40
Whoever is not with me is against me. . .
Matthew 12:30

Context is, of course important here. The former statement appears in response to a question about an outsider casting out demons in Jesus' name. The latter in the context of the religious authories' accusation that Jesus is in league with Beelzebul.

While the logic of both statements appears identical, the spirit and application of one is clearly very different from the other. The first points to a grace of goodness outside the normative body of disciples. The second towards a closed system that damns the outsider, bars the doors, and guards the periphery.

So our canon and its pastoral practice on the ground are engaged in some level of spiritual conflict, even in the more assiduous application of the strictures that many of our local congregations follow. The canon limits, guarding the boundary. Its pastoral rephrasing, meant to be more hospitable, more suitably opens.

And, of course, the present argument begins around the suggestion that the pastoral rephrasing and the hospitality it points toward should go further, welcoming all to table, regardless of their baptismal status. Here is how we presently, and most imperfectly phrase our bulletin invitation at Church of Our Saviour:
All who seek God are invited to Christ's table to receive the bread and the wine: spiritual food and drink for all God's children.
Our bishop, in engaging in this discussion, has pointed us to the oral invitation found in the Book of Common Prayer:
The Gifts of God for the People of God.
This implicitly calls for spiritual self-examination before approaching table, while not necessarily barring the unbaptized (the canon for a moment notwithstanding).

In a previous reflection, I wrote about experiencing a wholesale application of the canonical principle. We risk spiritual violence by carding people at the rail. Yet to treat communion in a casual way is not the aim here, either. Flinging bread and wine to the masses (no pun intended) without intention, that is prayerful engagement, not only disrespects the tradition, but fails to honor the spirituality of those who receive.

I'm more concerned about the latter in this case. We are not simply conservators of tradition, of course. But changed lives are paramount. The transformation (metanoia) that is imperative in the Gospel demands engagement of the full person. To further illustrate: it is one thing simply to give money or food to the poor. Quite another, in addition, to sit down and engage in conversation and nurture relationship that might ultimately prove transformative.

The key, it seems to me, is that Communion is ultimately transformative and relational or it is not Communion. The much maligned Eucharistic Prayer C puts it this way:
Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.
BCP p. 372

Far from merely a criticism of the baptism-first assertion, my argument here is that while Eucharist indeed reveals the baptized community, it also gives rise to the possibility of new community. That was the experience of Jesus' table fellowship in the gospels as he invited the outcast and sinner.

And here we move into what I believe is a quite salient argument for the open table, and that is Jesus' conscientious engagement in fellowship across all kinds of social, religious, and class boundaries. But we must be clear that in practicing open table, we cannot be casual about distribution or simply leave seekers with bread and wine in their bellies. Jesus did not simply feed the outcasts, but through the gathering brought them healing, relationship, transformation, and restoration that led in many cases to true repentance, metanoia. In this way, the table fellowship led to discipleship. We might well therefore say that it is in keeping with the witness of the earliest of Jesus' followers to experience communion first -- "taste and see" -- and that this will then lead to baptism.

Christopher argues this question another way. He addresses the sacramental issue through the lens of the eschaton, and in so doing further posits a tangential, but substantive argument about sexuality, embedding it in the context of eucharistic and baptismal theology. As sexual intercourse embodies commitment and utter self-giving to another person, Eucharist embodies utter self-giving to God in Christ. Perhaps more important, and indeed more grace-filled, Eucharist embodies Christ's utter self-giving to us. Commitment, if it does not precede such self-giving, is the most appropriate spiritual, human, and graceful response to it.

The normative approach of baptism first should certainly not be dismissed, but when we institutionalize it and then police it (ever the great temptation of the Church), we are risking closing doors into the community of discipleship. Shutting doors and locking them might be a good policy when protecting property or safety (as often in our homes), but the heart of the Church's mission to reveal Christ and God's radical grace is not about safety, nor, clearly, about protecting property. So I question the canonization of the norm, and the strong desire (most notably in myself) to preserve it at the cost of pastoral humility.

Beyond the norm, it seems to me, is a deeper truth: that of God's grace working in our midst through the sacraments. Rather than asking chicken-egg questions about which must come first, it might be more true to articulate simply that baptism and eucharist are deeply intertwined and one should never be divorced from the other. The very Anglican balance Christopher seems to strike is to recognize that each points profoundly to the other, without us playing gatekeepers about the "point of entry," or which must come first.

Our hospitality must treat with awe and reverence each life that approaches the table with outstretched hands; we should deny God's grace to no one seeking it. Yet we must also be ever inviting that life into the transformative journey of discipleship, even as the Body and Blood of Christ do the same. . . too often despite us!

Derek Olsen offers more perspective on Communion without Baptism over at Episcopal Café.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

For Pilgrims

Bishop Marc is leading a group of young pilgrims to Taizé. Their first stop is New Orleans.

Lily Moebes has posted a journal entry for their journey over at Bishop Marc's blog. Go over and enjoy the pictures.

Prayers go with all of them!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More Words on Property

Tobias Haller has summed up the California appellate decision yesterday, and its implications for the greater Church, in what I believe is a clear-eyed and morally rigorous statement.

This will doubtless pose an even greater challenge to the Diocese of San Joaquin in their deliberations over schism.

And it points to a central principle that I named in my last post, and one of which I am increasingly convinced:

As Christians in community, we are always allowed to exercise our right to leave, but never:
  • to leave and take the property with us (as though it were ours to begin with)
  • to leave and take back our gifts (they were gifts, after all)
  • to leave and force others to leave with us (essentially, a form of hostage taking which seems to me totally antithetical to the message of the Gospel)
  • to leave and blame someone else (that is, to deny our God-given agency and integrity)
And, to be clear, I am not celebrating this decision. Christians taking other Christians to court, as Paul has indeed written, makes us no better than the rest of the world, and demonstrates a profound failure of Christian community and charity, all very much to our shame. Setting blame aside, litigation is always a sad witness to human brokenness. Surely Jesus weeps.

To very loosely paraphrase C. S. Lewis, who was tackling the now seemingly more mundane disagreement over kneeling or standing during prayers:

Would that we were so concerned for our brothers and sisters, we would offer them the property as they depart. Would that those departing be so concerned for humility of conscience and the sisters and brothers who were staying that they would leave the property behind gladly.

And to be wistful for a moment, were that level of charity at work in our midst, perhaps the issue of departure and who "gets" the property wouldn't even be on the table.

It is Jesus who says in this coming Sunday's gospel: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

We must still learn to hear the expressions, "my church," "my gift," "my community" in a whole new Way.

Tobias calls all of us on the so-called "left" to a chastened and sober charity with these words:
I will not apply the various epithets of theft, poaching, &c., as I think the dissidents are honestly though mistakenly convinced of their proper ownership.
There is little else to add, except, of course this:

Pray for the Church.

What are you Doing Here?

Sermon delivered at Church of Our Saviour,

Mill Valley, California
on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 24th, 2007

audio available

Readings for Proper 7

One of my closest friends my first two years of college was Cheng. A biology major who later went on to become a minister, Cheng was and remains one of the most gentle, unassuming, and truly peaceful people I have ever known. He was always the calm in the midst of the rebellions of undergraduate life: the drinking, carousing, and usual antics of so many classmates seemed to hardly touch him. In my sophomore year, when we became roommates, Cheng proved to be a loyal and honest friend, a profound example of personal integrity that I continue to treasure as a bright spot in some of my own more wayward years.

And he was a devout Christian with an almost unshakable and remarkable faith, and a sense of the Spirit. He had a nose, it seemed, always for what was right, for what was most humble. His dignity flowed from a deep inner light and he seemed to have no interest in anything but what was true and just. He was a friend to everyone who would need friendship, a companion in adversity, and a calming presence in the midst of personal storm.

But as I got to know him better, I became acquainted with a haunting past that helped form the foundation for his remarkable character, and the character of his family and a people of a culture that had suffered from profound violence. Seared into Cheng’s memory always are images from when he was only a toddler. His family is Hmong, a people in Southeast Asia who worked for the CIA during the Vietnam War era. When the United States pulled out of Vietnam in the mid-1970’s and the communist regime overran South Vietnam, the royalist government in Laos – where Cheng’s family lived – was also overthrown by a communist regime. The Hmong as a whole in Laos were immediate targets for incarceration, indoctrination, and worse. Thousands fled on foot to Thailand ahead of the advancing communist forces.

Cheng’s family was among them. At younger than three years old, Cheng told me that he vividly remembers seeing elderly relatives sit down on the long road to Thailand – exhausted from the long march – never to be seen again. By the time he and his family reached Thailand, Cheng remembered how utterly emaciated he was. And he was among the fortunate. The United States permitted only a fraction of those who fled to Thailand into this country as refugees, among them Cheng’s family, who settled in the Denver area and joined others in starting over almost completely from nothing.

It’s hard to say precisely how this experience shaped Cheng’s faith, personal integrity, or inner peace, but I can only imagine that at some very profound level it did. Knowing nothing but the road ahead, hands empty except for the children, hearts empty except for the hope and determination to keep moving forward – this is the raw experience of so many refugees around the world. It runs like a common thread through their families for generations. It leaves marks on the children and grandchildren.

And as a matter of faith, of course, Cheng found solace and inspiration in Scripture stories like we hear today. Stories about refugees.

Elijah is the first refugee we hear about today. Returning from a miraculously divine and almost primeval, bloody victory against the prophets of Baal, Elijah is threatened by Jezebel, the wife of the King of Israel. Elijah immediately flees into the wilderness, and bereft of any further hope places himself utterly in the hands of God.

The second is a different sort of refugee in today’s Gospel. This demoniac, a crazy man suffering what we might regard today as a particularly violent psychological disorder, has taken refuge in the tombs on the fringes of civilized society and has become an embodiment of all the evils of his time and place. That the demons he suffer are named “Legion” is no accident. This Greek word that has survived virtually unchanged into our present-day English epitomizes the Roman Imperial occupation. The ongoing terror of this political reality of Jesus’ day torments the demoniac. It, in no uncertain terms, possesses him. In the words of friend and colleague John Kirkley, this demoniac “internalized the dynamic of colonizer and colonized, characterized by brutality, exploitation, subservience, resentment, and guilt. In his inner life and relationship with his neighbors we see the evil of Roman imperialism writ large.”

Both Elijah and the demoniac are about to have an encounter with God. Elijah in the wilderness is tended by angels, and comes face-to-face with the Creator in one of the most moving mystical scenes of Hebrew Scripture. Following a great fire, earthquake, and whirlwind, he encounters the Divine presence following the “sound of sheer silence:” a God who simply asks the prophet, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Dramatic in different ways, Jesus casts out the “Legion” in the demoniac, restoring him to his full humanity and turning the local social order inside out. In an uncanny intersection of miracle, political statement, and religious observance, Jesus casts the demons into the herd of swine, who rush down the hillside and drown. The swineherds and city people are distraught at what this might mean – and whether it signals another confrontation between Rome and local Jewish rebels. And just who is this person, Jesus, who subdued and brought peace to a man no one else could even restrain with chains? This refugee for whom death was the only true refuge?

The story of Cheng and his family fleeing all they knew for an uncertain future in an uncertain land somehow resonates deeply with these stories of Elijah and the demoniac. They resonate, too, with the other great refugees of our scriptures: Moses fleeing Pharoah’s wrath and seeking refuge in Midian, where he will encounter God in the burning bush; Ruth and her mother-in-law, two Moabite women seeking refuge from famine in Bethlehem; The Holy Family fleeing to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. It seems for the ancient authors of Scripture, our God has a high regard for refugees of many kinds.

Today we remember and say special prayers for refugees around the world: tens of millions of people, families, children, mothers, widows, orphans. They flee war and famine. Threats on their lives simply because of who they were when they were born, and for what they have stood for on principle. From Southeast Asia to Darfur to Iraq to Cubans in camps within our own borders, each of them has a distinct story to tell, like Elijah. Like the demoniac in the land of the Gerasenes. Like Cheng and his family. Stories that are each, in unique and incredible ways, burned through with the story of our God.

Some of those stories are closer to us than we know. Cut many of us to the bone, and you find ancestors who were refugees. Some from political and religious oppression. Some from economic ruin and collapse. Some from war. Some from broken lives too shattered to put back together. At the end of the day, we all share in our hearts the journey of the refugee, threatened by forces beyond our control, by machinations of the powerful, and we come each week here as spiritual refugees for even a moment, casting ourselves entirely into the hands of a God who knows us no matter where “here” is.

It is part of our vocation as Christians to see refugees of all kinds as God’s people, and whenever the opportunity arises, to speak up for their dignity, especially when it becomes expedient to sweep the desperate from public sight or to leave them wandering among the tombs.

For our God is the God of the refugees, the outcast, the stranger. God, we say as Christians, was a refugee in Jesus Christ, taking refuge in a human family, born to Egypt, and as an adult having no place to rest his head, and ultimately a victim, however holy, of political and religious persecution.

Each day now when I hear of refugees, I will remember my friend, Cheng. And I invite each of you to remember refugees you have known, even in your own household. Remember them the next time the voices of the powerful speak about their plights, of persecution, or about our national or international policy.

For to know a refugee is to know what it is to be human. And to know a refugee is, in no small way, to know Christ in the other.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Invitations Issue a Deepening Mess

The bishops of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda have issued a response to the decisions of the Archbishop of Canterbury in not inviting bishops of the AMiA for Lambeth, 2008.

The Rwandan bishops say they're not going, either.

Unless, of course, what they ask for comes to pass: that The Episcopal Church "repent" of ordaining openly gay and lesbian clergy and, presumably, the consecration of +Gene Robinson; and the Archbishop of Canterbury invite all bishops consecrated from Rwanda (including those in the AMiA.)

I honestly hope they're not holding their breath . . .

What I found more puzzling, though, was the language of the communiqué -- most of all, this paragraph:

In a letter sent to Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini on 18 June 2007, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote, “You should know that I have not invited the bishops of AMiA and CANA. This is not a question of asking anyone to disassociate themselves at this stage from what have been described as the missionary initiatives of your Provinces…. I appreciate that you may not be happy with these decisions, but I feel that as we approach a critical juncture of the life of the Communion, I must act in accordance to the clear guidance of the instruments of the Communion….” We would like to know if there are instruments in the Communion more important than the Primates and Provinces themselves.

(emphasis added)
A curious argument. This appears to me to appeal to the same kind of provincial autonomy The Episcopal Church articulates around our actions. Yet an assertion of autonomy runs counter to all the other language in the Rwandan communiqué attacking us for not abiding by the "counsel" of the Instruments of Unity.

Well, I wonder which way should it be? I suppose I lean towards autonomy: both for the Episcopal Church of Rwanda and the Episcopal Church in the United States. But then autonomy for others is only attractive when they do what we want them to, right?

The paragraph continues:
The Archbishop of Canterbury also refers to the consecration of the AMiA and CANA bishops as irregular. We would like to know why their consecrations are considered irregular when the actions of TEC are not considered irregular. We feel that the words of the Archbishop are tantamount to a threat, and we cannot accept this.
Precisely what is threatening in the Archbishop of Canterbury's words quoted here?

Threat or no threat from the ABC, the (counter-)threat of not attending Lambeth, 2008, does not appear to me to be exactly taking the moral high road in this mess. But then the reality of the Anglican Communion is that about the only substantive threat any one can make -- parishioner, clergy, congregation, diocese, or province -- is with one's feet: that is, of course, to leave. That the bishops of Rwanda seem increasingly prepared to do if their demands are not met. It demonstrates a principled if not, in my view, charitable stand.

I also sense a big unarticulated subtext here. This may not in fact simply be war by proxy on The Episcopal Church as much as a serious effort to undermine the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the "focus of unity." Perhaps this is, in some deep way, an anti-colonial move rooted very much in understandable cultural resentment. More to the point, it serves only to highlight the ongoing effort to form an alternative province (in North America), if not an alternative Anglican Communion. A weakened Canterbury is essential to these efforts.

Put yet another way, this is not all about us.

I am deeply saddened by the rift with a province of the Anglican Communion that so recently endured unimaginable horrors. The profoundly Christian work of reconciliation following the terrors of genocide seems almost insultingly overshadowed by this war of words over sexuality and petty fights about who is invited and who isn't.

We do indeed reap what we sow: colonialism begets longstanding isolation, suspicion, and outright hostility.

Moreover, and quite tragically, it seems the Archbishop of Canterbury has indeed effectively contributed to further dividing an already divided Communion by inviting some bishops and not others.

I dare not speculate how much more the situation will deteriorate before he returns from his study leave.

But I do know two things from working at the parish level of the church:

Threats are never helpful when trying to resolve conflict.
Counter-threats only make the situation worse.

Welcome to Schism Land.

Lord have mercy.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Some Thoughts for Pause

This was a particularly moving weekend, both locally and in Anglican Land, as they came together in unexpected and fascinating ways. Tobias Haller and Father Jake have all the latest, and I won't repeat their thoughts (but maybe a picture or two). Suffice it to say the Anglican Church of Canada, while offering a mixed bag out of their General Synod, had a good crack at trying to reach some point of compromise on the question of same-sex blessings. Theirs appears to have been among the most civil conversation on these matters thus far in the Communion.

Perhaps most striking is the resolution that did pass in the Church of Canada: in concordance with the St. Michael Report that questions of human sexuality may be doctrinal, but they do not represent core doctrinal matters. As Tobias puts it:

Yeah. The proportions seem about right.

Tobias also remarks in a comment in the subsequent thread something that I found both helpful and arresting. All sides seeking some kind of way forward together may indeed be arguing more about pastoral theology rather than dogmatic theology. That leads me quickly to the thought (doubtless not all that original) that dogmatic theology has a tendency to be universalizing, while pastoral theology implies local and incarnational.

So much in the recent debates, it seems to me, has pitted one wholly over and against the other. The third way that is emerging is a distinction, but not an exclusion: that dogmatic theology for Anglicans is best summed up in the creeds, and pastoral theology is locally provisioned and, in many respects, provisional. I find this, quite frankly, a very hopeful, albeit potential way forward in what has been looking for a long time like a myriad of dead ends. . .especially for all those trying to move with integrity through this disagreement.

Perhaps the Anglican Church of Canada was on the right track. It has already been noted elsewhere this may provide a framework for our bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury to engage in fruitful conversation this September.

That such a distinction (or any distinction) will be workable for some and not for others is, of course, a given. It has become clear with the new announcements of consecrating cross-jurisdictional bishops that some Archbishops are going to continue forward with their previously laid schemes. They have already, the Primates' deadlines notwithstanding, dismissed The Episcopal Church, if not the provinces in North America all together.

An old Japanese proverb well worth re-quoting goes something like this: "The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists."

So this distinction between pastoral and dogmatic theology is only a thought for the rest of us who are willing to stay at table of Communion and live faithfully into disagreement on this matter.

Andrew, my piano teacher and mentor when I was an undergraduate, wrote me a few months ago reminding me that dissonance might be a key metaphor for the current controversy over human sexuality. In Western musical harmony, at least, the resolution is all the more poignant when it is delayed.

As I reflect further, it strikes me that there are a number of ways to handle dissonances in traditional voice leading. One is for a voice in the chord to move to resolve the dissonance. In resolving some dissonances, more than one voice, or even all voices must move. In yet other solutions, the voice causing the dissonance simply fades away, leaving only the tones of a resolved chord. And, of course, some composers have in some or many situations opted merely to leave the dissonances in place, unresolved.

And it was Jesus, Son of the Great Composer, who said, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"

On Sunday, I attended the Gay Pride Eucharist at St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco. It was a beautiful, moving liturgy.

There I met in the flesh Davis Mac-Iyalla. Once again, all the theologizing, posturing, and pontificating around the Communion became glaringly real. I found it a bit uncanny to process with him into the mass, and even more so to then join the faithful filling the nave, as together with our bishop we blessed Davis in his continued witness in what can be most graciously described as a very hostile part of the Communion.

It is no exaggeration to write that his public stand is a life and death matter for him. So I was humbled to be praying with others in person for his safety as he lives into his ongoing call, in the words of the charge to which he re-committed himself:
. . . to defend the vulnerable, give voice to the voiceless, comfort the afflicted, and proclaim God's reign come near.
God go with you, Davis, and with all who are putting themselves on the line for the sake of the dignity of our LGBT sisters and brothers around the world.

And may Christ's true charity rule the hearts of all of us in the days to come.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Anglican Incident (Defined)

Since I've used the expression Anglican Incident a few times now, I thought a working definition might be in order:

an·gli·can in·ci·dent

n. a protracted episode involving more than one Anglican and generally characterized by:
  • Increased frequency of mitre sightings in international airports
  • A marked rise in the fog index with off-the-chart use of the words authority, polity, report, and resolution
  • The multiplication of straw people and positions to knock down in a temper when reasonable arguments are otherwise unavailable
  • Cadres of clergy, bloggers, and theologians prowling for enemies (or straw people) to rail against
  • A proliferation in the number of canon lawyers
  • Anglican documents attaining headline status
  • An approaching Lambeth Conference
  • A larger than usual catch of red fish of the herring species
  • Renewed scrutiny over the writings of 16th- and 17th- century theologians, at least one of whom, in the minds of the uninitiated, risks getting confused with prostitution
  • The invocation of the names Spong and Pike often, but not exclusively, in reference to those damned Yanks
  • Obsession over the number of votes, parishes, dioceses, bishops, words in speeches by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and angels dancing on the head of a pin
  • The majority of the laity rolling their eyes and getting on with the business of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • Clerical frustration at observing the above
Additional suggestions for this definition are welcome.

Father's Day

I spent much of it in the ER.

Daniel is very much in three-year-old exuberant running mode, and he collided with a table at Church immediately after worship services this morning. I came down for our coffee/social hour to find him surrounded by parishioners: concerned parents, our bookkeeper who is generally on top of everything, and at least one physician. Hiroko could hardly see what was happening.

Four hours, two canceled appointments, three bandages, and one stitch later, Daniel's again bouncing off the walls and his mother and I are chasing our sanity.

Gotta' love parenthood. . .or as Hiroko says, taihen!

I'm squeezing your head!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Three Cheers and More Prayers

Congratulations to our sisters and brothers in the South Bay for electing The Venerable Mary Gray-Reeves as the third bishop of El Camino Real!

This comes as a joyous end. . .and a new beginning. . . following a long and difficult time for the diocese there. Many prayers remain with them and with Mary as she embarks in new ministries with them! I know I and so many colleagues in this diocese welcome her leadership nearby -- and the possibility of even more fruitful collaboration as we look ahead together in proclaiming and working for the Gospel in the Bay Area.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Real Anglicans

At the end of a particularly fractious week for the Communion, my friend and theologian, Christopher, puts it magnificently:

This attitude and type of talk sets the stage for perpetual enmity amidst our splits and splinters and divisions and brokenness. And not only from this century. We’re in full communion with ELCA Lutherans, but we have not yet crossed the divide with flesh of our own flesh—the Methodists. As we face the rocky waters of the present moment, a spirit of charity, a willingness to recognize the other as valuable and important even if we steadfastly and standfastly disagree, even if we face formal divisions, would go a long way toward leaving open the possibility that we can find space in our hearts for one another, the only space—that catholic space, by which divisions can be mended and healed, even if it takes a century or two or more. Some have spoken as if “don’t let the door hit you in the ass” or “we’ll leave the light on for you”, understandings of our comprehensiveness and that suggest the other is somehow “not of us” or that we’ve maintained the faith and they haven’t. But when it comes to Anglicans with our love of comprehensiveness for the sake of truth and all the mess that leads to, I would have hoped for better from all of us, myself included. The truth is, we’re all incomplete and will be so without the other, and that is a truth betwixt and between that we must live with “this side of the New Creation”. Whether that means we are formally in communion or not, a catholic heart is required, and that, it would seem to me, has been the distinctive hope of Anglican comprehensiveness. That by Christ in the Spirit, we are joined to one another even if formally we’re divided, which may in fact be necessary to reach all peoples and the ends of the earth with the Good News. Nevertheless, wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ Name, there, someone is telling the power of the Good News, and whether they are in communion with Canterbury or not, some amount of fraternal/sororal kindness and respect is in order: "Suspense of judgment and exercise of charity were safer and seemlier for Christian men than the hot pursuit of these controversies." (Richard Hooker)

Read all of it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Better Christians

In a succinct statement, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church today affirmed the House of Bishops' response to the provisions of the Anglican Primates' Dar Es Salaam Communiqué and spoke quite clearly to the heart of the dynamic fomenting the unpleasant climate in the Anglican Communion at the present time:
Assertions of authority met by counter-assertions of polity are not likely to lead to the reconciliation we seek.
I find it compelling to note that all of this comes immediately on the heals of behavior and rhetoric centered around the arrogant assertion made repeatedly by leaders in various places angry with The Episcopal Church. Archbishop Nzimbi of the Anglican Church of Kenya made it pithily in his statement released yesterday regarding the founding of the North American Anglican Coalition (NAAC), the newest addition to the alphabet Anglican network soup in North America:
Tragically, the Episcopal Church has refused to provide adequate care for the faithful who continue steadfastly in "the faith once delivered to the saints."
Pardon me, but we are all Christians here, serious about our devotion to the faith we have received, to taking Holy Scripture seriously, and above all to following Christ. To say or imply knowingly who's faithful here and who isn't is to risk the primordial sin of pride.

The Executive Council tried once again to make this clear with their latest statement. The House of Bishops still has much before them prior to September 30th, including the potential for trying yet again to offer effective pastoral provisions for the disaffected in this Church. Yes, again. There seems much both implied and said on the "other side" that nothing has been attempted and that the Primate's "pastoral scheme" offered in February was the only way forward. That's nonsense. Katharine Jefferts Schori was offering potential structures of alternative oversight only a few months into her term as Presiding Bishop. They were summarily dismissed. I hope this will be made clear to the Archbishop of Canterbury when he visits the House in September. Then, perhaps it has been already.

In a more purely political (but much-needed) move, Executive Council, with Resolution NAC-023, declared toothless the recent removal of accession clauses from a handful of diocesan constitutions:
Any amendment to a diocesan constitution that purports in any way to limit or lessen an unqualified accession to the constitution of The Episcopal Church is null and void, and be it further resolved that the amendments passed to the constitutions of the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy and San Joaquin, which purport to limit or lessen the unqualified accession to the constitution of The Episcopal Church are accordingly null and void and the constitutions of those dioceses shall be as they were as if such amendments had not been passed.
Our governance as a Church is what it is. There is simply no need to enshrine dissent by posing conflicting local constitutions over and against provincial ones. Heaven knows there's hardly a diocese in the Episcopal Church that follows every canon to the letter. The vast majority of dioceses simply do their best to follow, occasionally objecting strenuously to the provisions they disagree with and trying to change them through the due and prayerful process, however imperfect, our Church uses to discern God's will.

The bishops of the dioceses above are put, in some measure, on notice by this resolution. In a more draconian Church, a number of them would have been issued presentments long ago. Some wish that it were so. The majority of the Church has, thus far, tried to be more generous in its dealing with these dioceses, if for no other reason because canons, of course, are not the be-all and end-all of it. Pursuing purity of canons at any level can risk becoming idolatrous. Canons, at their best, serve in good part to bound our common life in ways that cultivate our remaining in relationship in Christ, particularly in times of conflict and disagreement. Like right now.

So Executive Council hit the nail on the head yet again with this in their statement:
As important as we hold our polity, the questions before us now are fundamentally relational.
There is no room for talk of schism or threats if we are really to settle the questions of how to remain in community, even as Christians who do not (and almost certainly will not) agree on everything.

And this, likewise:
The only thing we really have to offer in that relationship is who we are -- a community of committed Christians seeking God's will for our common life. . .we are, whether we wish it or not, God's gift to each other.
Sadly, reading again the tired accusations and objectification that continues to accumulate around the Anglican blogosphere, it is easy to predict how the Executive Council's statement will be met and derided in some quarters: cynical, hollow, disingenuous, and the like.

So be it. Personally knowing a number of a fine souls and intentions, not to mention diverse perspectives on Executive Council, I cannot believe any of these accusations would be even remotely accurate.

I must confess I yearn for something truly new and life-giving to appear in Anglican blogosphere land over these questions. The time for all of this rancor is passing, if it has not passed already.

It strikes me now that this will all end for each of us as Anglican Christians and as communities of faith in one of two ways:

  • Either we will decide to stop pursuing the specks in each other's eyes and tend to the logs in our own, offering our best selves to each other and articulating what we hope for in the relationships we share: that is the relationships -- flawed, messy, and difficult at times, but intentionally nurtured with all the love we can muster -- that already exist between us in God in Christ;
  • Or we will continue to forward the prideful and sometimes hateful agenda of threats, counter-threats, splintering, and faction building as we pose our own impoverished sense of righteousness against everyone else.

Either way, as Mark Harris points out, we will remain Christians, imperfect and sharing bread, even if not with each other.

But one path appears to me, at least, more fruitful and of the Spirit, and I daresay Christian, than the other.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bullet Train Theology

Sermon delivered at Church of Our Saviour,

Mill Valley, California
on the Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 10th, 2007

Readings for Proper 5

Train platforms have always been spiritual places for me, particularly in Japan. This past Wednesday, I was standing on a platform at Okayama station waiting for the arrival of the Nozomi, among the fastest bullet trains in the world. It’s a remarkable feet of engineering, smoothly racing across the country sometimes at a cool 170 miles per hour. On the Nozomi you all but fly past the windows of apartments, office buildings, and homes with only a meter or two to spare. For a split second you glimpse a kitchen or a room, the locus of someone’s life, joys, and worries exposed for the briefest moment to a world of travelers, commuters, business people, and sightseers. Occasionally and far more frightening to contemplate, you pass within a foot or two of an equally fast bullet train headed in the opposite direction, a streak of white and blue metal and humanity shooting past you at a relative speed of 300 miles per hour or more. But much of the time you are left with the landscape rushing by and the smooth rails of the track running beside you, more parallel than a mathematicians diagram’, straighter in parts it seems than just about anything on the planet.

I imagine at moments like this the vast number of people who have shouldered enormous burdens to make such wonder possible, and the vast number who still keep the trains running like clockwork. How contingent my life is upon theirs, rushing along at breakneck speed, one moment to the next, one departure to another destination, immediately one with this and then with another part of a universe hurtling past.

Returning for a moment to the train station, being there in Japan means for me being in a profoundly liminal space. Standing there for a few minutes on the platform in Okayama, the only gaijin in sight, with scarce grasp of the language in the midst of human lives and stories rushing past to catch the next train, meet the next deadline, I am suddenly and startlingly profoundly alone, foreign, alien, stranger.

Liminality, a term originally coined by the anthropologist Victor Turner and others, is this condition. I use it here in a spiritual sense of being caught “in between” in a peculiar kind of identity of feeling empty and alone. My backpack, my life, my memories on my back, cared for by people only far away, known by only a handful of folk, many of whom on another continent across a vast ocean. . .almost a world apart.

This is why, quite frankly, I love to travel sometimes, especially alone by train in Japan. It can be a spiritual experience of emptying. No schedules except the train ahead. No deadlines save the ones of hunger, sleep, or the other essential duties of bare living and breathing. It is for a time, liminal. And for those of us who live surrounded by so much comfort, it is a glimpse – albeit still a relatively comfortable one – into the contingency of our lives.

For many of us who have lived on the edge on occasion, whether in great illness, the death of a loved one, the painful dissolution of a relationship, or simply left everything we’ve known for that which we cannot predict or understand. . .we have entered that liminal space. Some of our sisters and brothers live there at the edge for long periods of time, but through no choice of their own.

I am haunted by the words of one of my seminary classmates, Frances Mutatiina of Uganda, who remarked once to me that we do not understand the depths of faith, that is to be utterly reliant on God, until we have lived quite literally not knowing where our next meal for us or our family is going to come from. That’s in its own way a liminal space, in the raw unknowing, compounded by the raw hunger that sits at the edge of death.

Liminality is about humanity exposed and vulnerable, uncertain and at risk. It is where we are at the edge, physically, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, or all of these at once. It is where we can for at least a moment glimpse our contingency, our frailties as fragile creatures, our limited knowledge, our sheer need, and our utter reliance on others for all that sustains our life. And it is where our faith is most severely tested and most profoundly opened, broadened, and deepened.

At first glance, our readings for this day are about God’s power to raise the dead. The sons of two mothers are brought back from the other side. One by Elijah, the other by Jesus. But more meaningful to me in these stories of miraculous events are the encounters of people on the edge, living in liminal space, with God. The stories involve two widows who are on the brink of complete dissolution. Both because their livelihoods, in fact the very root of their ability to survive, seems lost. For the widow in First Kings, a famine-stricken land surrounds her town, home, and life, and the food is just about gone. There is a curious and awesome dignity, almost one that brings me to tears, when she utters to Elijah, “I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

Likewise, though with much more drama left to the imagination, the widow in the Gospel According to Luke is out to bury her only son, her only source of hope left. Without him, she will be utterly destitute of any source of income or support in the culture in which she lives.

In both cases, God enters – yes to perform the miraculous – but more importantly demonstrating where our ultimate dependence and love resides. Faith is not so much about working deals, praying the right way, or even being correctly religious. It is about utter reliance on the ultimate rootstock of our lives. Moving, breathing, eating, sleeping, and even dying completely in the hands of a strange and other and at once immediately available God who is most visible to us only when we are the most vulnerable, when we enter liminal spaces in our lives.

Utter raw faith like this comes to us rarely. For me it is occasionally when traveling alone. For others it is in profound hunger or standing at the edge of despair. For yet others it is in far away places at the edge of society, worlds, nature, and oceans. In today’s Letter from Galatians, we hear the words of Paul articulating – almost protesting – for this kind of faith. A faith that drove him to do all things against his former life of persecuting the Church and a life of zealous devotion to the traditions of his ancestors. A faith that moved him, even after he began following Christ, into the precarious position of carrying, at times alone and unaided, the Gospel to the Gentiles, over and against the wishes for a time of the other apostles.

This is true faith, exposed in the liminality that life in all of its unpredictability gives us. We must be cautious not to run from these moments or over-insulate ourselves against them with the worry and materialism of the world we inhabit. Instead, we must be prepared to move forward into them with resolve, embracing the uncertainty, and opening our hearts to the stranger in our midst – even the Stranger we cannot describe or expect, like Elijah or Jesus showing up at the edge of town one day, or encountering God in between the rails of the Shinkansen in the midst of raw motion, raw mathematical precision, raw humanity, and the raw emptiness of self-identity in a foreign land.

On my trip by Nozomi this past week, I was traveling to visit our friends, Shintaro and Shoko, in Nagoya. I was going to see them and witness again to their shared faith. Shintaro, amongst his exhausting duties as a priest in a small Anglican Church with sometimes wildly stretched human resources, teaches and is chaplain in a college preparing pre-school and childcare professionals. He invited me to join him for the afternoon and play music for the weekly service he leads, sharing scripture and the Anglican Christian tradition with a few hundred mostly un-churched students. Few are Christian. Few will become Christian. Yet it is in this liminal space that Shintaro’s faith is most visible, most articulate, most remarkable in its sharpness of mind, its ability to speak across the rifts, to talk with wisdom to an culture, while already in some respects wise, caught up as we are in a world of stuff more than a world of Spirit.

So there I was, on a sultry afternoon playing piano in a gymnasium packed with giggling young people, anxious and uncertain on the threshold of their adult lives. We began singing together Christian hymns of praise and praying to a God still strange and unknown. And then the room became quite and attentive, and the atmosphere of that liminal space was incredible – Spirit-filled and wondrous as any I can recently remember. These are the moments my friend Shintaro lives for. Liminal moments for a culture, like ours, built around edifices of hyper-modernity – where needs are not only met but oversaturated with noise, food, and goods. And suddenly we were together in a space where all the noise of a world mad with consumption disappeared and God was at last allowed to enter, if only for a few moments, into the deep places that hunger for true life, abiding love, and a sense of the ultimate – as intimately present as our beating hearts and closer to us than our breath.

It’s these places of liminality where we risk being re-birthed and see the world anew. For all of us living increasingly on the edge as Christians in an increasingly post-Christian world, this is a glimpse of the future, of the profound places we are called to create even for the unchurched, where we invite others to embrace this strange God who comes to the widow, the dead and the dying, the sick and the lonely, and us in our struggles in an increasingly technological and artificial world always to become more fully human.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Anglican Covenant: DOA?

Is the draft Anglican Covenant dead on arrival?

This was the week for Episcopalians who were willing to take the time to submit their thoughts on the draft document to the Executive Council for consideration.

I honestly did not feel moved to respond in any greater depth than my initial impressions here. Katherine Grieb pointed out in March to the House of Bishops that the Primates' February Communiqué hung a pretty big millstone of doubt around the proposed draft -- at least as far as the Episcopal Church is concerned. And then Mark Harris called responding to the questions on the draft covenant "homework." Yes, those are scare quotes, at least for me!

Much has been written, and quality stuff, too. I really have little to add to it.

Of note is, of course, Mark Harris' responses, and that of the General Convention deputation from the Diocese of New York, including our beloved Tobias Haller of thoughtful blogosphere fame.

Ann Fontaine also just posted this piece over at Episcopal Café, which I think sums up why any attempt to centralize power in the Communion, whether through a covenant, Primates, or whoever happens to be making the most noise at any given time, is pushing the Communion towards more chaos and schism rather than less.

Also posted to the HoB/HoD listserve is this remarkable piece by Frank Turner, an historian at Yale. Special thanks for this link from colleagues, friends, and companion seekers in these here parts, Jay and Carol Luther, whose blog, God's Sled Dog, is more than worth a look-see!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lots to Read

[Episcopal News Service] What do Fenway Park, a blue and gold oil rendering of Our Lady of Good Counsel's sacred spaces, international reaction to the Lambeth guest list, and reflections on William Countryman's "Living on the Border of the Holy" have in common?

They're all on the "menu" at Episcopal Café, a nexus that links the "Church of Baseball," Heidi Shott's reflections about the faithful in baseball and congregational venues, with Erin McGee Ferrell's sacred art, spiritual commentary, and breaking news. It presents, hopefully, a broader view of the Episcopal Church and conversation about all of the above, says Canon Jim Naughton, the café's founder.

A ministry of the Diocese of Washington in partnership with the Episcopal Church in the Visual Arts (ECVA), the café,, is the church's latest effort at offering the faithful and seekers alike a cyber presence.

Naughton, canon for communications and advancement in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said the café is a four-blogs-in-one site, inspired by the diocesan blog Daily Episcopalian and a desire to tell the church's entire story. . .

Read the full article at ELO. . .

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Lux Perpetua

For a long-time family friend, bishop of the church, and a fellow traveler in the Way.

May we all learn to carry forward Jim Kelsey's passion for truth and the full breadth of the Body of Christ.

Prayers, love, and solidarity go out to his family and all he served.

Read more at Episcopal Life Online.
John Kirkley offers a reflection over at meditatio.

Carded at the Rail

My wife, son, and I are in Japan together currently, and we were taking a vacation from our vacation with family and spent the weekend away in a nearby city.

For Sunday worship today, we attended a Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK) Church – one we had not visited before. It was a pretty building, tucked into a bustling urban setting of high-rise apartments, condominiums, hotels, and students and shoppers and tourists enjoying the weekend.

Hiroko and I had agreed to tell no one I was a priest. It would avoid unnecessary questions and allowed me to participate simply as a visitor. I’m on vacation after all, and it’s good sometimes for clergy to travel incognito to see what the laity see. We were warmly greeted at the door, and a kind lady offered to look after three-year-old Daniel at the back of the nave.

Only a handful of faithful, a good number of them elderly, showed up for Trinity Sunday. Even by Japanese standards, it was a conservative and subdued setting. The altar was pushed hard against the sanctuary wall. The somber liturgy was the old NSKK mass, using a more archaic form of Japanese, all akin in some respects to our Rite I liturgies in the Episcopal Church. None of this made me particularly uncomfortable, though I was intrigued by the theological implications of seeing the priest at one point repeatedly turn towards the congregation as they prayed and back to the altar as he prayed.

Daniel, bless his heart, was doing his utmost to be quiet, but I still spent much of the liturgy distracted by his three-year-old energy filling the space (though no one seemed to mind!) as well as a pain in my back from an old injury. Pews can be most unforgiving, and the bed at the hotel had already left me tied up in knots.

But most notable was what happened when we approached the rail for communion. There we were with our hands outstretched to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the Gifts of God for the People of God, when the priest hesitated and quietly asked my wife, “Are you baptized?”

This is not the usual practice throughout of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai. I know that much from experience. So I was slightly taken aback. Neither of us had been carded at the rail before.

But what really dumbfounded me was what happened when Hiroko responded hai.

The priest’s immediate comeback was Honto? (Really?)

While this was a little bit more like going through immigration at Narita airport than entering the open arms of God’s offering made for the whole of Creation, I can easily forgive -- perhaps understand is a better word -- the priest working to be a careful steward of the sacrament. In some measure, it was a reflection of a faithful, assiduous following of order and rules. Not entirely un-Japanese. And certainly not unknown in Anglicanism at large. I take way too much pride in being an order and rules guy myself, and I endeavor not to run afoul of canons. There is only one in particular I knowingly bend. I only do so with what I believe is good reason, with lots of company, not a little trepidation, and only at the pleasure of my bishop. If he says stop, I stop. Others I have strained only out of simple ignorance and when I found out, I make the appropriate mea culpas and quickly got back into line.

But this priest’s apparent second questioning of my wife’s honesty is something that is not so easily set aside. Was there some mark she was supposed to have as a baptized Christian? Had he observed her not praying properly? Did she need to produce a certificate of baptism? How had she aroused suspicion?

Christians in Japan make up a scant 1% or less of the population. The only days of the church year where non-Christians are likely to walk in off the street to attend a service in any church, let alone the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (which has fewer than 50,000 baptized members in the entire country) are Easter and Christmas Eve. Why a non-Christian would approach the altar with hands outstretched to receive the sacrament in a ritual that is foreign in many respects to the greater culture. . . and then not tell the truth about being baptized. . . well, I simply cannot imagine the scenario.

As a pastoral matter, I also found it mildly insulting. Hiroko, even before we left home, had taken the trouble to look up the address and worship times of this little community and printed out a map. We had spent 30 minutes walking from the hotel to attend, and had spent the last ten minutes of our journey looking in earnest for the little church, as the map had turned out not to be as accurate as we had hoped.

We had suddenly run into an unexpected barrier to famous Japanese hospitality. An ostensibly Christian barrier. I wondered just who was being protected here by this mild, but persistent inquisition. The Church? Jesus? From what or whom, precisely?

These are questions I was not at liberty to pursue with the priest if I were to be polite both by Japanese and Christian standards as a guest in the House of God. I can only generously believe it may have been a simple slip of the tongue, or there may be pastoral reasons beyond my imagination that caused him to press the issue. And, in all honesty, he didn't know the journey we had made to his church. And this may simply boil down to a bona fide "lost in translation" moment. So bearing him no grudges – only more bewilderment at the encounter than anything else – we concluded Sunday worship with him and the gathered community on pleasant terms.

No need to provoke an Anglican Incident. Heaven knows we have enough of those on our hands already.

Hiroko and I did have a bit of a giggle aftewards, though, especially as we imagined the new addition for our must haves before we come again to Japan:

Passports. Check.
International Drivers license. Check.
Permanent Residence Card. Check.
Air tickets. Check.
Itinerary. Check.
Cash in yen and dollars. Check.
Baptismal Certificates. Check.

What I know in my own heart as an ordained priest is this: that when I administer communion and see a pair of hands stretched out to receive the sacrament, I see a gesture indicating readiness to receive God’s grace. It costs me, frankly, nothing to give it. Full fare has already been paid by God in Christ Jesus. Woe to me if I withhold it!

I must also confess that I found more unquestioning generosity today when my wife at last prevailed on me to have a professional masseuse attend to my spasmatic back with gracious hands.

Generosity for this small, imperfect piece of the Body of Christ. No identification required.

As a Christian, priest, Anglican, and Episcopalian, that gives me much to ponder and pray over.