Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Respite or Two

Two wonderful sets of reflections while looking (or living) in the epicenter:

From Mark Harris again,

"It’s been a week since the end of General Convention. I returned home to Lewes, the village by the bay, by the big water, to baptize our granddaughter. The picture is of her, with her hair still wet from the baptism. We spent some time with extended family, and we are looking forward to going to an art opening of work by our daughter Emanuela. You can see a video about her and her work HERE. It has been a blessed week.

And now it is evening on the eighth day, and looking back at the General Convention, I wonder…"

Read more


+Katharine Jefferts Schori was interviewed on NPR, and, not unexpectedly, she was superlative.

Susan Russell's notes reflect the substance of the interview here.

Takes on the Quake

Pick your metaphor, allegory, or favorite Bible verse about breaking faith with community. . .

As Mark Harris says at Preludium, "Things are in a pretty mess."


From daily episcopalian:

Hmm. Maybe this is what I was missing

Another longish piece, much of which is hiding under the keep reading button.

Boy you get up from the computer for just a little while and all heck breaks loose. In the last three hours, the dioceses of Pittsburgh, San Joaquin and South Carolina have appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury for alternative primatial oversight, and the Church of Nigeria has announced that it has elected the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia as the bishop of its North American operation.

I think Dr. Williams release yesterday of a reflection on the future of the Anglican Communion, and his outlining of a two-tiered membership system was intended to head all of this off. Obviously it didn’t.

Read more here


Fr. Jake comments on "disgruntled purple shirts."

ABC Gives Green Light, and They're Off!

It appears that Archbishop Akinola, not satified with the Kingdom of Nigeria, has moved into the greener pastures of North America. His henchman on this shore will be none other than Marty Minns, formerly rector in Truro, Va., and well known extremist.

And so the plan, revealed to us some years ago, finally comes to fruition, only one day after the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement that was interpreted as giving the extremists a nod of approval for launching their plan.

Read more here


A more literary. . .well, theatrical. . .take from Tobias Haller:

A Theatrickal Masque

I'm wondering if instead of a Lambeth Conference it might not be worth staging a pageant or theatrical production. One play to which I've alluded below comes to mind: King Lear. I think +Rowan would be admirably typecast -- he certainly has the "look" -- though he might prefer to spell the title character's name by the older mythological "Llyr"! He was the king, you will remember, who decided to divide his kingdom among his children, giving the best bits to the ones who flattered him the most.

Read more here

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cantuar's Red Herrings

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has issued his first more full reflection on the outcome of The Episcopal Church's General Convention and the potential future of the Anglican Communion.

He writes in one paragraph: ". . .the debate in the Anglican Communion is not essentially a debate about the human rights of homosexual people."

That got me wondering:

Then why have the Bishops of the Church of Canada condemned the actions of the Anglican Church of Nigeria's supporting a secular crack-down on the rights of homosexuals? And that's just for starters. Old news, it seems to me. . .The fuss, after all, really broke when the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada approved the blessing of same-sex unions, and Gene Robinson was consecrated a bishop in this country. We can argue about what other issues brought this to a head, but the fact that Bishop of New Hampshire's consecration became the flash point cannot be set aside so easily.

It seems the counter-argument goes that no, the real issue is how we "unilaterally" went about the election and consecration of +Gene Robinson, just as New Westminster "unilaterally" went about sanctioning the blessing of same-sex unions. We have heard this from those opposed to both from the beginning, but I think this is a red herring designed to appeal to our sentimental notions of unity. Behind this red herring is a serious intention to keep homosexuals in committed relationships out of ordained ministry, if not the Church altogether.

Arguments over how we deal, process-wise, with our unity deflect from the reality that this is indeed, fundamentally, a human rights issue. To put it in the language of the Church, it's a Gospel issue.

I suppose we could argue that being a bishop isn't a human right. True enough. But is essential eligibility to the episcopate a human right? In other words, can a child born gay or straight, male or female, and later baptized and confirmed and called as an adult to Holy Orders be, in principle, eligible for the episcopal office?

These sacramental questions beg the deeper issues at the heart of the "secular" human rights debate:

Is homosexuality naturally occurring and not pathological (in "church" language, is it God-given?)

Are homosexuals, regardless of how the broader culture views their sexual orientation and conduct, people or not?

Should homosexuals, in whatever cultural context, have full access, their sexuality notwithstanding, to the privileges of their vocational life, ordained or lay?

Are homosexuals permitted by the community to enjoy, as do heterosexuals, the support, solace, and "mutual joy" of a life-long commitment with another adult of the same sex?

The Archbishop of Canterbury's reflection seems to me to imply, somehow, these "human rights" concerns are, to some degree, beyond the scope of the Church. Or that they don't form the heart of the matter. Or, at very least, that they are trumped by the desire for catholicity, or unity.

To me, they are not. At a profound level, every human rights concern is a deeply theological issue: it is about how we honor the image of God in another person. If we are failing to recognize the image of God in any person by shutting them out of the sacramental life of the church a priori, we remain complicit in the fact that our catholicity, our unity, remains fallen, suffering from some degree of falsehood as it excludes one group of God's children from the Table of Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel we are called to proclaim, Jesus mixed with the outcasts of his day and honored their dignity: tax collectors, women, children, Samaritans, prostitutes, and thieves. They were welcomed into the community. Some became apostles. Some were privileged to witness the resurrection before the apostles. Jesus' view of unity, it seems to me, is never divorced from prophetic action: an open, and sometimes dangerously willful transformation of the broken human community into the Reign of God.

While in the same reflection, Rowan Williams echoes the Windsor Report by waxing eloquent about the inclusion of women clergy in the life of the Anglican Communion, he neglects what I have heard: that women bishops are often passively ignored, if not actively shunned by some of the bishops at Lambeth. And, of course, there really is no getting over the simple fact that women are not eligible for Holy Orders in numerous provinces of the Communion. . .something he seems to shrug off. . .the current controversy in the Church of England seems to have tied his hands.

At any rate, this is another red herring in the current argument. Women's ordination is far from a done deal in the Anglican Communion. It's possible that +Katharine Jefferts Schori's election marks only the beginning of re-opening a now generations-old struggle in the Church over this question. I think a good Communion-wide airing of the place of women in Holy Orders again wouldn't be unhealthy. But I worry that the Archbishop of Canterbury, if what he writes about women's ordination genuinely reflects his perspective, is in for a rude shock.

And, of course, there is the reality that had we waited for the Communion or even our own Province to reach a common mind on the ordination of women, they still would not be ordained at all in the Episcopal Church.

Here's what I think about unity and the consecration of openly gay and lesbian bishops:

In the grand scheme of things, the legal oppression of homosexuals in Nigeria, sanctioned by the Anglican Church there is, seen through the eyes of the Gospel I read, a far more egregious threat to the unity of the Anglican Communion than the ordination of one gay bishop in North America, however untimely it may seem to our brothers and sisters around the world. The situation in Nigeria is a threat because, by dismissing fundamental human rights, it undermines the full catholicity we are being called to by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I think it outrageous that the Archbishop of Canterbury is willing to publicly gloss over this situation while he and the Primates hold a spiritual gun to the heads of The Episcopal Church over the consecration of +Gene Robinson.

Likewise, holding any Province back from consecrating openly gay or lesbian bishops in the name of unity is ultimately self-contradictory, short-circuiting the Church's often reluctant, but absolutely essential journey towards the reign of God envisioned in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I may be a "religious liberal," but I also put a strong emphasis on Scriptural authority, on our tradition, and on unity. The actions of General Convention, 2006, tried to purchase unity with a Faustian compromise. The spooky question remains:

Into what kind of unity did we just try to buy ourselves?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Enough Said. . .

from Tobias Haller's blog, In a Godward Direction

What should have happened

a Swiftian catena

The General Convention should have listened to the clear directions of the Primates and repented and repudiated all that had been done to offend.

Read more. . .

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Resurrection begins. . .

After a day that began with Morning Prayer and our Eucharist along with some tough but hopeful words about General Convention and the future of the Anglican Communion. . .

of feeling humbled in the midst of a small, but faithful congregation who welcomed, with gracious hospitality and prayers, a deaf woman who walked into our liturgy this morning from the street seeking help. . .

followed by a fun-filled afternoon with generous people, good music, and great food at Christ Church -- Sei Ko Kai's Eighth Annual Summer Frolic, I arrived home to find a copy of this marvelous sermon in my inbox. Rubbing shoulders with vision like this makes me remember how fortunate I am to be here in God's creation at this moment.

In addition, The Witness posted an inspiring open letter from +Gene Robinson.

It is a blessing to stand in solidarity with all those seeking justice in the Reign of God.

Christ is Risen!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Got a Pact with the Devil? A Few Hopeful Thoughts

The bitterness around the now infamous B033 is all over the web and felt here at home as well as abroad.

Grumbling is already brewing amongst some of the Primates of the Anglican Communion. It seems the Anglican Communion is now largely held together under threat of fear rather than mutual affection. Threats are behind the divine status given the Windsor Report. Unity is being used as a smokescreen for abuses of our due process as a Province and to lord a particular worldview and intepretation of Scripture over us.

B033 is a pact with the devil. It harnessed the state of our place in the Anglican Communion to a miserable falsehood, and once again hung the millstone of so-called unity around the necks of the historically oppressed:

It unapologetically saddles gays and lesbians in the Church with limitations, assuming their sinfulness and insulting their hard-won integrity. John Kirkley put it best. There is no addition I can make to his painful but candid statements on this point.

It is indeed a lie, implying a unified, or at least majority mind in favor of a moratorium on the consecration of gay and lesbian bishops in The Episcopal Church. Clearly to anyone who was following the news, quite the opposite may well be true. If we had allowed the House of Deputies' defeat of a moratorium a day earlier to stand, we would have at least been honest about where we are in our common life. The Primates might not have liked it, but the ball would have been in their court and our conscience clear. It's still quite possible that the Primates will not be satisfied with the passage of B033, in which case we face some sort of break-up anyway. . .and we now have the shame of our dishonesty to cope with.

The falsehood behind B033 robs our new Presiding Bishop of precious credibility if she is invited to table with all the other Primates.

It seems now all but certain to me that we will never ultimately satisfy those at the epicenter of the coming unpleasantness -- those who expect full repentance for the actions of General Convention, 2003. They may well not back down from their threats of dissolution of the Communion until every gay and lesbian priest and Gene Robinson are all defrocked and reprimanded. This has been the substance of the hellish joke from the beginning of this agonizing controversy.

For the past several years, we have been repeatedly pressed into making the Faustian choice between unity and justice . . . when one, in God's reign at least, cannot exist without the other. This will not stand for long in God's grace. It may end as simply as this: when some of the Primates, dissatisfied with our response to the hallowed Windsor Report, vote with their feet and force schism.

I am grateful that I am in a Diocese with a deputation that unanimously voted against B033, and with an incoming bishop who did the same. Our deputies and bishop-elect took a stand together out of grace-filled conscience. The major fault lines of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, ironically enough, do not run through the Bay Area. This means we will likely have the strength and leadership to help clean up following the earthquake that is coming. . .

Yes, I believe it is coming. I'm pretty sure now that the Anglican Communion we know is about to experience a shake up, thanks to the most un-Christian and unholy abuses of power by some of our bishops and archbishops. . .and their followers.

So where's the hope?

The present honest expression of hurt and sadness, mingled with hope and faith from our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters might rally to them more support from the "diverse center" that tragically voted for B033. This could further isolate bigotry and fear, at least in The Episcopal Church.

We could end up with an even stronger body of laity and local clergy. As bishops and archbishops begin playing games to see who can leave the sandbox and take the most toys with them, the laity, along with the less autocratic clergy, may organize an even stronger, grass-roots Communion -- one that the power-sick bishops will only be able to wring their hands over.

Even more bishops of conscience would see the Spirit at work in their jurisdictions and more fully demonstrate the true authority of episcopae in collaboratoring, nurturing, and supporting the Church that belongs to Christ . . . rather than playing tyrants battling over fiefdoms and articles of faith.

This could have the graceful side effect of breaking more of the colonial vestiges of power in the Anglican Communion. The top-down paternalism so horrendously exercised on Wednesday will weaken -- and possibly go extinct in some places.

Some of the nastiness would leave. Yes, there are people in this mess devoted to nastiness, hell-bent on destruction of their opponents or even themselves. Sooner or later, as the earthquake proceeds, they would see or be shown the door. People of good conscience could then breathe easier and, whatever form the Communion takes following the shake up, it would be healthier. Those embroiled in nastiness, without living together anymore with their perceived enemies, might themselves begin to heal and show a more Christ-filled human face again. I sincerely hope so.

The resulting new Communion, of which the remaining Episcopal Church could be a part, would be even more devoted to upholding the dignity of every human being in the name of Christ than the current one. It may be smaller. It may not encompass the globe in the same way. But, without the cloud of constant threat hanging over us, we may be able to accomplish healing in the world that our present Communion cannot with so many spiritual and fiscal resources devoted to infighting.

Finally, God's grace is nothing if it isn't unpredictable. There may be startling and joyous developments in the coming weeks and months. Reconciliation is, of course, always available for those who want to partake. And these hopes may pale by comparison with what actually happens. I hope so. . .

But above all else, I continue to pray that God's will be done, and that this slow crucifixion of our common life in Christ will soon give way to resurrection. We are, after all, a people of hope who live for a renewal of all that is good and just and truly holy. And no matter what happens next, we are called to trust that God is leading us into that renewal.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

General Convention Endgame: An Exercise in Spiritual Violence

From meditatio. . .My friend and colleage here in San Francisco, John Kirkley, sent this open letter to his Vestry today. I post it here to show my solidarity with him and all those who stood yesterday for conscience and justice at General Convention, including our Bishop-elect, Marc Andrus.

Dear Friends,

I write to you from the airport in Columbus, weary to my bones. I am still absorbing the incredible level of spiritual violence I experienced yesterday at our General Convention. As you may well know, yesterday both the Bishops and Deputies passed B033 without amendment. It reads as follows:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further

Resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.

This resolution was proposed by the Presiding Bishop to a joint session of the bishops and deputies on the morning of the last day of legislation. This was done after the House of Deputies had defeated a similar resolution the day before, as well as a motion to reconsider it. In other words, having rejected it twice, the Presiding Bishop was determined to force it through Convention. My sense of his unprecedented address to this joint session was of a father berating his naughty children. It was infantalizing and insulting.

Having just given the bishops a copy of the resolution, and with a limit of 30 minutes for debate, ++Griswold provided very little time for organized opposition. He ruled a substitute resolution offered by Bishop Andrus out of order on a technicality, and then threatened the bishops with the admonition that if they failed to pass the resolution, the Archbishop of Canturbury would not invite them to the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 2008. I guess attendance at The Great Tea Party trumps bearing witness to the dignity of every human being. Bishop Chane then attempted to amend the resolution, but it failed after Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori urged the House to accept the resolution without amendment, imperfect as it is. That sealed the fate of the resolution. It passed by a huge majority, with only about 30 bishops dissenting (including our own Bishop Andrus, who was in tears along with many of us).

The rules of the House of Deputies were then suspended in order to debate the resolution (it is out of order to debate a motion already defeated). In another first, Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori addressed the House of Deputies in the middle of their debate, speaking out of both sides of her mouth to say that while she supports the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church, this resolution was the best we could do now. It was a sad and manipulative ploy, but it worked.

I have witnessed good and faithful Christians, gay and straight, coerced by ecclesiastical authorities to violate their own conscience. Some of the leading voices of justice in our church were coopted by fear that they would be to blame for the demise of the Anglican Communion. They sold their soul to the devil and will receive nothing in return.

The resolution is disengenuous and will please nobody. Already, the Archbishop of Canterbury is questioning whether we have responded adequately to the Windsor Report, and the conservative wing of our church flatly declared it inadequate (at least they are honest and consistent). When will our leaders learn that no matter how often they sacrifice gay and lesbian people, it will never be enough to satisfy the right-wing of our church?

I am shocked by the way this debate was framed in terms of the need for the church (read gay and lesbian Christians) to accept sacrifice and crucifixion for the sake of the Communion. This is bad theology on two points:

1. It fails to understand that redemptive sacrifice must be a self-offering; not the crucifixion of someone else: that is scapegoating, and it is sin.

2. It fails to speak at all of Resurrection and the new, transformed life we are given in Christ. This was a Convention so enmeshed in fear that it was unable to speak truthfully to our sisters and brothers in the wider Anglican Communion, or to articulate the specific charism of the church in our context.

There is some good news in the midst of this duplicity and abuse of power. The truth is that our Church, including our new Presiding Bishop, really does desire our full inclusion in its life and ministry. The lie in B033 was to say that we do not. The lie was told to curry favor and "keep the conversation going" in the Anglican Communion. Unity based on lies, however, is bound to fracture. It can not stand for long. The Spirit will continue to lead us into all truth.

The other good news is that our entire deputation, including our bishop, +Marc Andrus, stood in solidarity with us. I'm proud of our new bishop, who joined some 30 bishops in dissenting from this action, and surrounded us with his love and care. I know that under his leadership, the Diocese of California will be a strong prophetic voice for justice in the Church and world.

And I want you to know of my love and concern for all of you, and of my resolute commitment to the mission of St. John the Evangelist. We will continue to welcome all people as God's beloved children and lift up their gifts, so that together we may all grow into the fullness of Christ.

God is not done with us yet.

More love,


A Simple Truth

The legislative complexities of the end of General Convention 2006 are going to take days, if not weeks, to sort out. Very few are happy about the outcome, particularly an 11th-hour resolution that was wrenched from both exhausted Houses with the hopes that its compromising language might be sufficient to gain the good favor of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates. . .so that we can stay in the Anglican Communion.

Vitriol on the traditionalist Episcopal/Anglican blogs has reached a deafening climax. The arguments and accusations of heresy and apostasy going on right now are legion and deeply tangled in theological self-justification and a quest for personal righteousness. The past twenty-four hours of reading some of it has cost me sleep and peace of the soul.

Katharine Jefferts Schori's sermon at the closing Eucharist of General Convention is presently being excoriated on traditionalist sites for its one-time inclusion of the metaphor "mother" for Christ. It's fascinating and sad that this one word has totally eclipsed, in some of our brothers' and sisters' minds, the message of our Presiding Bishop-elect. With her wisdom and the wisdom of our tradition, she illuminates a profound truth:

Jesus, through his teaching, healing, death, and resurrection, calls us out of fear.

What a strikingly simple message!

It's just dawned on me: now that's spiritual leadership standing in the center of the storm.

The behavior that has dominated the traditionalist camp these past few weeks, encapsulated for me in the Bishop Iker/Fort Worth episode, seems to have been about one thing at its heart: fear. Fear of damnation. Fear of "false teaching." Fear of ordained women. Fear of gays and lesbians in the Church. Fear of the other. Fear of difference. Fear of our real selves.

But does the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the heart of our tradition, promote fear?

That may, in fact, be what all this talk of "traditionalists" and "progressives," impending gloom and doom, and threats of schism boil down to in the end: how we, as faithful Christians, answer this simple question.

It's funny, but I've preached entire sermons on this many times. Yet I had forgotten, in recent days, this core question of our faith.

It's time to renew my commitment to this singular truth: The Gospel of Jesus Christ for me doesn't promote fear. Quite the reverse.

Jesus promotes the love God has for us. After all is said and done, Christ is Risen!

This calls me to endeavor to stand and build my ministry in God's lavish grace, following the examples of our Presiding Bishop-elect and numerous other visionary leaders in the Episcopal Church, calmly in the eye of the storm with faith in God's love. . .a "perfect love" that "casts out fear." (1 John 4:18)

God in the Risen Christ saves us from fear. And no threats of damnation, schism, or cries of "heresy" ever need again touch that.

That's a prayer. . .a way of life. . . worth sharing.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Grow in All Things into Christ

from Episcopal News Service

Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori preached the homily at the Closing Eucharist June 21 at General Convention in Columbus, Ohio. The text of Jefferts Schori's homily follows:

Homily preached the General Convention's Closing Eucharist
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
The Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Grow in All Things into Christ
Lections for the Reign of Christ
Colossians 1:11-20
Canticle 18
John 18:33-37

This last Sunday morning I woke very early, while it was still dark. I wanted to go for a run, but I had to wait until there was enough light to see. When the dawn finally began, I ventured out. It was warm, and still, and very quiet, and the clouds were just beginning to show tinges of pink. I ran by the back of the Hyatt just as two workers were coming out one of the service doors. They were startled, I'm afraid, but I nodded at them, and they responded. I went west over the freeway, and encountered a man I'd seen here in the Convention Center. Neither of us stopped, but we did say a quiet good morning. Then I found a lovely green park, and started around it. There was a man with a reflective vest, standing in the street by some orange cones, as though he were waiting for a run or a parade to begin. I said good morning, and he responded in kind. Around the corner I came to a bleary-eyed fellow with several bags who looked like he'd just risen from sleeping rough. I said good morning to him too, but I must admit I went past him in the street instead of on the sidewalk. Then I met a rabbit hopping across the sidewalk, and though we didn't use words, one of us eyed the other with more than a bit of wariness. Around another corner, a woman was delivering Sunday papers from her car. She was wary too, and didn't get out of her car with the next paper until I was a long way past her. Back over the freeway, and a block later, two guys seemingly on their early way to work. We nodded at each other.

As I returned to my hotel, I reflected on all those meetings. There was some degree of wariness in most of them. There were small glimpses of a reconciled world in our willingness to greet each other. But the unrealized possibility of a real relationship -- whether in response of wariness, or caution, or fear -- meant that we still had a very long way to go.

Can we dream of a world where all creatures, human and not, can meet each other in a stance that is not tinged with fear?

When Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world, he is saying that his rule is not based on the ability to generate fear in his subjects. A willingness to go to the cross implies a vulnerability so radical, so fundamental, that fear has no impact or import. The love he invites us to imitate removes any possibility of reactive or violent response. King Jesus' followers don't fight back when the world threatens. Jesus calls us friends, not agents of fear.

If you and I are going to grow in all things into Christ, if we're going to grow up into the full stature of Christ, if we are going to become the blessed ones God called us to be while we were still in our mothers' wombs, our growing will need to be rooted in a soil of internal peace. We'll have to claim the confidence of souls planted in the overwhelming love of God, a love so abundant, so profligate, given with such unwillingness to count the cost, that we, too, are caught up into a similar abandonment.

That full measure of love, pressed down and overflowing, drives out our idolatrous self-interest. Because that is what fear really is -- it is a reaction, an often unconscious response to something we think is so essential that it takes the place of God. "Oh, that's mine and you can't take it, because I can't live without it" -- whether it's my bank account or theological framework or my sense of being in control. If you threaten my self-definition, I respond with fear. Unless, like Jesus, we can set aside those lesser goods, unless we can make "peace through the blood of the cross."

That bloody cross brings new life into this world. Colossians calls Jesus the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead. That sweaty, bloody, tear-stained labor of the cross bears new life. Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation -- and you and I are His children. If we're going to keep on growing into Christ-images for the world around us, we're going to have to give up fear.

What do the godly messengers say when they turn up in the Bible? "Fear not." "Don't be afraid." "God is with you." "You are God's beloved, and God is well-pleased with you."

When we know ourselves beloved of God, we can begin to respond in less fearful ways. When we know ourselves beloved, we can begin to recognize the beloved in a homeless man, or rhetorical opponent, or a child with AIDS. When we know ourselves beloved, we can even begin to see and reach beyond the defense of others.

Our invitation, both in the last work of this Convention, and as we go out into the world, is to lay down our fear and love the world. Lay down our sword and shield, and seek out the image of God's beloved in the people we find it hardest to love. Lay down our narrow self-interest, and heal the hurting and fill the hungry and set the prisoners free. Lay down our need for power and control, and bow to the image of God's beloved in the weakest, the poorest, and the most excluded.

We children can continue to squabble over the inheritance. Or we can claim our name and heritage as God's beloveds and share that name, beloved, with the whole world.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Line in the Sand

While the news of the election of Bishop Jefferts Schori as our new Presiding Bishop was still hot off the press, The Diocese of Fort Worth issued a statement, declared to both houses of General Convention, calling on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the Anglican Communion for "alternative Primatial oversight" for their diocese. In doing so, they made a specious appeal to the Windsor Report's suggested provision for alternative episcopal oversight for local churches that feel their pastoral needs cannot be met by their diocesan bishops.

It would be funny if it weren't so blatantly offensive.

This is no less than a "pre-emptive strike" on Katharine Jefferts-Schori. Bishop Iker and his Diocese, it seems, will brook her no respect. I find this abusive, and here's why:

Vows of the Order

Bishop Iker made vows when consecrated to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline" of the Episcopal Church. By not ordaining women, he has stretched, if not broken this vow. General Convention, the highest ecclesiastical authority of this Church, mandated the ordination of women within the last decade. Women have been ordained in the Episcopal Church now for well over a generation.

Bishop Iker and the Diocese of Fort Worth, in addition to the two other Episcopal dioceses (San Joaquin and Quincy) who refuse to ordain women, have enjoyed the privilege of being afoul of the canons and practice of the Episcopal Church simply on the basis of the majority's honoring their God-given conscience. . .on the basis of a long-held communal humility that acknowledges the human limits of parliamentary process, no matter how prayerful.

But rather than attempting to evaluate, in the biblical tradition of the gospels and Paul's Letter to the Galatians, the fruit of the Spirit that our women clergy have wrought at great personal cost in this Church over the past thirty years. . .Bishop Iker and his Standing Committee further abuse the privilege they have been afforded by snubbing the Presiding Bishop-elect out of hand.

To be fair, it could be correctly counter-argued that prayerful conscience led to the bold, extra-canonical ordination of women in this church to begin with. Such extra-canonical acts might have been grounds for presentment then, but the prayerful and sometimes painful workings of General Convention led to a new canonical precedent upholding these ordinations, rather than a condemnation. Sure, people left the Episcopal Church over this. I follow the advice of the bishop who ordained me priest: if ever the Episcopal Church moves, as a whole, through due process and prayerful discernment in a direction that I cannot abide, I hope I would fight fair or else resign my office, renounce my orders, and seek God's call elsewhere. That seems to me good conscience in the Light of Christ.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. Rather than working within the processes of discernment in this Church -- a prayerful, constitutional process that all bishops of the Episcopal Church have sworn before God and God's people to uphold -- Bishop Iker and his Standing Committee have determined themselves, in Christ's name no less, to be completely beyond procedural grounds. . .beyond the discipline of this branch of the Christian Church as they so arrogantly appeal outside of it.

This is profoundly sad and deeply disingenuous. Where is the loving truth of Christ in this?

Bishop Iker seems protected at this point from presentment by only two things I can see: 1) simple Christian charity and 2) the sheer cost -- emotionally, spiritually, and fiscally -- of ecclesiastical trial against a bishop and his diocese.

Windsor Distorted

This move abuses the Windsor Report. . .which is just that. . .a report. It is not a canonical precedent or an Anglican whipping rod. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not beholden to the document. Nor, frankly, are we in the Episcopal Church. It was designed to open exploration to a way of holding the increasingly diverse Anglican Communion together. Bishop Iker's move along with his Standing Committee is therefore deeply insulting to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the authors of the Report. While our delegates and bishops wrestle to the point of exhaustion over the Episcopal Church's response to the Windsor Report, the Diocese of Fort Worth arrogantly grants the document an almost divine authority, short-circuiting any and all honest listening, sweat, and toil of our sisters and brothers in Christ.

All this notwithstanding, the provision in the Windsor Report on alternative oversight appeals to an atmosphere of reconciliation. How is this pre-emptive move by the Diocese of Fort Worth at all indicative of a desire for reconciliation with our Presiding Bishop-elect and the Church she has been called to lead and represent?

High-handed Misogyny

Cloaked in "orthodoxy" and parading about in the name of Christ, this move abuses women. I don't know what scriptural contexts Bishop Iker uses in defense of his action, but the Jesus I read about bucked the patriarchal cultural mores of his day and spoke publicly with women and welcomed them amongst his disciples. They were the first to see the empty tomb at Easter.

With this in mind, the least the Bishop of Fort Worth could do is afford Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori an opportunity for responding to the request before the appeal was publicly made over her authority and the authority of our current Presiding Bishop to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates.

With this pre-emptive move, Bishop Iker and his diocese seemingly objectify her as an abomination rather than a person lovingly made in the Image of God, with basic human dignity. . . who through time-honored process and prayerful discernment has been properly elected as a leader for this church.

This is misogyny par excellence.

The Breaking Point

It seems to me that the long-feared schism has already occurred. By throwing down the gauntlet and flagrantly dismissing the open process of discernment in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Iker and the Diocese of Fort Worth have left the building.

Let's stop kidding ourselves. Let them go.

Good old fashioned Christian charity says the door opens both ways. If indeed we are so apostate that Bishop Iker and Fort Worth can't stand it anymore, they should leave, and, in good biblical tradition, shake the dust from their sandals.

May the love of Christ go with Bishop Iker and the Diocese of Fort Worth. God only knows why they have chosen to stay so long.

For the present, I am grateful that Katharine Jefferts Schori has the backbone, compassion, intelligence, and pastoral understanding -- God given -- to weigh carefully any response to this appeal. I sincerely hope the Archbishop of Canterbury stands up to this abusive behavior and, if he decides to respond, at least asks to meet with Bishop Iker and Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori together for an open discussion. If Bishop Iker won't have it, I think he, nor his diocese, deserves any response from the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Primates. Just as they deserved and received no response from either House of General Convention.

May we soon get on with the Christian work our Presiding Bishop-elect envisions through the words of Isaiah:

"The poor are fed, the good news is preached, those who are ostracized and in prison are set free, the blind receive sight."

God be with her, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.

God be with the Episcopal Church.

More importantly, may we be with God. After all here is said, this is the best prayer this thirty-something, green-around-the edges priest can offer from the comforts of home for everyone still hard at it in General Convention. 2006.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Quotable Quotes

Jesus looked at the people and said, "What then does this text mean: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone'? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."
Luke 20:17-18 (quoting Psalm 118:22)

Responses to the election of The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as our new Presiding Bishop are already starting to come fast and furious. Here's one from the other side of the theological aisle that I think is worth a look:

Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network of "orthodox" churches and dioceses who have been considering breaking away from the Episcopal Church, had this to say:

"Many of us had prayed for clarity to come out of this 75th General Convention as regards the true intentions of the Episcopal Church vis a vis the Anglican Communion and the orthodox in North America. Sometimes, in God's permissive will, our prayers are answered in ways we had not anticipated."
(The full text of Bishop Duncan's response is here.)

Bishop Duncan recognizes that the Network consists of churches and dioceses (three dioceses, to be exact, in the Episcopal Church) that still do not permit the ordination of women. The Network further includes Forward in Faith, a body staunchly opposed to the ordination of women. Yet Bishop Duncan honors the ordination of women in his own diocese, as do many other members of the Network. The election of Bishop Schori poses a significant problem. . .perhaps a cornerstone to fall on. . .or one that is falling. . .on the Network.

Another quote that springs to mind, courtesy of The Rt. Rev. William E. Swing, Bishop of California: "Perfection is hard to maintain."

Catholic, Evangelical, and Revolutionary

It's who we are.

Mark Harris says it best at his blog, Preludium.

See also John Kirkley's commentary at meditatio.

Two voices from the floor of Convention. . .a common understanding:

We are living in a true watershed moment in the history of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, if not the entire sweep of Christianity to this point.

Prayers, support, and cheers be with our new Presiding Bishop.

A New PB

The House of Bishop's has just elected The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada, as the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Jefferts Schori, if approved by the House of Deputies, will be the first woman ever elected Presiding Bishop in the history of the denomination, and the first woman Primate ever in the history of the Anglican Communion.

A bold move, but a blessed one welcoming holy, reconciling, and thoughtful leadership, based on what I have sensed in the few times I have had the privilege of being in her presence.

Our prayers remain with Bishop Katharine and all of General Convention.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

On General Convention and Good Friends

Let the Convention begin!

My friend, John Kirkley, is reporting in daily from the floor of Convention at his blog, meditatio.

You can also read Mark Harris' take over at Preludium. As one comment from today's blog entry remarked, Harris' remarks are a wonderfully honest blend of conviction and humility.

The Episcopal News Service is covering the goings on:

In other news

The story of another great friend, James Tramel, hit the streets of the Bay Area this past week, with a huge feature article in Street Spirit, including an extensive interview. James has made a most incredible journey through redemption, to ordained priesthood, and to freedom. Well worth a look. . .

James preaches at Christ Church -- Sei Ko Kai next Sunday, on the anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

Transitions. . .

. . .are well under way in my family and our little household as Hiroko, Daniel, and I say a loving goodbye to all our dear friends at Christ Church -- Sei Ko Kai, San Francisco, and prepare for me to take up a new position with new and wonderful friends in Christ as Long-term Interim Rector at Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley. It's tough saying goodbye and hello at the same time, but that is so much the story of our faith, of endings and new beginnings in life, and the ever-changing universe of which we share a tiny part.

Trinity and the Story of Nicodemus

a Sermon for Trinity Sunday

From ancient times, when the theologians of the early Church were wrestling with the concept of Trinity, and all the nuanced and sophisticated philosophical language that appropriately described God -- three in One and One in three – many of them reached a conclusion:

The Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. . .

. . .was an ineffable mystery. Period.

Were that the sum total of every sermon, Trinity Sunday would be noted across the Church for having record-breaking, short homilies. And maybe everyone would go home smiling!

But the Trinity Sunday we often know can be a bit of a bore, because it’s tempting as a preacher to dig deep into the huge theological tomes that have multiplied around the Trinity in the past two millennia. . .tempting to share with a glazed-over congregation the deep thoughts of our heritage on the nature of God.

Breathe easy, I don’t intend to do that today.

But I do begin with what I said earlier. The suggestion that God comes to us in three persons and yet remains one truly is an ineffable mystery. And that mystery provides all the space for contemplating the great riddles of Life: like God, like the Cosmos, like “Why are we here?” and “Where are we going?”

God’s love for us is so strong and so infinite that it cannot be properly quantified or grasped by the human mind. God will not fit a neat human definition. Ultimate Being, the Maker of all that is, the Savior of humanity, the Spirit that upends the complacency of our lives – it is all too much to grasp within our limited perspective in our brief time in this tiny corner of the universe.

Yet we are born, live, and die in the great mystery that is God.

And this is precisely what Jesus is getting at in his conversation with Nicodemus in today’s Gospel from John – a prototypical story, if you will, of the Trinitarian doctrines resting at the foundation of our faith. And how wonderful that our tradition began this way – not with a fancy formulary written by doctors of the faith in ivory towers. . .or by highly academic intellectuals steeped for years in book learning. No, the Trinity of our faith springs from something as wonderful as a story anchored deeply in the struggling communities of our earliest Christian ancestors:

A story about a religious authority who comes to Jesus by night. Nicodemus, probably concerned for his own reputation, sneaks a visit with Christ when others are least likely to notice. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a well-trained and highly faithful Jew, a leader for his people. He is likely a person of some intelligence, a bit of wit, and quite a lot of learning. But he shows up to see Jesus with a burning question that is implied in today’s Gospel: “Who are you?”

Jesus doesn’t quite fit the expectations of the Jewish people of his day, nor the anticipations of the Pharisaic tradition. Yet, Nicodemus, with all his book learning and somewhat against common sense and sound logic, follows his heart to see Jesus. He’s drawn by a simple mystery. Jesus is working wonders and saying things that Nicodemus knows deep down cannot be apart from God.

I can’t help but wonder if Nicodemus was a little frightened – not only for his reputation, but for his faith. . .for what we might call his soul. Jesus was breaking the boundaries of the tradition, stirring up a crowd of disciples, and spooking the established religious authorities with his actions and teachings.

Nicodemus was wise enough, at least, to ask questions.

What Jesus offers him is a vision for all people of faith.

We live in an age where we are being hounded by the narrow-mindedness of a wide variety of traditions, including our own. We are caught up in controversy at home rooted in an unwillingness to change along with a hearty dose of self-righteousness about our own positions. I’m as guilty as anyone. Abroad, we know the hatred and terror that fundamentalism breeds.

The best theologies of the Trinity, and, even more importantly, the best stories of the Trinity undo all our notions of rightness and draw us into the ineffable mystery of God.

That is where Jesus takes Nicodemus in today’s gospel. He talks about being “born from above,” embracing water and Spirit and a God giving of self in a Child of the Divine – images of our baptism and faith. And they all defy complete description. Nicodemus gets caught up in the words, trapped – we hope only for a moment – in the narrowness of language. . .a literalism that refuses to embrace mystery.

“How can these things be?” he asks Jesus.

Jesus invites Nicodemus, with this story, out of the narrowness of the human mind and into the abundance of God’s heart: a Spirit of wind and fire that mysteriously comes and goes in the depths of our lives; a Son whose coming heralds the promise of eternal life; a Cosmos of incredible forces, diversity, and wonder. . .yet deeply bound together in the unity of the Life in God.

We are left to wonder if Nicodemus “gets it.” Whether he is willing to take this strange story Jesus tells him about the action of God and the actions of the faithful seriously enough to break free of the very human temptation to see the world through narrow vision.

We are like Nicodemus. We approach Trinity wanting to sum up God in simple formularies and conflating the divine mystery into our narrow traditional world views. Christ calls us away from these dead ends towards the baptismal waters of being “born again.” And being born again means letting go of everything that defines who we are and how we understand God and the world around us. That is our challenge of faith. The ineffable mystery of the Trinity calls into that challenge.

We are left to wonder how Nicodemus felt when he left Jesus. Challenged? Perhaps. Broken with disappointment? Possibly. Jesus had spoken something so strange and wonderful that Nicodemus’ mind was not fully able to take it in.

But I like to hope that Nicodemus left inspired to let go. To let go of the narrow confines of a particular tradition and wade into the deep waters of faith – that is relationship – with the mystery we call God.

If we are ready to let go like Jesus did. . .to begin leading a life of faith that truly embraces mystery and seeks unity where the world sees only division, compassion where the world drives enmity, hope where the hopeless have only spoken. . .then we will be ready to tell our story of the Trinity – very little book learning required. To talk about how we know God as Jesus knew God – intimate as a close Parent and yet a Great Riddle of Experience and Revelation that rallies the human heart and convicts the soul to embrace something greater than we can every understand or imagine. To describe, in our own humble words and out of our own real, tangible, fleshy lives, the acts of God in our midst. To be born again. . .and again. . .and again. . .with reopened eyes and an ever expanding understanding of the cosmos and how God moves in it with love.

And, if we are indeed ready to let go in this way, then from our words will come action ready to transform a broken world.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Order and the Holy Spirit

a sermon for Pentecost

Episcopal Innovations

Throughout the past three years of conflict in our denomination, a question has haunted me. John Kater, who was one of my professors at CDSP and remains a close friend once posed to me the current debate over human sexuality in the Anglican Communion in the form of a simple question: “Can God do something new?”

Last Sunday morning, I was catching up with opening office mail when I happened across a tract written by Peter Toon and published by the PBS. When most of us hear “PBS,” at least if we’ve grown up or raised children or turned on the TV in the past thirty years, we think of public television. This was most certainly not that. It was a tract paid for, published, and delivered – timed, it seemed to coincide with Anglican Communion Sunday – by none other than the “Prayer Book Society,” whose board includes Bishop Keith Ackerman of the Diocese of Quincy, a Diocese where I attended church and taught Sunday School for a time as an undergraduate.

On the cover was the shadowy silhouette of an unnamed bishop, looking to me rather menacing, and the title read loudly: “Episcopal Innovations: 1960-2004.” I didn’t have to guess what the book was about. Over the next few days it bounced between the recycling bin and my desk as curiosity wrestled with my fatigue over the late, great argument in the Anglican Communion.

Despite sophisticated theological language, “Episcopal Innovations” pulls no punches in its assertion of its understanding of orthodoxy. I could not honestly bring myself to read word for word, cover to cover, but the gist from what I read was clear: since the 1960’s, the tract goes, the Episcopal Church has been in a downward spiral, consumed by the “liberal” inclinations of the broader culture, overcome by feminism, liberation theology, the quest for civil liberties, a welcoming of diversity, and other so-called innovations. This is all connected to the church’s turning away from the practices and theology of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and turning towards the apparently unfathomable (read: heretical) theology of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and its progenitors.

The current crisis in the Anglican Communion, it explains, is precipitated by the Episcopal Church’s heretical march away from being “Reformed Catholic,” and the hierarchical order that should come from that identity. It was this hierarchical order that apparently was more the foundation of our culture before the 1960’s. And this order was important, we are told, because it was the construct that shows us the place of God, men, women, and children in the church, in the household, and in society. The text pointed to the dominance of masculine imagery and the patriarchal cultural milieu of the Bible and posits these as evidence of how God made things – the order we have been charged by Christ to preserve.

The natural conclusion of the tract was clear. With the battle lines drawn, it issued a thinly veiled threat. The current state of crisis in the Anglican Communion, it suggests, is our fault as Episcopalians in the context of the United States, and we are now approaching the brink of decision at our upcoming General Convention. . .one that may necessitate the formation of a new Anglican Province in North America, with the remaining Episcopal Church out of Communion and continuing a decline towards the abyss.

Worlds of Order

I was slightly stunned. . .not that I hadn’t heard much of it before. The Bible was indeed written in cultural universes of hierarchical, patriarchal order. Here are samples of the biblical cultural understandings of the world, in broad strokes:

As hard as it might by for us to imagine, the world, flat as it was perceived, hung in the balance between heaven and the underworld. The sky was a dome beyond which dwelled the domain of God on His throne. Spirits and angels, both divine and demonic, broke God’s hierarchical order and wandered the landscape of humanity. Men were the center of society, the power brokers and holders of wisdom and knowledge. Women’s identity was valued only in relationship with her husband or family. Children were chattel, useful only as far as they were economically beneficial by assisting with the work of the father, or being sold into marriage when they were old enough.

Echoes of these cultural perspectives have come down the ages in various forms – some benevolent, others not so: from the feudalism of the Middle Ages to the dominance of Popes, to the scourges of slavery, the prevention of women’s suffrage, and the abuse of child labor.

But back to the tract, if indeed the Episcopal Church decided in the future to turn the clock back, as we are apparently supposed to do if we are to remain “orthodox” and in God’s good graces. . . shut out women clergy, and toss the ordination of homosexuals, children receiving communion, and the host of other “innovations” of the past forty years out on their ear – well, would I, as the young, white, straight male (a dreamboat, it seems, of the old orthodox hierarchy) want to stay?
But that led almost immediately to another even more painful question. Would I be allowed to stay even if I wanted? There are many places we could turn back the clock to in our “Reformed Catholic” tradition. If we turn the clock back far enough, my marriage would be suspect, imperiling my ability to remain an ordained priest. Some of you may remember the anti-miscegenation laws of a prior generation. They touched the life history of the Christ Church community in some profound and sad ways. They prevented marrying across traditional racial boundaries, including Asian and Anglo. That was another way of preserving order, quite defensible by at least one scriptural passage I can think of. And then I wonder, what would that make my son Daniel, a child of Japanese and Anglo ancestory. . .disordered, perhaps?

In yet another two striking examples, not so long ago, anti-Semitism was justified using an “orthodox” reading of scripture, including our hallowed Gospel According to John. It took the Holocaust to finally convince Western Christianity to come to grips with centuries of our evil abuse of the Jewish people. Turn back the clock another few generations, and we might, if we wish, defend slavery with biblical authority.

This is not to suggest that Peter Toon or anyone on the other side of this debate in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion would utter something terrible about my son, want me deposed over my marriage, or attempt to validate the Holocaust or defend slavery. I certainly hope not! My argument is only this: anyone can talk of preserving a particular kind of order in the name of orthodoxy, Scripture, and in the name of God, for that matter. The question remains: How do we as people of faith evaluate which claim to order is correct?

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

Today is Pentecost. And we are celebrating the birth of the Church: the coming of the Holy Spirit.

And we turn to our story today from the Bible. But not for instruction on how to reconstruct a hierarchical culture, but for the story itself. And today’s story, with apologies to our sister and brother Anglicans who are considering making a break for the door right now, is most certainly not about order.

It is, I believe, about the chaos of transformation. In Acts, before the Spirit arrives, the scene is reasonably peaceful in Jerusalem. The disciples are gathered together in a room – the old order is still in place. And they receive the crazy gift of language, finding themselves suddenly intelligible to people from all over the Mediterranean. Every conceivable mark of decorum and order is lost. The scene is chaotic enough to encourage some of the observers to wonder if the disciples are drunk, but the strange wonder of the event leaves its mark.

The Gospel of John tells the story from another viewpoint – the doors are locked, the disciples gathered, and the old order, the old way of understanding time, space, and the universe itself, is suddenly disrupted by the appearance Christ among them. He gifts the amazed disciples with the Spirit and calls them into the awesome responsibility of forgiving sin.

In both stories the disciples of Christ are drawn. . .driven even. . .out of the old order and into the world to boldly proclaim the Gospel. What follows is the formation of the Church, and all the controversies, arguments, sweat, and toil that come with it.

The Spirit from the very foundation of our history as a Church answers John Kater’s question that I shared at the beginning. Yes, indeed, God can do something new. And God is. And it’s not always easy to understand. And it most certainly is not always ordered. Certainly, we may not all agree with what God may be doing. Perhaps, I daresay, God may not be “orthodox.”

This is Good News of Pentecost. What binds us together with our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion around the world is not order, or even a particular way of understanding the Bible. What really binds us together is Spirit – God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit that we all were touched with in baptism and in our constant turning back towards it.

Here's our "heretical" 1979 Book of Common Prayer theology: our baptism calls us – through God’s Spirit, we believe – to honor the dignity of all people. . .to recognize and truly honor Christ’s face in men, women, children, gay, lesbian, straight, ordained, lay, Asian, European, African, American, rich, poor. . .in our tradition, or out of it. This diversity is inherently disordered, but is made lovely and embraced by the coming of the Holy Spirit. Through this Spirit, God in Christ is creating a new order – what we as Christians often call the Kingdom of Heaven or the Reign of God. It cannot be fathomed by any one of us, but God forges it in the heart of our communities of faith, and each of us has a gift from the Spirit to bring to this new creation.

Pentecost is the way forward for our Church. The 2006 General Convention, which begins this coming week, is likely to be a bit messy – less ordered than many would prefer. So will be the fallout for the Anglican Communion. Some of our brothers and sisters will love their own sense of order and hold their understandings of scripture too dear to stay. Others will find room in the great Spirit of God to remain in the diverse, disordered community of the Spirit, staying present and seeking deeper life even in the strong, conscientious disagreements about the way the world. . .and the church. . . should be. And together we will continue sharing the Good News of a transformative, compassionate God who breaks the old orders and makes the world anew.