Monday, December 31, 2007

Eves Dropping

Late yesterday evening, I received an e-mail from Christopher, a deep-thinking theologian and friend, asking for reflections from those of us in the church who have children. He was interested in our response to a curious post, "on what is and what is possible" over at Thomas's Journal, suggesting that children ought to be better disciplined to attend late Christmas Eve services in the name of teaching them that Christianity "costs" something. Christopher's response is here.

Christopher generously urged me to post my thoughts, so I posted them to the thread under the original post, and here they are, in a more edited and expanded form:

Who is to pay the "cost" of attending late-night masses: the children who get bored and difficult, or the parents who force them to sit still through the midnight service?

While I tend to agree with Brother Tom's general idea (Christianity costs something) I disagree about where he directs this concern, particularly at children.

My son this year gave up two Sunday early afternoons to practice being a shepherd for our 4 p.m. Christmas Eve pageant. He learned more about the Christmas story and the joy and preparation that comes with it, I am sure, with other children, re-telling the story, and then sharing in Eucharist, than in only sitting. . . fatigued. . through a much later and less frenetic (for a four-year-old) Christmas Eve service.

This past Sunday, the "Low Sunday" after Christmas no less, a neighbor who recently began coming with her two children was smiling with delight following our 10 a.m. worship. She had e-mailed me about halfway through Advent asking if she might bring her children to join in the pageant rehearsals, already under way. I said, "Of course!" "
They've been back every regular worship since.

This morning, her 8-year-old showed me a drawing of people in worship with, "yay church!" written all over it. He was beaming ear to ear. I was stunned, as this was particularly surprising in a town, county, and region of the country that is known for its militant secularism.

He said he insists on coming every week now. His mother nodded and admitted her children are the driving reason she makes provision each Sunday for church.

I don't think it's always true that adults need to teach children about sacrificing to attend church. Quite the reverse may well also be true - perhaps more so!

More broadly, I am not entirely sure "cost" is appropriate as a theological premise or a spiritual discipline, particularly when it comes to joining actively in the worship and mission of the Body of Christ. I think it might be more compelling to argue that God's desire is that we give up mammon for grace, "bread and circuses" for the true bread which came down from heaven -- not because the "sacrifice" builds "character" -- but because the latter truly nourishes us and our neighbors as people made in the image of the Divine. Mammon, constructed as it can be upon violence and greed more often will leave us empty and alone, especially if it is central in our lives.
While I eschew church consumerism, if our people are bored or feel truly unfed or malnourished by "church," that is partly our responsibility as leaders. Grace is not being served. Uninspired, irrelevant, insipid, or age-inappropriate liturgy can be deadly to the spirit of the People of God. We do well to take this seriously; we do worse to wag our fingers when people, most of all our children, express boredom at it. I've written more on this in a slightly different context.
At Church of Our Saviour, we mix it up with Godly Play, a new fourth- and fifth- grade program called "Cloud of Witnesses," designed in large part by our Associate Rector, Este Gardner Cantor, a dynamic Middle School program, a Youth Group, and Adult forums, as well as our regular Rite I, Rite II, and Rite Something liturgies.
If people (from infants to adults) attend regularly, they get exposure to just about everything. Regardless of where they most feel at home worshipping and encountering God in our community, they hear proclaimed the transformative Gospel of Christ with an authentic passion. I believe that is what is key here, far and away from forcing tired children to sit still on one of the most exciting nights of the year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Tapestry of a Holy Night

A Sermon for Christmas, 2007

Audio Available

Wherever I go
Far away and anywhere

Time after time you always shine
through dark of night calling after me

And wherever I climb
Far away and anywhere

You raise me high beyond the sky
through stormy night lifting me above

Venite Spiritu et emitte caelitus
Venite Spiritu et emitte caelitus
Venite Spiritu Venite Spiritus

Whenever I cry
Far away and anywhere

You hear me call when shadows fall
your light of hope showing me the way*

What is it that makes this night holy? Is it the beauty of our music and the way it resonates deeply with memory, pulling at those deep places in the soul? For me it is the way things shimmer, almost imperceptibly, but if we stop and look, pause and listen, we notice something sparkles. We turn on the Christmas lights at night, after all, and light the candles in the darkness as the solstice arrives.

The tapestry of life is laid open in the darkness. Time seems to suspend and then unroll like a taut spring releasing its tensions. We see our lives open and bare in profoundly sad and profoundly joyous ways. Some sort of lift happens inside, and we relate to strange – foreign even – stories about shepherds, angels, a peasant family, and a tiny child.

Luke’s Gospel tonight opens with an Emperor – Augustus. Like all great powers of this world, the Emperor speaks and the world responds. Joseph and Mary, no-names among a beleaguered and impoverished people, are swept up in this great response, Bethlehem is overflowing with visitors so there is no room at the inn, the great wave of military, economic, and legal power seems to overwhelm this tiny, insignificant family.

And yet, the Emperor is now forgotten, a temporal power who must have been resplendent in his day but who will pass into obscurity. We still toss his name around in our calendar, but how many of us recall the deeds of Augustus on a regular basis? How many of us can imagine his visage or encounter it on a daily basis? How many of us can name and date the crowning achievement of his reign, his most clever political machination? Even the empire he expanded and established is gone, lost to the winds of history and the inevitable passing of one human hubris to another. Even the peoples whose ancestors he subjugated have forgotten his power, his influence. “The yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. . .” God has broken them utterly with the grind of time and an indomitable alternative for the human spirit – one that can be denied, but never eliminated.

No, this night, we know and say more about Mary, Joseph, and this little baby born in a backward village in ancient Judea than Caesar Augustus. Yes, you could argue I get paid to say that, but – well there’s more to it than that, surely! For you are all here tonight to recall the old story, perhaps hear it more deeply, revel in the music it has inspired, share it with your children perhaps, sing something that feels more a part of us than just about anything in our transient and fickle culture.

For the early Christian community, a small, pilgrim flock of people from every walk of life, there was something remarkable they recognized about Jesus. They called him “Christ,” “Messiah,” “Son of God.” They mined their sacred words for descriptions of him: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Even beyond their familiar scriptures, they saw in him the entire cosmos, the meaning of the human family, the essence of what it meant to have a purpose of compassionate living, a true holiness rooted in honest relationship, a thread running from the human heart directly into the bedrock of Creation, from our flesh, feelings, and thoughts rooted all of nature and whatever was behind it. They saw in him a path beyond death, a renewal of the entire way of being human, a self-giving love that dared real courage and integrity that seemed to come from beyond the self. And so they assigned him an almost legendary story of God come among us – legendary not because it is history or a-historical, but legendary because it describes something about a God beyond time who takes the whole universe and more and brings it down into a tiny, fragile child. And in doing so articulates an intimate connection between the divine and every galaxy, every planet, every person, every tiniest particle.

Christmas Eve is not about sentimentality, no matter how cynical our age becomes, no matter how digital or commoditized. We reckon something holy to this night, because this night calls something holy forth in each of us, even with all the stresses of this time of year. Many of us pause, whether with exhaustion or breathless anticipation, or both, on the edge of a hope that we can barely put into words.

It is that notion that there is a Love that watches over our lives, no matter how stained, imperfect, and strange they become. God calls after us, wherever we go. A love that molds the stardust into forms like us, so that we might gather in praise to something. . . Someone even, who defies comprehension. Love that seems to transcend death, as we are reminded by, at very least, our memories this time of year of those who have come before: holiday seasons long past, and memories of loved ones no longer with us – memories sometimes so palpable we’d swear they’re still with us. And we try to recreate that warmth we have known for ourselves, our own children, families, and friends.

A Child, tender, and fragile, is the light shining in the darkness. A light that cannot be overcome. The powerful can only wonder at powerlessness raised up to divine status. The arrogance of emperors, kings and princes, governors and elites, is suddenly seen for what it is in this single, solitary light.

A light, a Child who is the apple of Mary’s eye, as she gazes in wonder at the miraculous like any mother does, like any parent who gazes into a newborn’s eyes for the first time, a profound connection of flesh to flesh, bone to bone, an emotional bond that can be stretched and warped, but never quite completely severed.

Like God’s relationship with us. For no matter where we run, we encounter this holiness in our lives. We might shrink from it or ignore it, but it haunts us, and if we let it, it remakes us. For we were all like this little child at one time, tender, and fragile.

And the message for us this night is unequivocal: we are precious in God’s eyes. For God to embrace us in all of our imperfect and jumbled up genetics, our awkward limbs and oversized heads, our existential conflicts, our potential for acts of greatness as well as cowardice and even wickedness. . . well, what more loving act could God have than to become one of us? To remind us in our existential darkness that we are not alone. That we belong to God and one another, just as Jesus belongs to God and to Mary beyond words, to Joseph, too, who stands by watching in awe.

To the shepherds, as well, who are sweaty and smelly, outcasts as we are all outcasts somewhere, sweaty and smelly as we sometimes are, too. We are remarked upon by angels, watched over by a strange sense that we cannot quite shake: that we matter. We matter to Someone, somewhere, somehow, even beyond death.
Now, isn’t that worth singing about, gathering for, hoping for this time of year. . .and perhaps anytime?

For we are a Christmas people, re-born this time of year for renewal. . .that we may not pass without remark, no matter how short or long life lasts.

Wherever I go
Far away and anywhere

Time after time you always shine
through dark of night calling after me

And wherever I climb
Far away and anywhere

You raise me high beyond the sky
through stormy night lifting me above

Venite Spiritu et emitte caelitus
Venite Spiritu et emitte caelitus
Venite Spiritu Venite Spiritus

Whenever I cry
Far away and anywhere

You hear me call when shadows fall
your light of hope showing me the way*


* Libera: Far Away

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A New Generation of Hope

Jasper Goldberg, a senior at Tam High School and a faithful member of the parish where I serve, has penned a wonderful and bold essay, which was posted over at Bishop Marc's blog.
An excerpt:

We see in the stories of Jesus’ ministries to the prisoners, the lepers and the outcasts of society in his day a message that no one is below the love of God. We are all God’s children, and we know that what we do unto the least of the people of God, we do unto God. Every time that we allow an injustice to be perpetrated against a gay man or a lesbian woman, the marginalized of today’s world, we allow the attacker to harm our beloved God, and in our negligence we are guilty. It is not enough to stand on the sidelines, and hope that someday things will be better. We must make our stand for those that society considers “outcasts” if we are to be worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The future of the Church is in good hands.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Under Orders

The fray over the late decision of the Diocese of San Joaquin and their (erstwhile?) bishop, John-David Schofield, speaks largely for itself. I commend Tobias Haller's pithy essay as a suitable summary.
Where I have been drawn to reflect involves a very simple question: To whom are John-David Schofield and his clergy now accountable?
It might be easy to say, especially amongst our self-proclaimed reasserter sisters and brothers, Jesus Christ, of course! To me that is a given for anyone who embraces the title "Christian."
But that's not what I mean by accountability. I mean rather accountability in community. To illustrate, if it comes down to a choice between my faith in Jesus Christ and my accountability as an ordained priest to the Church I serve, I renounce my orders in that Church. Pure and simple.
In this way, honor has been served to a greater degree by those who cannot abide the recent decisions of The Episcopal Church and have therefore renounced their orders. Honor has also been served by those who disagree with the decisions of the greater Church but remain in communion, that is, in community, submitting to a level of mutual accountability that is honorable in at least two ways: to the integrity of their own theological positions and beliefs, and to the integrity of the Body of Christ -- the Church.
Do you disagree? Welcome to community.
John-David Schofield is one, but by no means the only bishop who seems to want to have it both ways: to withdraw and impugn the integrity of the Church to whom he has given vows of discipline, while at the same time not be held accountable to it.
This is a fundamental lesson about being "under orders," or taking vows. In the language of covenanted relationship it is the potentially fruitful agreement that engages conflict honestly while keeping the convenience of withdrawal and the extremes of divorce, abuse, and violence all off the table.
When John-David and a number of other bishops at the center of the current conflict withdrew from the House of Bishops, they violated the spirit, if not the letter, of their vows. Every clergy person makes a commitment to show up and be counted in a collegial body of shared ministry and leadership: oversight most particularly for bishops, pastoral duties particularly for priests, servanthood particularly for deacons -- and all three to some extent shared between these orders and among the laity. Our canons, discipline, and tradition make these relationships mutually, and to some degree, hierarchically accountable. We are all under orders, acknowledging the authority of another in our decision-making, even when we don't like it.
If for no other reason, this structure -- this polity -- is provided so that we do not assume the arrogance of conflating our views with those of God.
Withdrawing and retaining the privileges and powers of office amounts therefore to hubris, plain and simple. This point about the case of San Joaquin was made to me this past Sunday by none other than a Roman Catholic priest.
Now that San Joaquin has done the impossible and seceded from The Episcopal Church, will it endeavor to bring its canonical structure in line with that of the Southern Cone, its protector apparent? And to whom is John-David Schofield accountable in the event his clergy, parishes, or missions wish to make appeals about his leadership or decisions? What is to stop him from suspending the canons of his own diocese as he sees fit? And if it is a divine gift of benevolence that prevents him from doing so, what will prevent his inevitable successor from wielding autocratic power over a "diocese" that has apparently decided to chart its own course -- a course divorced from any real accountability to a provincial body?
These questions are probably more theoretical than practical. Deposition and litigation are the next steps in this train wreck, and the process is likely already under way. They may well make this whole reflection moot. I pray that may be sooner rather than later.
Even so, many of us seek ways to pastorally support the people of the congregations who have decided to remain part of The Episcopal Church. It is an ugly time now, and potentially uglier ahead.
But, keeping to the context of this essay, I want to know to whom John-David Schofield and the clergy who have followed him are most beholden at present. If indeed, as he wrote in his latest missive to the Presiding Bishop, he and his diocese can choose to return to The Episcopal Church if we "repent" to his satisfaction, what sort of authority does Presiding Bishop Venables (their new "Father in God") or the governance of the Southern Cone Province really wield in John-David's mind?
In short, to whom amongst the imperfect temporal powers of the Anglican Communion, however divinely inspired, is John-David truly accountable?

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Windsor Mess

I had to laugh at the report just released by the ACC and the Primates on their response to the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans. With its pie charts and graphs on agreement and disagreement, the report looks like a straw poll from Iowa. And if anyone thought the Anglican Communion was leaning one way or another, what the report clarifies is that what we have before us is really a mess of opinion. . .a Windsor Mess. . . A Communion wrestling with discernment, with a few vainly hoping for autocracy or a non-existent magisterium to enforce it, and many shrugging their shoulders or delaying their response and getting on with it.
Maybe that's what we really need -- more Christians simply getting on with it. That "it" that we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
While the Southern Cone's telescoping arms try to take advantage of disgruntled bishops and their cadre of clergy and Bishop Duncan's "sheep," a few diocesan conventions articulate more what and whom they're against than for, and Truro and company duke it out with the Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church through lawyers in the courts, the rest of us prepare for Advent and a world that was just as messy in welcoming Christ -- or not -- as ours is.
The Windsor Mess is an Anglican Mess. A mess, on this day or two after Thanksgiving in the United States, I'm thankful for, quite frankly. I would be more disturbed by a clear decision about how "we" acquiesced to a process that was inflicted more than invited, artificial more than incarnational, and more punitive than palliative. . .not to mention reconciling.
Anglicanism has never been but messy, after all.
It's clear now that the Windsor Report and Process, long may their vaunted names fade in Anglican memory, solve nothing. Nor do I believe they should. Most of the Communion remains just that, in communion -- community with all of its proverbial messiness and lack of clarity. Community and communion where disagreement with a healthy degree of mutual accountability -- not authoritarianism -- is how we seek deeper truth and are taught to refrain from assuming divine judgment that was never ours to begin with.
Because there is only one clarity for Christians, and that is the grace found in God in Christ. The rest is the sorting of the grain and the tares. And that's God's job in the end, not ours. Those who wish clearer paths and definitions are leaving. May blessings go with them. I think they will find their destinations just as confusing and murky. Clarity is an elusive idol, after all, especially when it comes to ultimate truths.
I prefer the honesty of the mess, and the love of God that breaks through it anyway, especially in the local and the tangible, where the faces are real, lives are transformed, and the experiences of God in our midst reach the very depths of the heart.
Father Jake offers his take with loads of commentary.

Judgment for Stepping into It

Sermon delivered at Church of Our Saviour,

Mill Valley, California
on the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

November 18th, 2007

Readings for Proper 28

So after hearing an apocalyptic gospel like that, I have to wonder, are we Christians a bit crazy? It’s not the sort of text that would have all of Mill Valley clamoring to get in our doors, is it?

The people who selected today’s lectionary are not here this morning to argue what reasoning they had when they clipped this passage out of Luke for our reflection. So an unanswered question this week that stuck with me following our Wednesday Bible dialogue: why is the historical context of this passage eliminated? Does it suggest that apocalypse is for all time? Or does placing it in its proper place in world history make it somehow less. . . or more true. . . than we might want in all of our very human complex of denial?

The verse that immediately follows the conclusion of this morning’s Gospel reading is this: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” There you have it: apocalypse now for the first-century Christian community that Luke was writing for. The sack of Jerusalem, 70 A.D., stands at the beginning of our spiritual tradition and marks a dividing line for Judeo-Christian history that cannot be overstated. Beyond it, looking backwards, is an obscure time from which few texts contemporary with Jesus and his earliest followers survive. Scholars and theologians across the board agree that our knowledge of our deepest roots as a Christian people is scarred irrevocably by the sack of Jerusalem.

But back to the contemporary day, and starting with the Church. . . since All Hallow’s Eve, a bishop of the Episcopal Church has been inhibited while unspeakably awful charges are prepared for consideration in ecclesiastical court, other bishops have been warned about leading their dioceses into schism, which has led to a melee of public sniping; and in Fairfax, Virginia, the largest property dispute in the history of our Church began in open civil court. At question is the disposition of assets held by eleven parishes that have members who have voted to leave the Episcopal Church to become part of the Church of Nigeria.

When nothing else can be reconciled, we turn to the measurable, quantifiable, and tangible and try to protect the interests of those who wish to remain part of the historic Church. There is nothing else, it seems, left to be won. Indeed at times it is easier to leave than keep the vows and stand face-to-face with perceived heresies or perceived enemies. The only question now seems to be about who and what we can take with us if we decide to go.

A few bishops bent on leading their dioceses out of the Episcopal Church appealed in recent days to the history of the Church during the Civil War as precedence for their actions. But step back with me for a moment from considering the historical accuracy or lack of same in that comparison. Just ask what the comparison itself says about where we are in the sad thick of things: a “church at war,” indeed. Underscoring this was an e-mail I received this morning (from the HoB/D list) that said armed guards were at hand for the Convention Eucharist held yesterday in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

On September 5th, your Vestry elected me Rector. Overwhelmed as I have been with the blessedly more mundane and indeed joyous occasions both past and upcoming here at Church of Our Saviour, I paused to catch my breath while it seems all hell broke loose in the wider church. In one sense it’s a great blessing to be here in a parish that is showing many signs of strength and growth. In another, it’s tempting to feel a bit bewildered as those of us who have stepped into this body we call the Episcopal Church gather this season at the edge of broader chaos. In a profound way, our Jerusalem is burning, too, and no one’s quite sure what will rise from the ashes – a bit of ecclesiastical apocalypse for us, one that I feel somehow Christ and the early Christian community would understand. Given what they lived through, perhaps they would chide us for our hand-wringing in the present hour. . . hand-wringing over a few bishops and dioceses.

Hiroko and I took advantage of a friend’s visit this week and her willingness to look after Daniel for a few hours to go see Lions for Lambs, the new Robert Redford social and political commentary. The film was beat out at the box office last weekend by Bee Movie, a sarcastic and true-to-form Jerry Seinfeld animated comedy.

A lot of critics panned Lions for Lambs. “Backbendingly liberal,” one remarked, reducing the film to a fanatically partisan caricature. I suppose we could argue whether or not that was deserved, but that’s not really the point of my sermon today. Another opined, as I understand it, that the film left too many open ends in its plot and settles nothing. Well, I think after seeing it myself, So what? Isn’t that where we are right now as a nation and world: unsettled. . . at loose ends?

In Lions for Lambs, a jaded political science professor confronts one of his brightest students about to go over the edge into a life of comfortable apathy: frat-parties, a C average, and eventually a good paying job to subsidize the Benz or what-have-you. . .he confronts his student with the brutal apocalyptic truth of our age: “Rome is burning. . .while we fiddle around it.” Yep, it’s apocalyptic stuff all right, and it steps into it without apology. Liberal or conservative or neither, it’s meant to grab our attention. It speaks to the heart of our contemporary apocalypse.

Bee Movie is about a bee who flies out into the world and kind of, but not really, falls for a human being, and rakes in the dough – er, honey. But when I took my own four-year-old to see it, he turned to me about halfway through and asked to go home. So I don’t know how it ended. Not that I need to. Daniel doesn’t either. But Seinfeld and DreamWorks made the big bucks last weekend and won some critical praise for their unerring unwillingness to step into it – for being so wittily harmless that it even turned off my four-year-old. And that’s saying something.

One critic said children would enjoy the film’s “eye-popping colors” while adults would enjoy the Seinfeld humor. Mine didn’t, and I didn’t, quite honestly. And I wonder what it says about our culture and national community that this movie made the big bucks while serious, provocative commentary on the pressing moral questions of our time gets a scathing pass.

Boy, Jesus can be scary sometimes. His sort of film isn’t Bee Movie, either, it seems to me. He doesn’t avoid the painful questions, nor does he promise protection from the precipice we see all around. Life itself teaches that we are not necessarily shielded from those calamities that we hope, like the author of Isaiah, will pass over us or our children. We are called to look into the heart of our worst fears with truth. Yes, to see Jerusalem and Rome burning in awful technicolor, close up with surround sound pipelined at broadband speed, and yet we are called to adamantly refuse to lose heart.

Jesus says to us today that all of this conflict and strife will come to pass. It’s bound to sooner or later. We live all the time on the edge of a burning city, often metaphorical, sometimes literal. We Christians are children of apocalypse. We step into it with our baptism. Jesus Christ, in a profound way, was born into it. He died by its hand. He rose again into it.

God stepped into it with a judgment so profound it cannot be encapsulated in words, but we live into it each time we approach the altar with outstretched hands and call a scant mouthful of bread Life and a sip of ho-hum table wine Grace. And then we turn around and call ourselves the Body of Christ and step back into the apocalypse. We face death, disagreement, and division again and again, trusting that somehow we will rise to new and more abundant life. Hoping against hope. Refusing to bury our heads in the sand or give up the enterprise of seeking truth for ourselves and others even when it’s muddy, gray, and elusive. We sing “Alleluia” at death and swear on a cross that stands for God in our midst. We pray in the face of all the calamity that life and the universe sets before us and shout “Hosanna!” to a Person who predicted times of destruction for us.

Are we crazy? You tell me. This is not the stuff of altar calls, really. Indeed, it doesn’t have the general populace of Mill Valley hammering down our doors. It doesn’t inspire us to break out our wallets and fork it over, thinking we’re buying our safety or safety for our children. It makes the critics scoff that we are intractably liberal or conservative or both at the same time. It makes the artists and comics spout age-old cynicism about the Church.

Maybe all this talk about schism and war is all too “out there” for you this week. Maybe the only conflict you’re willing and able to engage this week is the arrival of relatives and old, well-worn family and personal dynamics working their way around the Thanksgiving turkey. So be it. “Good,” as my spiritual director often says quite simply, when I announce I’m in crisis mode. Do the work of the Gospel there – remember the call to love self and neighbor as the old and familiar emotional wars erupt. Take the hits and the hopes with a dash of equanimity. Laugh when you remember that Jesus told you that conflict both inner and intra was bound to happen and look for the wisdom he promises you in today’s Gospel. And remember Jesus' counsel not to prepare your defense in advance!

Rome is burning. Jerusalem is burning. At home and abroad. Step into it. Our Savior says, “So what?” I am here, he says. I will provide wisdom, he promises. You will be hauled up and hated.

Yeah, says our God, I get it. Me, too!

Just the same, come to table, all, and eat. Hold your heads up. Keep the hope alive as sung in the poetry of Isaiah. The ancient poetry about lambs and lions living peaceably together, not one sacrificed for the other. Avoid the apathetic idleness Paul warns the tender church in Thessalonica against; the apathetic idleness that a sometimes arrogant and often controversial figure (someone not terribly unlike Paul) warns the up and coming generation against. Work indeed, as though it all depends on you. Pray like heaven and hell together that it all depends on God in Christ Jesus. Laugh and poke fun at our silly and vapid ways like Seinfeld. And find the breath of the Spirit in our midst, dancing the dance of rebirth and resurrection. And let’s all hang in there together even when we strenuously disagree, singing songs for brighter days ahead: the hope we will seek together in Advent. And the strength that is given us as a people of faith; given not for ourselves alone, but to share with one another and a world in need.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Faces of Compassion

For freedom for tyrrany, injustice, and poverty.
Buddhist monks remind us all of the power of non-violence.
May they be blessed with all that they hope for.

from the Mad Priest by way of Preludium

Leaning on B033

So the House of Bishops has released a concise, clear statement, to the broader Church.
Yet it only clarifies that we remain very much with one foot in the closet, and the other out of it.
I concede, at least from a political angle, it is probably all our bishops could do at this point without over-stepping the bounds of their limited authority. The moratoria the Primates called for in their February Communiqué demanded almost draconian action of our episcopacy, a virtual running over of the laity and clergy in a number of dioceses without reference to their view or input. In short, the bishops were being asked to stop any legislation or decisions moving through General Convention and other authoritative bodies that would open the door of the episcopacy or authorized rites to our LGBT brothers and sisters. . . and for an indefinite period, as there is no timeline for the Anglican Communion reaching "consensus" on these matters.
Could they have done it? In theory, yes. Some would say they should have. Unless you are a stranger to this blog, you will know I'm very glad they didn't. Beyond the dreadful face it would have turned to some of our sisters and brothers in Christ, I think it would have spelt pastoral suicide for some bishops in their home dioceses and made heroes out of others. And finally it would have ultimately undermined the spirit of governance in this Church -- and I mean the Spirit being able to work freely across and through all four orders without bishops dictating terms and arrogating to themselves a great deal of power.
Fair enough.
But the other side of this statement is sorry in its own right, for the simple reason that the House of Bishops has staked our continued participation in the Anglican Communion on Resolution B033 from General Convention 2006, a piece of legislation that was pushed through in a tired moment and left many deputies (and some bishops) in frustrated, conflicted tears: hardly a reflection of prayerful contemplation and discernment. As friend, colleague, and General Convention deputy John Kirkley describes, it was the outcome of an "exercise in spiritual violence."
But then, B033 perhaps reflects the general state of the Communion at the present time -- where compromises over the manifesting issues come with gritted teeth and grumbling.
Because, at the end of the day, we are wrestling with a series of fundamental yes or no questions, which Anglicans, historically, don't always handle that well.
These include:
Do lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and trans-gendered persons deserve to be treated with full dignity in Christian community?
Are their committed relationships with others of the same gender blessed by God?
To these questions, our House of Bishops answered, in effect, a reserved "no," though I know many of them scarcely agree. They conceded to limit themselves to the boundaries of B033, hemming in their actions within the sorry and somewhat strange place our last General Convention left matters. . .all in the name of unity.
So, for that reason, I am saddened by what our bishops wrought. Especially for our LGBT sisters and brothers, including my colleagues in ministry who must continue wading through the gray of uncertainty as to whether or not they are fully welcomed as baptized members of this Church.
Despite the clear call "for unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons," we refuse to embody this as a Church.
This is how systemic "-isms" work, including racism, sexism, and heterosexism. Promise all that is good and deliver. . .well. . .porridge.
It is my heartfelt prayer that our bishops will take up the "pastoral duty" they cite in this statement with enormous care. Pastoral duty and careful, sometimes painful conversation, will be the fare of the coming days in many places -- probably both in "conservative" dioceses where full accession to the Primates' Communiqué was desired, and in more "liberal" ones, not least of which is Chicago, where one nominee for bishop now has good reason to question whether it's worth the terrible media scrutiny she's already endured.
Betrayal is, in the best of circumstances, a terribly bitter pill to swallow.
God have mercy on all of us, and may we find tender places in our hearts for one another in the coming days.
Finally, the question remains whether B033, a flimsy and suspect piece of legislation, will be enough for our bishops to shield the integrity of the Body against our harshest detractors and help maintain the unity of the Communion.
In my view, probably not.
And just as well.
After all, God is "our strength and our shield," and a "very present help in trouble."
Christ is the ultimate source of our unity when it is threatened.
With all respect to our bishops, and my best prayers, B033 is most certainly not.
See more commentary over at The Lead.
Jared Cramer offers a more optimistic appraisal at Scribere Orare Est.
Episcopal Café is tracking news articles and other reactions here and here and here.
Tobias Haller offers up his usually profound insight.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Virtual Bishops

Our bishops gathered today not to debate the latest conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury or our future disposition with the Anglican Communion, but to help, with their own imperfect hands, re-build a still Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, a handful flew to Pittsburgh to continue plotting the usurpation, if not complete demise of our "lost" Church. It apparently wasn't worth their time or effort to stay present with the House of Bishops and engage in the hard conversation of what kind of statement the House will offer the Church next Tuesday...or even just submit a humble hand to recovery efforts in New Orleans. Perhaps they have made plans to help in other ways instead. I hope so.

Tomorrow, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria stands up in Wheaton, Illinois, apparently to speak to those sympathetic with his clear view that we are a raving bunch of heretics and need a Christian revival. He flew to his destination without any hello in New Orleans, and, it seems, not even a single word to the Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago.
Heretics are easiest to cope with when they're virtual, after all. Then they are conveniently encapsulated in sound bites or, worse, locked in the hell of our bitter imaginations.

And framing all of this for me today is a marvelous piece from the Church Times by Giles Fraser, where he writes in part:

Call me old-fashioned, but I think the diocese is necessarily a geographical unit. It is geographical because communities are necessarily geographical. It may be the web that is responsible for the idea of non-geographical communities. On the web, I can be a member of a discussion group for dachshund-lovers, Star Wars fanatics, or like-minded Christians. But these are virtual communities, not real ones.

Now I'm a techie, no doubt about it. I enjoy (too much, my beloved Hiroko would remind me) blogging, Facebook, RSS, HTML, and podcasting. But this is all meant to support something else -- a real, fleshy, incarnational community that we call The Body of Christ. It has a place. It has a culture and local color. It has foibles, mistakes, tragedies, joys, sorrows, and challenges. But it is real people engaging with a real God on a journey towards a destination more real than even the reality of our blood and bones.
Dear Mr. Fraser: I'm old-fashioned, too.
Giles Fraser is right. A lot going on in the Anglican Communion these days is in someone's head or ephemeral bits and bytes set to disappear when a plug is pulled. Too much, I'd say. And it's not always rooted in what's real, what's incarnational.
The other attractive thing about a virtual reality is that we can walk away at any time with impunity. It's safe for us. Maybe the luxury of having what Giles Fraser calls a "virtual bishop" is precisely that. We can batton down the hatches and preserve a world view that feels safe and non-threatening. We can swap out a bishop or our allegiances like swapping a CD, a browser window, or changing our home page. Okay, so it's a bit more involved than that, but at least we can work to a place where we don't have to deal with any undesirable differences, or if one comes our way, we can always hit the off switch or its moral equivalent:
We're leavin'.
And as we all know in the blogosphere, I can always write or say things in a virtual church that I couldn't say or write if I were facing a real human being, a breathing person made in the Image of God, with nothing between us but air and the charity not to throw punches, metaphorical or otherwise.
In the final analysis, our bishops were brilliant -- and I mean that -- to invite Rowan Williams for a face-to-face, in-the-flesh meeting. Whatever the ultimate outcome of the meeting, the language of the Archbishop of Canterbury before the press yesterday was conciliatory -- even hopeful.
Maybe next time, they should invite Archbishop Peter Akinola to come. But then, the way he talks and if he remains true to form, he would probably decline the invitation. Should we wonder why?
The problem is that while our detractors keep us virtual, they remain virtual to us as well. Someone(s) at some point, on one side or the other, will have to break this pattern, before Christ can fully reconcile the real, incarnational, fleshy, crucified and risen center of our fragile and fractious Communion.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Heartfelt Truth

Most Reverend Sir, Honored Guests from the Communion,

I am Marc Andrus, Bishop of the Diocese of California. I have been given the grace of serving a diocese that encompasses enormous diversity, both in what we call the natural environment, and also in what we might call human ecology. I grew up in the American South where to my consciousness human diversity was cast in terms of Black and White.

In the California Bay Area the societal parameters for inclusion, outside even the concerns of the Church, are wide ranging: gender, ethnicity, economic, and sexual orientation. All of these parameters have received intense attention in the civil society, and have also been the concerns of the Episcopal Church in the Bay Area.

With respect to sexual orientation, it must be said that the Episcopal Church is the main refuge for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people who are seeking to lead a Christian life. These people are primarily not natives of the Bay Area, they come from all over the United States and indeed the world. They have come to San Francisco and the Bay Area seeking a life where they are not subjected to discrimination and violence, where they can lead normal lives, and in some cases, Christian lives. It is my responsibility to provide a context for this search for holiness of life.

It is also important to say here that the Episcopal Church in the Bay Area is immeasurably enriched by the presence of LGBT people in our parishes and missions. These are gifted, faithful Christian people, lay and ordained, passionate about their faith and church. It is hard to imagine what the Diocese of California would be like without these great people, but I can get something of a picture by remembering the many places I’ve lived from which they have come to the Bay Area, places where they were barred from employment, pushed out of their homes and families, and yes, found cold welcome in churches, and tragically in some instances, were subjected to physical violence. For every one of these men and women enlivening the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of California there are empty places all over the United States where their graceful presences are missing.

This is also true for me regarding Gene Robinson. He has helped this body of bishops of the Church with intelligence, passion, humility and great courage over the past four years, and I know he has served his diocese in the same manner. I hope, simply, that there will not be a Gene-shaped space at the Lambeth Conference where the living child of God Gene should be.

News and Blogging of the Day:
Our beloved Grandmère Mimi reflects on her impressions of the opening HoB Eucharist.

Rowan Cantuar roundly rejects any notion that September 30th is the deadline for an "ultimatum" and closes with a hopeful note.

The Church of Wales defers on the draft Anglican Covenant, not ready to accept it in its present form.

Mark Harris reflects briefly on the "frustration" of the Network bishops leaving the House of Bishops meeting before the dust behind the Archbishop of Canterbury's carriage settles.

and Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona offers his perspective on the meeting thus far.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bishops' Menu - Updated

I like making lists.
Here's an index of articles arranged by the primary topical matters that our Bishops will be engaging with the Archbishop of Canterbury beginning Thursday. I'll be updating this as more is posted around the blogosphere.
No predicitions to be found here. Just hopes, news, and opinion. I try to take Jim Naughton's advice seriously!
Update: Walking with Integrity has writers attending the House of Bishops Meeting and offers up-to-minute posts and information.
The Anglican Covenant
  • The Archbishop of Wales raises serious concerns about the draft in its present form.
  • Our own Bishop Marc has outlined his concerns as well.
  • A group of five bishops have offered the House a 98-page report, which concludes:
    The Anglican Communion already enjoys a Constitution that has served us well. The novel idea of a Covenant is out of order unless the Anglican Constitution is employed and properly amended or replaced. The fundamental issue in the current conflict, the most important and lasting reality, is not the matter of theological innovation, but the proposals and actions that would revolutionize the Anglican Constitution.
Human Sexuality and the Primates' Recommendations
  • Jim Naughton has offered an important overview and analysis of the situation.
  • Friend and colleague John Kirkley responds to Jim's thoughts.
  • Sister Joan Chittister has brought her Benedictine eyes to the situation.
  • It's generally understood that our Presiding Bishop is bringing a counter-proposal for the Primates' scheme for alternative oversight to the HoB meeting. Episcopal Life Online reports today that eight bishops have agreed to serve as "episcopal visitors" in lieu of the Presiding Bishop, in dioceses that requested alternative oversight. Fr. Jake offers a first take. The story accompanied with commentary is also over at The Lead.
  • The Lead posts that, according to local news reports, Bishop Jenkins of Louisiana and ten others will bring a resolution to the House of Bishop's meeting calling for assent to the recommendations of the Primates. John Kirkley questions the reasoning behind Bishop Jenkins' published arguments for this position over at meditatio.
  • Since this item is getting the most focus in the press, I'll post a link here to epiScope: House of Bishops Day One, which is tracking articles as they are published.
Communion, Schism, and Loyal Dissent
  • Bishop Duncan Gray writes about being a Windsor Bishop and remaining part of the Episcopal Church.
  • From The Guardian, Andrew Brown links, in a rather dark piece, Rowan Williams' recent work on a book about Dostoevsky with the present situation in the Anglican Communion.
  • At the evangelical Anglican website, Fulcrum, Graham Kings has this piece looking at the situation through the words of classical Anglican theologians. Intense commentary is ongoing.
  • And for my two cents, I argue over at Daily Episcopalian that a major task of leadership for our bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury at this meeting is to keep the present controversy in proper perspective.

Prayers be with all of them in the ensuing hours.

I have updated the Anglican/Episcopal timeline here to reflect recent events.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Deep Breath

...before the plunge.

So the House of Bishops meets next Thursday, September 20th, and the Global South merrily continues to consecrate bishops for their missionary bodies in North America. Leaders of the Episcopal Dioceses of Pittburgh, Fort Worth, San Joaquin, and Quincy, are now all in various stages of planning to divorce themselves from The Episcopal Church. The effort seems afoot to attach as much weight as possible to the HoB response to the Primates this month. It's a shrewd, albeit classic political ploy, because it allows the Network and the Global South band to blame the HoB, and perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury as well, for whatever endeavor they have set their hearts on -- even schism. Whether it's deeply honest or not in the light of Christ is quite another question entirely. And many of the tangible repercussions are sadly ending up thrown to the secular courts, where they will play out in costly ways for years to come.

Here are some links for gaining perspective on the present situation:

An advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury's office has declared that the Primates' Dar Es Salaam Communiqué does not represent an ultimatum to The Episcopal Church. I disagree to some extent, as the language seems very much like a veiled threat or demand. . . but of course without any real teeth. The Primates in particular have no authority by themselves to enforce any policy internally in The Episcopal Church or even see us trotted out of the Communion.

My quibble aside, it seems clear at any rate that the Archbishop of Canterbury has no intention of arriving in New Orleans bringing threats of excommunication, let alone hell-fire and damnation. And it does me well to grant that the Archbishop of Canterbury was at Dar Es Salaam in February and I wasn't!

So September 30th is not D-day, although some would wish it so. Ironically, the "invasion" has already begun. Indeed, it is well under way.

If you ask me, the schismatic dioceses and their allies in other Provinces have already stacked the deck. They are in advanced stages of planning to leave and set up an alternative Anglican Communion that will look and behave very different from the old one. Whether it will succeed or not, and who or what will ultimately be in charge of it, is another question entirely. But it is hard to ignore that indeed, "things are now set in motion that cannot be undone."

The upshot of all this, it seems to me:

Our bishops would do well to respond to whatever is real, and I trust that they might indeed do so. Their initial response in March was a hopeful sign. Speaking in person with the Archbishop of Canterbury and others in the Anglican Communion might make cutting through the bluster and red herrings coming from some quarters all the easier.

Our Presiding Bishop offers a succinct overview of the House of Bishops, their authority, and what we can expect at next week's meeting. My takeaway is a general sentiment is that there is every intention to move forward with a sense of Spirit-filled mission, and to continue conversation with the greater Communion according to the rules: both those in The Episcopal Church, and according to the structures in place in the Anglican Communion, particularly the Anglican Consultative Council.

Some might mock appeals to polity and rules at this stage, claiming that the Bible trumps all, or, even more rightly, that Jesus comes first. Fair enough. But there is always a danger of excusing ourselves from moral responsibility for our actions by hiding behind Scripture, or even the name of Christ himself. Rules, imperfect as they are, help us navigate that important distinction, and more importantly, bound us in a community of mutual assent while we work out our disagreements.

Tom Woodward addresses the schismatic rejection of time-honored principles of Anglican Christianity in four well-worth-reading essays over at Episcopal Majority.

Tobias Haller is continuing an illuminating discussion over sexuality in the context of Christianity and Scripture, speaking to the heart of the manifesting issue that is driving much emotion around the present discord.

Granted there will be a great deal in the Anglican blogosphere about the HoB meeting next week. If you want to keep up, I suggest heading on over to Episcopal Café, where Jim Naughton plans ongoing coverage and to host a great deal of commentary from a variety of authors.

But a lingering concern for me these days is how many of us, myself included, have forgotten how the spin-doctors and a handful of bishops and their the enemy of my enemy is my friend alliances have, in various ways, hijacked the focus of the Anglican Communion with a very narrow set of issues now for over four years.

Perhaps it is past time to begin wresting it back. Some are already hard at it.

So I'll close this reflection by returning to the more personal, referencing an essay I posted recently on children's baptism over at Episcopal Café, where it received some well-worth-reading comments in reply.

I look forward to attending our diocesan clergy conference late this month that will welcome our Presiding Bishop, and we are doubly blessed with Archbishop Ngundane's visit to this diocese during our annual convention in October.

Finally, last Wednesday, I was privileged to be elected Rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, California, where I have been serving for the past year as priest-in-charge ("Long-Term Interim"). So Hiroko, Daniel, and I are planning to stick around these here parts for quite sometime with some really loving and (thankfully) patient people!

Naturally, the concerns of the greater Anglican Communion, while important, have been taking a back seat for me recently to more local matters of Christian life and ministry.

But then, that is probably just as well...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Scoring Points

Many seem to be trying to make hay out of the upcoming meeting between the Archbishop of Canterbury and our House of Bishops. The latest to join the fray is John Shelby Spong, retired Bishop of Newark, whose name and perennial reputation places him at the center of the Anglican equivalent of Godwin's Law.

A word to Bishop Spong from a (not so humble) parish priest: No thank you!

While many of us who agree with Bishop Spong on some matters and disagree with him on others have learned to tune out his condescending style, at this stage, I frankly cannot see how this point scoring is helpful. In fact, I worry that it undermines the very witness that is needed to effectively address the concerns that I and many others share with him.

There are so many better counterpoints to play against the hateful rhetoric that has been spewing forth in recent days. All the best prayers for our House of Bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury in that regard.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Home to Roost

Now, at last, the long-brewing situation is coming home to roost for all parties involved.

Fr. Jake, Susan Russell, Davis Mac-Iyalla, Greg Griffith, and Kendall Harmon have all joined in repudiating outrageous statements reportedly coming from the episcopate in Nigeria. The real hatred and violence of rhetoric in parts of the Anglican Communion is now being shouted from the rooftops, it seems.

I am struck by the self-fulfilling prophecy, almost apocalyptic in tone, that this September is already coming to embody for the greater Church. It is a bold, raw moment for true Christians to step forward and show the light of Christ to one another. . . or to recoil into the darkness of schism and vituperation.

This will provide a true measure of the Archbishop of Canterbury and, to a lesser degree, our House of Bishops, and their sisters and brothers across the Communion.

Who will stand and be counted, indeed?

We watch, pray, and speak with hope of our God in Christ, who is the light "when all other lights have gone out."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Proportion and Absurdity

So here's a concluding snapshot of Archbishop Drexel Gomez' sermon at the recent consecrations of two new missionary bishops. . .
. . . for former members of The Episcopal Church . . .
. . . who have now joined the Church of Kenya:

My brothers, you are entering the Episcopal ministry within the Anglican Communion at a time when the Communion is being severely challenged in each of the three related areas of the patristic tradition concerning Episcopal ministry. I refer to:

* The maintenance of eucharistic communion

* Continuity and apostolic teaching.

* Oversight of the churches.

The present impaired state of the Communion is due mainly to actions taken by the Episcopal Church of the United States of America in respect of human sexuality with special reference to the consecration of a bishop living in an opened homosexual relationship. The actions of the Episcopal Church have created a situation in which some Anglicans in the United States and throughout most of the Provinces of the Communion are convinced that the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is clear in its teaching and must take precedent over culture. Holding fast to this belief, they cannot accommodate those who believe the contrary. The issue is not primarily on of sexuality but one which seeks to answer the question "which relationships correspond to God’s ordering of life, and violate it?" It is a division of opinion between those of us who firmly believe that homosexual practice violates the order of life give by God in scripture and those who seek by various mean to justify what scripture does not hounour. We, in the Global South, whole heartedly support the position outlined by Richard Hays in ‘The Moral Vision of the New Testament:’

‘Paul singles out homosexual intercourse for special attention because he regards it as providing a particularly graphic image of the way in which human fallenness distorts God’s created order. God the Creator made man and woman for each other, to cleave together to be fruitful and multiply. When human beings ‘exchange’ these created roles for homosexual intercourse, they embody the spiritual condition of those who have ‘exchanged the truth about God for a lie.’

We believe that faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ prevents us from compromising the truth so clearly revealed in holy scripture.

There is so much material here, that it would require days of careful writing to address in full. An assumption of responsibility is laid "mainly" at the doorstep of The Episcopal Church, laden with a quote based on a very narrow and disputable reading of a brief passage of Scripture, homosexuality is roundly condemned as "exchange" of choice. . .

And upon this the entire ecclesiological framework of communion, apostolic ministry, and oversight seems placed.

Despite all this, it is acknowledged that the current disagreement is a "division of opinion."

Is it to this that our House of Bishops must rationally and carefully respond? Thankfully, no. But then Gomez was instrumental in the Windsor Report as well as the more recent draft Anglican Covenant. He is not a minor player in the present crisis. So if this is indeed the substance behind the demands made by the Global South Primates through the most recent Communiqué, we have truly left the realms of faithful and rational disagreement altogether.

I do not envy the new bishops just consecrated in Nairobi. They have been handed, and have taken, if the Archbishop's words are to be understood at face value, the episcopacy entirely on the merits of a narrow argument over sexual ethics. Somehow, fidelity to this one way or another is equated in toto with fidelity to Christ. That seems to me to get the cart entirely before the horse. It makes Christ so small next to the specter of "homosexual practice." That is truly a mistake of proportion. Surely Christ for the good Archbishop is bigger than that. I dare say, Christ might be big enough to even belong as well to those of us who conscientiously and prayerfully disagree with the stance that Gomez++, Nzimi++, and other Global South Primates have taken . . . and then together have hung, if not hanged, the Communion upon it.

The question remains: why this particular ethical question, when any of us could name well over a dozen (many pertaining to sexuality) that have been disputed in the Anglican Communion and greater Church for years and some centuries?

I do not agree with the Archbishop's theological or scriptural interpretation, of course. But this is not my point here.

Rather, it is this:

Would I ever want to take up any ministry, regardless of the Order, under the auspices of a narrow and now clearly destructive contention over Christian ethics?

The answer is a simple no.

When I took up my vows of priestly ordination, it was to respond to the calling of Christ and the Church, and not really against or for any one particular issue or a particular understanding of a portion of biblical texts, but about embracing the whole of Scripture as "containing all things necessary for salvation." It was about furthering a life-long Christian vocation by following the lead of the Trinity through the discipline of Orders in the Church.

Archbishop Gomez, probably in an effort to make ecclesiastical-political hay out of a controversial action, hands these new bishops a sermon that seems to me quite sad, simply for its confining the reason for these irregular consecrations to a single issue. In doing so, it makes the present impasse almost cosmic, and relegates the potential for grace in this mess to hardly an afterthought.

And it begs the long-asked question: once the sexuality issue is settled for these new bishops and their flocks (in some ways it already is settled through a purifying march away from all who disagree with them) well what then? What will be left? In twenty years, will they look back and relish a sermon that implies their ordained ministry was re-defined by opposition to homosexuality?

I certainly hope not. To do so would be patently absurd.

My university chaplain warned me once never to define myself or my work by what or whom I am against.

These seem to me wise words for all of us in a contentious time.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

For Some Insight

September is now here, and the Dar Es Salaam Communiqué's September 30th ultimatum looms large, especially for those who are desiring a break with The Episcopal Church. The House of Bishops meets later in the month to decide how best to respond, and the Archbishop of Canterbury will join in conversation with them.

Meanwhile, some refreshing clarity is emerging from a number of stalwart bloggers. Here, for what it's worth, is what I have been reading:

First is this piece by Robert J. Brooks over at Episcopal Majority. It addresses the desire of some to expel The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, but more than that explores where the real constitutional authority resides as far as the Communion itself goes. In a word: look to the Anglican Communion Council. Fr. Jake offers a take on this analysis, and lots of commentary follows.

A second is a biblically rooted, pastoral, unflinching and at times scathing reflection by a colleague and neighbor, Rob Gieselmann, who honored me with a glimpse of an early draft before he posted it. I've already quibbled with him over some of the argumentation; indeed, as Jim Naughton writes, Rob has something to offend everyone; but the theme of his writing -- that we should all endeavor to handle the ongoing "crisis" with charity -- seems more than sound to me. Take a look.

Third, Tobias Haller is unfolding an argument on the matter of human sexuality, the manifesting question in all of this. Truly a Hooker scholar and a classical Anglican in the very best sense, Tobias' careful, cool, and pithy analysis is virtually unequaled in the blogosphere at present. His treatment has invited even a refreshingly civil conversation with Matt Kennedy of Stand Firm fame. It's well worth watching where this goes. Despite some efforts, including my own rather inept one, to widen the topic of conversation, Tobias will (quite rightly) not be deterred from a very focused and erudite treatment of the scriptural and theological questions at hand.

When all is said and done by the powers that be on all sides, prayers remain with our bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Communion as a whole.

May Christian hearts and charity prevail, and, indeed, may the will of God.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Redeeming Sabbath

Sermon delivered at Church of Our Saviour,

Mill Valley, California
on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 26th, 2007

Readings for Proper 16

It used to be said that if one sat in a café in Paris long enough, the entire world would walk by. Having never been in Paris, myself, I couldn’t say. But sitting yesterday for a bit over an hour at Peet’s even here in Mill Valley, I could almost translate the saying to our town. The incredible parade of people in and out – shoppers, walkers, the studious, the workers, the conversers, the readers. Meanwhile, a steady stream of vehicles rolled past, busy as any street in San Francisco.

Conversation around me ranged from, “So what wireless service do you use? (None of your business. . .)” to hedge funds, shopping lists, work, the vagaries of the stock market. Every other passerby had a cell phone stuck to his or her ear. Even a walk on a beautiful late summer afternoon might be wasted time if there was a friend, loved one, or coworker to speak with.

It was, quite frankly, astonishing even for me, who is a frenetic and sometimes obsessive worker, to sit still in the middle of all the activity. And on a Saturday, no less. During the normal work week, much of this business is exported to the city nearby or wherever many of us work. . . while our children and grandchildren are kept on the move at school, preschool, or by beleaguered parents who stay and keep the household up and running.

We are the always on culture. Except when we’re off. And we practically never are. We are all together, busier than a hive of bees, convinced of our own need to be more productive and more efficient with the short time we have been given. We are possessed by a sea of choices, goods, services, the clamor of news, music, television, internet. Between a river of resources we consume as a matter of course and a tenuous Creation straining under the load, we are made blind to the simplicity that so many of our ancestors took for granted.

Just speaking this tempts me to stand up and shout, “Stop!” for a moment. Have we forgotten the healing effects of a sound of the wind in the trees, the smell of a fresh air, the passing warmth of a fleeting summer, or the moisture of the fog on our faces? Have we lost as a collective community the ability to be utterly silent, wordless both in lips and minds, before our God?

So at a time when well over forty members of all ages of this community are preparing to gather together on a retreat entitled, “Keeping Sabbath,” and in a place and an age where Sabbath is more considered a luxury than a requirement . . . well, we get this Gospel reading!

It is vintage Luke, beautifully and vividly written. At the center is a crippled woman, bent over with the weight of years, and – perhaps Luke intended us to note her symbolic posture – heavily burdened with what Luke depicts as a draconian application of religious tradition. The leader of the synagogue who challenges Jesus for healing on the Sabbath seems to be completely out of touch with the needs right in front of him. As he does elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus reminds all who will hear him that the Sabbath is not an end unto itself. It is meant for us and our relationship with God and one another. It is a classic tale of legalism versus grace, easily inviting us to embrace the temptation to demonize Jesus’ opponents; even worse a religious tradition that cannot be divorced from our heritage as Christians.

But to do so, quite frankly, is to condemn ourselves. For we are as good as any society throughout history in trying to enforce rectitude through legislation, be it a bill moving through government, a careful compromise on canonical provisions for our church, or a policy in our own community that will make everything crystal clear. Don’t get me wrong, we probably need rules in many places, and good ones at that. But the word “good” begs the question. How do we know what serves us best and what doesn’t, what is “good” and what isn’t?

The question of today’s Gospel is about Sabbath: Our desperate need today as a community to recover it from the seemingly endless parade of sports, practibces, gadgets, the ever-increasing demands of work, and a sea of noise – that need will not be served by bringing back the strictures of the now abandoned and somewhat romantically remembered blue laws. Nor by deliberately depressing a frenetic economic engine upon which so much of our livelihood depends.

In all honesty, healthy spirituality cannot be legislated or economically engineered! It must be cultivated, beginning within our own hearts and in our own unique lives. Perhaps most of all through a determined and joint effort with our friends and families to say “no” at regular intervals to all the distractions from the gift of simple Being – life itself, given to us moment to moment by a God who wants almost desperately to love us out of all that robs us of well being.

Betsy, with her sermon last week, left us with the image of a tired runner finding remarkable pleasure in the cool, clear, refreshing water of a mountain stream. This is the image of Sabbath as it should be, a flowing current of refreshment, and not once or twice a year for the well-planned vacation, but the careful, deliberate, regular weekly rhythms that our spiritual ancestors cherished for their livelihood and the earth itself. Of tilling deep into the resources that cannot be purchased, marketed, or packaged: the resources of our own hearts and breath. Of engaging our faith as do Jesus and his disciples and the community gathered and then responding with humble silence and quietude for a time. The pleasurable resource of rest that lifts us out of the anesthetic effect of overwork and the madness of being overwrought with performance and productivity. The well-spring of simply being present in a moment that intersects with God’s eternal moment. Where we simply are without being defined by a million tugs and pulls at our tender existence.

And in fact, the restoring a sense of Sabbath is about restoring justice for ourselves and all who walk with us. Indeed, Sister Joan Chittister puts it this way:

The rabbis taught that the purpose of Sabbath was threefold. The first purpose of Sabbath, the rabbis said, was to free the poor as well as the rich for at least one day a week, and that included the animals, too. Nobody had to take an order from anybody on the Sabbath. The second purpose of Sabbath, the rabbis teach, is to give people time to evaluate their work as God evaluated the work of creation, to see if their work, too, is really life-giving. And finally, the purpose of Sabbath leisure was to give people space, to contemplate the real meaning of life. If anything has brought the modern world to the brink of destruction, it must surely be the loss of Sabbath.

Jesus, in a way that would affirm the best of the Jewish tradition, refuses to let Sabbath be anything less than attentive and renewing. For the burdened and harassed people, Jesus stands up to the powers that will co-opt and collapse Sabbath into a hollow shell of tradition – a habit rather than a true practice; an enforceable dictum rather than a life-giving discipline. The woman, bent over and crippled, epitomizes the tired lives of her people overwrought with enforced traditions that seem devoid of meaning. A great irony is that Sabbath, Jesus tells all who hear him – and to their great shame – has lost its purpose and meaning if it is only to be harshly inflicted.

It is a further irony for us that we, too, can be this woman – not crippled by an overzealous enforcement of Sabbath, but out of a lack of true Sabbath altogether! The call of Christ is to move beyond the hollow shells of our consumer-driven culture, our insatiable appetite for things rather than life, our obsession with performance and productivity rather than simple being. We are called back to the substance of who we are as human beings, to be restored like this woman; made whole and upright as created reflections of the Divine – lovingly connected as we were made to be, with Creation and each other just as God’s greatest joy is connected at the most intimate level with all that is.

Phyllis Tickle has said:

From the beginning of Judeo-Christian religion, there have been a number of ways of creating those little interruptions in normal life, those places where we can engage the mystery, those places of harmony and integration. A good Jew two thousand years ago would have known that one of the ways of interrupting life and meeting with the spiritual was the Sabbath. We used to keep the Sabbath. We used to set it aside and say, "Here is a time. Here is an interruption in one of the dimensions that informs life in which we will stop, and we will honor the Spirit of God. . .” We would honor the time before that consumption and the hours after that consumption by an interruption of all other habits. We would hallow the time around that event--the Eucharist or the Mass or the Communion. That's what the Sabbath was, and it had built around it time and place.

Our challenge as a community is to hold this time and place, this sacred now, despite all the forces that seek to encroach on it, eroding our time together to celebrate what we have received, what we have given, and even to find a bit of rest for the sake of all the human family and the Good News of God in Christ.

Sabbath, after all, is not ultimately about law, but about compassion: compassion for the needs of our bodies and minds to rest. Compassion for our loved ones and neighbors and their needs. Compassion for all the creatures of God and their renewal. Compassion for the sea, land, and air, that they may also rest refresh. And radical identification with and for the God of compassion, who revels in all that has been made and calls it good.

Withdrawing Comment

A fray in recent hours over at Mark Harris' blog has stirred up some deeply emotional and caustic responses. I posted two, and then deleted them with a bit of shame, especially following Mark's admonition.

The whole episode was provoked by the posting of a graphic video assembled by the Church of England priest Peter Ould -- I'll let you find it yourself, if you must, as I simply have not the stomach to link it here -- drawing on a BBC dramatization of the burning at the stake of Bishops Ridley and Latimer on October 16th, 1555. The message was that their sacrifice should inspire similar witness from our all "true" bishops in the upcoming and widely-publicized meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the September 30th Primates-declared deadline that now looms large.

I managed to sit through Mel Gibson's painfully gory The Passion of the Christ a few years ago, yet I could not watch this video in its entirety. But that's just me. Then, I don't live in a part of the world where violence is an everyday occurrence, and I have the luxury of choosing to keep it at a safe distance. I honestly question if Peter Ould has had to witness violent physical death for the sake of the Gospel (or for any reason) up close and personal -- and if he had, would he be playing so loose with a Hollywood-style voyeuristic medium to make a point? Like many in the media-saturated West, most of us can decide to keep that stuff on the television or the movie screen while sitting comfortably in an armchair, the remote nestled warmly in our hand. Or we can decide to use such depictions for our own causes without reference to any consequences.

Too many of our Anglican sisters and brothers have no such choice.

All that said, the implications of the video and its accompanying commentary (some I found equally as disturbing) were clear. Like Ridley and Latimer we have Christ and you do not. If you want to be "real men" (alluding to Latimer's last words) then you must agree with us.

We all should steel ourselves: It's this type of caustic rhetoric that is likely to reach a deafening climax as the House of Bishops prepare for their meeting and September 30th draws rapt attention around the Anglican Communion and blogosphere.

In this way, the video appears to me a cheap shot intended only to provoke a primitive emotional response and rally the ecclesiastical troops for a showdown. It lends nothing to reasoned, prayerful discussions of the matters at hand, let alone any efforts at reconciliation. It does nothing to promote the God-given dignity of anyone, even its proponents. Nor does it seem to me likely to convert bishops to any cause. In fact, it may have precisely the opposite effect.

Finally, the very real threat of spiritual and physical violence resulting from schism seems insufficient for some reason. Apparently the specter of broken communities, severed friendships, empty stomachs and disease-riddled lives where aid can no longer reach -- all of this is no longer sufficient to forestall division, brook the true courage of charity, or even the simple, precious gift of humble civility. The dramatization of a particularly nasty 16th-century burning at the stake now seems more compelling and trumps what is yet real and painful in the present hour.

I sadly wonder why?