Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Unraveling Plan

Clarity is a curious thing.

While cause and effect relationships are probably infinitely more complex, there is a deepening sense that the schismatic and belligerent agendas across the Anglican Communion are beginning to sour in strange and unexpected ways. The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops statement last week raised a renewed standard of internal integrity and charitable language towards those who are our greatest detractors. The response has been less than charitable, but far from unified. The clarity of the HoB's statement itself seems now to be shining light into previously dark corners of half-hidden agendas and bullying, sending some scurrying for cover and not finding very much of it, and yet others having to face up to the reality of their words and threats.

Real concerns are emerging over the plotting process that led to the form the Primates' Communiqué took. Fr. Jake has just posted this rather disturbing witness of the Primate of Mexico. The Primates' credibility as a body is taking some serious hits even from within.

Results of the listening process, called for nearly ten years ago by the same Lambeth Resolution that has been so ballyhooed in recent years, 1998.I.10, has resulted in a wide variety of responses from the provinces of the Anglican Communion. There is clear indication of the priority now being given for pastoral care for the dignity of gays and lesbians in many provinces -- a step forward, perhaps. By contrast, the glaringly uncharitable and damning view of the Church of Nigeria is now posted in all of its ugly glory for the world to see -- including Nigeria's House of Bishops' and Primate's support for the pending anti-gay legislation so roundly condemned internationally. CANA churches in this country, under the authority now of the Church of Nigeria, are out of explanations for householding with this point-of-view.

Thinking Anglicans has a thorough round-up here.

It appears to me now that the Communion is not divided so neatly that a schism over human sexuality is inevitable or would, even if it came to pass, result in any clear delineations. In fact, it would probably be a gargantuan mess. Images of masses of Anglicans charging over the hill in the name of their true Gospel give way to images of an unruly and angry mob. Perhaps that's appropriate for coming Holy Week.

Adding to the messiness is the just-announced attempt of the vestry of a large parish in Colorado to pull their community into CANA, and bringing back a rector, The Rev. Don Armstrong, at the helm again -- following a three month inhibition as accusations of his misuse of finances were investigated. With this attempted departure, the Diocese of Colorado will certainly and sadly have their hands full, but Armstrong does not lend credibility to the CANA cause, nor does he make a good character reference for the cause of those seeking schism. Fleeing to CANA effectively attempts to evade his accountability, on the ecclesiastical side at least, to what is now a substantial charge of malfeasance.

Dr. Ephraim Radner, closely allied with Armstrong, has been pushed hard over his connections with the Institute for Religion and Democracy and offers an emotional response to the House of Bishops meeting that sounds thoughtful but doesn't appear to me to be really rooted in fact. If anything, his pleading at Camp Allen at best effected very little for the cause, and at worst only helped the House of Bishops look more closely at the scheming and machinations of the Network in conjunction with the Global South Primates. Katherine Grieb's insightful witness to the Covenant in light of the Communiqué at the House of Bishops meeting stole the show, shining significant light on the scurrilous plots afoot.

Update: Fr. Jake has a round-up of a number of important documents that highlight the history of the plotting.

Jim Naughton is right: the credibility of the Covenant process, which Grieb and Radner helped author in the name of unity, is now on the line. So is that of the Anglican Communion Institute, which Armstrong led and of which Radner is a part.

The Network leadership remains oddly quiet. (That might or might not last long.) Apparently there was not serious consideration given to the potential for such a clear and resounding statement from our House of Bishops. . . or perhaps now that the game has been called, it will be time to play the much threatened departure card. . . but to where? With lawsuits over property churning and the potential for others looming, nothing is looking all that rosy right now, and from this end, it seems the Network is not as organized in thinking or direction as once thought. More unhelpful to their cause is that some old Network allies in the House of Bishops voted for last week's statements and have been singing its praises since, not to mention the praises of our new Presiding Bishop who shows more and more gracious colors.

And, in the light of the listening process report, the Archbishop of Canterbury makes a mildly surprising sort of appeal for the safety of lesbians and gays in churches across the Anglican Communion. It is a clear achievement of understatement, and not terribly compelling. But it is enough to cast at least a little more doubt on the Church of Nigeria's position. I wonder how Archbishop Akinola will respond. More threats, quite frankly, would fit the pattern thus far.

Clarity on the part of our House of Bishops helped bring some health back to the Communion. Bullies, in good Anglican fashion, are being gently hemmed in. Christians are being asked to speak to each other honestly with charity more worthy of Christ rather than resort to threats, escapism, or coercive power. And mutual accountability is being claimed and offered where mutual accountability is due.

This is, of course, far from over. And there are surely ugly days yet ahead. . .

But now we see the schismatic plan as it begins to unfold. . .

Or unravel might be a better word.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Preparing for Contemplation

Sermon delivered at Church of Our Saviour,

Mill Valley, California
on the Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 25th, 2007

Readings for The Fifth Sunday of Lent

audio available

This past Friday was usual for me: too much to do and less time to do it. I imagine many of you know what I mean. We live in Marin County, after all, where many of us work in ways that demand more than 100% much of the time – often in stressful occupations in high-end fields where staying on the cutting edge matters more at times than our own sanity.

It is true also, that in American life these days, wherever we find ourselves in the workplace or the organizations in which we are called to serve, more is being demanded of less. And being pretty well-educated “Left Coast” folk, we often have a hunger for more information, more knowledge (because, as we all know, knowledge is power), more awareness, more erudite arguments and opinions from the stock market to politics to the weather, and a faster, more efficient way of being who we are and doing what we do.

This is a self-indictment more than anything else, so forgive me if you’re well ahead of me on this. Let me know if you are and give me the chance to sit at your feet and learn!

It is true to the American spirit that we are what we do. That good old Protestant work ethic that hounds us whether we are Christian or not, Protestant, Catholic, atheist, Buddhist, or just spiritual. And so, being a good all-around young American guy with a family to support and eyes on the development of the church I serve, I was busy nipping and tucking whatever I could into my schedule as so many of us do this past Friday. And then racing off to see my spiritual director, over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, barely noticing the beauty of the day, let alone my own hunger for more than just racing from one appointment to the next.

After seven years, my spiritual director has me sized up pretty much the moment I walk in the door to the narrow library where we meet. We sat down, and he started this time. . .

No “How are things going?”

He took out his notebook and said that during his reading and reflection this week something very clear had come to mind – worth writing down and sharing.

He paused momentarily, while I ticked off the seconds in my mind. There was so much to talk about. What our House of Bishops did this week that made international news. Who was being good and who was being bad. How things are going at Church of Our Saviour. Whether I’ve been attentive to the Daily Office as I should be. How many times I’ve committed to the spiritual practice of lectio, and whether or not I’ve been spending enough time with my family. Time to check in on my performance. . .

“The antidote to our obsession with productivity,” he said, “is contemplation.”

“Then,” I replied with a grin, “I need more medicine.”

* * *

With Jesus six days from Passover, and, following John’s narrative, six days from the crucifixion, Mary enters, lets down her hair and cleanses his feet with a most expensive jar of perfumed ointment, worth a full year’s wages. The scene is almost as sensual as it is scandalous – a woman who humbles herself to anoint the Teacher’s feet with her hair down – totally submissive, giving herself over completely to this strange and wonderful man who raised her brother from the dead.

In another story in Luke’s Gospel, it is Mary, you will remember, who sits at Jesus’ feet to contemplate while Martha scurries around hurriedly preparing the meal. Here in John’s Gospel, it is Mary again who throws all decorum away, and all considerations of propriety to prepare her savior’s body for burial. She contemplates in action and posture the journey that is to come – something the apostles even can scarcely comprehend though they flutter around Jesus right now as moths around a lamp.

It makes me uncomfortable to contemplate. It made Judas uncomfortable, too – for many reasons beyond his cynical appeal to put an end to the scene – an appeal to the devotion Jesus has demanded to serving the poor; to relinquishing worldly things for the sake of those in need. Cynical, because, as the author of John tells us, Judas had his own hand in the disciples’ common money. But even more cynical perhaps because the terrible thought is that with all his power as one of the twelve chosen apostles, he is shown up by a woman’s utter humility before Christ.

It is always remarkable that many of the greatest Christians at the very beginning of our tradition are not men, who were instantly endowed as they were with prestige appropriate for their gender and culture and named apostles. No, among the greatest Christians at the very beginning were women. Jesus’ appeal to women and children, the poor and broken, the sick and the marginalized, is as radical today as it was in the first century. Those already powerless “get” the Kingdom of God first. In today’s Gospel, the apostles are lounging around the table in good first-century fashion pondering Jesus’ words like good disciples should. Judas is calculating his own agenda and pride. But it is Mary who embodies true faith – that faith true Christians through the ages, men, women, and even children have emulated:

A faith that sees Christ’s death as part of the necessary journey.
A faith that sets aside all personal ambition and relinquishes everything before God.

When we meet a soul truly humble before God, all of our imaginings and machinations of power are shown up and laid bare before the light of Christ. We ourselves are humbled, and sometimes even scandalized as Judas was, terrified to behold the pettiness of power and control that dominates our lives and ambitions.

It’s for this reason that Christianity’s call has always and will forever have a very uncomfortable relationship with power, and a terribly difficult time with domination. Jesus’ call is not to the oppression of others or even self, but picking up the cross and walking the path of humility and a relinquishing of power until our bare selves are completely open to God’s transforming grace – the only power that truly matters in the end.

In today’s new Testament reading Paul writes to the Philippians that, for all of his success in attaining to the strictures of the Law of his birth, for all of his placement in the inner circle of the saved – by accident of birth and then by the sweat of his own brow – when confronted with the Gospel of Christ, he sees all his achievements as nothing . . . mere garbage is the way he puts it in language both shocking and illuminating.

There is no room for pride in the Christian faith. Nor is God so worried about our productivity, Paul is telling us. At the end of the day, what’s done is done. In a way, Jesus tells his disciples as he quotes Deuteronomy: you will always have the poor with you, meaning, it seems to me, there will always be more to do tomorrow.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, we are all harried these days. In another week, we begin to “contemplate” those mighty acts of Jesus that are the very root of our tradition. Have you stopped yet to contemplate anything this Lent? Even if it is something that the world regards as trivial?

How about this: As I was drafting this sermon last night, I stopped momentarily to contemplate a single red lego Daniel left sitting next to the mouse on the computer desk. The lint on the carpet. For a moment to be just like the lego or a piece of lint, borne on the apparent randomness of existence; a cosmic accident or perhaps a divine event.

We Americans are impatient and rarely have time for such “fluff.”

But it is there that our true spiritual life begins and true vision emerges.

Consider Mary yet again in today’s Gospel. Martha is busy again in the kitchen. But Lazarus has been raised from the dead! Mary somewhere, sometime, must have truly contemplated this indescribable act and recognized Jesus for who he truly was. And suddenly the miracle of new life and the strange, upside down grace of God – where an innocent and holy man must die, where the Son of God must endure the cross; where life must be gained, but only through death; where the greatest gifts in the world must be given away; where the best thing we can do for ourselves is forget ourselves. . . Mary understands all this and honors it – with expense beyond her means and with every last shred of her own dignity and pride.

Prepare for Holy Week with that kind of upside-down faith where in order to win you must lose. In order to get ahead, you must quit the treadmill of productivity – if only for a brief moment to reclaim your true humanity in Christ. Notice again the mundane in all of its primordial and vivacious, divine beauty. Stop to see, breathe, listen, and feel again. And find Christ, as you break your own pride – costly and precious – over the feet of the one who saves you. The one who saves you through his death, burial, and new life.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Looking Forward

I spent Thursday morning with one of our parishioners at a diocesan Millennium Development Goals summit. Bishop Marc was there, along with Sheila Andrus, still fresh from South Africa and TEAM 2007 with eager stories to tell (and Bishop Marc was barely off the plane from Camp Allen). So too were John Kirkley, Sean McConnell, John Kater, Julia McCray Goldsmith, Michael Barlowe, Anna Lange-Soto and other good friends (and mentors!) in the blogosphere and Diocese -- Sally Bingham of CIPL fame, and yet more of our many wonderful leaders from around the Episcopal Church in the Bay Area and the School for Deacons, and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

So we talked some about Camp Allen and the House of Bishops statement. Bishop Marc has now posted a letter to the Diocese.

As a Church, we are now more focused on the future. . .and what we share in common with the Anglican Communion and greater world: the aching heart of Christ in the ravaged places of the world and creation, yearning to move out from under the power of disease, death, and degradation.

Mark Harris has a simple, but great proposal up right now on his blog, quoting the White Rabbit. I'll let you go to his site to see it for yourself -- but I almost snatched it for my blog. It's messy and perfect. It says it all. It's the way forward.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Small Ways in a Big Matter - UPDATED

Updated March 24th, 2007

Jim Naughton has received word suggesting that legislation in Nigeria, making any organizing for or by gay or lesbian people a crime with a penalty of imprisonment, has once again been delayed. Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria has publicly supported this legislation, and was reportedly lobbying Anglicans in the Nigerian government now for its passage. Still no public response has been offered that I know of by our Anglican Communion Primates. A wide range of national and international groups oppose the legislation, from Human Rights Watch to the U. S. State Department, on the grounds that it violates essential human rights and undermines Nigeria's own constitution.

Canon AkinTunde Popoola, Director of Communications for the Church of Nigeria, in a comment at Thinking Anglicans writes simply this in response to criticism for the church's support:

"I do not think speaking publicly against the bill will do the Gospel any good in our context."

My question: Whose Gospel are we talking about here?

David Mac-Iyalla, long in hiding for threats on his life for standing up for LGBT Christians in Nigeria, also released a statement yesterday. (Hat tip to Jim Naughton)

For more background:

Matt Thompson is watching at Political Spaghetti. Mark Harris reflects on the discussion of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council on the matter, and the New York Times published an editorial on the legislation. Also read the an editorial in Time, following up on an article on Archbishop Akinola several issues prior. Our House of Bishops only obliquely referenced the matter in their statement from Camp Allen on March 20th, but Bishop Catherine Roskam addressed it directly in the media conference immediately after, condemning any acts that inflict violence -- legal or otherwise -- on LGBT people.

Still asking what you might do?

Matt offers recommendations. I called my representative and senators asking for their attention to this matter, with the hopes that they might help bring appropriate pressure to bear.

Please continue to pray for Archbishop Peter Akinola, for Davis Mac-Iyalla, and for all LGBT people in Nigeria. Please also continue pray for the countless in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, who suffer from the degradation of hunger, disease, inter-religious violence, governmental corruption, and the pollution caused by international drilling for oil along the Nigerian delta. Would that the focus of the Anglican Communion turn wholeheartedly to these pressing needs rather than get caught up in the scapegoating of some of our sisters and brothers.

It strikes me that none of us, regardless of where we stand on the question of human sexuality, can stand in favor of draconian legislation and death threats that undermine essential human dignity. The Gospel witness is that Jesus stood for and with all who were considered sinners in their own place and day when their lives and dignity were threatened. As Christians, we can do no less.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Four Thoughts!

Three posts from Jim Naughton and one from Mark Harris and the commentary that follows caught my eye yesterday evening and this morning:

  1. The property issue wonders how much avoiding nasty litigation over church property may have played into a number of our leaders' considered move away from brinkmanship and the Primatial Vicar proposal put forward by the Primates' Communique. I don't see this necessarily as cynical. Surely almost no one, regardless of theological position, wants Christian mission hanged on expensive litigation. Jim suggests that this question coming to the fore might have been an unintended consequence of the Communique.
  2. A challenge asks what can be done to better hold the Anglican Communion together, short of the current leanings towards greater power for the Primates. It brings back an old rule of participating in a fruitful visioning and planning process: If you don't like the suggestions on the table, do you have an alternative to offer?
  3. Putting on my Frank Luntz hat. . . very wisely posits that "polity" is an arcane, churchy, and most unhelpful word for public consumption. With apologies to Richard Hooker fans (I count myself as one), I agree.
  4. Mark Harris also remarks on Bishop John Howe's gracious pastoral letter, and raises a suggested change of canons to forestall what we just saw happen in South Carolina. In a comment I raised a hypothetical concern -- but in a most overwrought way. Apologies to Mark! But other comments seem to support his suggestion. For all you "canonical wonks" out there. . .

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Sea Change

Something remarkable has happened in the House of Bishops. If yesterday's statement doesn't lead to that conclusion, I find the following pastoral letter from one of our bishops even greater evidence. Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, a well-seasoned member of the episcopate, is certainly not known as a theological liberal -- far from it, in fact. What he says here is testament not only to the reconciling presence and clarifying leadership of our new Presiding Bishop, but the movement of the Holy Spirit.

I am particularly struck by his take on the recent consent process for The Ven. Mark Lawrence in the Diocese of South Carolina. Generous to our Presiding Bishop is not too strong a statement in describing Bishop Howe's words on this here. His theological convictions make his take on the matter all the more credible, it seems to me.

It is also a good to see a read of the tenor of the House of Bishops from the "other side," although I leave that in quotes most self-consciously, as it might well misrepresent the sense of collegiality that Bishop Howe appears to have felt.

I will reiterate here my staunch support for the decisions of the Episcopal Church in recent years. I am not a theological moderate in most eyes. So I confess I might be tempted to nitpick Bishop Howe's pastoral letter in places, but that would only show my arrogance, and obscure the much more important evidence he graciously presents that says to me that the efforts to divide the Episcopal Church are failing.

That is Good News for all of us. Were that so with the Anglican Communion. I dare to hope.

It is good to know that true common ground is at last being identified and claimed. We are not out of the woods yet, but we are starting to see a path forward, and many of us just may travel it together despite our heartfelt differences.

(Hat tip to Anne Fontaine via Jim Naughton for posting this)

by John W. Howe

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I want to give you a few impressions of this week's meeting of the House of Bishops as it moves toward its conclusion tomorrow. Let me give you a couple of positive reflections: First, Katharine Jefferts Schori has done a stunning job in leading this meeting.

One of the Bishops said tonight, "If you had told me six months ago what a good leader she is, I would not have believed you." She has been absolutely even-handed, and I have had less a sense of being "managed" than I have in any meeting of the House in 18 years. When asked questions she is clear, and she allows this House to do it's business in a totally straight-forward manner.

Secondly, I think there has been a better sense of collegiality than we have experienced for a long time. One of the new Bishops said last night that he received an email from someone in his diocese that said, "I will bet the atmosphere is less than cordial."

And his response was, "It is far more cordial than I had dared to hope." We were assured that no action would be taken at this meeting regarding the two major requests that were directed to us by the Primates' Communique (no more consents to the elections of partnered gay Bishops, and no more blessings of same-sex relationships).

There has been much discussion of both of these requests, and a number of individual Bishops have very clearly expressed their unwillingness to agree to either of them. But there has been no official action taken by the House as a whole regarding them. The tenor of the discussion makes it clear (to me) that whenever we do address them (presumably in our September meeting), there will be an overwhelming decision to say No.

But that has not happened this week. Professor Katherine Grieb, of Virginia Theological Seminary, gave a brilliant analysis of the proposed Anglican Covenant, as seen through the "grid" of the Primates' Communique, which, in my opinion, NAILED the reasons why the "progressives" cannot accede to the Primates' requests. You can read it at What has been addressed is the attachment to the Communique called "Recommendations of the Primates."

The proposals for the formation of a "Pastoral Council" and the "Pastoral Scheme" have been thoroughly rejected as incompatible with our Constitution and Canons. (Please note: I do not believe they are incompatible, and I voted against this rejection. But that is the opinion of the great majority of our House.) The Presiding Bishop was asked whether she still has the authority to appoint a "Primatial Vicar," and her answer was Yes.

So that may still happen, but it will not be within the framework envisioned by the Communique. She was very clear that within our polity the PB has very limited "oversight." She is responsible for episcopal consecrations, for visiting every diocese at least once within her nine year term, and for the canonical discipline of Bishops. She said that the first two of these responsibilities can be delegated, and she is willing to do so.

The third cannot. (As I have told you previously, I have regretted the use of the terminology of "Alternative Primatial Oversight" within the "Appeal" from our Diocese since we made it - for precisely this reason. What we are really concerned about is protecting our relationship to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and our continuing "full constituent membership" in the Anglican Communion.)

The other major action we took today was to send a letter asking and urging the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other members of the Primates' Standing Committee (five members, including both the ABC and the PB) to meet with us for three days of prayer and conversation around these divisive issues of human sexuality.

This was a proposal I made, and it was passed unanimously. (Apart from "courtesy" resolutions, I think that may be the first time we have passed anything unanimously in my eighteen years in the House!) We believe there is sufficient misunderstanding and miscommunication that this face to face meeting is urgently needed, and we have invited these persons to meet with us, at our expense, any time such a meeting can be scheduled between now and the end of September.

As I am sure you know, Fr. Mark Lawrence, who was elected the next Bishop of South Carolina, did not receive the required number of consents from the Standing Committees of the Church by the canonical deadline, and Bishop Schori declared the election "null and void."

There was a very unkind article in USA Today yesterday about Bishop Schori regarding this. However, Bishop Ed Salmon (retired and acting Bishop of South Carolina) assured us tonight that Bishop Schori "bent over backward" to get this election ratified, and the problem was with the Standing Committees. A sufficient number actually was received, but some of them were in improper form, and some of them were unsigned.

Bishop Salmon said that a new election will be held, probably within 45 to 60 days, and that Mark Lawrence has said he will run again "if he is asked to do so." The probability seems to be that he will run, will be re-elected, and this time the consents will be on time and in proper order.

I am very grateful for your prayers, and for the privilege of being your representative at what may have been the most important meeting of the House of Bishops in my time as your Bishop. Warmest regards in our Lord,

The Right Rev. John W. Howe

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Good for Them

The House of Bishops has said no.

The "Pastoral Scheme" pointed to in the Primates' Communiqué jeopardizes the core character of the Episcopal Church's polity, particularly as it brought to bear "foreign prelates" in the choice of a Primatial Vicar. The House of Bishops will not stand for this, patiently but clearly articulating, among other salient reasons, this simple, powerful point of history:
. . .for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.
But, even more powerfully:
The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them. We cannot accept what would be injurious to this Church and could well lead to its permanent division.
I am almost speechless. The House of Bishops has hit the nail squarely on the head with this statement. For all of the shenanigans with networks and bishops and parishes flying to the solace of Primates overseas, our bishops at last name the problem, and with a self-critical eye. This raises a serious question for many, from the Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria, to the Primate of the Southern Cone, to the Archbishop of Canterbury. . .Do you really want to aid and abet one of the worst aspects of Western culture: the severing of relationship when the going gets tough -- the real threat to our unity in Christ?
At the same time, we understand that the present situation requires intentional care for those within our Church who find themselves in conscientious disagreement with the actions of our General Convention. We pledge ourselves to continue to work with them toward a workable arrangement. In truth, the number of those who seek to divide our Church is small, and our Church is marked by encouraging signs of life and hope. The fact that we have among ourselves, and indeed encourage, a diversity of opinion on issues of sexuality should in no way be misunderstood to mean that we are divided, except among a very few, in our love for The Episcopal Church, the integrity of its identity, and the continuance of its life and ministry.
Indeed. The vast majority of our Church stands together, and will endeavor to continue to do so. Disagreement over human sexuality need not divide us.

The crisis mentality of a few has just lost any power it had over our House of Bishops.

And, a clear calling out of the double standard in the Communiqu
é, and indirectly, a call to account for Archbishop Peter Akinola and others:
Other Anglican bishops, indeed including some Primates, have violated our provincial boundaries and caused great suffering and contributed immeasurably to our difficulties in solving our problems and in attempting to communicate for ourselves with our Anglican brothers and sisters. We have been repeatedly assured that boundary violations are inappropriate under the most ancient authorities and should cease. The Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998 did so. The Windsor Report did so. The Dromantine Communiqué did so. None of these assurances has been heeded. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué affirms the principle that boundary violations are impermissible, but then sets conditions for ending those violations, conditions that are simply impossible for us to meet without calling a special meeting of our General Convention.
(emphasis added)
There will be no covenant for moritoria, short of the full agreement of our General Convention. If anything, the House of Deputies would be more against such moratoria than the House of Bishops. Is that the death knell of B033 I hear? A repeal would not come too soon.

And, finally, a firm statement of solidarity:
It is incumbent upon us as disciples to do our best to follow Jesus in the increasing experience of the leading of the Holy Spirit. We fully understand that others in the Communion believe the same, but we do not believe that Jesus leads us to break our relationships. We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.
(emphasis added)
While not directly mentioning the impending legislation in Nigeria that is supported by Archbishop Akinola (my only disappointment), the House of Bishops points to it very much in spirit, and strongly questions on Gospel principle any church support for violence against the persecuted and oppressed. This was clarified by Bishop Catherine Roskam at the press conference after: "While [the impending legislation in Nigeria] was not dealt with by resolution, great concern was expressed about human rights violations for gay and lesbians, particularly in Nigeria, and the need for us as Anglicans and Christians to advocate against it."

Now here is a great irony: It seems to me quite possible that the Primates' Communiqu
é succeeded in accomplishing only two things so far: 1) pushing our House of Bishops to make a clear statement out of commitment to our internal integrity in Christ; and 2) provoking a long-needed call, in strong terms, for a direct meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates' Standing Committee, that our bishops may speak with them face-to-face about our relationship with the Anglican Communion in light of the sometimes subtle, sometimes brazen attempts on our common life over the past four years or so.

The American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network have overplayed their hand. So have the Primates. Time to call their bluff.

Our House of Bishops has politely, but firmly, asked for full accountability -- to the people they serve, to one another, to true unity in Communion, and, above all, to the Gospel --
and they are clearly ready to accept the consequences, as painful as some might try to make them.

Sometimes being a Christian requires this. The Bishops have answered the call for us to take up our cross.

Good for them. Good for us as a Church.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Well Worth Noting

The conversation about the Episcopal Church's future vis-a-vis the Anglican Communion was already well under way, and now it continues as the House of Bishops has been meeting in Camp Allen.

Ian T. Douglas presented on the MDG's: God's Mission and the Millennium Development Goals
I deliberately post this link first, if only to remind myself that this is where our mission should be. I had the privilege yesterday of sitting in on Church of Our Saviour's Outreach Team meeting after worship -- a packed room with some of our best and brightest leadership discussing our work as a community in Christ to raise support and resources to assuage hunger and educational needs locally (yes, we have those in Southern Marin, too!) The MDG's and the Episcopal Church's resolution to hold them as focus has moved the conversation at Church of Our Saviour to a new place, as far as our outreach efforts go. . .

Also today, two reflections, well worth taking the time to read, were offered to the House of Bishops and then made available online, by two Episcopalians who worked with the design committee on the proposed Anglican Covenant:

The first by Ephraim Radner, Steps towards the Covenant
The second by Katherine Grieb, Interpreting the Proposed Anglican Covenant through the Communiqué

I have not read the two completely yet, and may comment more at length later, but Grieb's seems especially relevant, as it takes the Primates' recent Communiqué into account.

(By the way, the papers from Epiphany West, 2007, have just been made available in PDF format. I'll be posting those tomorrow in conjunction with the reflections I posted during the conference in January.)

But for now, I find Grieb's closing paragraphs most compelling, and well worth noting:

Theologically, biblically, I think we are at Antioch with Paul, in Jerusalem with Jeremiah, and walking the way of the Cross with that mysterious Son of Man. With Paul in Antioch, we have – perhaps without adequate consultation with Jerusalem – been having table fellowship (koinonia) with Gentiles, until the men from James came to tell us that we have to stop doing it. They want a moratorium on eating with Gentiles. This presents the community with a difficult decision. Peter and Barnabas pull away from the table physically and ritually separate themselves from the Gentiles. Paul says, ''I can't do it.'' If he had not, most of us would not be here today, being Gentiles ourselves.

Jeremiah in Jerusalem before the exile told the frightened people to wake up and appreciate their situation. Their naïve belief that God would never allow the city of Jerusalem and its Temple to be taken by the Babylonians was not going to save them. They were going into exile, one way or another. They could do it the hard way or the easier way, but they were going into exile. I think the metaphor of ''exile'' captures something of the pain we can expect from being in less than full communion with the Primates, who will certainly distance themselves from us, if not in September, then later on down the line. But we might remember that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have long lived in exile and it will be a great privilege to go into exile in their company.

Finally, I think we are in the place of all potential disciples of Jesus when some Pharisees come to warn him about Herod. He will go his way today, and the next day, and today after that, healing and teaching and casting out demons, but eventually he will end up in Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who lose their lives for now on the way to Jerusalem, when things are hard and scary and it feels like death is all around, then we shouldn't be surprised later when the Son of Man says he doesn't want to be seen with us.

Where is that mysterious Son of Man hidden today? What is the cross that we are to take up? This message is especially directed to those of us who are called to ''stand with'' a rejected category of persons. Dietrich Bonfoeffer recognized the hidden Son of Man in the persecuted Jews. Abraham Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., had eyes to see the Son of Man hidden in the rejected separate and unequal ones. Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi caught a glimpse of him in the Dalit, the ''untouchables'' of India. Since we shall have to answer for these things we do on the day of judgment, it may not hurt to ask ourselves ahead of time the question Jesus asks us: What good will it do any of us, even if we gain the whole world, if we forfeit our soul, our life, our self?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Our Constant Gardener

Sermon delivered at Church of Our Saviour,

Mill Valley, California
on the Third Sunday of Lent

March 11th, 2007

Readings for The Third Sunday of Lent

audio available

Going back “home” to Kansas a few years back, I took time to drive past my childhood home. My parents had moved to Missouri when I was away in undergraduate school, so a number of years had passed before I once again saw the one-level ranch-style – no longer sitting on the edge of an alfalfa field, but surrounded by big homes and condominiums that had gone in as the edge of little McPherson was pushed back for new development.

Ours was still the most modest house on the block, a row of hedge trees running up the side, that would throw big, sticky, green hedge apples in the summer time – good only for getting caught in the lawn-mower and blunting the blades. Not even the squirrels would touch them for seeds, unless they were desperate. But behind the house, something was now missing. The clean, neatly-trimmed lawn now covered what had once been my parents’ big garden plot, and how I remember that came about.

It began with my mother digging hard into the dense, clay soil of South-Central, Kansas. Turning over clod after clod of the red, hard soil. And how a dentist and farmer of our little mission church brought in a whole truck-load of manure from his farm, reeking to high heaven. But my mom and dad strongly shoveling the muck over the soil and then plowing it in with a brand-new, red, shiny roto-tiller. . . while I watched and wondered at a safe distance.

And how that soil turned rich and loamy, full of earthworms, bugs, and garden crops year after year: peonies and potatoes, bumper crops of tomatoes and cucumbers that would have the kids out in the neighborhood with Radio Flyer wagon-loads distributing the extra to anyone who would take them. Vines of beans growing up improvised stakes with string between, corn in the autumn, marigolds I’d plant by seed around the perimeter to keep the bugs away, and squash and even the occasional pumpkin. And the weeds! Yes, the wild morning glory – what we less affectionately called “bindweed” as it would rapidly take over during hot, wet summers. One year my mother plowed the stuff straight back into the garden and all the fragments germinated into a layer of stifling, almost-impossible-to-break vine.

But it was the garden I grew up with – the rich soil that would get caked under my fingernails and cling to my shoes. It was the garden of a family’s joyful labor and love, with all its successes and failures year after year. And now it’s all gone, but my less charitable thought is that I hope, with all the years of mulching, turning, and cultivation, the grass where the garden soil was grows extra fast, so the new owners have to mow it more often than once a week.

* * *
Today, we remember some of the garden images of our Christian tradition, the rich loamy soil where the story began to sprout. Most true this way, of course, is the story of Moses and the burning bush – a primordial, almost, story of our Judeo-Christian faith, where this fugitive far away from his people has a life-changing mystical experience on Mount Horeb with a burning bush and the call of a mysterious God who claims dominion over not only the people of Israel and all of Moses’ ancestors, but existence itself.

When Moses asks this strange God’s name, the answer is not some lofty-sounding or even beautiful name. God doesn’t even say to him, “I live here,” or, “I live there.” But God says simply and profoundly: “I AM.” No further questions needed for this God of ours who lives in the reality of our bones and in the spaces between the stars. No further evidence required than simple being itself. God is. More than mere existence, God is the Reality upon which everything can exist. God is the framework, the Maker, the Gardener of the Cosmos. God is Being from whom all personhood flows, the strength and weight of the rock, the power behind all power, greater than the sea, hotter than all fire, more present than our breath. “I AM Who I AM,” God says to Moses -- a God who will not be reduced to human names or definitions, and a God who will set us free from all our self-imposed limitations.

Fast-forward to first-century Palestine, long after the exodus, the founding of Israel, the ascendancy of David’s lineage, and the exile in Babylon and return. Jesus has been speaking to the crowds, and a group of people approach him with a burning question that might have been taken right out of the headlines of The Jerusalem Times, had there been one in the first century.

They bring up the apparently well-known story of Galileans, Jesus’ geographic kin, who had been slain by Pilate, possibly while offering sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem – a violent act that would have provoked any good Jew of the time into profound anger. And a tragedy – a tower in the city that fell, crushing eighteen people.

So, Jesus, why do bad things happen to good people? Or, more accurately, they were asking him, why do bad things happen to people, period? A bit like them, today, we are caught in the delusion that bad things happen to people for a reason. That maybe those of us who are good enough will receive sufficient favor to avoid sudden catastrophe. It gives us, just as it gave our ancient spiritual ancestors, a sense of control over capricious life in a dangerous world.

But Jesus, in his usual rabbinical style, turns the story around on them, reminding them that while they worry about the sins of the victims of Pilate, or the falling tower of Siloam, that they have forgotten their own sinfulness. That they were lucky enough not to fall victim to these two calamities doesn’t mean they are any better than those who did.

It’s a spooky teaching, really, but a plaintive reminder that comes up again and again in Scripture, as it does in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul is telling the Church at Corinth to learn from the lessons the ancient Israelites learned the hard way while wandering in the wilderness and failing to root themselves in the God named, “I AM,” and instead pursuing the more tangible gods of food, drink, licentiousness, and self-indulgence. But even if those lessons are well-taken, the ancient Corinthians and we are told to constantly be wary of the sin of pride: “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.”

The Lenten journey is like that. Every time we think we have life figured out, we are to meet a burning bush, a God who refuses to be named, or told by our Savior to look back at ourselves before judging others. . . to remember with humility the bindweed in our own lives, the soil clods that remain infertile and heavy in our hearts. . . the fig tree that is rooted, but has not yet born the fruit of salvation for us or others.

Jesus closes today’s gospel with a beautiful parable about a frustrated landowner who knows, it seems, very little about gardens, and even less about trees. His desperate impatience with the fig tree that has still not borne fruit is so familiar. It is like our frustration with ourselves and each other because of the unexpected and failed expectations as we meet the “pride and hypocrisy” of our lives. Our frustration gets even more pointed sometimes, and we want to be like the landowner: “Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” Why am I wasting my time? Why I am I struggling again to put things right when I know they will go wrong? Why do I bother with a relationship, a community, or even my own heart when it will let me down?

But the landowner is smart enough to hire a gardener. The gardener knows what is required. He turns the soil, puts in the manure, and holds out hope for another year that the tree might bear fruit.

Mid-Lent might come with our own spiritual crises that echo the spiritual crises that haunt our lives: our frustration with God at times and often with our fruitless endeavors, as they often seem to us. Like the corn crop I grew one year in our family garden that was overtaken by worms. Or the bindweed that we could never seem to overcome. Or the apricot tree that grew next to the garden that wouldn’t bear fruit for year after year, succumbing to late frosts and defying my mother’s best efforts, her Ph.D. in horticulture notwithstanding.

Jesus is the gardener of our hearts and lives. Our “constant gardener” even – maybe some of you have seen the movie? Like a devoted husband out for truth, God in Christ is constantly turning over the soil of our hearts, relationships, and communities, looking and hoping for the fruit that will come in due season. The stone and clay of our lives is slowly turned by the Gospel into rich, loamy soil where the seedlings take root, and the apricot tree one season will bear a huge crop. Ours did at last one year. I will never forget it.

So keep hope alive and watch for the Gardener in your midst. The One who says, “I AM who I AM” when we ask, “Who are you? What is your name?” The One who walks and teaches us even when we are on our beds in frustration and fatigue. The One who comes among us and turns our bad soil into good, seeking the truth in us with patience and long-suffering love, so that we may grow up and bear fruit in due season, well and good for God’s glory and God’s people.

The No-Win Scenario

In a twist that even the best political fiction writer couldn't make up, the election of The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence as bishop of South Carolina might have received consents from a sufficient number of Standing Committees of the Church, but the precise number voting to consent is open to interpretation, as the canons require written, signed documentation -- of which only 50 such canonically countable consents were apparently received (56 were needed). This compelled the rare declaration that the election is null and void.

This is a sad situation, and no one comes out looking good. Nor does this engender trust at a time when it is in short supply. The conspiracy theorists are now invited out of the woodwork, which only adds insult to injury.

Our Presiding Bishop had a tough call to make, knowing, I'm sure, that she would be tarred for not "bending" far enough to confirm the validity of all the consents. Whether the canonical requirements of her office allow for such flexibility, I very much doubt. The deadline had already been extended for three days. And had she offered such flexibility, this would have only cast a cloud of questions over the validity of the consent process as the consecration moved forward. ++Katharine, less than a year into her nine year term, keeps facing these painful decisions with unflinching clarity. Her dignity and grace in such circumstances is truly admirable. Prayers go with her.

There's been a most unhelpful accusation made in some places of "canonical fundamentalism" on the side of "liberals." It's an insult aimed at highlighting the charge that Bishop Katharine and those who agree with her position don't read or follow the teachings of Scripture. I would argue that canons, unlike a good deal of Scripture, are written and intended to be read and applied legally and fairly literally. They are most helpful in contested situations like this one, as they assist our leadership in making decisions, however difficult, so that the Church may move forward. It strikes me that charges of "canonical fundamentalism" are just easy points to score in a profoundly difficult situation for everyone involved.

South Carolina now faces the disheartening slog of "doing it all over again." They also face tough questions about why the process wasn't more carefully monitored internally, especially given its contentious nature. Blithe suggestions that they re-elect Mark Lawrence coming from one side I think ignore the simple fact that it isn't so simple. No episcopal election, for those of us who have lived through them up close and personal, is a straightforward or easy process. It is expensive and exhausting for everyone, most of all for the people dotting the i's, crossing the t's, and especially for the candidates themselves. Prayers go with South Carolina, too, as they try to move forward from this disappointment.

Comparisons between this election and that of +Gene Robinson in New Hampshire are also being made around the Anglican blogosphere. This collapses the complexity of both elections and consent processes into two-dimensional polemic that only succeeds in further division. Capitalizing on this comparison is no greater than the sleeze we all love to hate in secular politics. Please stop.

So Bishop Robinson gets clobbered once again, his name dragged around without reference to his own unique dignity as a human being made in the image of God or to his successful ministry as bishop. This is scapegoating at its worst. I admire +Gene's backbone, and the grace of God he exhibits. Prayers be with him.

Mark Lawrence+ and his family have been raked over the coals, too, with little reference to his gifts for ordained ministry. However much I may disagree with his positions both ecclesiological and theological, my heart goes out to him. He willingly put himself forward for discernment through a minefield of conflict at this particular juncture in Episcopal and Anglican history. I think (I hope charitably and somewhat accurately) that the more tortured passages of his writing so widely circulated arose from the profound tensions of his loyalties not only to his own convictions, but to the people of South Carolina who elected him, to the people of Bakersfield and the Diocese of San Joaquin whom he presently serves, and to the Episcopal Church of which he has been a part for many years. It's been argued that clarity earlier might have served him and South Carolina better, but that is, of course, with the benefit of hindsight. He has had to bear considerable scrutiny and vitriol and the anxieties of waiting for what I can only imagine is a heartrending outcome. His fortitude is commendable and a witness to God's grace. Were he to allow his name to move forward again in South Carolina, all the more so. Prayers go with him.

So everyone did their best to do their "job," no one looks particularly good, but then the Spirit has ways of working with that, too. Please pray.

Tobias Haller has posted a public conversation with Mark Lawrence. A link to it may be found at his blog.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Body of Christ at Work

TEAM has concluded in South Africa. Mary Frances Schjonberg offers an article over at ENS, including the following from ++Njongonkulu Ndungane:

''Our intention was not that this be yet another gathering that recounts the many challenges facing our world,'' Cape Town Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, told the final plenary session. ''Rather, the intention was that in accordance with our mission as the body of Christ, we develop actionable plans and strategies that can be utilized to instill new hope and vision in our communities and in the world at large.''
This is the work of the Body of Christ.

Let's all sign up!

An Index of Interest

A number of recent documents and reflections are worth noting in the late great conflict in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church:

Tobias Haller offers a thoughtful reflection on the consent process for The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, bishop-elect of South Carolina. He is now one vote shy of the 56 consents required from diocesan Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church. . . and the deadline for postmark on the consents was Monday.

Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, has posted his own "pastoral" ultimatums and a simply patronizing apology about his plans to attend the House of Bishops meeting shortly in Camp Allen, Texas. Mark Harris dissects the statement with his usual probing insight over at Preludium. In addition, Jim Naughton digs up a curiosity amongst the Global South/Anglican Communion Network documents that were demanded and made public by an ongoing court case in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, including an "all hail to the chief" statement of loyalty to +Bob Pittsburgh with white space that appears, at first glance at least, to indicate that signatures might have been redacted from the original documents to make them fit for public, if not legal consumption. This by itself raises a number of disturbing questions. I remain deeply troubled by the approach the Moderator continues to take in his longstanding effort, it seems to me, in sowing a cloud of malcontent, mistrust, distortion, and division both openly and covertly across the Anglican Communion. I would argue that fomenting schism is never an admirable trait in any bishop. And yet he is cheered on. Many prayers remain in order here.

The Diocese of Utah has just released a most thoughtful response to the Primates' Communiqué.

Bishop Mark Sisk of the Diocese of New York has, with clarity and brevity, taken Archbishop Akinola to task in The New York Times over his support for anti-gay legislation in Nigeria that would violate essential human rights.

The Rev. Andrew Gerns raises serious concerns about the draft Anglican Covenant, which is the carrot the Primates have held out to the Episcopal Church while using the Windsor Report and Communiqué together as a proverbial stick. Fr. Gerns raises the haunting question: sticks notwithstanding, is the "carrot" worth it?

And then there is Louie Crew's funny, honest, and fabulous sermon from this past Sunday, delivered at St. Thomas' Parish, Washington, D.C. Such a graceful way to remind all of us that we are talking about people here, not abstractions or ideas -- Christ-filled people who are seeing the grace of God at work in their lives and relationships. It puts all the wrangling over polity and schism back into perspective, and I think Louie Crew is absolutely on target when he says that the real sins we are suffering from in the Anglican Communion are not yet being discussed.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Our Church's Heart

Lest we thought the heart of the Anglican Communion just met in Tanzania, the mission of the Communion is very much in front of our future and present leaders, lay and ordained, gathered together at TEAM 2007 in South Africa. Archbishop Ngundane: What is TEAM?

You can read some of the reflections of the young adults gathered there with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of South Africa, our own Bishop Marc, and many others, as they seek ways to expand the Communion's leadership in addressing the awesome challenges of AIDS, hunger, and the Millennium Development Goals.

Bishop Marc and those traveling with him have also been blogging each day, beginning with this post.

For my money, this is where the real Anglican Communion's at. . .past, present, and future.

Prayers go with them all!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Closer to Home

For both the native among the Israelites and the alien residing among them—you shall have the same law for anyone who acts in error.

Numbers 15:29

Marin County, California, is often viewed from the outside as a rich, white, liberal collection of suburbs of San Francisco and the Bay Area, where everyone owns a jacuzzi, huge house, talks environmentalism, drives an SUV, and hates organized religion.

But all of that ignores a much more complex reality. Just a few miles north of Church of Our Saviour is the Canal neighborhood in San Rafael, a place I visited for the first time today to offer our church's pastoral assistance to a couple who were struggling to make ends meet, but not yet destitute enough to get assistance from local support agencies.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, ICE raided the neighborhood, claiming they were "police," and taking citizens and illegal immigrants alike into custody in the pre-dawn hours. This frightened many people into keeping their children home from school and from leaving their homes -- effectively, a state of fear that many of us American citizens have never known, unless we've lived for a time in a police state. There are even stories of people being picked up on the street with no notice given to their families of where they were being taken. Disturbing to me is that this echoes the dreaded experience of the "disappeared" in other countries.

You can read more about the raids and reactions of the community in this article in the Marin Independent Journal.

The religious leaders (lay and ordained) of Marin County have been summoned to rally in helping the community heal and recover, offer solidarity and support to those living in fear, and to call ICE to account for their unnecessarily draconian methods.

I ask your prayers.

One of the huge downsides of living with a reputation of affluence is that it conceals the real needs in our midst.

Clarity Revisited

In a last-minute letter to the Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church, The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of San Joaquin, and bishop-elect of the Diocese of South Carolina, clearly and succinctly states his intention to remain part of the Episcopal Church.

As I have also commented on this previously here and here, it seems only right that I post the full text of Fr. Lawrence's letter below. For a fuller perspective, I also recommend reading Dan Martin's recent post on the matter. A close friend of Mark Lawrence, he offers compelling arguments for why the Episcopal Church should seriously consider consenting to this election. I am most moved by his assertion that "perception is reality." In a time when we are trying to seek reconciliation across deep rifts, this argument carries weight, it seems to me. Political actions that might be viewed as punitive from either "side" cannot be helpful to this effort. Clarity, on the other hand, about our positions, is helpful, if not indeed charitable, as opposed to silence or obfuscation.

At this stage, a majority of our bishops have consented to the election, but ten more Standing Committees apparently must consent before next Monday if the election is to stand and Fr. Lawrence is consecrated.

If nothing else, please pray for the guidance of the Spirit in this matter. This has been a difficult process conducted at a difficult time in our Church's life, and Mark Lawrence+ has borne unusual scrutiny as well as a painful share of venom.

So did +Gene Robinson in 2003, as we will all remember.

Dear Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church,

I have been told that some diocesan Standing Committees have graciously offered to reconsider their denial of consent to my election as the XIV Bishop of South Carolina, if they only have assurance of my intention to remain in The Episcopal Church. Although I previously provided assurance of my intention, this has not been sufficient for some Standing Committees, which are earnestly seeking to make a godly discernment. Therefore, taking to heart the apostolic admonition in 1 Timothy 3:2, “Now a bishop must be above reproach, …temperate [free from rashness], sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher….” I am reminded to make every attempt to reason with those who have denied consent or who have not yet voted. As I stated at the walkabout in Charleston on September 9, 2006 and again in a statement written on 6 November 2006, I will make the vows of conformity as written in the BCP and the Constitution & Canons, (III.11.8). I will heartily make the vows conforming “…to the doctrine, discipline, and worship” of the Episcopal Church, as well as the trustworthiness of the Holy Scriptures. So to put it as clearly as I can, my intention is to remain in The Episcopal Church.

Yours in Christ,

The Very Reverend Mark J. Lawrence

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Voices of Reason

If you read nothing else about the current crisis in the Anglican Communion over human sexuality, read these two documents: 1) The Statement of Anglican Women gathered together at the United Nations Commission on Women; and 2) Archbishop Barry Morgan's lecture given this past Saturday at St. Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork.

The Anglican Women have reminded us what holds us in Communion beyond all our differences: our baptism. It really is that simple. Sometimes we must be reminded that it is mostly men making much of the current mess in the Anglican Communion (yours truly included.) But then we love to make simple things difficult and complicated, don't we?

So the Archbishop of Wales makes things a bit more complicated by tying together the cross-cultural and hermeneutic bases of the current conflict, as well as dissembling 1998 Lambeth Resolution I.10 without resorting to polemic. But what results is a great deal of needed clarity in an example of the best piece of succinct Anglican theology I've read in a while. Jim Naughton puts it this way: "He makes the case for the Episcopal Church better than we have made it ourselves." Would that he might have been in Tanzania.

Or, as I discussed over lunch today with a friend, perhaps it was good that he wasn't. It helped him retain much-needed perspective.

Are things out of proportion right now? Absolutely. But hope remains, argues women of the Communion and the Archbishop of Wales, and that is where we all need to look. . .and live. For hope is where Christ is to be found.

(A big thank you to Jane for reminding me of the Anglican Women's statement, which led to this much updated post!)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

First Steps

Two things well worth reading were released today:

First, a succinct, straightforward, pastoral statement from Executive Council as they began discussing how the Episcopal Church might best respond to the Primates' Communiqué.

Second, our Presiding Bishop's beautiful sermon delivered at St. Michael and All Angels, Portland.

This is how our Church prepares to make decisions: in conciliar ways that bring together lay and ordained in careful, thoughtful conversation engaging across a wide variety of perspectives; in theological ways by reflecting on our holy texts in the context of liturgy and prayer.

May the Spirit work in our midst.

Threats and Trust

Sermon delivered at Church of Our Saviour,

Mill Valley, California
on the Second Sunday of Lent

March 4th, 2007

Readings for The Second Sunday of Lent

audio available

‘Tis the Second Sunday in Lent, and just when we thought things couldn’t get any uglier, they get worse. Two weeks ago tomorrow, the Primates of the Anglican Communion, our leading bishops and archbishops, released their Communiqué from their meeting in Tanzania. It was a curious document, with five paragraphs devoted to what the Primates did at the meeting, one paragraph devoted to the Church’s mission in helping the most desperately impoverished people on the planet, one paragraph on theological education, and one on exploring how we interpret Scripture. . .and then no fewer than twenty-eight paragraphs devoted to how to cope with the “issue” of human sexuality, the Episcopal Church, and whether or not we can all stay at table together. Then there was an appendix of recommendations – recommendations because the Primates have no power over any one Church in the Anglican Communion.

But “recommendations” appear to me to have taken on a new meaning. The recommendations that made the headlines, as many of you might remember seeing, were to our House of Bishops to do two things: covenant with each other not to consent to the election of any new gay or lesbian bishop; and put an end to the blessing of same-sex unions. . .or else. But these were recommendations, so the implied threat was with the only leverage at hand: that if the House of Bishops doesn’t respond to the Primates’ satisfaction by the end of September, we might find ourselves out of the Anglican Communion, or at least in “impaired” communion. . .which is something we’ve already had to grow used to.

Then our Presiding Bishop came home and gently asked us all to fast for a season, it being Lent and all – fast from the full inclusion of all our brothers and sisters in the sacramental life of the Church. I’ll share with you I wasn’t at all happy with that suggestion. Nor were many of my colleagues and friends in the Diocese of California. Our tradition does not hold that we should ask others to fast, let alone for them to fast for the sake of our unity. Nor should we fast from justice, it seems to me. As we read from Isaiah on Ash Wednesday:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Isaiah 58:6-7

Lesser known in this unfolding story is Davis Mac-Iyalla, who represents gay and lesbian members of the Church of Nigeria. He went to Tanzania to the Primates’ meeting to speak truth to power, to put a human face on the “issue,” and then returned home only to go back into hiding, as his life was again threatened.

Also returning home was Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria, who has been leading the charge against the Episcopal Church amongst the Primates as well as planting the flag of his own Province in this Church by offering episcopal oversight for disgruntled churches in Virginia. He returned to Nigeria just in time to see legislation he supports move closer to ratification – legislation that will make any public assembly around supporting gays and lesbians in that country punishable with imprisonment. A remarkable range of international and governmental groups oppose the legislation, from Human Rights Watch to our current Presidential administration. And it is no small irony that the legislation clearly violates the exact same Anglican documents that are presently being held against the Episcopal Church. The Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury, publicly at least, have apparently been completely silent on the matter.

What an ugly mess we are in all together this Lent. With media that love to put the words “Anglican,” “Episcopal,” and “sex” together in the same report, if not the same headline. With threats from Primates and the growing and mixed public responses from our bishops. With the call for continued marginalization of some of our brothers and sisters, both as a Church and in secular law. I’m tempted to wish everyone might have stayed home.

Threats are a very human response, it seems, to a Gospel that calls all of us to account for the ways we treat each other – and into a radically altered community that does not follow the traditional boundaries we thought we all knew, boundaries and rules that would afford us a sense of protection – spiritual and otherwise.

In today’s Gospel Reading, the Pharisees in Galilee come to Jesus to warn him that Herod, the regional king and puppet of the Romans, is out to kill him. Some commentators have suggested that this is one of the only times – perhaps the only time in the Gospels – the Pharisees side with Jesus against a common enemy. Herod was notorious for debauchery and thorough nastiness. Mark and Matthew both say he had John the Baptist’s head served up on a platter to please his wife’s daughter, if you remember. Not the sort of man any of us would want over for dinner, and certainly not the kind of king any faithful Israelite in the first century would want.

But another interpretation, and one I’m inclined to agree with, is that the Pharisees found Herod’s threat to Jesus advantageous. Getting rid of Jesus through threats, even from a mutual enemy, would rid them of this itinerant healer, teacher, and potentially Messianic figure who was stirring up the people and meddling with the traditions they were sworn to uphold. Even if he just moved on it to another part of the countryside, it would be fine.

Jesus not so subtly responds that their clever attempt to get rid of him (not to mention Herod’s) doesn’t move him at all. He is not about to answer to corrupt puppet kings or religious authorities sometimes self-absorbed, cunning, and wily as foxes. He is called to answer only to God and the people to whom he has come to bring the Good News. And he points to what he sees as his probable end in Jerusalem, presaging the triumphal entry we will remember on Palm Sunday and the impending crucifixion that will come soon thereafter. That, in Jesus’ eyes is the path God has placed before him. And he will not be deterred. Even less will God be.

Likewise, in today’s ancient story about Abram, we hear about the threat of a different kind. For Abram and many people of ancient times, a great threat, if not the greatest, was to have no children -- no natural heirs to carry on the family legacy. Identity was passed from father to son. About as close as one could get to a sense of immortality was through progeny. So when God shows up in a vision and promises Abram and Sarai protection and a new land, the promise also includes descendants. And God seals the promise with an ancient form of covenant, as strange as it might appear to our eyes and ears – the sacrificed animals and walking in the midst of them are a sworn testimony of God’s devotion to Abram, Sarai, and the promise between them. God will be Abram and Sarai’s shield, supplanting all other false forms of security. Abram trusts, and God “reckons it to him as righteousness,” for that is all that God wants from us in the end. . .trust – complete, unreserved, open-eyed, open-hearted, and loving, even as we step into the impossible.

And that is precisely the challenge for all of us in the Second Sunday of Lent, be we parishioners, Archbishops, priests, deacons, or ordinary folk whose heads swim when it comes to church politics, threats, and power. God asks for our trust. . .trust as we step into the impossible. This is how God responds to ultimatums and all the fears we wrestle with inside and with each other. We are called to trust God, and to cultivate trust with each other. And if we do, as did Abram and Jesus, it is reckoned to us as righteousness – trust is simply the right thing to do in relationship.

The challenge for so many of our leaders in the Anglican Communion right now is that there’s a great deal of fear in the water. Fear that our notion of Communion will be or already is broken. Fear that our most hallowed rules, interpretations, and boundaries might be at risk because difference is allowed in the door of our common life. Fear that we might not be good enough to inherit what God has promised to us already in this itinerant Teacher, Prophet, and Messiah – Jesus the Christ – who loves us anyway even as we struggle through our tendency to fall into traps of fear and power-over-others, even as we stumble into the sin that breaks relationship and hurts ourselves and one another. . .the sin that calls us from doing justice into self-absorption and, frankly, odd obsessions that distract us from the pressing needs all around us.

The problem and the promise of the Second Sunday of Lent is that we are reminded that God’s promise is there for us, threats of Kings, Archbishops, religious authorities, the stranger, or our own worst fears of the future notwithstanding. And that’s Good News for everyone right now who worries about where things are headed and what we should do next. Hope even for those of us who couldn’t care less about the Anglican Communion and are just trying to work out God’s will in our own lives. God has promised. The challenge of faith is only to trust that God is carrying that promise out in us and in our midst.

As far as the Anglican Communion is concerned, let us pray only that the response of our House of Bishops to the Primates’ recommendations engenders trust, even if it is a clear “No,” as some of us believe it ought to be, because sometimes a clear no, like Jesus offers the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, is more faithful, trusting, and trustworthy than any fearful equivocation.

Let us pray that we may engage each other, even when and where we most strongly disagree, without the easy power of threats, and instead with the loving grace of God that calls for mutual honesty and trust.

Let us pray also that we learn together how to trust our sisters and brothers in Christ who have suffered so much at the Church’s hands for centuries. . .trust them to discern, with our love and support, God’s will for their most hallowed relationships and their full involvement in the sacramental life of the Church.

And let us pray simply for a deeper trust in God. . . A God who made promises to us first and intends to see them through despite our best efforts, just as God did with Abram and Sarai, with the first apostles, and with the Church for thousands of years. A God who offered us Communion first. A God who offered us love first. A God who gives up life first, so that then we might all have it, and have it and share it in abundance.

And then to find a remarkable thing: that then, we might be truly freed from fear, and see ourselves as we truly are – welcomed into the powerful and loving arms of the One who holds us all in hope – a divine hope that shines light into our darkness.